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5 affordable mini-family vacations in New York State

Kingfisher Tower, a Gothic Revival structure built

 Kingfisher Tower, a Gothic Revival structure built in 1876 on private property the eastern shore of Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, stands 60 feet tall. Credit: Getty Images/PapaBear

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of most family summer vacations, especially those involving extended, out-of-state travel. New York’s generally successful flattening of the curve, however, has opened a side door of opportunity for Long Island families desperately seeking fun in the waning days of summer. For those with unused vacation time, something is definitely better than nothing — if it doesn’t jeopardize their health or deplete their bank accounts. So, profiled below are five relatively easy to access and inexpensive (roughly $500 for a family of four based on two nights’ accommodations) in-state mini-vacation suggestions that offer a chance to salvage the summer of 2020. 

All commercial enterprises open to the public are obliged to follow CDC and Phrase 4 New York State COVID-19 protocols. How those protocols are achieved, however, depends on the physical layout of the site and the functional dynamics of the activity. For a complete description, including hours of operation, many of which have been reduced significantly, please visit the specific website. Also be aware that things can change and that many activities now require advance registration. 

Cooperstown

Citi Field is closed to Mets fans this season, but aficionados of the national pastime are again being welcomed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ($25 ages 13 and up, $15 ages 7-12; baseballhall.org) in Cooperstown, the charming lakeshore upstate village where baseball actually wasn’t invented in 1839. (No games, however, are being played at Doubleday Field.) But the Hall’s not the only game in Cooperstown for active families who can get their hands somewhat dirty at the Farmers’ Museum ($5/$7.50 ages 13 and up; farmersmuseum.org), cultured at the Fenimore Art Museum ($10 ages 13 and up, 12 and under, free; fenimore.com), a taste of gracious 19th-century county living at Hyde Hall State Historic Site ($15 ages 18 and up, $12 ages 13-17, free under 13; hydehall.org), more than just their feet wet in Lake Otsego at Glimmerglass State Park ($7 per vehicle), or go completely underground at nearby Howe Caverns (standard 90-minute tour $25 ages 13 and up, $15 ages 5-12; howecaverns.com).

STAYING SAFE: A number of smaller hotels and motels can be found along the roads leading into Cooperstown and on the lake north of it. 

INFO: thisiscooperstown.com

Kingston and the Eastern Catskills

Only 90 miles up the Hudson from the city of New York is Kingston, the first Capitol (1777) of the state of New York and a surprisingly worthwhile river town that doubles as a gateway to the spectacular eastern Catskills. In Kingston itself are the Trolley Museum of New York ($8 ages 13 and up, $6 ages 6-12; tmny.org), the Hudson River Maritime Museum ($9 over 19, $6 under 19; hrmm.org), and the opportunity to take in the littoral scenery on the Rip Van Winkle II ($31 ages 12 and up, $21 ages 4-11; hudsonrivercruises.com). Venture inland to experience the still groovy village of Woodstock and access some of the most visually rewarding hiking in the Catskills, including the Overlook and Hunter Mountain fire towers, and Kaaterskill Falls. If that’s still not exciting enough for your brood, zip on over to Hunter Mountain for an adventure tour ($89 per person and up; ziplinenewyork.com).

STAYING SAFE: You can avoid the chain hotels in Kingston by seeking out smaller motels or cabin complexes in Woodstock, Phoenicia or Big Indian. 

INFO: ulstercountylive.com

Ithaca

Located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, the largest (and closest) of the Finger Lakes, greater Ithaca has more than enough to gainfully fill a couple of days, especially if waterfalls are a collective pleasure. Adjacent to the Cornell University campus is Ithaca Falls, while west of town — and each in their own state park with an entrance fee of $8 per vehicle — are Buttermilk, Lucifer (in Robert H. Treman State Park), and Taughannock, which at 215 feet, is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. (You can swim in the natural pool at Robert H. Treman and in the lake itself at Taughannock Falls.) Back in town, the kids will enjoy the Museum of the Earth ($9 ages 18 and up, $6 ages 4-17; museumoftheearth.org), the Cornell Botanic Gardens, and the outdoor trails at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (both free), while their parents will no doubt savor the scenery and refreshments available along the Cayuga Wine Trail. (Most wineries open for sales and outdoor tasting.)

STAYING SAFE: Look for smaller chain hotels in downtown Ithaca or a cabin at one of the state parks ($52.50-$59.50 per night).

INFO: visitithaca.com

Upper Delaware River Valley

Defining the New York-Pennsylvania border in western Sullivan County, the Upper Delaware River Valley offers more adventurous families the opportunity to spend a half or full day on this designated national scenic and recreational river. A quartet of outfitters, Landers (landersrivertrips.com) in Narrowsburg, and Kittatinny (Kittatinny.com), Indian Head (indianheadcanoes.com), and Reber’s (reberrivertrips.com) in Barryville, will set you on your way down the not-too-lazy river in a tube, canoe, kayak, or raft and pick you up afterward. (Prices depend on mode of transportation and length of trip, but are roughly $40-50 per person; $10 less for tubing.) Back on dry land, you can take a number of shorter hikes, traverse the Delaware Aqueduct Bridge (America’s oldest suspension bridge), and explore the 1779 Minisink Battlefield (all free.) For something completely different en route, experience Woodstock 51 years later at the Museum at Bethel Woods ($19.69 adults, $10 ages 6-18; bethelwoodscenter.org).

STAYING SAFE: Both Indian Head and Kittatinny have cabins ($119-$169 at Indian Head, $249-$269 at Kittatinny that sleep 4-6) and campgrounds available for their clients. 

INFO: nps.gov/upde

Lake George

With the notable exception of the Great Escape/Hurricane Harbor amusement complex, most everything else in the family playground of the Adirondacks is open, just not at full capacity and without marquee events. But that means there is still plenty to do, especially if you’re only looking to fill two or three days, in which case you will no doubt bust a $500 budget. Full-day activities include tubing, white water rafting and adventure parking in nearby Lake Luzerne with the Adirondack Adventure Center (rafting $34 ages 13 and up, $30 ages 5-12, ropes course $42 ages 13 and up, $39 ages 5-12; adktubing.com) or the Sacandaga Outdoor Center ($240 for four people in a guided raft; 4soc.com), horseback riding ($70 per person and up) at a handful of stables along the Dude Ranch Trail, and hiking, though not up Prospect Mountain, which is closed for construction. Back in town, Fort William Henry ($19.95 ages 16 and up, $9 ages 5-15; fwhmuseum.com) is open as is the Million Dollar Beach (beach free, parking $10), and all six “adventure” miniature golf courses. And you can definitely get out on the lake itself, either on a commercial cruise (basic cruises $17-50- $24 ages 12 and up; $8.25- 12.50 ages 4-11, meal cruises generally $15-$30 more), including the nightly family dinner cruise ($30 age 12 and up, $16 ages 4-11) on the Mohican (lakegeorgesteamboat.com), or via several boat rental operators, both paddle and powered.

STAYING SAFE: An abundance of inherently safe-distancing cabin and cottage complexes await your inspection. 

INFO: visitlakegeorge.com

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