10 Inexpensive Winter Weekend Getaways for NYC-Area Families
Upcoming school vacations and long holiday weekends usually mean dreams of winter getaways fill our thoughts, but family travel in the time of COVID is complicated, to say the least. Whether your family is anxious for a change of scenery now or dealing with cabin fever by plotting a trip much further down the line, we've got some inspiration. All of these spots are easily driveable from the tri-state area, making a quick weekend getaway easy and safer than traipsing through a crowded airport.
Whether you're craving winter sports or urban adventure, small-town charm, or big-city culture, we've got a destination for you.
As you're planning your trip, keep in mind that COVID is rampant across our country now. Follow all CDC suggestions, including wearing masks and social distancing, and consider postponing your trip until things are safer. Please check state and local travel advisories, and keep in mind the New York State quarantine guidelines upon your return. Some destinations require out-of-state visitors to quarantine or have a negative COVID-19 test before arrival.
Please click through to each venue listed, as infection surges may cause unexpected shutdowns or changes to hours and reservation policies.
RELATED: Skiing and Winter Sports Guide
Belleayre provides a budget-friendly winter sports fix. Photo courtesy of the Mountain
Catskills, New York
You don't need to leave the state to enjoy a mountain getaway. New York's Catskills region spans 600,000 acres of wide-open spaces in Sullivan, Delaware, Green, and Schoharie counties. You'll find two of our favorite ski mountains nearby, Hunter and Belleayre, which offer plenty of winter sports fun. Art and nature lovers can appreciate a visit to Opus 40, an outdoor art park with 60 acres of walkable trails. Be sure to book your visit in advance. Animal lovers can get up close with the alpacas at Buck Brook Alpacas and even book an alpaca walk.
Stay at the scenic Emerson Resort & Spa, which features two distinct properties: a contemporary inn and an Adirondack-style lodge. Dogs are welcome to join in on this family vacation and even find a dog park on-site. If you want to get away for the holidays, the resort offers a "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" add-on package and makes sure your room is Santa ready and decorated before you arrive.
Hear the stories, see the history, and experience the excitement of the Olympic Games at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum
Adirondacks, New York
At more than 6 million acres, the Adirondack Mountains region definitely can't be covered in one weekend, but you can find plenty of winter adventure here. Lake Placid is a good jumping-off point for first-time visitors. You can get inspired for the 2021—and 2022—Olympic Games with a visit to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. For outdoor adventure, there's plenty to see and do. Ski at Whiteface Mountain, explore the Wild Center's outdoor attractions and hike the trails at the Ausable Chasm. We've got tons more picks for Adirondacks fun in Lake Placid and beyond.
While you're in the region, book a room at Mirror Lake Inn, which offers a selection of family-sized suites and offers a luxurious lakeside retreat. Well-known for its breakfast of Adirondack Flapjacks and hot maple syrup, we can't think of a better way to start a vacation day.
The Strong (National Museum of Play) is open with safety measures in place. Photo courtesy of the Museum
Rochester, New York
If you can get over the fact it is located in a snow belt, Rochester rolls out the red carpet for kids. The city’s top activities are indoors, so let the wind blow. The Strong (National Museum of Play) is a mecca of interactive learning and the only museum in the world completely devoted to the importance of play. One day here may not be not enough to explore the 150,000 feet of engaging exhibit space. Fan favorites include the dozens of pinball machines and the National Toy Hall of Fame. The museum has reopened and encourages booking your tickets in advance.
The Rochester Museum & Science Center is a worthy stop, and the George Eastman Museum’s Discovery Room lets kids create animation strips and handle iconic early cameras. Like The Strong, plan to book your tickets to both venues in advance. The Hilton Garden Inn is in the center of downtown. It benefits from a heated indoor pool, spacious rooms, and fair prices. Check out its Clean Stay policy for peace of mind before you check-in.
Start a new tradition this holiday season at Palmer Square’s “eco-friendly” outdoor synthetic skating rink. Photo courtesy of Palmer Square
Princeton, New Jersey
This Ivy League town is a pedestrian’s delight, only an hour from New York City and Philadelphia. It may not be far from home, but this quintessential college town feels miles away from urban stress. Tour the pretty Palmer Square area and glide across the synthetic ice skating rink. Let little ones pop into jaZams, an indie but modern children's toy store. Show the kids what vinyl looks like at the Princeton Record Exchange before browsing the kids' section at Labyrinth Books. Fuel up on ice cream or sweets like chocolate-covered Oreos at Thomas Sweet. Let tots enjoy playtime at the 5,000-square-foot indoor playground Princeton Playspace, which currently requires reservations for visits.
Spend the night, and you’ll see that while there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there is free breakfast at the Sonesta ES Suites Princeton. It caters to extended-stay travelers, but families appreciate the oversized suites and daily grab-and-go breakfast. Families should enjoy hanging out in The Nest, the property’s common space that’s a twist on a family living room, with plenty of board games, books, and puzzles. The company's Stay Safe promise means enhanced cleaning of both common areas and suites.
