New York City may be home to some of the world’s best art, music, shopping, and food, but aside from a few impressive parks, nature is in short supply. For city dwellers who have kids, this can mean exhausting every local playground, longing to spend time surrounded by grass, trees, and fresh air. Fortunately, just a short distance from the city, you can find some of the world’s most beautiful places to recharge with your kids, and the majesty of nature all at once. Whether you’re simply heading out of the city for the fresh air, wide open spaces, and chances to bond and reconnect with your family, or are looking to enjoy activities like hiking, boat riding, and rock climbing that are less than plentiful in the city, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate the majesty of nature and all that goes with it without booking a plane ticket. If you’re looking for excitement just a short trip from NYC, here’s where to go:
Kaaterskill Falls | Kaaterskill Wild Forest, Saugerties, NY
Just a little over two hours from New York City in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, you’ll find the exquisite Kaaterskill Falls, part of the expansive and diverse Kaaterskill Wild Forest. Whether you’re driving in or entering the park on foot from the nearby center of Saugerties, an upstate town known for its small town feel, charming restaurants, and its unique, arts-oriented community, Kaaterskill Falls are a refreshing dose of some of the most stunning natural beauty you’ll find anywhere in the state. In addition to the falls themselves, which you can get close enough to to feel their mist on your face, you’ll find plenty of walking trails perfect for beginners or young kids, more challenging paths for experienced hikers. Your whole family can also enjoy a wealth of places to swim, and plenty of pristine clearing in which to admire the view or enjoy a picnic. Whether you go it alone or bring the whole family with you, there’s plenty to love about these stunning falls and the amazing park that houses them.
Constitution Marsh Sanctuary | 127 Warren Landing Road, Garrison, NY
One of the best things about city life is its convenience, from being able to grab a slice of pizza at 4 in the morning to being able to travel between boroughs for just over $2. The city’s transportation convenience extends outside the city as well, exemplified by how how a single Metro North train ride can take you from Grand Central Station in Manhattan to a stunning nature preserve in just over an hour. At the 270-acre property that comprises Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Garrison, you can see birds, marine life, and a wealth of biodiversity. If your little ones aren’t avid ornithologists, you can still enjoy plenty of bonding time by taking a relaxing stroll together along Constitution Marsh’s boardwalk. After your trip to the Marsh, there’s plenty to explore nearby in peaceful Garrison, on the walkable main street of kid-friendly Cold Spring, or the art and hipster haven of Beacon, just a few miles north and also accessible by Metro North.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve | 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY
Explore the great outdoors just a few hours from home at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County. Nestled in the Shawangunk Ridge, this nature preserve is one of the best places to enjoy stunning views of the Catskill Mountains, a collection of salt flats that are an integral part of one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. In addition to the sightseeing opportunities available at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, this 22,275-acre park provides an outlet for virtually every type of outdoor activity, with places to go swimming, biking, hiking, boating, and horse riding. For true adventure seekers, there are a number of rock faces that provide perfect climbing surfaces, as well.
Mohonk Preserve | 3197 US-44, Gardiner, NY
90 miles north of New York City, you’ll find a gorgeous nature preserve that you can hardly believe exists in the same universe as urban life, much less the same state. Set right outside the artsy upstate town of New Paltz, home to countless great shopping, restaurants, music venues, parks, and SUNY New Paltz, the Mohonk Preserve encompasses 8,000 acres of pristine land on which visitors can explore freely. Whether your passion is running, hiking, biking, skiing, or horseback riding, you’ll find it here. Even those enthusiastic about mountain climbing can get their fix at the Mohonk Preserve, which boasts over 1,000 rock climbing paths, from fun, easy climbs perfect for beginners just getting their footing to vertical paths that will give even expert climbers a run for their money. When you’re finished for the day, retire to the Mohonk Mountain House, a luxury hotel and spa located right outside the preserve, for dinner, spa services, and a great place to relax after a long day.
Poet’s Walk | 776 River Road, Red Hook, NY
Stretch your legs while admiring nature at its finest at Poet’s Walk Park in Red Hook, a small town about 90 miles north of Manhattan. Just two hours outside the city, the 120-acre expanse that makes up Poet’s Walk Park provides trails for walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more, making it a perfect slice of nature to explore in any season. Established in 1849 by some of the state’s most prominent industrialists, the Astor and Delano families, the park also provides a relaxing retreat where you can spend the day strolling with your little ones, enjoying a meal in the grass, or even bringing the family dog for a well-deserved nature walk. After your trip to Poet’s Walk, explore nearby Rhinebeck, a tony town whose charm has convinced many Manhattanites to build second homes here — Chelsea Clinton even chose Rhinebeck’s historic Beekman Arms hotel as the venue for her 2010 wedding.