Winter Day Trips Near NYC: 15 Ideas For Family Fun
Whether you prefer spending the winter months snuggling on the couch or frolicking in the snow, there's one thing we can all agree upon: Sometimes, you just need to get out of town for a change of pace.
So we pulled together a list of family-friendly, fun-filled winter day trips that appeal to all sorts of interests, from budding artists to full-fledged ski bunnies. Best of all, these destinations are all two hours or less from New York City by car, and we think they're all worth the trip.
Be sure to check with each venue for its COVID guidelines and requirements before heading out to any event, and read more about local public safety protocols here. Some events are getting canceled or postponed at the last minute due to the latest COVID surge, so always confirm details before heading out.
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Winter Day Trips for Families to Long Island
Garden City — Nassau County
Best known for its collection of family-friendly cultural institutions on Museum Row, including the Long Island Children's Museum, the Cradle of Aviation Museum, and the Nassau County Firefighter's Museum, this Long Island gem holds plenty of surprises. Get some retail therapy at the Roosevelt Field shopping mall, featuring more than 250 shops, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, a movie theater, and a well-stocked LEGO store. Round out the day with some sweet treats at Chocolate Works, which offers every kind of chocolate delicacy you can image. Time your visit with one of the shop's popular workshops at which kids get a hands-on candy-making experience.
Meet some of the "residents" of the Long Island Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium
Long Island Aquarium — Riverhead
Warm yourself up with thoughts of summer as you stroll through the spacious Long Island Aquarium, which houses more than 100 exhibits, with sea life ranging from the mysterious cuttlefish to sand sharks, penguins, and beyond. Aside from just gawking at the diverse sea creatures—and some of their land-living cousins—there are a ton of interactive exhibits, too. You'll almost forget it's not beach-going season. Stay the day with these tips on what else to see in Riverhead.
Winter Day Trips to Westchester and the Hudson Valley
Bear Mountain — Rockland County
A winter trip to Bear Mountain State Park offers everything you need for the perfect outdoor winter day. The park features plenty of hiking and cross country ski trails, plus an outdoor skating rink that is open from late October through mid-March. Pack your binoculars for a walk across the Bear Mountain Bridge, which offers amazing views of the Hudson River. The Trailside Museums & Zoo is the perfect size for little ones and features bears, eagles, foxes, coyotes, and beavers. See reptiles, amphibians, and fish at the Herpetology House plus a neat geode collection at the Geology Museum. If you fancy spending the night, the Bear Mountain Inn is now taking reservations. If there's time during your visit, nearby Harriman State Park offers some scenic trails of its own.
Mohonk is a great day trip for the whole family. Photo courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House
Mohonk Mountain House — New Paltz
High above the lovely upstate community of New Paltz, which is a family-friendly destination in its own right, towers a self-described "Victorian castle resort in New York," and that description's not far off. The stunningly beautiful Mohonk Mountain House offers various winter activities, including skating on an outdoor rink, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing—no overnight stay required. Just grab a winter sports pass. Reservations are released 72 hours before the day you'd like to visit and include equipment rental fees. Currently, guests do not need to be vaccinated, however, whether or not you are vaccinated, all guests are required to wear a mask when indoors or whenever they might be within 6 feet of distance from other guests or employees when. Access to the spa and fitness center is not included. A separate, more budget-friendly trails pass is available if you want to bring your own equipment.
DIA: Beacon — Beacon
Housed in a sprawling former Nabisco box factory, DIA: Beacon is an art museum and exhibit space that showcases imposing, large-scale artworks from world-renowned artists such as Richard Serra and Louise Bourgeois. Though the space is cavernous, it's not ideal for running and the staff is known to keep a close eye on young visitors, so this outing might be better suited for older kids. Reservations are currently required to visit. While you're in the area, be sure to check out the quaint Beacon Main Street district and explore all its family-friendly haunts.
Historic Cold Spring Village — Putnam County
With its historic buildings, fun local shops, and a variety of kid-friendly dining, Cold Spring village ticks all the boxes for a fab family outing. Designated a federal Historic District in 1973, the community boasts numerous historic buildings and plenty of picture-perfect Victorian houses. Take your kids to the Arts & Antiques Downtown Gallery to pick out a treasure, like a vintage matchbox car or a comic book. If you can make a weekend out of it, Cold Spring makes a great base to explore other Hudson-region sites, including West Point, Bear Mountain, and Rhinebeck. The Pig Hill Inn and the Hudson House Inn are cozy options for an overnight stay.
Winter Day Trips to New Jersey for Families
American Dream Mall — East Rutherford
The long-awaited mega-mall opened for business in 2019 and has steadily been adding amenities. Besides the theme park, the mall also boasts the largest indoor water park in North America, an Angry Birds mini-golf course, and tons of retail shops, including the newly opened Toys R Us flagship shop. Other kid-friendly favorites include a SeaLIfe Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center, and an over-the-top, three-floor candy store. There's also an on-site ice skating rink and more.
