Palmyra, NY

A big-deal show brings godliness and crowdedness to this little town.

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BEST WEEKEND TO GO: July 11--12

DISTANCE: 315 mi -- about 5 hours 22 mins (up to 6 hours 20 mins in traffic)

WHY GO: The Hill Cumorah Pageant (603 State Rte 21, Palmyra, NY; 315-597-5851, hillcumorah.org, July 10-18) has been namechecked on HBO's Big Love, it's unlikely you know what it involves unless you happen to be Mormon. Picture a show of biblical proportions, literally and figuratively: The pageant, which is based on the Book of Mormon, features a cast of 650 performing on a ten-level stage, illuminated by 12 lighting towers. The production uses Hollywood-style special effects to tell its story—of how the Prophet Lehi and his family left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. to sail to America, bringing with them the 12 golden plates that were later found by the Prophet Joseph Smith to become the foundation of the Mormon faith. According to Elder Bryan Weston, director of Historic Palmyra Sites, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, some 40,000 to 60,000 people descend on Palmyra and environs annually to take in the seven nights of performances, which start at 9pm. They're all free, and seating is provided for 8,000 on a first-come, first-served basis. Otherwise, you can bring a blanket and spread out across the hillside, which forms a natural amphitheater around the stage.

WHY STAY: Palmyra is a hub of paranormal activity (who knew?), so late-night "ghost" tours are offered at a number of the town's historical sites, including the 23-room Palmyra Historical Museum (132 Market St, 315-597-6981) and the Wm. Phelps General Store and Home Museum (140 Market St, 315-597-6981), a perfectly preserved emporium from the 1820s (you can visit those and other historic places during the nonghost daylight hours, too; go to historicpalmyrany.com for more info). The Erie Canal runs through town (Palmyra is also the "Queen of Canal Towns"), and it boasts a section of a bike path that runs from Buffalo to Albany. If waterborne chillaxing is more your speed, Mid-Lakes Navigation in next-door Macedon offers hourly kayak, canoe, rowboat and paddleboat rentals (1865 Canandaigua Rd, Macedon, NY; 315-986-3011; rentals $10--$45).

WHAT TO EAT: For convenience, you can't do better than the Lions and Rotary Club's food concession on the pageant grounds—provided pizza and hot dogs are what you hanker for. In the way of sit-down places, both Gene Slater, grounds coordinator at the Wayne County Fairground, and Irene Unterborn, owner of the Liberty House bed-and-breakfast, suggest the Yellow Mills Family Diner (2534 Rte 31, Macedon, NY), where the menu includes everything from breakfast to the prime-rib special, and prices don't go above $12. Finish off with homemade ice cream from Brad & Dad's (623 E Main St).

WHERE TO STAY: If you're looking for a place to stay in Palmyra itself during the pageant, Liberty House owner Unterborn says to forget it: "I started taking reservations for rooms back in January." But don't despair; she suggests trying some of the neighboring towns, which are 10 to 20 minutes away by car. And indeed, both the Comfort Inn & Suites (6026 Rte 96; 585-742-0180, comfortinn.com) and the Best Value Inn (6037 Rte 96; 585-924-2300, 888-315-BEST, bestvalueinn.com) in Farmington have rooms available during the pageant, starting at $89 per night for double occupancy. The Budget Inn (7340 Rte 31, 585-223-1710) in Fairport likewise has space at the same rates. And if you don't mind roughing it, the Wayne County Fairgrounds (250 W Jackson St; 585-955-3049, 315-597-5372, waynecountyfair.org/camping.html) provides tent sites right in beautiful downtown Palmyra. The cost is $30 per night with water and electrical hookup, $20 per night without. The fairgrounds also have central bathroom and shower facilities. For a complete listing of area accommodations, check out hillcumorah.org.

GET THERE: The gods of public transport do not smile upon Palmyra. Going by car (the trip is five and a half hours from NYC) is your only option.

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