We all need a little excitement in our lives. For some (like me), Jane's Carousel will suffice. For others (like my daughter), the idea of zip-lining through the air or tackling a ropes course is high on their to-do list. While my stomach may initially sink when I get to the top of a zip-lining platform, there are scientifically proven advantages that result from controlled risk-taking. Adventure parks help children learn problem-solving and how to work with others. Plus, it's just plain fun to play together as a family and create memories you'll never forget.
I don't think of New York City as the epicenter of adventure parks, but you can find some similar activities for kids: trapeze class, an impressive bowling alley ropes course, and yes, even one seriously high-flying outdoor zip line. But just outside the city, there are dozens of these rope and zip line courses.
We've rounded up a handful of our favorite outdoor adventure parks for a quick day trip—all within two hours drive of the city. So, if your kid is craving excitement that's a tad more wholesome than a walk through Times Square, we've got the perfect idea.
Note: Most of these parks are seasonal, closing outdoor courses for the cold and snowy winter months and reopening in the spring. Please call ahead to confirm hours and book tickets, and pay careful attention to height and age requirements, as well as the dress code, which usually includes closed-toe shoes.
Alley Pond Park Adventure Course — Oakland Gardens, Queens
Ages 8 and up
Alley Pond Park is famous for its amazing educational programs—and a top-notch Adventure Course. The course includes a zip line, a "Trust Fall" station, a climbing and bouldering wall, swings, nets, and balance stations. Because the Adventure Course is so large, it can accommodate all abilities. Best of all, Sunday programs that run from May 14 through October 29 are FREE for families. During July and August, due to high demand, families must register through a lottery. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
RELATED: 8 Rock Climbing Walls for Kids in New York City
The Adventure Park at Long Island offers magical "glow" nights during the summer.
The Adventure Park at Long Island — Wheatley Heights, Long Island
75 Colonial Springs Road
Ages 7 and up
This Long Island course is barely an hour from Midtown (closer if you're in Brooklyn or Queens). It bills itself as a "forest climbing park" where visitors can climb and zip among the trees. The focus is on self-discovery. Guides are available, and are happy to assist, but after you receive your safety orientation, you're encouraged to explore what interests you. Aerial "trails" stretch from tree to tree, and each provides a new type of challenge. There are 15 zip lines, 10 trails, and over 100 "challenge bridges." Everyone in your group can pursue appropriate activities, because there are five-color-coded levels of difficulty.
Having a great time zip-lining. Photo courtesy of The Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum.
The Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum — Bridgeport, Connecticut
4450 Park Avenue
Ages 5 and up
This may be the perfect place for a workout for your mind and body. While the museum is an "adventure in art and science," the 5-acre aerial adventure park behind it offers more visceral thrills. With nearly a dozen trails (coded by levels of difficulty), 21 zip lines and almost 161 challenge bridges, every person in your family can have a great time. Our Connecticut Mommy Poppins team visited a couple of years ago and had a blast. Sessions are 3 hours long, and reservations strongly suggested. Ages 5-7 admitted FREE with a paid adult who must accompany them.
Mountain Creek — Vernon, New Jersey
123 Route 24
Must be at least 48-inches tall and weigh at least 60 pounds
This ski resort about an hour and a half from New York City is a great place for year-round fun. It may genuinely have everything kids think is fun—a bike park with mountain trails, a water park, zip lines, and an aerial ropes course due to open in June. The zip lines are open year-round (and take you to the tubing park in winter), so families can enjoying swooping high over a mountain-top lake through all four seasons. To participate, kids must meet the height and weight requirements, but also be able to carry a 10-pound trolley through mountainous terrain. Reservations recommended.
RELATED: Family Amusement Parks & Water Parks Guide
The Pocono TreeVentures & Zip Racer offers thrills for preschoolers to big kids.
Pocono TreeVentures & Pocono Zip Racer — East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
1575 Fairway Boulevard
Ages 4 and up
Want to tailor your own course to your ability? This is the place for you! You can choose from swaying bridges, tree swings, and tightrope walks. Two of you can race on the zip lines, and then tackle "tree climbing walls." Pocono Kidventures is geared for kids ages 4-7, but older and more advanced kids can tackle a series of zip lines connected by bridges and ladders. It's about an hour and a half drive from New York City.
Camelback Mountain Adventures — Tannersville, Pennsylvania
243 Resort Drive
Children must be able to reach a height of 4 feet and 10 inches with their feet flat on the floor, and one arm raised, to participate.
This park, about an hour and 45 minutes away from New York City, is specially designed for fun-loving types, because it offers zip lines, adventure courses, and mountain rides, such as roller coasters. This is a great choice for families with young children, since two sections are reserved for smaller children. Reservations are strongly suggested. A stay at the resort isn't required, but an overnight might free you up to visit the water park too!
Turtle Back Zoo TreeTop Adventure Course — West Orange, New Jersey
560 Northfield Avenue
Ages 6 and up
The aerial park, which sits besides the popular New Jersey zoo, was recently redesigned (the new adults-only zip line measures over a football field in length) and offers junior courses: 15 unique challenges with an average run time of 30 to 45 minutes (parents are welcome to join their kids on the smaller elements). It's a one-hour drive from New York City; while walk-ups are permitted, reservations are suggested. Take little ones to the zoo, while the big kids zip along, or tempt them with the nearby playground and nature trails.
More Adventure Parks
We've mentioned a few favorite spots above, but the greater NYC metro area is loaded with adventure parks, especially if you're willing to drive a bit further. We loved the zip line fun at Hunter Mountain, and the Catskills water park Zoom Flume offers a zip line, too. For indoor picks, don't miss the Palisades Climb, the 85-foot, five levels of ropes courses at the Palisades Center in West Nyack, New York. There's a new ropes course at Kalahari Resorts in the Poconos and a smaller newcomer at the Jersey Shore's Jenkinson's Boardwalk, including a mini zip line with complimentary sea breeze.
Top photo courtesy of The Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum. Photos courtesy of the parks.