Fun Things for Kids in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes is a great place to be a kid--of any age. For those who like the outdoors, there are nature centers, nature preserves, state parks, state forests, biking trails, hiking trails, and more. For those who like to be inside there are science centers, museums, book sales, and antique shops filled with old toys.
Below is a selection of just some of the interesting things a kid can do in the Finger Lakes. However, if you can't get out, you might want to visit the Bookstore for a good book by one of the many authors in the Finger Lakes or visit Andrea Hazard's great blog to meet Ned the cat and take advantage of her on-line games and experiments.
It's in Sterling near Lake Ontario every weekend in July and August. Go back to an English village in 1585. Meet the queen and the members of her court. Visit the shops, sing the songs, get lost in a maze. You can get your face painted and your hair braided. There's also lots of great food. But watch out! You might get thrown in the dungeon.
Lake Ontario Shore
If you travel west of the Renaissance Festival you'll come to Sterling (county) Park and Sterling Nature Center with lots of trails and shoreline for beach combing. Continue west a little more to Chimney Bluff State Park where the huge hills of sand left by the glaciers are falling steadily into the lake. Still further west is Fair Haven Beach State Park where you can camp, watch the birds migrate across the lake, swim, boat, or ride a bike.
Harriet Tubman, who helped rescue slaves from the South and helped them escape to a new life in Canada lived in Auburn. This rescue system was called the Underground Railroad, though there weren't always trains involved. Tubman's house is open to the public.
See the study where Mark Twain wrote many of his books on the Elmira College campus in Elmira.
While up on Harris Hill, look at the fantastic view, go swimming at the pool in the county park, have a picnic lunch, and try the rides and play miniature golf at Harris Hill Amusement Park.
Visit Farmland Animal Park, where animals, including humans, live on 18 acres. Hayrides, poney rides and picnic facilities. Kids under two years old get in for free.
Learn about the culture of the Celts, especially the Scots and the Irish. There's lots of stuff to buy and great Celtic bands at night.
Every year at the beginning of April there's a maple festival in Marathon. You can see how maple syrup is made, buy arts and crafts, and take a ride on a train.
Greek Peak Mountain Resort offers year-round fun with its indoor water park, outdoor adventure park and skiing and snowboarding facility. Eating and sleeping accomodations on site.
Called the Grand Canyon of the East, the gorge through the park (located in the western part of the county) is a geological wonder. The Genesee River flows through the gorge and has three fantastic falls that are great for photography buffs. Lots of hiking trails that are especially nice in the fall when the weather is cool and the leaves on the trees are turning. (October 1 is peaking leaf-peeping time.) You can camp in the park or stay at the historic Glen Iris Inn at the southern end of the park.
Labor Day weekend means the New York State Festival of Balloons in Dansville. You've never seen the Finger Lakes until you've seen it from a hot-air balloon floating high over the trees. Rides, arts and crafts sale, classic car show. And, of course, lots of food.
Visit a working farm and see how your food is grown.
Batting cages, driving range, mini-golf, go-karts, an arcade and much more.
Charter a fully-equipped canal boat and play captain for a week. Stop at various points and ride your bike along the path that runs parallel to the canal.
Visit a recreated 19th century village in Mumford. This historic village has 59 buildings on 175 acres with a wildlife art museum, a nature center, and 5 mi./8 km. of hiking trails.
Take a ride on the packet boat replica Sam Patch or the historic Mary Jemison on the Genesee River.
Bring your favorite child or adult to the LEGO store in Victor.
Spend the day exploring the world at the Rochester Museum and Science Center/Strasenburgh Planetarium. Campus setting with the museum/science center and planetarium in two separate buildings connected by walkways. Herb garden, picnic area, café, and museum shop.
Make a pact to ride every ride--even the biggest (scariest?) roller coasters--and slide every slide in the park.
The National Museum of Play and home of the National Toy Hall of Fame. Visit the Think Tank exhibit and try to figure out the puzzles, riddles, and brain games. Look at the hundreds of dolls, some that are really, really old, that once belonged to Margaret Woodbury Strong.
See thousands of dolls from the mid-1800s to the present on display. Doll hospital and gift shop on premises.
Meet Your Favorite Authors
See also: RochesterForKids.com
Learn the history of the Erie Canal and see artifacts from the canal. Museum shop.
Take a Llama Trek
Learn about llamas and the unique geology of the Tully Valley, visiting the falls of Onondaga Creek, using the llamas of Woodmansee Farms to carry your pack.
Take the family to the Winterfest in Syracuse in mid-February. There'll be ice skating, ice carving, a magician, a clown, storytelling, a snowball softball tournament, a human dog sled race, games and prizes, and lots of food.
