Winter holidays mean hanging out, watching games on TV, eating big meals—all fantastic options. But sometimes after all the lounging you’re needing a new adventure. The good news is New York State offers a wide range of affordable wintertime escapes. Read on for amazing trips to give you plenty of memories for the family scrapbook (or Instagram feed).
1. Buffalo (Greater Niagara)
Colder months are a great time to check out normally very crowded places, such as Niagara Falls, which just so happens to be absolutely magnificent in the winter. The surrounding trees get all sparkly in the ice and snow, and even though the falls don’t technically freeze, the white rushing water still looks like massive icicles. The World Changed Here Pavilion is a nice place to warm up while you learn all about the falls back in the day (people used to party out on the frozen channel!), and it stays open all year round. Take a walk around Goat Island, where the mist from the falls freezes and turns into snow—just be sure to bundle up!
The Ice at Canalside needs to be on your itinerary. Not only can you get your fix of joyful ice skating (Admission for ages 13 and over is $6, ages 6–12 is $4, and ages 5 and under are free, skate rentals are $5), it’s also the home of the unique sport of ice-biking! An ice bike is a specially outfitted bike with a small surrounding platform that lets you glide across the ice the same way you’d ride a bike ($12 per half hour). It’s easy enough for anyone to try. Speaking of off-the-beaten-path winter sports, you can also try your hand at curling! Lessons are only $10 per person per hour on the weekdays and $15 on weekends.
Finally, for four weekends, starting January 26 through February 23, you can witness something illuminating at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens. Lumagination is an interactive light and sound exhibit that uses the architecture and collections of the gardens themselves as a canvas. (Adult tickets are $14, kids 3–12 are $6, kids ages 2 and under free, seniors are $12, and students are $12.) Stay at the beautiful rooms with a view at the Millennium Buffalo, where rates start at only $101 per night.
2. Albany (Capital-Saratoga)
Head to Albany not only to get your culture fix in the city, but also to explore beautiful winterscapes—above and below ground. Howe Caverns are about a one-hour drive from downtown and are a stop not to be missed. 156 feet underground, they’re the largest caves that you can explore in the Northeast. And best of all, the caves stay at temperatures around 52 degrees all year long, so you can leave the freezing cold aboveground. You can take tours of the beautiful rock formations, illuminated by colorful lights, and even ride a boat on the natural river (Adult tickets are $25, juniors ages 12–15 are $21, kids ages 5–11 are $13).
Back aboveground, visit Saratoga Spa State Park for 12 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. If you don’t have your own gear, head to the warming hut to pick up a trail map and rent equipment for $10 a day or $5 for a maximum of four hours. For more outdoor winter fun, head to the Empire State Plaza, where you can glide around on the massive outdoor ice skating rink nestled in the center of the city’s most architecturally striking buildings. The rink has free admission and rentals are only $4 for adults and $3 for kids ages 12 and under. At night, come home to the stylish Renaissance Albany Hotel in the center of downtown, with views overlooking the city and room rates at around $150 per night.
3. Cooperstown (Central)
Baseball season is several months away, which means you can enjoy fewer crowds at popular attractions in Cooperstown. Family-friendly hotels that book up quickly during the summer will have plenty of options available. Try Best Western Cooperstown Inn & Suites, where room rates start at only $89 a night and come with complimentary breakfast and access to the heated indoor pool. Plus, you’re just ten minutes away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Adult tickets $23, seniors $15, kids ages 7–12 $12, kids ages 6 and under are free). Peruse the memorabilia and video displays at your own pace and learn all about the sport’s long history. Kids can embark on a scavenger hunt for the chance to win baseball cards and Big League Chew bubble gum.
Winter turns Glimmerglass State Park into one big glimmering winter playground, with ice skating on Otsego Lake, and trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. It’s also beloved by winter hikers seeking peaceful frosty beauty. After your venture, warm up with hot apple cider at the 160-year-old Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Take a tour of the mill and watch the cider-pressing process right before your eyes before shopping for gifts and treats in the mill store marketplace. You’ll find apple salsas, jams, fudge, and best of all, plenty of samples!
Crank up the cozy factor in the Catskill Mountains. First, get your winter sports on at the family-owned Plattekill Mountain (ticket prices vary), where the slopes are never overcrowded and tubers get their own lift-serviced mountain space. They also offer ample options for lessons for kids age four and up. The lodge has a roaring fire to warm you up after you’re finished. Next, bookworms will delight in a trip to the Hobart Book Village, a cluster of five unique bookshops all in walking distance of each other on Main Street in Hobart. Enjoy unhurried book browsing in various categories. For example, one shop specializes in antique books and another in DIY and crafting books. With all the options, you’ll find something for everyone to read by the fire.
