Discover eight great family destinations for weekends away or short vacations, all within a few hours’ drive.
A 3-hour drive in any direction offers an impressive range of summer family destinations for residents of the New York metro area. You’ll find beaches, mountains, lakes, and rivers—backdrops for virtually any activity a kid could want to do, all without boarding an airplane or even spending a full day in the car. Here are our picks for eight nearby family getaways.
Hudson Valley, NY
Running along both sides of the Hudson River, this region is dotted with charming towns, historic landmarks, soaring cliffs, and state parks. Whether you’re looking for bed-and-breakfasts, resorts, or camping spots, the Hudson Valley offers all of these options.
The region offers fairs and food festivals, performances and Civil War re-enactments, and myriad ways to enjoy nature. At Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, you can walk or bike across the Hudson River on an expansive 1.28-mile pedestrian bridge with breathtaking views. Start a 1.5-mile hike in Taconic State Park (Copake Falls area) to Bash Bish Falls, just across the Massachusetts state border, to see the natural splendor of the giant waterfall. For thrill seekers, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills boasts the longest and highest zip line tour in North America. Other popular activities in the Hudson Valley include biking, hiking, kayaking, wind surfing, horseback riding, and golfing.
For more information, visit travelhudsonvalley.com. Photo: A view from the Walkway Over the Hudson, by Estee Pouleris.
Poconos & the Delaware Water Gap, PA
The Pocono Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains, are situated in Northeast Pennsylvania and cover 2,400 square miles. Within these mountains lay the natural wonders of the Delaware Water Gap, where the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Dynamic and rich landscapes make this area a top family destination. Quaint hotels, campsites, and mega resorts with waterparks populate the region, meeting most families’ needs.
Kids love the adventures this area offers, including rafting, swimming, fishing, hiking, and rock climbing. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a 70,000-acre national park with more than 100 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. Bushkill Falls is a 100-foot-high waterfall worth the hike (15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on which trail you choose). A trip to Crystal Cave, where you can tour caverns and see an “upside-down ice cream cone” made of calcite, will leave lasting impressions on your kids. For the thrill seeker, a whitewater-rafting trip down the Delaware River is sure to make memories.
Lehigh Valley, PA
Sandwiched between Philadelphia and the Poconos, families can find a little bit of everything in Lehigh Valley—a gorgeous region of Pennsylvania surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful countryside. Lehigh has a large range of accommodations, from charming B&Bs to standard hotels. You can even rent a room in one of two mansions, Sayre Mansion or The Historic Brenner Mansion.
One of the most popular family activities is spending a day at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, an amusement and water park in Allentown. The Da Vinci Science Center, an interactive kids museum, also in Allentown, is another family favorite. There are several unique attractions, including riding a mule-drawn canal boat from the National Canal Museum down the Lehigh Canal, visiting the Crayola Experience—a crayon factory turned arts-and-crafts activity center and museum—in Easton, and touring the city of Bethlehem, otherwise known as Christmas City. Each summer Bethlehem hosts Musikfest (Aug. 5-14), which claims to be the largest non-gated, free music festival in the U.S.
Located on Connecticut’s eastern shoreline, this quaint seaport town on the Long Island Sound is full of nautical charm and has a long history as a family vacation destination. Between Mystic and its neighboring towns, there are many chain hotels, B&Bs, and two large casinos offering a variety of lodging options.
Visit Olde Mistick Village, where you can stroll through a New England town representative of the 1700s. The town’s most popular attraction is Mystic Seaport, a maritime museum famous for its fleet of ships, at which you can tour Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, visit a recreated 19th-century seafaring village, ride the steamboat Sabino (currently undergoing a major restoration), or visit Treworgy Planetarium. Other local family favorites are the Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Drawbridge, kayaking, and free outdoor concerts. You can also grab a meal at Mystic Pizza, where the movie was filmed.
Atlantic City, NJ
Atlantic City may be known for its casinos and nighttime entertainment, but it is also a hotspot for family fun. This resort town along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean offers a full range of accommodations, from discount motels to luxury penthouses. With miles of beach, this lively vacation area makes for long summer days full of sun and sand.
The Atlantic City boardwalk is bustling with family-friendly entertainment. Kids love riding on the Rolling Chairs, wheeled carts in which you ride for a small fee, an activity that has been around since 1884. Other family favorites on the boardwalk include Steel Pier amusement park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, and a miniature-golf course. The boardwalk also features seaside treats such as salt-water taffy, ice cream, and fudge shops.
