After more than three months under “house arrest,” Long Island families are more than ready — and now finally able — to begin venturing out again for much-needed physical activity and a therapeutic change of scenery.
But where to go to still be able to practice prudent social-distancing? The best answer to may be one of five popular, but not inherently crowded, Northeastern wooded expanses where the majority of activities can be pursued without bringing travelers into overly close contact with other parolees, and where one can sequester in as much isolation as desired. Those five places are profiled below.
To minimize health risks, commercial enterprises have all instituted various enhanced COVID-19 sanitation procedures and/or implemented modifications to their standard operating practices to reduce interpersonal contact, all of which — at the very least — comply with local health department guidelines. Visit individual web sites to ascertain exactly what policies are in effect at the time of your proposed visit, and whether you can only buy tickets and reserve places in advance. And be advised that not all rules will be followed by everyone.
The Poconos (100 miles west of Long Island)
For most of the 20th century, the Poconos’ low-key, wooded seclusion made them particularly popular with honeymooners. Today, they cater primarily to families looking for outdoor recreational opportunities, something these low-key “mountains” offer in abundance.
Activities: Many of the most popular Pocono activities, including hiking, trail biking, horseback and ATV riding, and canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting (where only individuals from the same group are allowed to share watercraft) have social-distancing already built in. Those that don’t, such as water parks, adventure parks, animal parks, and train rides, have instituted practices that do.
Accommodations: The most popular family lodging options are large resorts, most of which sport their own indoor/outdoor water and adventure park. And while all those are scheduled to open by July 1, wary families are encouraged to seek out smaller, outside-entry hotels, motels and inns.
INFO: Poconos Mountains Visitors Bureau, 570-421-5791, poconomountains.com
The Finger Lakes (250 miles northwest of Long Island)
Best known extra-regionally for its wineries (tasting is currently being done outdoors), the 11 Finger Lakes of central New York — and especially their 384 collective miles of shoreline — offer stressed families a littoral bucolic opportunity to stop and unwind between excursions to generally lower-key and lower-energy natural and historical attractions.
Activities: Lakeside activities include swimming, fishing and boating, either in smaller rented watercraft (motorized or paddle) or on commercial cruises. Trail biking is also popular and family hikers have dozens of spectacular waterfalls such as Watkins Glen, Letchworth, Taughannock, Buttermilk, and Lucifer, all of which are in state parks, from which to choose. (At Letchworth, you can also whitewater raft.) Among the more worthwhile museums are the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, and the Glenn H. Curtiss (aviation) Museum in Hammondsport.
Accommodations: Given the Finger Lakes expansive geographic area (14 counties), social distancing conscious families should have no problem finding an acceptable smaller hotel, motel, or rental property either on, or overlooking, a calming lake.
INFO: Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, 315-536-7488, fingerlakes.org
The Adirondacks (275 miles north northwest of Long Island)
As the largest park in the Lower 48, there’s certainly no shortage of space in the heavily forested and lake-laden Adirondacks. Nor is there any shortage of things to do, including just communing with nature, though traveling between locations can involve a fair amount of time.
Activities: Hiking, mountain climbing, swimming, and fishing can be done by yourself, while a host of outfitters will set you up riding, boating, canoeing, and whitewater rafting on the Upper Hudson. (Less adventurous types can hike and then float through Ausable Chasm.) Kids will enjoy the welter of amusements and attraction at Lake George and around Lake Placid, though parents may want to scrutinize how assiduously distancing is being practiced first.
Accommodations: Hotels and large motels abound in the popular resorts of Lakes George and Placid, but solitude-seekers will find plenty of smaller lakeside or woodsy cabins throughout the park.
INFO: Adirondacks Regional Tourism Council, visitadirondacks.com
The Pennsylvania Wilds (300 miles west northwest of Long Island)
With more than 2 million acres spread out over 12 north-central counties, including 29 state parks and eight state forests, the generally overlooked “Wilds” are undoubtedly the best bet for those who wish to err on the side of caution, especially if they don’t mind roughing it and self-catering.
Activities: Most activities here are of the inherently less risky, do-it-yourself variety, including kayaking and canoeing on two National Wild and Scenic Rivers, hiking or biking in Pine Creek Gorge, horseback riding, and fishing. By night, check out the stars at Cherry Creek State Park, home to some of the darkest skies in the eastern United States.
Accommodations: Rustic, modern, and camping cabins, along with yurts, inns, and primitive campgrounds are available at several state parks. In addition, there are even more similar private accommodations, particularly in the Cook Forest/Clarion River and Elk County areas.
INFO: PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, pawilds.com
The White Mountains (350 miles northeast of Long Island)
With more than 500 square miles of the Northeast’s highest and most rugged terrain, including 750,000 acres of national forest, New Hampshire’s widely commercialized White Mountains are a good choice for those who seek both big-time outdoor activities and small-scale amusements and entertainments.
Activities: Older and more serious hikers will rejoice at all the above tree-line hiking, while younger ones will delight in the geological challenges of Lost River, the Polar Caves, and the Flume Gorge, the downwardly-mobile activities at four ski resort adventure parks, and the fun to be had at Clark’s Trained Bears and three scenic railroads. The whole family can ascend the highest peak in the Northeast by car or via the Mt. Washington Cog Railway.
Accommodations: Lodging options run the gamut from primitive campgrounds to full-amenity resorts. Of special interest to social-distancers, however, will be the many tourist cabin complexes from the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.
INFO: White Mountains Visitors Center, 603-745-8720, visitwhitemountains.com
Know before you go:
While getting there may not be half the fun, getting there safely is definitely a major concern for parents. And that means having a plan for those inevitable en route calls of nature. If possible, plan ahead to be able to avail yourself of state-owned and operated rest stops and welcome centers, which, now that they are reopened, typically have increased and more frequent sanitary protocols, and are thus safer bets than private gas stations or unstaffed port-a-potties. Even then, bring your own gloves and plenty of sanitizers. Bringing your own lunch is also a good idea, though carryout dining is now widely available. Likewise for gassing up the day before.