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Day trips from NYC: Great fall trip ideas for families

This autumn, escape the city limits—just for the day!—on one of these family-friendly day trips from NYC.

 (Photograph: Jerry L. Thompson)
Photograph: Jerry L. Thompson

Storm King Arts Center, New Windsor, NY
Traverse 500 grassy acres of large-scale sculptures at this modern art mecca located in the foothills of the Hudson Valley (1 Museum Rd; 845-534-3115, stormkingartcenter.org; $12, children 5-12 $8). Kids will love walking beneath and through the towering tall steel beams and stone columns, truly becoming part of each piece. Museum Hill has a stone indoor museum and restrooms—start there and then head to the South Fields, where your crew will encounter mountain vistas and unique pieces like StormKing Wavefield (where the grass itself is the art medium) and Storm King Wall (an expansive, winding stone fence). On Sundays, special craft activities (think mask-making and pumpking decorating) are offered. (Note: The installations are spread wide apart, so expect lots of walking. A tram does run around the grounds every 20 minutes.) For lunch, stop by the The Storm King Café, which uses locally grown ingredients in their salads, soups and sandwiches, or head to Brothers Barbecue (2402 New York 32, Cornwall, NY; 845-534-4227, thebrothersbarbecue.com) for Southern favorites like collard greens,ribs and grits. Travel time: 1 hour

 (Photograph: Vince Kish)
Photograph: Vince Kish

Old Westbury Gardens and Nassau County Museum of Art
Two of Nassau County’s cultural gems are located within four miles of one another, both on Long Island’s North Shore. Old Westbury Gardens (71 Old Westbury Rd, Old Westbury, NY; 516-333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org; $10, children ages 7–17 $5, children under 7 free) has formal gardens, woodland trails, pathways that meander along the ponds and lake as well as an early 1900s mansion filled with English antiques and artwork. Check the calendar for educational kids workshops: Fall topics include bird-watching, Falltography and Dash Thru the Decades, where participants get to experience childhood entertainment and games of 100 years ago. The garden also hosts the Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns (therise.org) on select days in October and November—kids will be in awe of the 5,000 individually carved pumpkins. Lunch at Kitchen Kabaret (409 Glen Cove Rd, Roslyn Heights; 516-484-3320, kitchenkabaret.com) is an experience in itself. The gourmet pizza, fresh deli, and omelette station make for difficult decisions—but be sure to recaffeinate at the cappuccino bar (and good luck getting the kiddies past the bakery) before continuing your excursion at the Nassau County Museum of Art (One Museum Drive, Roslyn; 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org; $10, chlidren ages 4–12 $4, children under 4 free). Family Fun Sundays (1–3pm) include an interactive tour and hands-on art activity. In addition to the three-story Georgian mansion that houses the main collection of European and American art from the 19th and 20th centuries, the complex has a sculpture garden and nature trails on its 145 acres. Travel time: 30 minutes


New Paltz, NY
Prepare your crew for an active day in the Shawangunk Mountain Range (or “the Gunks,” as locals call the jagged cliffs that frame the area). Enter Minnewaska State Park Preserve (5281 Route 44-55; 845-255-0752, nyparks.com) and park in the Awosting Parking Area for a short (less than 1/2 mile round-trip) but steep hike to Awosting Falls. Then move the car to the main parking lot, where a two-mile trail encircles the turquoise Lake Minnewaska (which gets its rare hue from mineral deposits). Picturesque views, colorful foliage and wooden gazebos dot the circumference. A history lesson can be found on Huguenot Street; kids can view rotating exhibits at the DuBois Fort Visitor Center (88 Huguenot St; 845-255-1660, huguenotstreet.org) and tour restored homes and a church circa early 1700s ($16, children ages 7–13 $10, children under 7 free). Since New Paltz is a college town, you’ll find bar food and beer aplenty. We like the Gilded Otter (3 Main St; 845-256-1700, gildedotter.com), a brew pub with a vast menu that includes hearty fare like meatloaf, three meat chili and buffalo wings. Adults can sample the seasonal brews like pumpkin ale or oatmeal stout. Travel time: 2 hours