Off the boardwalk, and within a short drive, you can also check out the Atlantic City Aquarium, the Edwin B. Forsthe National Wildlife Refuge, Jersey Shore Children’s Museum, whale and dolphin cruises, and the Absecon Lighthouse, at which you can climb 228 steps to the top.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster, PA
Old-fashioned windmills, horse-drawn buggies, rolling farmlands, and life without cellphones still exist–and you can find them relatively nearby. The Lancaster area feels like an escape from everyday life for most families. Also called Amish Country because of its large population of Amish people who eschew modern technology, it’s a unique place to visit with kids, where they can learn about a simpler way of living. Lancaster County is filled with hotels and B&Bs, including the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant, where you sleep in an actual train car.
One of the best ways to check out Pennsylvania Dutch Country is on a bus tour. Many tours stop at craft shops, bakeries, and farms. You can also take a ride on Strasburg Rail Road, America’s oldest short-line railroad, an authentic steam train that drives through Amish Country. Be sure to sample some Pennsylvania Dutch home cooking—known for its unusual-sounding names derived from German background—while you’re there. Kids will also enjoy visiting an Amish school and taking a buggy ride through town. If you’re looking for a particularly unique experience, take a hot air balloon ride and see the rolling farmland from the sky.
For more excitement (this time of the modern-world variety), Hershey, The Sweetest Place on Earth, is nearby. Kids can seek thrills on Hersheypark’s speeding rollercoasters or take a tour of Hershey’s Chocolate World. You can even make your own candy bar, something no kid will forget anytime soon.
Cape May, NJ
Cape May, located in New Jersey’s southernmost county, is a charming Victorian seaside destination with some of the country’s best beaches. Families love coming here year after year to enjoy its exceptional vineyards, pristine beaches, and enough family entertainment to last the whole summer. With more than 500 preserved Victorian buildings, the entire city of Cape May is a National Historic District. Depending on your preferences you can stay in a Victorian inn or a large hotel, and most accommodations are within walking distance to the beach.
Adventurous families can try exploring the coastal wetlands aboard a 40-foot-long skimmer with the Salt Marsh Safari’s wildlife boat tour. Other favorites are the beachfront amusement parks (Morey’s Piers and Wildwoods Boardwalk), bicycle rides, and trolley or horse-drawn carriage rides. You can also climb to the top of two different lighthouses—World War II Lookout Tower and Cape May Lighthouse—or relax at one of five main beaches, including The Cove and Sunset Beach, which more than earns its name on clear nights. Cape May is also known for an unusual stone that washes up on its shores called Cape May’s diamonds—smooth quartz treasures that kids love to find and collect. Sunset Beach is known for having the most of these stones.
Known as The City by the Sea, Newport is one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the Northeast. Landmark mansions dot the area overlooking the sea, while cobblestone streets, shops, waterfront restaurants, and festivals fill the town. Newport may be located in America’s smallest state, but it offers a large variety of entertainment and accommodation options. Families have a choice to stay in big hotels with pools or charming inns downtown.
Children love the Ice Cream Train, a moving ice cream parlor that combines two favorite kids’ activities: building your own sundae while riding a train. For the active family, Newport offers windsurfing, boating, parasailing, and Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path that combines the beauty of the coastline with the mansions of the Gilded Age. Other popular attractions include the Exploration Center & Aquarium, whale and dolphin watching cruises, Fort Adams, and the Newport Jazz Festival. Newport knows how to entertain, and along with that comes good cuisine: This area is famous for its delicious seafood—especially lobster.
Vacation Spots a Bit Further Away
For families able to handle a longer drive, the possibilities for awesome getaways are endless, but here are some of our favorite spots no more than 7 hours away.
• Boston, MA: Experience Revolutionary War history up close, visit the renowned Museum of Science, choose from an array of cultural institutions and museums, and take in a baseball game at historic (and for Yankees fans, hated) Fenway Park.
• Cape Cod and Nantucket, MA: If you’re looking for natural beauty—and maybe a whale-sighting tour—head to Massachusetts for the beaches, biking, and other activities the island of Nantucket and the broader Cape Cod region have to offer. (Image above: a view of Nantucket with the Nantucket Hotel in the foreground. Credit: George Riethof Photography)
• Washington, D.C.: Whether politics, history, or the arts are your family’s passions, the nation’s capital can keep you busy for days, between the monuments, government buildings, museums, and more.
• White Mountains, NH: For a change of pace, consider the placid White Mountains region for outdoor summer or spring adventures, foliage tours in the fall, or skiing in the winter. Year-round, enjoy the scenic tours, unique covered bridges, and the wonders of nature.
• Freeport, ME: A visit to this historic village offers something for everyone, including four main L.L. Bean stores that never close, plus its Outdoor Discovery School that offers affordable adventures including kayaking and cross-country skiing; outlet shopping; the Desert of Maine (yes, desert!); nearby hiking trails; and some of the best lobster in the country.
• Niagara Falls: The famed waterfalls are indescribably breathtaking up close—awe-inspiring for the whole family.
Any one of these experiences is sure to have you planning a return trip next year.