Alert: there’s a mid-winter recess on the horizon for most kids. (The NYC DOE breaks from February 15 to 19 this year.) Lots of people try to get away at this time of year (sometimes jetting off to someplace warm) but 2021 is all about the road trip. No airplane or airports involved, and more flexibility in terms of quarantining on both the arrival and return. Read on for our top winter road trip destinations from NYC for families!
First Thing's First: Mind the Travel Guidelines
Thanks to Covid, these days rules and regulations are a moving target, but be sure to check the travel restrictions for any state you consider traveling to, as conditions and policies continue to change. (You'll find these on the official web site for each state.) For reference: here are New York States' rules.
To avoid quarantine periods that can be as long as 14 days, some states will require you to produce a recent negative Covid-19 test to enter, so plan ahead by scheduling rapid tests ahead of time. Here's the main Covid-19 testing page for NYC, where you can find testing locations, including those offering the rapid test. You can also check wait times for tests, here.
Also keep in mind that if you do choose to travel to a state other than a contiguous state—New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont— you must test negative for the coronavirus within three days before your departure back to New York.
Due to the fluid nature of efforts to contain the virus, we're keeping our picks for winter 2021 pretty close to home.
Book Ahead or Miss Out
The good news is that a lot of cultural institutions and attractions are open for you and the kids to visit and enjoy.
But in virtually every instance you must reserve tickets in advance, so that safe capacity levels are maintained. In short: don't plan on showing up somewhere and getting in, because you will very likely be disappointed.
Lake Placid, NY
Drive from NYC: Five hours
Lean in to the winter weather and head north—way north—to the Adirondacks and Lake Placid.
What to do: Skiing families should head right to one of New York's premier ski resorts, Whiteface Mountain.
Visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum to see tour the site of North America's first winter Olympics, see the Olympic torch and more.
Other winter fun includes hiking (for all levels), snowshoeing, skating and hockey on Mirror Lake.
Where to stay: For a budget choice right on Mirror Lake, check out Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. For luxury, head to The Whiteface Lodge. You can also find nice Airbnb rentals in the area like this one.
The Finger Lakes
Drive from NYC: 6 hours
What to do: (An important note: the Finger Lakes is currently in an Orange Zone under the state's Cluster Action Initiative. The main drawback is that indoor dining is suspended. But there's still lots of safe fun to be had, and we have food recs!)
Rochester is home to one of the finest children's museums in the country, the Strong National Museum of Play, centrally located downtown. Exhibits are dedicated to superheroes, video games (the Video Game Hall of Fame is here), Sesame Street, and much, much more.
Like nature walks? At the Cumming Nature Center, they have groomed trails for affordable cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. Also check out the Birdsong Fairy Trail in Mendon Ponds Park. This easy walk is home to adorable fairy houses of all kinds, and at its end, visitors are often able have bird eat seed right out of their hands. (Bring your own seed!)
Need more nature? Make your way to the Lazy Acre Alpaca Farm in Bloomfield, to meet the fuzzy residents, take a tour and then stock up on cozy alpaca merch!
For food, delivery and takeout are options. Good kid-friendly choices include Jine's Restaurant and The Gatehouse, and this is, of course, the home of Wegman's where you can get all kinds of pre-prepared, affordable food to go.
Where to Stay: For a funky and fun option, consider School 31lofts.com, located close to downtown in a former public school—the blackboards and coat cubbies are still there! (It's also across the street from the art museum, the Memorial Art Gallery, currently showing an Andy Warhol exhibit.)
More traditional lodging that's also family-friendly can be found at the Woodcliff Hotel & Spa, which is in nearby Fairport.
Pine Ridge Dude Ranch
Drive from NYC: 90 minutes
If you want to do less driving and more riding (and chilling) check out the new Pine Ridge Dude Ranch in the Catskills. Formerly Pine Grove Ranch, Pine Ridge offers an all-inclusive stay with everything in one place and lots to do. (You can read how they are taking Covid precautions here.)
Outdoor winter activities include horseback riding, snow tubing, hiking and ice skating, and horse-lovers can sign up for education sessions, horseshoeing demos, stable tours and meeting the new filly, Juniper.