MOST stands for Museum of Science & Technology and it's the MOST fun anyone can have in Syracuse, especially on gray or rainy days. There's a climbing maze 10 ft./3 m. high to get you limbered up. Then there's the motion simulator. It makes you think you're going really fast. There's a planetarium for learning about outer space and a ham radio shack that's open on Saturday mornings that talks to other hams and even to space shuttles. Cool! And of course, there's the IMAX Omnitheater with its domed screen 66 ft./20 m. in diameter and 6 stories high. Awesome! There's even a café in case you get hungry.
The Onondaga Nation has a new arena near Nedrow where they hold pow wows, sell crafts, and hold lacrosse matches.
Discover the industry that created the City of Syracuse and supplied the entire nation with salt! Explore the site of an original boiling iblock where brine (salt water) was turned into what was then considered one of the country's most precious commodities. See the actual kettles, wooden barrels, and other equipment that were used in this fascinating process, which came to an end in the 1920s. Picnic area, gift shop. Located on the shore of Onondaga Lake. Part of the Onondaga County Parks system.
Snow & Water
Nothing beats the winter blues like skiing and snow boarding through new snow. Bristol Mountain Resort southwest of Canandaigua is just the place for winter and early spring snow fun. During the summer there's Roseland Waterpark. What a great way to spend a hot day.
Visit Ganondaga State Historical Site near Victor, once the location of a 17th century Seneca Indian town. Learn about the life and customs of the Senecas at this time, see a replica of an Iroquois longhouse. Interpretative trails.
This is not your typical farm. Try the corn tunnel, the maze, the corn cannon, and pick yourself a pumpkin in the patch. There's also a mini maze out of straw, a pumpkin house, and a kiddie train for riding. All this can be found at the Wickham farm in the hamlet of Flint.
Come ride the Canandaigua Lady, a 19th century replica of a double-decker paddle boat as it tours Canandaigua Lake. It will pass by Squaw Island, the smallest one of two islands of the Finger Lakes. You will also see through the lake's clear water The Lady of the Lake, a steam-powered paddle boat that sank in 1890 after catching fire, the remains of which now rest on the lake's bottom.
Take a tour of Seneca Lake with Captain Bill. The boat leaves from the pier at Watkins Glen.
This is a great trail to ride your bike on--mostly crushed stone and relatively flat. When finished, it will be about 20 miles long and run from Watkins Glen to Horseheads. For now, you can pick it up going either north or south from the parking lot on Genesee St. just south of the Village of Montour Falls. The Catharine Creek is right there and great for a dip.
One of the most beautiful parks in the Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen has 2 mi./3.2 km. of gorge trail (a section of which leads you BEHIND a waterfall) and 19 waterfalls. Camping facilities available.
At the northern end of Cayuga Lake is the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and Wetlands Complex. Check out the displays in the visitor's center and the telescope on its upper deck, then take a car tour of the complex. Both ospreys and eagles nest here. Take a hike on the Esker Brook nature trails, looking for resident and migrating birds. Don't forget to bring binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one.
On land once used at the Seneca Army Depot live a herd of deer of which many are all white. These deer are quite tame and are often seen feeding along State Route 96A in the evenings. This spot is near the entrance to Sampson State Park, which has a boat launch to Seneca Lake and a beach. If you pull off the road when you see the deer and if you stay in your vehicle, you can sit and watch them and take photos. Won't your friends be impressed!
Watch glass makers as they turn a red-hot blob into a beautiful glass vase or bowl, learn how designs are carved on glass, learn the history of glass through the ages.
Learn about Glenn Curtiss, inventor extraordinaire at the museum dedicated to his work in Hammondsport. He experimented with different motors on airplanes and ended up being the first person to make a planned long-distance over-land flight (Albany to New York City). He created the V-8 engine and was known as the fastest man on earth.
Cowboys and Indians--The Art of the American West
Visit the Rockwell Museum where families can explore the Museum's American West art collection and experience a variety of daily, self-guided drop-in activities. Free admission for kids and teens--always.
In the middle of June, just as the strawberries ripen, there's a festival in Owego with a parade (somebody dresses up as a strawberry), a bike race, and lots of strawberries to buy and eat.
Enjoy all facets of nature at the Waterman Center. Inside the nature center is a gift shop and a "museum" with all kinds of stuffed animals, including a wolf, a coyote, a grizzly bear, a black bear, and many smaller animals. You can compare the wolf and the coyote and the grizzly and black bears and see how really different in size they are--and how they compare in size to you. The center also owns land with hiking trails, a pond, a marsh, an island, and a glen. The property next to the nature center has miles of hiking trails and a woods with a gorge and a waterfall. Bring a lunch and enjoy the picnic pavilion next to the center.