Plan your route to pass the Catskill Mountain Country Store and Restaurant in nearby Windham, to dig into delicious and fresh breakfast and lunch foods, but also to shop the gourmet foods and crafts on sale. They sell items like homemade soaps, jams, fudge, candles, and all types of gifts. When it’s bedtime, tuck into one of the rooms at the Catskill Seasons Inn, with eight rooms starting at $89 and a restaurant and bar on site. They also have a chalet with 14 more guest rooms that start at $109. Or, try the Roxbury Motel (room rates start at $90). From the outside it looks like your average mountain lodge from the outside, but inside, each room has a completely unique, funky design inspired by 60’s and 70’s pop culture, with themes based on The Partridge Family, The Mod Squad, and Bewitched. Choose from studio rooms and kitchenettes.
5. Greek Peak Mountain Resort (Finger Lakes)
We’re guessing that when you hear “resort” you’re not thinking “affordable,” but let us stop you right there! Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Cortland has fantastic winter getaway deals. The “Play and Stay” package for families (minimum of four people) includes admission to the resort’s very own indoor waterpark for just $60 a person per night. The waterpark is kept at a balmy temperature of 84 degrees year-round, and has a wade pool, water slides at varying levels of intensity, a heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs, and more. The two-night Family Escape package is just $55 a person per day and includes one day of waterpark admission and one ride on the Nor’ Easter Mountain Coaster. If you just want to go all in on skiing, consider the Ski & Stay packages starting at $89 per person, which include lift tickets so you can wake up and hit the slopes. Any package you choose includes access to a whole host of fun amenities, including the arcade, two children’s centers, and kicksled rentals (adults are $12 per hour, juniors are $10 per hour, kids are $8 per hour). A kicksled, if you’re wondering, is a cross between a sled and scooter. You push with one leg then stand upright and hold onto the handle bar. You can also fold down the handles if you just want to coast down the mountain on a normal sled.
6. Hudson Valley
Credit: Legoland Discovery Center Westchester
Hudson Valley has everything you need to assemble the perfect winter getaway weekend, starting with a visit to kid heaven, the Legoland Discovery Center in Westchester (tickets are $24.95 if you purchase online, children ages 2 and under free). The perfect indoor activity on particularly chilly days, Legoland has rides, play zones, a 4-D cinema, and all of New York’s top attractions on miniature scale built out of Legos. You can also spend time in the great snowy outdoors at Mount Peter Ski & Ride in Warwick (ticket prices vary depending on age and when you go). It’s a great spot to get started with skiing or snowboarding thanks to free beginner lessons on weekends and holidays, and the snow tubing is convenient and fun thanks to a moving carpet that tows you up the mountain. There’s even a Little Tikes Tubing Play Area for tiny tubers.
If your trip falls before December 30th, don’t miss the special Holiday Lights in Bloom and Holiday Boutique at Thomas Bull Memorial Park. Free to the public and open Friday through Sunday each weekend, the Holiday Lights are a special display set up throughout the trees and gardens. At the Arboretum Holiday Boutique you can shop handmade ornaments and knitwear, honey from the Arboretum’s native bees, and more. Finally, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chester-Monroe-Goshen has lovely clean rooms and a large indoor pool. Room rates start at $128 per night.
7. Long Island
Credit: Long Island Children's Museum
Long Island is more than just amazing beaches and summer fun! Check into the Hampton Inn Jericho for affordable rates of around $130 per night, cozy rooms, an indoor swimming pool, and short driving distances to wintertime activities. Just a 12-minute drive away is the Long Island Children's Museum (admission is $14) where little ones can run, clamber all over the climbing structures, use tools to make sculptures, and play with various interactive exhibits until they’ve expended all their excess energy.
Only 15 minutes away is the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium (Adult tickets are $6; children ages 3–12 are $4, ages 2 and under are free). You’ll find views overlooking Cold Spring Harbor as well as the largest living collection of New York freshwater fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Learn all about the creatures in the two aquarium buildings, tour the eight outdoor ponds, and even feed the trout yourself! Finally, the beautiful outdoor mall, the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, is less than half an hour away. Come to shop at tons of stores for those amazing outlet bargains.
8. Brooklyn (NYC)
That’s right, an affordable getaway in New York City is totally doable. For a more affordable (and less crowded) alternative to Manhattan attractions, consider fun and eclectic Brooklyn! Stay at the sleek and comfortable Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown for a centrally located homebase with rooms at around $150 per night. Kids ages 18 and under stay for free in their parents’ room, and kids 11 and under (up to four kids) eat for free at the hotel restaurant. Even when the world feels frozen over, you can step into a tropical oasis at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Adults tickets are $15, kids ages 12 and over are $8, under 12 are free, and Fridays before noon are free entry for all). Treat your nose to the sweet scents of flowers, admire beautiful blooming orchids, and enjoy the warm climate within the glass-enclosed Aquatic House, and take a botanical journey through the three indoor pavilions which replicate the ecosystems of South Africa, California, and the Mediterranean. Check their website for seasonal highlights tours and other special events.
