Memories are made of this: a boat ride on the underground Lake of Venus at Howe Caverns; three small children and their mother who embarrassed them by singing a loud, off-key rendition of “Row, row, row your boat...” My children have been grown-ups for many years, but I still remember our trip to Howe Caverns as an exciting adventure. Very long journeys with young children may be taxing for all family members, but shorter, well-planned trips can be fun and a learning experience. The suggested destinations included here are under 200 miles from central Westchester. You and your kids may just remember them for a lifetime. Note: All locations described are open during the April school vacation period, although some will be closed on Easter Sunday. The Crayola Factory is also closed Mondays. If you’re thinking of going any other time of year, check ahead for schedule.
HOWE’S CAVE Located in Howe’s Cave, NY, about 175 miles from White Plains, the caverns are millions of years old. An elevator takes you down 156 feet to a beautiful prehistoric world of stalactites and stalagmites (stalactites hang from the roof; stalagmites grow up from the floor). The temperature is 52 degrees year-round and you’ll need a sweater. The subterranean walkway runs as deep as 200 feet and winds past formations known as Bridal Altar, Chinese Pagoda and Stone Organ. The high point of the trip is the Lake of Venus boat ride. Admission to Howe Caverns is $14 adults, $7 children 7-12, $11 seniors. (518) 296-8990, www.howecaverns.com. Directions: NYS Thruway north. I-88 west via exit 25A toward Schenectady/Binghamton/Rte. 7. Rte. 30A exit 23 toward Rte. 7. Right onto NY 30A, left onto NY 30A/NY 7. Follow NY 7; watch for signs.
COOPERSTOWN You can combine Howe Caverns with a trip to Cooperstown, NY. Baseball fans of all ages will enjoy the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where you start your visit with a film showing the important role the game has played in American life. Exhibits include the World Series, Women in Baseball, The African American Baseball Experience, the Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron Room, and Ballparks. Older visitors can relive memories of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kids will enjoy the bats, balls and gloves of famous players. Other sights worth seeing in Cooperstown include the Farmer’s Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum, and Otsego Lake, the “Glimmerglass” of writer James Fenimore Cooper. Glimmerglass State Park includes a children’s playground and hiking trails. Admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame: $9.50 adults, $4 children 7-12, $8 seniors. (888) 425-5633. www.baseballhalloffame.org, Directions: NYS Thruway north. I-88 from Binghamton, exit 17. State 28 north to Cooperstown.
WEST POINT A trip to the Military Academy at West Point, NY, can be done in one day, but why rush it? There’s much to see in the area. Located on the west shore of the Hudson River, the Academy is less than 40 miles from White Plains and near Garrison and Cold Spring. For security reasons, you can no longer wander around West Point on your own, and photo ID is required. One-hour guided tours leave the Visitors Center 10am-3:30pm Monday-Saturday and 11am-3:30pm Sunday. You’ll see Trophy Point with its relics of wars dating from the Revolution, including links from the Great Chain which was stretched across the Hudson. You’ll visit the gothic-style Cadet Chapel and stop briefly at museums and monuments and the football stadium. A favorite spot for youngsters is the Battle Monument where they can play hide-and-seek around the cannons. You can enjoy the West Point Museum behind the Visitors Center on your own. It displays an atomic bomb like the one dropped on Nagasaki in World War II, tanks, artillery pieces, Jeeps and uniforms. Museum admission is free. The tour is $7, $4 for children under 12. Visitors Center: 845-938-2638, www.usma.edu. Tours: (845) 561-2671. Directions: NYS Thruway north toward Bear Mountain. Merge onto Palisades Parkway north. Enter next roundabout; take fourth exit onto US 9W. Three slight rights onto ramp, Main Street, and West Point Highway. Left onto Thayer Road. You can take a MetroNorth train from Croton-Harmon to Garrison and then a cab to West Point. 1-800-638-7646.
