Shelter Island: Hardly the raging party scene that exists in the nearby Hamptons, Shelter Island makes for a quiet family retreat on the eastern end of Long Island. Hike, boat, or just relax. And since it's an island, there are very few ways to escape, meaning that -- for better or worse -- on this family vacation, you'll always be together.
Mount Tremper & Phoenicia: This spot in the southeastern Catskills -- two small towns bunched together off the main road -- serves up a surprising roster of activities for families. In Mount Tremper, at Catskill Corners, the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope Theatre is the world's largest kaleidoscope, occupying an old barn silo. In Phoenicia, just a couple of miles up the road, families can rent inner tubes and float down Esopus Creek, which slices the valley between towering mountains. The Catskill Mountain Railroad runs along Esopus Creek from the Mount Pleasant depot to Phoenicia's 1910 station.
Healing Waters Farm/Delaware & Ulster Railride: A fantastic farm in Walton, in the northeastern Catskills, Healing Waters overflows with cool things for kids. Its petting zoo, Little Boy Blue Animal Land, has an amazing array of gregarious animals, including camels, llamas, emus, and baby goats, and the farm holds all kinds of special events as well as hayrides. In Arkville, the Delaware & Ulster Railride transports visitors through the Catskill Mountains in a historic train that departs from the old depot. Kids will especially love the special "Great Train Robbery" train, where costumed actors playfully hijack and "rob" the train.
Saratoga Springs: This genteel resort town welcomes families with its plenitude of parks, the Saratoga Children's Museum, and Saratoga Spa State Park, a huge and lovely urban park with miles of hiking trails, swimming pools, and a skating rink. But surely the most entertaining feature for kids is the Saratoga Race Course and the opportunity to attend a thoroughbred horse race. Kids can take a walking tour of the stables, learn how horses and jockeys prepare for races, and even dress up like a jockey.
Rochester: As the northeastern gateway to the Finger Lakes, this amiable upstate city overflows with great family activities. With Lake Ontario beaches, a 96-foot urban waterfall in the High Falls Historic District, and proximity to watersports at any of the Finger Lakes, it has plenty of good outdoor pastimes. But it also has three indoor spots with huge appeal to families, including the Strong Museum, one of the top children's museums in the country; the George Eastman House, a museum of photography in the home belonging to the founder of Kodak; and Genesee Country Village & Museum, a re-creation of a 19th-century village staffed by interpreters in period costume.
Skaneateles: This charming village at the north shore of the Finger Lake of the same name has tons of shops, restaurants, and inns that parents will love, but also plenty of activities for the entire family. In summer, children are sure to love the nostalgic long pier that extends over the water, as well as swimming and boating in one of the state's most beautiful lakes. But best of all are the winter holidays, when Skaneateles comes alive with a Dickens Christmas celebration, with costumed Dickens characters taking over the streets, singing Christmas carols. A good excursion from Skaneateles is the easy drive into Syracuse to visit the Museum of Science & Technology (MOST), whose excellent interactive exhibits and IMAX theater are huge hits with kids.
Lake George: This southern Adirondacks town is hardly a calm getaway in the summer, but it boasts distractions galore for families, including amusement parks, haunted houses, family restaurants, and all the lake swimming you can handle.
Niagara Falls: It isn't just for honeymooners anymore -- it's also jammed with families. The famous cascading water appeals to people of all ages, and you can see it from high above, behind, or way down below on the ever-popular Maid of the Mist. But over on the Canadian side in the Clifton Hill area is where your kids will really want to go: There you'll find haunted houses, theme rides, and fun museums.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.