As a parent, your summer is likely full of park visits, whether it’s for a free children’s concert at SummerStage, water sports at the LeFrak Center, or any number of lounging-around activities in the public parks across each borough. But as the end of summer approaches and you consider your final family outings of the season, why not try some State and National parks and historic sites on for size? Located outside of city limits but still mostly within easy driving distance, these natural wonders offer a perfect blend of the great outdoors, history, and education.
This historic site is built on a trail that once linked Lake Ontario with the Atlantic Ocean, providing an essential route for travelers passing through Oneida Indian land. Later, its American fort held against a 1777 siege and was named “the fort that never surrendered.” Now, the spot is designed for visitors and offers a variety of kid-friendly activities, including ink-making, a ranger-led expedition through the grounds, and far more. 112 East Park Street, Rome, NY, 315-338-7730.
The landmark is ideal for digging into the history of the Underground Railroad. Visit any or all of its interconnected sites: The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged and the Thompson A.M.E. Zion Church, both in Auburn, and the Harriet Tubman Residence in Fleming. Kids can become Junior Rangers as they explore and learn about the significant figures involved in the Underground Railroad’s existence. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, P.O. Box 769, Auburn, NY, 315-882-8060.
Of course, you can’t think about sites to see in New York State without picturing Niagara Falls. The Heritage Area specifically spans 13 whole miles—you can take a shuttle up and down the stretch or just pick a single spot for the day. Falls aside, this area offers the National Gorge Discovery Center, which educates about natural history, an aquarium, an Artpark, and more. Porter, Lewiston, & Niagara Falls, NY, 716-286-8579, discoverniagara.org.
The battle at Saratoga is widely known as the turning point in the Revolutionary War, but Saratoga’s park includes more than just a battlefield: It’s also home to the Saratoga Monument, Philip Schuyler House, and the Victory Woods in which the British surrendered. Take part in the August Music Series, go on a candlelit tour of an estate, or learn about the horticulture of the grounds. Multiple locations in Village of Shuylerville, Village of Victory & Saratoga, NY, 518-670-2985.
Also known as the Women’s Rights National Park, this is the site of the historic first-ever Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. Collect park-themed trading cards and stamps as you explore the Wesleyan Chapel—where the Convention was held—and the homes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the M’Clintocks, all of whom were integral in this Convention and the suffragette movement. 136 Fall Street, Seneca Falls, NY, 315-568-0024.
Val-Kill, or the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, is the only site dedicated to a First Lady. Her estate—at first a furniture factory and later her retreat home—offers numerous chances to learn and traverse the grounds, from the Roosevelt Ride shuttle service to the permanent exhibit to the Eleanor’s Walk podcast tour, and far more. 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY, 845-229-9422.
Head to the “Grand Canyon of the East” for a beautiful hike—they have 66 miles of trails—full of magnificent views. You can also take part in horseback riding, biking, programs in nature, history, and performing arts, guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and pool swimming. There’s even the opportunity to take a ride in a hot air balloon! Castile, NY.
For crystalline lakes on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge, Minnewaska has you covered. The gorgeous, 2,000-foot-high spot offers hiking, biking, swimming, picnicking, scuba-diving, rock-climbing, bouldering, and boating. Nearby Sam’s Point Preserve offers several events, and the Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground is perfect for overnight camping. Kerhonkson, NY.
The Enfield Glen gorge is a highlight of this beautiful park situated on the Finger Lakes region. Hike to one of many waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. Be sure to camp—tent, RV, or even a cabin—and swim beneath a waterfall while you’re there! Ithaca, NY.
This sprawling Victorian-era country estate features 50 acres of gardens, a greenhouse, a historic mansion, and more, all in Canandaigua overlooking the lake. You can tour the grounds and if you can slip away for a minute, it houses the Finger Lakes Wine Center. Check their calendar to see if one of many events, including the Rose Week, Moonlight Strolls, or Teddy Bear Party are taking place for your visit. Canandaigua, NY.
Thacher overlooks the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains, and offers a variety of opportunities for activity, including volleyball courts, playgrounds, and ball fields. Tour the famous Indian Ladder Trail if you wish, or participate in hiking, camping, and picnicking. You can also swing by The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center to learn more about the area. Vorheesville, NY.
Your kids will be captivated by the beauty of this park that contains 19 waterfalls and a special spot called Cavern Cascade. Plus, they also offer an Olympic-size pool, gorge tours throughout the summer, a camping spot, and nearby fishing. In 2015, the park won third place for the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States. Watkins Glen, NY.
To learn more, visit parks.ny.gov & nps.gov!