Beyond New York City, the Empire State offers rural sites with stunning vistas, pretty pastures and some of the most fertile farmland in the United States. First-time visitors might be surprised to learn that nearly 25 percent of New York is farmland, and that the state is a top producer of several popular products, from apples to dairy.
Plan a trip to New York’s big cities, then take a peaceful detour to these family-friendly farms.
If you’ve never taken the kids apple-picking, you’re in for a treat at Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard in New York’s Hudson Valley, just outside of New York City. Fall is prime time for apple-picking, and every weekend during the season, the family-run farm hosts a kid-friendly festival. Fill a bag with your favorite apple variety, watch the kids jump on a giant pumpkin pillow, and then enjoy farm-fresh treats like apple cider and fresh donuts. Leashed dogs are welcomed!
After you’ve gazed at Niagara’s majestic waterfalls, take a detour to family fun in Waterport, N.Y. For a host of Western New Yorkers, an annual pilgrimage to Brown’s Berry Patch, the entertainment-oriented division of a 200-plus-year-old family-owned fruit farm, where you can make a day of picking produce, playing in the Barnyard and visiting with the animals, is an annual tradition. Situated along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, a 518-mile-long National Scenic Byway, which runs from Erie, Pa., to the Thousand Islands region, Brown’s Berry Patch is a great spot to visit in summertime, when you can load up on fresh, juicy strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, or during the fall, which is prime time for pumpkin picking.
Travel 30 miles west to Murphy Orchards, a former station on the Underground Railroad, where you can pick your own fruit, veggies and flowers in season, then visit the historic barn and peer beneath a trap door to see the secret room where fugitive slaves were once hidden before making their way to Canada and freedom.
Rochester/Finger Lakes Region
Sure, Rochester and New York’s Finger Lakes Region have rockin’ rollercoasters, fragrant flowers, and what many claim is the best children’s museum in the U.S. But did you know the area also boasts some of the most fertile farmland in the country? In Wayne County, the number one apple -rowing region in New York State (and the second in the U.S. behind the state of Washington in terms of overall apple production), you can take the kids on an Apple Tasting Tour, then “get lost” in a maze of epic proportion.
Just a stone’s throw from the southern shores of Lake Ontario, start your agricultural adventure at Lagoner Farms or Burnap’s Farm, both of which offer pick-your-own fruit and wholesome family activities.
Travel 30 minutes southwest to the Erie Canal town of Macedon, home of Long Acre Farms, a third-generation farm and fun land, where families can get lost in a 5-acre corn maze during the fall, and enjoy a variety of spring to fall farm activities, including a giant “jumping pillow,” gemstone panning, an expansive play area for the kids, hayrides, ice cream, baked goods and even sampling for adults at an onsite farm winery.
Nicknamed the Salt City, the central New York city of Syracuse plays host to the annual New York State Fair in August, and is home to Destiny, a mega-mall and entertainment center that is a popular destination for upstate New Yorkers, as well as Canadians.
While Syracuse’s annual snowfall figures are practically legendary, it’s the season prior to winter that is perhaps the prettiest time to see the sights surrounding New York’s “snowiest” city. Take in the fall foliage on a Sunday drive to Apple Hill at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in Lafayette, where you can pick apples, sip cider and eat donuts with the kids, then set them loose in a sprawling play area. At Critz Farms in Cazenovia, you can enjoy hands-on family fun practically year-round, from maple syrup sampling in late winter /early spring to blueberry picking in the summer to a host of traditional fall harvest activities.
Pay a visit to the state capitol, then venture 30 minutes west to Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont, where you can have lunch and spend the afternoon picking fruit, petting cute barnyard animals and enjoying seasonal farm activities. The farm and market are open to visitors from April 30 to December 30.
If you have animal lovers in the family, consider venturing one hour north of the capital city to Greenfield Center, where, on Saturdays, you can hang out with horses on a tour of The Old Friends at Cabin Creek – The Bobby Frankel Division a unique homestead for retired racehorses, many of whom spent a portion of their careers at the nearby Saratoga Race Track.