I only spent a year living in New Paltz, but it was long enough to get me hooked. Similar in spirit to nearby Woodstock, this laid-back college town sits in the shadow of the Shawangunk Mountains and has plenty of outdoor and indoor attractions for all ages, especially during the summer season. Families can go hiking and swimming at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, pick their own fruits at local farms, visit quaint shops and restaurants on Main Street, and explore a historic 17th-century community.
While New Paltz is just 90 minutes away by car from NYC and even closer to Westchester, the scenery is a whole world away. Though I wouldn’t call it quiet—the town can be especially crowded with students on weekends—there is a serenity to the place that can’t be beat. Here are the top 10 things to do in New Paltz with kids:
No matter the season, hiking in and around the Shawangunk Mountains (called "the Gunks" by locals) is a breathtakingly beautiful experience whether you walk for miles or just picnic near the parking lot. The Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Mohonk Preserve both offer easy to moderate hikes with spectacular sights along the way. In summer, Mohonk has monthly Toddlers on the Trail guided tours, though you can always check out the list of suggested hikes and go on your own. Meanwhile, Minnewaska boasts the 65-foot Awosting Falls, which are only a short walk from the parking area. More intrepid hikers can trek to Lake Awosting. Looking to spend the day on the trails? Try conquering the eight-mile Gertrude’s Nose Loop!
Speaking of Lake Awosting, I think it's one of the greatest natural swimming spots in all of New York State. This pristine mountain lake is set right into the ‘Gunks and is located three miles from Minnewaska's main parking area. Just about the only way to get to it is to hike or bike out along the Upper Awosting or Lower Awosting Carriage Roads, so it's rarely crowded, even in summer. If your family isn't up for the trek, you can also swim in Lake Minnewaska, which is just a short walk from the parking lot. Though it's not as secluded as Lake Awosting, it's also a pristine sky lake. While Mohonk Preserve has no official swimming spots, there are many unsanctioned swimming holes throughout the park that are popular with families. The Internet would be happy to guide you to them, though keep in mind, you will be swimming at your own risk. Also a warning: Don't go in the Wallkill River that runs through town. It has recently tested positive for some pretty yucky stuff!
By climbing rocks, silly. What were you thinking? Even little kids can get in on the action at the Gunks. If you don't feel comfortable climbing on your own, HighXposure Adventures offers beginner programs and family packages. Don't have any gear? Rock & Snow has everything you need. And if your kids just aren't up to scaling actual mountains, indoor climbing gym The Inner Wall in downtown New Paltz offers children's classes.
Pick your own produce
Pick-your-own season starts in early summer, with all kinds of berries. They fade out in August as peaches ripen, and fall is all about apples and pumpkins. There are many pick-your-own farms in the New Paltz area. My family particularly likes Jenkins-Lueken Orchards, Dressel Farms, Apple Hill Farm and Wallkill View Farm Market. Of course, if you’d rather let someone pick on your behalf, all of these farms have markets for your shopping pleasure. Check the respective online calendars for seasonal festivals and special events, especially in fall.
Shop ‘til you drop
New Paltz’s Main Street is lined with quaint shops selling all kinds of items including handmade jewelry, tie-dyed clothing, art supplies, home goods and vintage LPs. Wandering in and out of these retro ma-and-pa businesses, you may feel like you've time traveled back to '60s—or modern-day Brooklyn with all the locally sourced foods and artisan goods. At the very end of Main Street, don't miss the Water Street Market, an open-air marketplace with kid-pleasing treat shops like Dohnut, plus antique sellers and boutiques.
Romp in a royal-looking playground
Built entirely out of wood, the Playground at Hasbrouck Park looks like a fortress! While there are swings and slides, it's most impressive feature is its multi-story castle that children can climb up via enclosed stairs or by wiggling through a series of secret passages. Loosely connected, the massive wooden structure is fenced in and has two sides: one designed for toddlers with a huge sand box and tiny monkey bars that barely come up to my elbow, the other for school-age kids. Bonus: There's ample street parking nearby.
Step back in time
Just a few blocks from Main Street sits Historic Huguenot Street, America’s oldest continuously-inhabited block, originally settled in 1678 by a group of French immigrants. The visitor’s center is open daily from 10am to 5pm, and walking tours run every half hour. There are also special events throughout the year.
Travel the world... through food
If you’ve been wanting to introduce your kids to zwiebelrostbraten, baba ghanoush, prik khing or malai kofta, you’re in luck. New Paltz’s wealth of ethnic restaurants runs the gamut from Italian (La Bella) to German (Mountain Brauhaus), Turkish (Anatolia Restaurant), Thai (Lemongrass), Indian (New Paltz Indian Restaurant and Suruchi) and Japanese (Gomen Kudasai). Picky eaters in your family? You'll also find college-town staples like organic vegan cafes, delis, diners and bistros.
Or just get dessert
You can pick up fabulous cupcakes, muffins and other sweets at The Bakery, which also serves light meals and has an upstairs loft area with a play kitchen and toys. If ice cream is what you’re after, try Twistee Cone on Main Street for an old-fashioned soft serve or drive down to the Wallkill View Farm Market for a scoop of Jane’s Homemade Ice Cream. Chocolates, pastries and other confections can be found at Lagusta’s Luscious while Moxie Cup serves up a scrumptious variety of cupcakes.
See live entertainment
New Paltz is home to music and theater performances throughout the year thanks to the talented college students. The SUNY New Paltz’s School of Fine and Performing Arts maintains an online calendar where visitors can find events and purchase tickets (there is also an in-person box office on the campus). And you can find even more live entertainment in the college's main event calendar.
With so many things to do and explore in New Paltz, you may decide a day trip just isn't enough time to fit it all in. Luckily, there are lots of great places to stay. If you're up for splurging, the all-inclusive Mohonk Mountain House is the best, hands-down. We even have an entire post about it! Situated in the middle of the Mohonk Preserve, this resort dates back to 1869 and a stay here is worth every penny (though you can also just visit for the day). Watch for special deals during “Family Weeks” when kids stay for free. Looking for something less pricey? There are a bunch of bed-and-breakfasts in and around New Paltz. Some have age restrictions for children under 10 or so, so be sure to ask before booking your stay. There are also a number of inns, campgrounds and chain hotels/motels in the area. For a full rundown of what’s available, visit the lodging page of NewPaltz.org.
Need more day trip inspiration? Check out our Family Weekend Getaways Guide.