Cape May, New Jersey
Quaint Cape May is an all-American resort town bursting with old-fashioned delights. Its visual splendors include an architectural tiara of Victorian gingerbread homes in candy colors, shops selling saltwater taffy and fudge, and the magnificent Atlantic Ocean. Sure, summer rules, but there’s enough winter charm to make it more than destination-worthy. Bird observers have been flocking to Cape May for centuries. Enjoy nature’s spectacle as you hike one of the peaceful trails at the Cape May Bird Observatory, open and maintained year-round and currently requiring reservations for all programming. You can also visit the nearby—and FREE—Cape May County Park and Zoo.
Families who enjoy pedaling will find miles of flat roads, some with designated bike lanes. Cape May is 160 miles south of New York City, so keep your fingers crossed for slightly warmer temps. Stately Congress Hall is the oldest seaside hotel in America. Guest rooms offer soothing nautical-inspired décor and are loaded with amenities, so you’ll feel pampered and relaxed at the same time. Check the website for significant off-season discounts and festive holiday events.
Peddler's Village is aglow this holiday season. Photo courtesy of Visit Bucks County
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
This Pennsylvania countryside county offers plenty of family-friendly entertainment no matter your children's ages or interests. We recently updated our Bucks County travel guide with four family-friendly itineraries. Whether you crave toddler-friendly action, historical haunts, outdoor adventures, or transportation-themed outings, we've got some ideas for you.
At about two hours from the city, the Pocono Mountains offer plenty of natural beauty and family-friendly adventure. An all-seasons playground, you can hit the slopes (on skis or snow tubes) at various mountains, like Jack Frost and Camelback Mountain. Indoor waterparks are big business here, too, with Kalahari, Camelback, and Great Wolf Lodge offering gigantic indoor water play areas, in addition to plush, resort amenities.
The Delaware Water Gap offers beautiful hiking trails, or opt to visit the Pocono Snake & Animal Farm for some wild encounters. We've got tons more picks for Poconos family fun in our Poconos Family Travel Guide and this list of 61 things to do in the region.
RELATED: New England Family Travel Guide
Olde Mistick Village has created an old-fashioned Holiday Light Spectacular for families to enjoy. Photo courtesy of Olde Mistick Village
This seaside village may seem like a summer destination, but don't discount all the family-friendly fun to be found in other seasons. No visit would be complete without a stop at the Mystic Aquarium for face time with its adorable belugas (and countless other sea creatures). Directly across the street, find Olde Mistic Village, with its open-air shops, historic colonial village, and (through January!) a Holiday Lights Spectacular. For dinner, grab a pie from the famed Mystic Pizza; for a morning pick-me-up, though, we implore you to stop at Vault Coffee for some delectable Deviant Donuts.
Book your weekend stay at the Taber Inne & Suites, which offers proximity to the fun in the downtown area, friendly staff, and most importantly (for kids!) an indoor pool.
Litchfield County, Connecticut
Connecticut's largest county, located in the northwestern corner of the state, overflows with New England charm. It's also got plenty of open spaces and the lowest population density in the Nutmeg state, making it a good choice right now. You'll find winter sports like skating at local rinks and skiing at Mohawk Mountain. Enjoy the state's natural beauty with a visit to the Sharon Audubon Center, White Mountain Nature Center, or Kent Fall State Park, where a hike to the namesake falls takes you across a covered bridge. Our Connecticut site has plenty more family-friendly picks for this scenic county.
The Litchfield Inn is a charming boutique hotel that's been recently renovated. Choose from one of its 12 custom rooms—like the cabin, bohemian, or garden room—or opt for the well-appointed standard rooms. Breakfast awaits in the mornings, and you can borrow a bike to explore on two wheels nearby, weather permitting.
RELATED: United States Family Travel Guide
The American Visionary Art Museum will keep families engaged with interesting art. Photo by Jody Mercier
An easy Amtrak ride away, Baltimore is a delightful urban destination. Its Inner Harbor district is chock-full of family-friendly destinations. We adore the quirky American Visionary Art Museum, which boasted funky finds at every turn. The National Aquarium sits right on the waterfront and is home to more than 20,000 animals. Nearby you'll find the Maryland Science Center and Port Discovery Children's Museum, both of which have reopened and are welcoming visitors in a limited capacity. Another Inner Harbor attraction is the collection of historic ships that call its waters home, including the USS Constitution, the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy. While they're currently closed to visitors, you can see them from the waterfront promenade.
Book your stay at the Staybridge Suite Inner Harbor Baltimore, located in a historic 1907 building, just steps away from all the Inner Harbor attractions. Once a bank, the vaults are still visible in the breakfast nook, where you can grab your free morning meals.
A version of this article was first published in 2016; it has been updated for 2020.