West Point, NY
Our nation’s history, Gothic architecture and stunning foliage await at the prestigious United States Military Academy (all visitors over 16 must present ID). Begin at the Visitors Center (enter from Route 218 in Highland Falls; 845-938-2638, usma.edu/visitors) where you can buy tickets for the one-hour bus tour (no self-guided tours are permitted; check westpointtours.com for schedule). The first stop is the massive granite Cadet Chapel, home of the world’s largest pipe organ as well as astounding stained glass windows. Trophy Point is another highlight, with its breathtaking vista overlooking the Hudson River. Post-tour, peruse the gift shop, which has an ample selection of kiddie-sized Army gear, from hooded sweatshirts to plush mascots and make a stop at the free West Point Museum, where weapons aficionados of all ages will gawk at the collection of swords, rifles and tanks from every time period. After leaving the grounds, head to the Ice Cream Shop in Highland Falls (419 Main St; 845-446-2380) for cones or milkshakes. Fall flavors include pumpkin and southern apple pie. Travel time: 1 1/2 hours

 (Photograph: Wikimedia commons user 'Americasroof')
Photograph: Wikimedia commons user 'Americasroof'

The Hamptons, Long Island, NY
The summer crowds have thinned, leaving the Hamptons adelightfully relaxing destination. At the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum (100 Montauk Hwy, Southampton; 631-287-4923, shinnecockmuseum.com; $8, children 5–12 $4.75, children under 5 free) an unassuming log cabin holds paintings, wood carvings, tools and jewelry that collectively tell the story of Native Americans’ presence on Long Island since the end of the last ice age. The South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (377 Bridgehampton Tpke, Bridgehampton; 631-537-9735, sofo.org; $7, $5 children 3–12 $5, children under 3 free) immerses kids in each exhibit by engaging all five senses. Kids smell foxes, touch marine animals and look through telescopes as they explore. The nature trail behind the museum connects to the nine-mile Long Pond Greenbelt—little ones will have a ball crunching fall leaves. The quaint Candy Kitchen Ice Cream Parlour and Eatery (2391 Montauk Hwy, Bridgehampton; 631-537-9885) has typical diner fare, but their famous ice cream sodas are a must. Sugar Daddy’s Toy Store (103 Main St, Westhampton Beach; 631-288-3537) has a huge selection of Rainbow Looms, Disney Infinity characters and a life-size illuminated Iron Man that makes for fun photos. Travel time: 2 1/2 hours


 (Photograph: Courtesy of Nyswths)
Photograph: Courtesy of Nyswths

Delaware River Railroad Excursions, Phillipsburg, NJ
Visitrs can take a scenic trip via a historic steam train that includes unrivaled foliage along the Delaware River as well as family-friendly adventures (99 Elizabeth St, Phillipsburg; nyswths.org). Board the Great Pumpkin Train, which includes a free pumpkin for every child ($17, children $13) or upgrade to the Dinosaur Train Corn Maze ($20, $13 $13; includes train plus maze) for a new twist on the popular autumn outing. Ride the train to a farm, where you’ll get lost in a labyrinth shaped like Buddy, the T-Rex from Jim Henson’s PBS cartoon. Pass through twelve checkpoints to find your way out, then jump in the giant pumpkin bounce house. School age kids will love the Ol’ Susquehanna Mine Train ($21, children $13), which includes a tour of a 1700s mine followed by gemstone panning on a sluice. Participants are guaranteed a minimum of four ounces of gems, which include rubies, amethyst and arrowheads. Phillipsburg, or P-burg as locals call it, has an abundance of cheesesteak and hot dog joints in town. Try Toby’s Cup (857 Memorial Parkway, 908-859-1925), where milkshakes are noteworthy too. Travel time: 1 1/2 hours

RECOMMENDED: More things to do in the fall with kids

During the autumn months, Mother Nature tends to be on our side making it the perfect time for hat-free romps in the park, strolls on awesome hiking trails and photo ops against the New York fall foliage. This fall, take a break from city life by planning a day trip for your family—everything from apple picking excursions to historic steam train trips and sculture garden outings. 

Scroll through the slide show, below, to find out about our favorite day trips from NYC this fall—all are within 2 1/2 hours are the city.