Mountain Creek boasts more than 40 trails and is a mere hour from NYC. Photo courtesy of the mountain
Skiing at Mountain Creek — Vernon
Mountain Creek is one of our favorite local ski spots for its all-around experience. With 46 runs and the area's largest terrain park, plus on-site tubing, there's something for everyone. If you're a beginner, Mountain Creek's ski school has you covered. Make a weekend of it by staying at the on-site accommodations if a day on the slopes leaves you too tired for the drive back to the city.
Even on a chilly, gray day, Lady Liberty is a worthy day-trip destination. Photo by Jody Mercier
More Family-Friendly Winter Day Trips Near NYC
Hop Aboard a Ferry — Multiple locations
If you're feeling cautious about commuter trains and subway rides, then bundle up and sail away for a change of scenery. The Statue of Liberty is a lovely day-trip destination accessible by ferry ride from lower Manhattan or New Jersey. We found it mostly quiet on a recent weekend visit. NY Waterway or the Seastreak Ferry let New Yorkers and New Jerseyans swap places for a day. Might we suggest exploring New Jersey's largest children's museum and surrounding state park for city dwellers? Or how about a crowd-free day of city fun for our Jersey friends? A ride on the NYC Ferry yields several outer-borough stops for both visitors and locals to explore. Long Islanders aren't left out of the ferry fun, either: Hop a ferry from Port Jefferson to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for some New England seaside charm.
Dive In at an Indoor Water Park — Multiple locations
The Poconos family resort Great Wolf Lodge recently completed a $15 million renovation that included updating its rooms and adding lots of kid-friendly programming. Located abut 90 minutes from midtown, this water park is close enough for a day trip. If an overnight stay is preferred, there are plenty of themed suites to choose from, including the Wolf Den, which has an enclosed kids' sleeping area with bunk beds and a TV. A bit farther away—at just under 2 hours from midtown—Kalahari Resort is the behemoth of indoor water parks. After doubling in size in to a whopping 220,000 square feet, the park features an 11,000-square-foot wave pool, plus eight water slides, including the thrilling Anaconda and the Cheetah Race Mat Slide. Little ones will love Coral Cove, a sea-animal-themed play area. Snag a day pass for unlimited fun and then let the kids crash out on the way home.
Watch the beautiful wolves nuzzle in the snow. Photo by James Stein Photography for the Lakota Wolf Preserve
Meet the Wolves — New Jersey and New York
Go on a Wolf Watch Tour at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, New Jersey, or the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York. The wolves are in a natural environment, but guests get to watch them play, interact, and possibly howl from a protected, fenced-in area. Four packs of wolves, along with foxes and bobcats, live at the NJ preserve, and reservations are required. The New York location is a touch closer at 75 minutes from midtown, but its programming is currently limited. Bookmark the calendar for upcoming events.
Enjoy Some Outdoor Art — Multiple locations
We rounded up our favorite outdoor art day-trip destinations in the fall, telling you about 11 spots where you could see stunning outdoor sculptures. Like NYC's Socrates Sculpture Park and MoMA's Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, some of these destinations have been longtime, year-round destinations. Others, like the Grounds For Sculpture, in Hamilton, New Jersey, and the popular Storm King Art Center, in New Windsor, New York, are offering expanded hours this winter to give visitors a chance to see their art in a whole new season.
Hit the Trails – Multiple locations
We might associate hiking with warm summer months and cool, crisp fall days, but it's actually a great all-seasons outing. We've got picks for great family-friendly trails in upstate New York's state parks; hiking trails and beach walks all across Long Island; and state parks, forests, reservations, and kid-tested trails in the Garden State.
Snow tubing at Mount Peter will make your kids embrace the snow. Photo courtesy of Mount Peter
Snow Tubing — Multiple locations
The best part of snow tubing is that, unlike skiing and other winter sports, snow tubing requires little skill or gear, making it a great family experience. Plus, it's easy to find a spot close to home for an easy day trip. Check out our snow tubing roundup for suggestions, including Campgaw Mountain, which is just 45 minutes by car from midtown, and Mount Peter (an hour and a half from midtown).
Visit Mystic — Connecticut
Though heading to the coast might feel like more of a summer destination, the community of Mystic is a good bet for a family outing in any season. A visit to the amazing sea creatures at the aquarium should definitely be on your list of stops. Nearby Old MIstick Village boasts plenty of open-air shopping and dining, plus a movie theater with programming that includes lots of family films and blockbusters. If you plan to go in January 2022, the Holiday Lights Spectacular runs through the end of the month at the village. No trip to Mystic is complete without a fuel-up at Mystic Pizza, made famous by the 80s film of the same name.
A version of this article was first published in December 2016; it was updated in December 2021. Jody Mercier contributed additional reporting.