Even with all the things to do with kids in NYC this winter, we know that the season isn't many people's favorite time of year. Luckily, we hunted down ten wonderful winter day trips from NYC for families so your brood has some worthy travel options to look forward to. We chose locales less than two hours away from the city that revel in the great outdoors, like spots for skiing and sledding; plus others that embrace the indoors, like a tropical-weather water park.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best family vacations from NYC
Many are accessible by public transportation or car, and we've even got suggestions for family restaurants and places to grab a bite to eat along your journey. Our thinking is, the more fun we have, the quicker winter is bound to be over!
Camelback Mountain Resort
Travel time: 1½ hours
Not only does Camelback Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania (243 Resort Dr, Tannersville, PA; 570-629-1663, skicamelback.com) have 12 beginners’ trails that are perfect for newbie skiers—including a number of easy long trails—but also what is now the largest snow tubing park in the country, outfitted with 40-plus tubing lanes and two “magic carpet” conveyor walkways to bring you back to the top of the hill. Even better: Two buses—Urban Sherpa Travel (urbansherpatravel.com) and OvRride (ovrride.com)—offer Saturday round-trips to the mountain out of New York City; the latter lets you choose just about any combination of lift ticket, ski or snowboard rental, and lessons in addition to the bus ride. Ample on-site snowmaking and seven well-placed dining facilities, including a waffle cabin, mountaintop lodge, and eateries at both the Sunbowl learning area and the tubing park—ensure that you’ll keep your crew warm, fed and skiing (or tubing or boarding) all day long.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center
Travel time: 1¼ hours
Located on 112 acres in North Stamford, Connecticut, the 112-acre Stamford Museum & Nature Center (39 Scofield Town Rd; 203-322-1646, stamfordmuseum.org. $10, children ages 4–17 $5, children 3 and under free) is a must for nature-loving kids. In addition to the museum, housed in the Bendel Mansion, this sanctuary supports a working farm—a 1750 farmhouse filled with heritage breed animals little ones can visit, plus an organic vegetable garden and open pastures—a 1750-built farmhouse devoted mostly to heritage animal breeds, plus an organic vegetable garden, a maple sugaring house and open pastures—a nature center and the beautiful, perhaps most fun of all, Edith & Robert Graham Otter Pond, where river otters Edie and Robert regale visitors with their playful antics year-round. While exploring some of the 80 miles of forested hiking trails, including the wheelchair-accessible Wheels in the Woods trail, you may spot the likes of red foxes and white-tailed deer, woodpeckers and wood ducks. This winter, families can look forward to the Lego-centric show “A Billion Bricks” (opens Dec 14) and the much-anticipated Maple Sugar Sunday (Mar 1; $10 per person, includes museum admission), where they can watch sap be turned into syrup at the maple sugaring house and, for $5 extra, enjoy a pancake brunch.
Travel time: 1½ hours
Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Dia:Beacon (3 Beekman St; 845-440-0100, diaart.org. $12, children under 12 free) with a trip to the small town on the Hudson that’s become a big cultural destination. Currently on view at the Nabisco box factory–turned–contemporary art haven are the ultra kid-friendly 24 Colors—for Blinky by Imi Knoebel, a series of 21 painted shapes, and an installation of embroidered works and works on paper by the Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti. Some of the individual galleries will stretch kids’ definitions of art, such as the room of work by Dan Flavin, whose medium is light; Birdcalls, an audio work by Louise Lawler; and Robert Smithson’s Map of Broken Glass. After, head to Hudson Beach Glass (162 Main St; 845-440-0068, hudsonbeachglass.com), just a short walk away, where kids can blow their own glass ornament ($30; advance registration recommended; Nov–Dec only) in a 15-minute, one-on-one session, watch glassblowing artists in action or check out glass works made by 30 to 40 artists from across the country. Stop at Homespun Foods for the likes of sandwiches and Middle Eastern platters before heading back home on the train. Be sure to check out MetroNorth’s round-trip special, with discounted fares and reduced admission to Dia:Beacon.
Lakota Wolf Preserve
Travel time: 1½ hours
Imagine being surrounded by four packs of wolves in a remote, wooded part of western New Jersey. That’s just what awaits young naturalists and their families at the Lakota Wolf Preserve (89 Mount Pleasant Rd, Columbia, NJ; 877-733-9653, lakotawolf.com. $16, children ages 2–11 $8. Tours offered Tue–Sun), which cares for wolfs, foxes and bobcats born in captivity. Animal caregivers offer regular “wolf watches” on which visitors meet some of the preserve’s 21 wolves from an observation area in the center of all four wolf packs (subspecies include timber, tundra, arctic and British Columbia wolves)—they’re separated from each other, and visitors, by a double fence. Educators talk about their social behavior and feeding habits and sometimes even get the animals to howl. Watches coincide with the periods when wolves are at their most active; in winter (Nov 3–Mar 8) they’re offered at 10:30am and 3pm (be sure to arrive 30 minutes before your tour starts). Reservations are not required for weekend tours, but are for those during the week. Call the preserve’s weather line at 877-733-9653 before heading out to make sure it’s open.
Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT
Travel time: 2¼ hours
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut (10 North Water St, Norfolk, CT; 203-852-0700, maritimeaquarium.org. $20, children ages 3–12 $13, children under 3 free), introduces families to the marine residents and ecology of Long Island Sound with a slew of cool exhibitions, starting with an indoor-outdoor harbor seal area, followed by the Shark & Ray Touch Pool, one of the most interactive animal encounters we’ve ever seen. Kids wait their turn to gently pet the backs of nurse sharks and all kinds of rays. Don’t worry: It’s not only safe but supervised. Other highlights include a meerkat exhibit, a series of re-created Long Island Sound habitats, from salt marshes (think crabs and sea horses) to river eco-systems (with two river otters and a snapping turtle)—plus an Intertidal Touch Tank where kids can meet starfish, hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs, among other fascinating but harmless creatures. Rounding out the offerings are a giant (this time enclosed) shark tank, a jelly exhibit and a 10,000-square-foot enclosure that’s home to two young green sea turtles hatched in a rescue hospital, who could live to be 100.
Travel time: 1¾ hours
The city of Philadelphia is far less crowded in the winter months, making it the perfect time to visit. It’s got some of the best museums in the Northeast, including the Franklin Institute (222 N 20th St; 215-448-1200, www2.fi.edu. $16.50, children ages 3–11 $12.50, under 3 free), a kid-friendly science museum that’s also the city’s most visited (don’t miss its “One Day in Pompeii” exhibit (up through Apr 27 and June 2014, respectively)). But given the city’s cachet as the Birthplace of Liberty, a stop at Independence Mall, the several block strip between Race and Walnut Sts and S 5th and S 6th Streets, is required. There you’ll find the Liberty Bell (a gift from Great Britain, pre-Revolution), Independence Hall (where the Constitution was written and signed) and the hands-on National Constitution Center. Head to Reading Terminal Market (51 N 12th St between Arch and Filbert Sts; 215-922-2317, readingterminalmarket.org) to refuel. You can’t go wrong with classic Philly sandwiches at DiNics or Chinese fare from Sang Kee Peking Duck. The history lesson can resume at Bassett’s Ice Cream, founded in 1861; in 2010 it served President Obama its mint chocolate chip.
Fahnestock Winter Park
Travel time: 1½ hours
This winter sports zone within Clarence Fahnestock State Park (1570 Rte 301, Carmel, NY; 845-225-3998, nysparks.com. Trail pass $9, kids under 18 $6; sledding pass $3 per person), in Carmel, New York, is one of the easiest ways to introduce the kids (and yourselves, as the case may be) to the kind of winter wonderland snowshoeing and cross-country skiing reveal. A small base lodge rents skis and boots (by the day) and snowshoes (by the hour), plus pulk sleds to pull very little ones behind you as you ski. Many of the easiest machine-groomed trails (nearly ten miles of them wind through the 16,000-acre preserve) begin right at the lodge. Fahnestock Winter Park also offers the option of renting giant inner tubes, so if you’d rather just play in the snow, bundle up, climb a hill and let loose. Cold Spring Station is just 15 minutes from the park entrance by car, so the trip’s also doable via MetroNorth if you book a taxi ahead of time.
Riverhead Foundation seal cruise
Travel time: 1 hour
It’s easy for urban kids to forget that our city’s waterways are also outlets to the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean. A great reminder that our waterways actually lead to the Atlantic Ocean is the two-hour afternoon seal cruise run by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation; it departs from Freeport, Long Island, on winter weekends (Dec 28–Apr 13 via the Captain Lou Fleet, 28 Woodcleft Ave, Freeport, NY 631-369-9840, riverheadfoundation.org. $26, children ages 3–12 $22, under 3 free. Reservations required). Midwinter is when harbor and gray seals’ migration south is complete, making the chances of spotting one extremely good. Bundle up the family and keep watch for the playful sea mammals from the outdoor viewing deck, or from a window in the indoor cabin. An onboard naturalist talks about the biology and behavior of seals and other sea creatures you may encounter along the way and will answer your children’s sure-to-be-abundant questions.
Bounce Trampoline Sports
Travel time: 1 hour
Few things elicit smiles as readily as a trampoline, which is just what indoor sports center Bounce Trampoline Sports (310 Michael Dr, Syosset, NY; 516-762-1300, bounceonit.com/syosset. Trampolines only: one hour $15, two hours $25; inflatables only: one hour $11, two hours $17; all-access pass: one hour $22, two hours $32) is counting on. The 50-000-square-foot emporium in Long Island is filled with wall-to-wall trampoline courts that reach to the ceiling, meaning there’s nothing to fall off of and there are no walls to fall against. Young visitors can bounce to their hearts’ content (tykes ages 1 to 6 have their own court), jump and do flips into a pit of foam blocks, play on inflatable obstacle courses and sign up for a three-minute, supervised “bungee ride” ($7) that lets them try various gymnastics moves while being strapped to a safety harness. Older kids (ages 7 to 11) can use the main courts, try slam-dunking basketballs and have a dodgeball court all to themselves. We’re guessing that hitting a moving target while jumping up and down may not be as easy as it sounds.