The Susquehanna River run right through Tioga County. You can access it from Hickories Park in Owego.
Ride the train between Owego and Newark Valley in a vintage railroad car. Train departs from the Owego depot.
Brett Herbst, designer of many, many corn mazes, says that getting lost in a maze means finding fun. You can find fun at the Stoughton Farm in Newark Valley.
Learn to Climb a Tree
Get a bird's-eye view of the world. Take a four-hour course with the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute and learn how to climb a tree using a rope and pulleys.
See a Play
Bring grandma and grandpa to the historic Hangar Theatre to watch a live performance by professional actors of your favorite book as the story is recreated into a musical play. Summers only, but the air-conditioned theatre is a great way to stay cool on a hot day.
Try this unique, educational monument to Carl Sagan, well-known and respected resident of Ithaca and Cornell University professor of astronomy and space sciences and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. Dedicated on November 8, 1997, this outdoor, terrestrial scale model of our solar has ten stations, representing the sun and its nine planets. The Planet Walk begins at the center of the Commons in downtown Ithaca, running north to the Sciencenter .75 mi./1.2 km. away. A free downloadable audio tour featuring Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and a map are available. Part of the Discovery Trail.
Have you ever wondered what's really in Cayuga Lake? You can learn to conduct water samples and look at all the interesting plants and animals that inhabit the lake by taking an eco-cruise on the Floating Classroom.
Meet live sea stars and snakes, explore constellations in the local night sky, and connect with your inner artist at the Reinvention Station. The Sciencenter is a hands-on science museum for people of all ages with over 200 exhibits, educational programs, an outdoor science park, a Curiosity Corner for toddlers and preschoolers, an animal room, a seasonal science-themed miniature golf course, and a gift shop.
Climb the 161 steps of the 173-ft./52.7-m. high McGraw Tower at Cornell University to watch students called "chimesmasters" play (with their hands and their feet) the 21 bells of the clavier. The chimes are played in the morning and the evening during the school year and special concerts are played at other times. The tower also has a museum with photos and chimes memorabilia. Visitors can also see the clockworks and pendulum of four computer-operated clocks. From this height, you get an amazing view of the Cornell campus and Cayuga Lake.
Enfield Falls Mill and Miller's House (Treman House and Mill)
Located in the Robert H. Treman State Park (State Route 327, Enfield), the mill is a water-powered gristmill built by Isaac Rumsey in 1839. Located in the part of the park called "Upper Treman," it is open to visitors and provides a good opportunity to learn about the history of the mill and how it works.
Look at fossils thousands of years old, see the bones of a whale suspended in the air, see what a woolly mammoth looked like.
Want to play on the back of an enormous--but very friendly--snapping turtle? Would you like to see where a troll lives? Want to learn about growing vegetables and how to compost? You can do all that and more at the Ithaca Children's Garden.
Connect With Your Natural Self
Join other children at Earth Arts, an environmental arts education organization, for nature-based mentoring programs that will connect you to a deeper sense of self, community, and the natural world. Learn wildlife tracking, ecological awareness and understanding, wood carving, bird language, friction fire making, plant and mushroom identification, journaling, storytelling, bow-making, woodland survival skills, preparing wild edibles, crafts, and much more. (These are extremely popular programs that fill quickly and often have a waiting list.)
Meet Creepy Crawlies
Meet big, hairy spiders, see cockroaches race, watch beautiful caterpillars and butterflies and many other fascinating multi-legged creatures at Cornell University's Insectapalooza.
The Amazing Maze
Fall in Wayne County means a trip to Long Acre Farms in Macedon to enjoy pumpkins, squashes, apples, and their Amazing Maize Maze.
Learn about the Mormon religion and their founder Joseph Smith by attending the Hill Cumorah pageant nearly Palmyra in July. This sound and light theatrical with a cast of 650 on a Wayne County hillside is spectacular. Visit historic sites like the Smith family log cabin and the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, a beautiful brick building housing the old printing press and typesetting equipment in the restored pressroom. Visit the Palmyra Temple on the Joseph Smith, Sr. Farm property.
Riding the Rails
Ride the train with the Finger Lakes Live Steamers. You'll have a great time! Toot, toot!
If you like the outdoors, this is the place for you. This is 6,100 acres of state land at the southern end of Canandaigua Lake. There are wooded hills, gullies, and wetlands. You can watch birds (especially waterfowl) on the lake, hike the trails, cross-country ski, and snowshoe. A boat launch is available.
Windmill Farm & Craft Market is located south of Penn Yan. Its 26 acres houses more then 200 vendors and craftspeople. There's a picnic area for eating all the great fresh produce you'll find at the market.
Take a spin in a late-model go-kart at Keuka Karts Go-karts in Penn Yan.
Updated 8 December 2013