Brand new this year, the Brooklyn Museum has opened up its very own holiday village, WinterFest (admission is free, attraction tickets range from $9–12), which will run until the end of December. Besides all the crafts, jewelry, specialty foods, and clothing shopping you’ll need for the holidays, there’ll also be rides, a maze, scavenger hunt, bouncy castle, visits with Santa, and more. And finally, if you’ve got any hockey fans with you, get in on some winter sport action and snag tickets to see the New York Islanders play at the Barclays Center (single game tickets start at $15).
9. Thousand Islands-Seaway
Credit: Thousand Island Winery: Marketing Department
Find the ultimate winter hideaway by the St. Lawrence River by checking into a room at the McKinley House B&B. You’ll be situated right in the heart of Clayton with a delicious breakfast provided and rooms starting at $150 a night. Plus, it’s only a 13-minute drive to the Thousand Islands Winery in adjacent Alexandria Bay. A barn that used to house an original 1923 Sears & Roebuck is now the tasting room, where you can sip award-winning wines and purchase wines by the glass and bottle. Take a tour of the winery and learn all about the winemaking process, from the growing and harvesting of the grapes to the fermenting and bottling. You can also shop for cheese, crackers, snacks, and chocolate in their gift shop.
For a more kid-centric activity, head over to the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park (adult tickets are $9, one child admission free with paid adult, additional children are $6 each) in Watertown. You can both snowshoe your way around a loop trail that encircles the zoo, or visit the animals inside it. Try to attend one of the zoo’s Winter Weekends in December for hot cocoa, crafts, and workshops. And just because the degrees are getting down to the teens doesn’t mean fishing is on hold! Lake of the Isles on Wellesley Island, a calm and shallow embayment of the St. Lawrence River, makes for amazing ice fishing for bluegills, sunfish, and crappies. It’s a popular spot, so oftentimes you’ll find holes pre-drilled, just lightly frozen over, ready and waiting for you.
Chautauqua is THE place to go in winter, thanks to the lake-effect snow off of Lake Erie (the lake-effect refers to when cold air moves across warmer lake water, causing more snow!). Stay at the Peek'n Peak Resort in Clymer, where they offer a Family Package deal that includes lodging, pool passes for four people, a large pizza, ice cream treats, and a s’mores kit for just $99 a night.
You can find a comfortable place to spend the nights in Jamestown, such as the Comfort Inn Jamestown Falconer, where rooms start at only $85 a night. While in Jamestown, warm your belly with big laughs at the National Comedy Center’s 50+ exhibits all about the history and culture of comedy (Adult tickets are $23.50, youth tickets are $18.50, and kids ages 6–12 are $12). Keep the giggles going at the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, dedicated to Jamestown native Lucille Ball and an all around good time, even for those born well after the show’s heyday. (Adult tickets are $16, youth ages 6–17 are $11. Combo tickets with the National Comedy Center are $30 for adults, $24.50 for ages 13–17, and $18.50 for kids ages 6–12). If you enjoy the cold, just one hour away you can walk, cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile the trails around Allegany State Park, where you’ll come across spectacular winterscapes.
11. Glen Falls (Adirondacks)
Credit: Greg Beckleu
Pack your chunky cable-knit sweaters and head up to Glen Falls in New York’s gorgeous, mountainous Adirondacks region. The Queensbury Hotel has room rates starting at around $140, a steal considering the level of luxury. Forget the frigid outdoor temps and bring a bathing suit to wear to the indoor pool and jacuzzi. At around only $60 a night, the Baymont Inn & Suites Queensbury/Lake George is an even more affordable option with a large indoor pool, free breakfast, and clean rooms. The West Mountain Ski Area is a reliable destination for the ideal family activity—snow tubing! (Adult tickets are $20 for two hours, $25 for four hours; kids ages six and under are $12 for two hours, $15 for four hours.) There’s no skill required and tons of fun to be had while swooshing down their 10 tubing lanes. $40 group lessons for skiing or snowboarding for ages four and up are also offered.
Head over to the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves Park in Pottersville to explore 14.5 miles of snowshoeing trails (adult tickets are $13; kids ages 5–12 are $8). Bring your own shoes and poles or find everything you need there for just $5 a day. You’ll pass the Natural Stone Bridge, icy waterfalls, sinkholes, glacial boulders, and ledges, which are beautiful all year long but especially when covered in snow. If you plan your trip for February, don’t miss the Lake George Winter Carnival! Each weekend of the month, the town of Lake George celebrates all the activities that winter has to offer. Choose from snowmobile drag racing, a chili cook-off, s’mores around a beach bonfire, hockey tournaments, a polar plunge, horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides, and so much more! Check their website for the full schedule.