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Finger Lakes with Kids: An Outdoor Adventure Travel Guide

City Slicker

Beechwood State Park_photoby-Paul-Eisenberg.jpg

If you are looking for a great way to connect with your son or daughter and at the same time get in those exercise minutes recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, this may be the travel adventure for you!


Earlier this summer, my 8-year old son and I ventured to the Finger Lakes region on our first-ever father/son trip.


Each of the 11 Finger Lakes yields different recreational pursuits and the following is only a sampling of one area.  Felix and I lingered in the environs of Rochester and Canandaigua Lake and discovered the following highlights:


Sam Patch Erie Canal Boat Tour, Pittsford, N.Y.

Squinting into the midday sun and humming the iconic Eric Canal Song are not high-impact aerobic exercises, but they’re great warm-ups for immersing yourself in a ride that’s at once exhilarating and stunning as you travel along the Erie Canal.  We traveled aboard the packet boat replica Sam Patch, named after a daredevil who leapt one-time-too-often into Rochester’s Genesee River. This grisly fact provided a memorable factoid and cautionary tale for my son who, like many boys and girls, thinks it’s hilarious to jump from high places and fall off the couch at weird angles!


So it was with this teachable moment already under our belts that we arrived at Lock 32 and experienced a first.  We drifted through ginormous 40-ton gates that shut us into a chamber that filled with three million gallons of water. Gradually,  the Sam Patch was lifted 25 feet before the opposite gates opened and we cruised onward.  Standing at the rail as this unfolded, Felix and I agreed that this was likely the coolest thing we could ever expect to happen on a low-key boat ride!


Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventure Park, Canandaigua, N.Y.

Imagine standing on a wooden platform high above the forest floor and, using two Carabiner clips connected to your harness, attaching yourself to a metal cable and doing any one of the following:


1) Zip lining at high speeds through the forest canopy as you scream like a little boy or girl;

2) Crossing bridges whose wood-and wire-footholds get more widely spaced and more intimidating as you go along;

3) Remaining on the platform lashed to a tree as you whimper and contemplate quitting this “challenge course,” which would mean having a handler come get you and lower you to the ground in a special harness.


My son and I had all three of these experiences during our session at Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventure Park. We made it through a beginner’s course and half of an intermediate one before we decided that we could brave no more of these crossings which got our hearts pumping and different muscle groups tensing in numerous ways. We had no regrets about quitting. As I write about in more detail here, we pushed our personal boundaries and we did it together, in a way that I wish every father and son could experience.


Lazy Acres Alpaca Farm, Bloomfield, N.Y.

When city folk visit a farm, the result is somewhat predictable. The city slickers poke around various enclosures, learn with the farmer’s guidance which animals can be touched and which ought to be left alone, wonder what they just stepped in, and so on.  You’ll experience some of this when you visit the Lazy Acre Alpacas. Here you’ll discover that alpacas, as well as what happens on the farm, are anything but predictable.


For instance, alpacas hum. They really do. Almost all the time. And, you’ll get a decent workout as, with practiced casualness, you gently approach the alpacas from the side or front – never from the back – as you don’t want to startle or antagonize them. This is particularly true if you’re visiting the pen teeming with pregnant alpacas! You’ll work your lower body muscles as you crouch down and look non-threatening – not as effortless as you’d think – which will let the alpacas know it’s okay to saunter up to you and nibble your face.


Farm owner Mark Gilbride bought seven pregnant alpacas 15 years ago and is now painstakingly raising 74 of them.  Mark will school you plenty about alpaca care and breeding, and the uniqueness of the impossibly soft fleece that’s seven times warmer than wool.  Perhaps most importantly, Mark explained the most important thing a boy and his dad need to understand about an alpaca.  “You don’t have to kill an alpaca to enjoy it.” Mark explains.  “You just have to give it a haircut once a year.”


Beechwood State Park, Sodus, N.Y.

Hiking doesn’t have to be hilly or miserable or even billed as hiking ahead of time. This was the case when Felix and I were escorted on an hour-long stroll through the 250-acre Beechwood State Park.


For an 8-year-old, the terrain was manageable and for both of us, undeniably beautiful as we took in the lush greenery, the sudden appearance of a deer, the simple beauty of a creek that runs through the park, and air that was unmistakably cool and fresh.


Then there was the intriguing part of our hike. Every now and then, we’d chance upon remnants of the Girl Scouts summer camp this park used to be. These remnants included cabins and campsites overgrown with greenery, an abandoned tire swing here, sticks of forgotten furniture there.  My son and I agreed that we couldn’t imagine exploring this place at night. But during the day, when you, rather than your imagination, can run wild here, the place is dreamy.


Long Acre Farms, Macedon, N.Y.

All of the Finger Lakes have wine trails, which you may figure is neither here nor there if you have a young boy in tow. (“Why would I care?” were Felix’s words when he learned we might be visiting wineries.) But Long Acre Farms has figured out that if you want to give parents a fighting chance of tasting and buying wine, you take advantage of the wide-open spaces and give the kids plenty of places to play!


So it is here, where Felix amused himself. He communed with and fed a goat, panned for gemstones, and leapt up and down on a Jumping Pillow. This massive blister of air, unlike your average trampoline, gives your budding gymnast such as my son the opportunity to run as well as jump and flip. With the promise of ice cream to come, Felix patiently accompanied me during a walk-through of the tasting room of the farm’s JD Wine Cellars, where there was plenty of fruity wine and juice on hand for us to sample.


If It Rains (and Even If It Doesn’t): Indoor Adventures

Though we were mainly occupied with outdoor pursuits, we had some memorable indoor adventures as well. The most active of these indoor adventures was Rochester’s The Strong National Museum of Play. I have described this great museum in the past as the best kids’ museum you’ve never heard of, and I’ll continue to go on record to call it the best children’s museum of all time! Our entire family visited the Strong nearly three years ago, yet once we got there on this trip, Felix recalled specific things about his favorite exhibits – a semi-secret passageway, for instance – that clearly made an impression on his five-year-old self. Also notable here were the numerous displays of video games throughout the ages. These displays will move your inner gaming geek even if you won’t admit it.


We also enjoyed Canandaigua’s Roseland Fun Zone. This former 60-lane bowling alley is now 44 lanes because its proprietor shrewdly ripped out some lanes and retrofitted the place with areas for bumper cars, laser tag, and frenetic arcade gaming. One innovation I was previously unaware of is that Roseland is one of the only facilities of its kind in New York State to introduce redemption bowling.  Every time you knock down pins (and mercifully for me and my son the staff activated the bumpers in our lane) a machine mounted to your lane spits out yellow tickets that you can redeem in the arcade for prizes. Brilliant.


A small cluster of sites comprise the Museums of Historic Palmyra, most notably a print shop where the museums’ executive director Bonnie Hays will generously let you and your child play with 1830s metal type and stamps to ink your own designs. And it was here that Bonnie shared a factoid I can’t believe I didn’t know before. Pointing to a type cabinet against the wall, she noted that the capital letters were traditionally kept in the top part of the cabinet – hence the term “upper case” – and the small letters were stored below that – “lower case.” Mind blown.


This was one mind-blowing travel excursion that neither my son nor I will soon forget. The Finger Lakes region is one area you will not want to miss!


My trip to the Finger Lakes was sponsored by Visit Rochester, Visit Finger Lakes, and Wayne County Tourism, whose staff kindly escorted us during our time in the region. As always, decisions to recommend anything in my posts are entirely my own.

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