Plus, there's an indoor pool with a slide, a spa for your weary bones, and lots of entertainment and activities.
Pine Ridge Dude Ranch
30 Cherrytown Rd.
Drive from NYC: 4 hours
What to do: Calling all baseball fans! Head to the temple to America's favorite pastime, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY to get primed for spring training! Like most museums, the Hall of Fame temporarily closed in early 2020, but it's open and welcoming visitors again. (You just need to book tickets in advance.)
Don't miss the museum's "Starting Nine," a scavenger hunt built for hard core fans that challenges visitors to find their favorite team’s Starting Nine, a lineup of must-sees from the museum's vast collection.
Part of Coopertown's charm is its picturesque Main Street, which you'll definitely want to stroll down, and where you'll find shops specializing in baseball souvenirs and collectibles.
Where to stay: The Otesaga is the stately luxury hotel if you're looking for a grand experience, and several bed and breakfasts are located right on the center of town (the Inn at Cooperstown and the Landmark Inn are popular.) If you need something a bit more kid-friendly, you can find chain hotels like Holiday Inn Express just outside of town.)
Drive from NYC: 2 1/2 hours
What to do: Step back in time at the Mystic Seaport Museum, which covers 19 acres along the Connecticut shore. This leading maritime museum features a recreated New England coastal village, a working shipyard and formal exhibit halls. There are play areas just for kids, historical reenactors that bring history to life and four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, America’s oldest commercial ship still in existence! Note that the museum is open Thursday through Sunday until March 30.
Then explore what's under the water at the Mystic Aquarium. The celebrated aquarium offers exhibits both indoors and out, and is home to penguins, seals, sharks, beluga whales, rays and many more sea-dwellers. For an extra special visit, book an animal encounter, all of which have been adjusted for Covid-19 safety.
Where to stay: Located in the heart of town on the water, The Whaler's Inn is a classic choice. The main inn offers rooms with a junior bunk area for kids, while the Noank House has family-friendly rooms with two queens beds conveniently located on the first floor. For a chain, the Mystic Hilton is a good choice (located across the street from the aquarium), or you can settle in to your own cottage suite (with kitchenette) at The Carriage House.
The Berkshires/Western Mass.
Drive time from NYC: 4 hours
There's something for every kind of family in western Massachusetts. If you're looking for a family-friendly ski getaway, Butternut in Great Barrington is a great, affordable, spot for little ones learning to ski, and it also offers snow tubing.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is located in nearby Stockbridge. In addition to showcasing much of the artist's iconic work, the museum mounts exhibitions dedicated to illustration and new perspectives on Rockwell's work. Additionally, you can visit the small workshop where he did much of his painting.
If you like your art with more edge, head to Mass MOCA in North Adams, the largest contemporary art center in the country. (It is huge, with lots of wide open spaces, making it a place where it's easy to social distance.) Kids can really roam free here, too. The center houses several works by light artist James Turrell, and its three floors of Sol Lewitt galleries are impressive. Mass MoCA also has a Kidspace with rotating exhibits and programming, allowing kids to get in on the art-making action.
Where to Stay: The Briarcliff Motel is fun and casual, a 1960s motel that's been upgraded for today. In Stockbridge, its sister property, the Red Lion Inn (est. 1773) can offer you a bed in the historic main inn. With kids, it's probably best to stay in the roomier and more modern accommodations of Maple Glen, also on the grounds.
In North Adams, The Porches is boutique inn with retro-industrial architecture (revamped mill workers' homes) and modern comforts located right across the street from the Mass MoCA. The Williams Inn in nearby WIlliamstown, Mass is a good choice for a relaxed yet refined stay, with the added bonus of elevated comfort food on site at the property's restaurant and bar, The Barn.
Drive time from NYC: 2 hours
Another everything-in-one-place option is the Poconos waterpark, of which there are a few. (Camelback Resort's Aquatopia is shown here; it is also a full ski resort, offering skiiing, snow tubing and other winter activities.) Places like Camelback, Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari offer the convenience of a hotel room, dining options, and other amusements that include everything from evening story time to arcades to indoor quests. All are operating with Covid safety measures in place, and detail efforts on their web sites.