MYSTIC, CT. Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT, is about 110 miles from White Plains. Known as the “museum of America and the sea”, it provides hands-on experiences for the entire family. Children can climb aboard Tall Ships, handle sails, take horse-and-carriage and boat rides, and see demonstrations of 19th-century maritime trades. Adults $17, children 6-12 $9. (888) 9-SEAPORT, www.mysticseaport.org. Directions: I-287 east to I-95 north. Allyn Street exit 89, ramp toward Mystic. Right onto Allyn, left onto Sandy Hollow, right onto High, slight left onto W. Main St./US 1.
HARTFORD, CT. Two historic houses in Hartford, about 72 miles from Mystic and 95 miles from White Plains, are best for children of grade-school age. “Part house, part seaboat,” was Mark Twain’s description of his 17-room Victorian mansion. Twain wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in this three-story red brick house decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany. To see the whole house means climbing a lot of stairs. Adults $9, students 13-18 $7, children 6-12 $5, seniors $8. (860) 247-0998, www.marktwainhouse.org. Right next door is the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where the famous abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin lived. It’s modest but includes interesting memorabilia, manuscripts, paintings and souvenirs. Adults $6.50, children 6-16 $2.75, seniors $6. (860)522-99258, www.hartnet.org. Directions: Mystic to Hartford: I-95 south toward New London/New Haven. CT 85 north, left onto CT 82, merge onto CT 11 which becomes CT 2. Merge onto US 6 west; continue toward Hartford. White Plains to Hartford: I-287 to I-91 via exit 48, on left, toward Hartford. Take exit 29A, on left, toward Capitol Area. Whitehead Hwy., second exit to Elm, left to Trinity, slight right onto Capitol Ave. Watch for signs.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. If you could show your kids just one sight in historic Philadelphia, about 130 miles from White Plains, it should probably be the Liberty Bell, with its inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” There’s more to see in Philadelphia, however, where Independence National Historical Park has 20 buildings open to the public. They include Independence Hall and the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, plus about 45 acres where children can run and stretch. A visit to Independence Hall (Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th) will make history come to life for Westchester children who study it in school. The country’s birthplace was built in 1723 as the Pennsylvania State House. It was in this architecturally and historically significant building that the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution adopted. You need a timed/dated ticket for Independence Hall but not for the Liberty Bell across the street. Admission is free but if you order tickets in advance (it’s worth it to avoid the long lines), there’s a $1.50 handling charge. Independence Hall Visitors Center, (215) 965-7676. For information about Philadelphia, call 1-800-537-7676. Nearby are the Franklin Hall, Congress Hall, the Mikveh Israel, the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, and the Christ Church Burial Ground. Philadelphia is best explored on foot but bus, boat and horse-and-carriage tours are available. If you’re traveling with younger children, try the Please Touch Museum just off Franklin Pkwy. and two blocks south of the Franklin Institute. Designed for youngsters 7 and under, this museum concentrates on storytelling, crafts and fun. $6.95 adults and children. (215) 963-0667, www.pleasetouchmuseum.org. Directions: Amtrak trains run from Stamford through New Rochelle to Philadelphia. 1-800-523-8720, www.Amtrak.com. By car, take I-87S toward New York; I-95 south toward George Washington Bridge. I-95 south becomes New Jersey Turnpike. Rte. 73, exit 4 toward Camden-Philadelphia. NJ 73 north, NJ 90 west. NJ 90 west becomes Betsy Ross Bridge west. Merge onto I-95 south toward Central Philadelphia.
THE CRAYOLA FACTORY, EASTON, PA. When you’re ready to head back to Westchester, consider a round-about route via Easton, where you’ll enjoy creative fun at The Crayola Factory, celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Kids can see crayons and markers being made, and enjoy colorful hands-on exhibits. They’re even encouraged to draw on the walls. The Crayola Factory is housed in the Two Rivers Landing Regional Cultural Center, 30 Centre Square. The charge, $8 adults and children, $7.50 seniors, includes admission to the National Canal Museum. (610) 515-8000, www.crayola.com. Directions: From Philadelphia, take the Northeast extension of the PA Turnpike to exit 33, Rte. 22 east to Allentown. Rte. 22 east to Easton, 4th Street exit. To head home from Easton, take PA 248, US 22, I 78 east toward NY. Merge onto I 287 toward I 80. Merge onto NYS Thruway toward Tappan Zee Bridge.