Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities in Upstate New York

The winter bomb cyclone that hit the northeast near the end of January, inspired many people to stay inside and stay warm. While the bitter cold temperatures made fireplaces, loungewear, and cocoa popular choices, we were excited to see the snow! We dressed in our winter best and made our way to upstate New York where we enjoyed some of the best winter activities around.

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York
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If you’re looking for a fun weekend getaway for the whole family, we’ve got the hottest recommendations for the coldest days. From skiing and snowboarding to historic waterfalls, igloo rentals, and edutainment check out our top picks for things to do in Buffalo, New York!


Holiday Valley

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

Ellicottville, New York is home to many fun attractions including shops, dining, scenic main streets, and our personal favorite, Holiday Valley – a year-round resort, complete with 13 ski lifts, 60 slopes, a golf course, a mountain coaster, and more!

During our visit, we enjoyed lots of skiing on the slopes. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are also available activities. Don’t own skis? No worries! Holiday Valley has a rental shop that will cover all of your outdoor needs while you’re on the slopes.

Snowboarding is another fun treat at Holiday Valley! Don’t know how to snowboard? No problem! Holiday Valley provides instructors who are PSIA and AASI Certified. They will teach you how to navigate the slopes whether you’re on skis or a snowboard!

And then there’s tubing! Some people ride down snow-covered hills in a sled, but we think there’s nothing more exhilarating than riding down a hill on a snow tube. At Holiday Valley the snow tubing is perfect for all ages. The snow tubing park has multiple lanes with a 1000-foot drop. But don’t worry. You won’t have to drag your snow tube back all that way. Holiday Valley provides a conveyor lift to bring everyone back up the hill. And, to keep children under the age of seven safe and entertained, Holiday Valley offers a ‘Lil Tubers area.

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York
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Given the nature of the sport, Holiday Valley does have some recommendations on how to dress for tubing occasions. Don’t wear cotton! Instead choose flannel, thermal underwear, insulated boots, and of course, hats and gloves. And if you forget to bring something with you, check out the Tubing Company shop.

EXPLORE AND CONNECT:
Holiday Valley | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Pinterest | Yelp | Tripadvisor


Niagara Falls State Park

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

Just a one-hour drive from Holiday Valley and home to plenty of things to do in Buffalo, New York, is the historic Niagara Falls State Park. It’s the oldest state park in the country and it expands over 400 acres and brings thousands of visitors each year. Dating back to the ice age, Niagara Falls is just a little over 12,000 years old and is made up of three separate waterfalls. On the U.S. side of the border, there are the American and Bridal Veil Falls. On the Canadian side of the border, there is Horseshoe Falls. Homeschool parents, listen up! Your junior physicists might enjoy knowing that water falls over the edges of the American and Bridal Veil Falls 32 feet per second and hits the ground with 280 tons of force.

There are many wonderful activities you and your family will enjoy while visiting this state park. Some of the more common tours include the Maid of the Mist ride, the Niagara Adventure Theater, and the Cave of the Winds Tour. With a full schedule of fun activities, we chose the Cave of the Winds Tour.

Cave of the Winds Tour

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

Before we get into all the fun details of the tour, we stumbled on a fun fact that we just have to share! The Cave of the Winds Tour is located on Goat Island. Goat Island is located on the Niagara River, between New York and Ontario. At one point in time, there was much debate as to how this island should be used.

Niagara Falls State Park states that Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous railroad entrepreneur, wanted to use Goat Island as a “pleasure ground,” for his train passengers. And then there’s P.T. Barnum – as in Barnum & Bailey Circus. Guess what he wanted to use the island for. If you guessed land for a circus, you’re right! Enough with the fun facts! Let’s talk about the tour!

The Cave of the Winds Tour will take you 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge. A short walk across a wooden walkway will take you just behind Bridal Veil Falls. And when we say, “just behind,” we mean 20 feet away. Close your eyes and enjoy the spray of the water. 150 feet away from the base of the falls is a handicapped accessible walkout available for individuals and parents with small children.

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York
READ MORE: 28 Best Places to Visit in New York State

The Cave of the Winds also has an exciting indoor, multimedia experience. Before you leave check out the World Changed Here Pavilion.” Here you and your family will have the opportunity to see photos of what Niagara Falls looked like before it was a famous state park. You’ll learn why people from all over the world are drawn to these falls each year. Last, you’ll also learn how Nikola Tesla used the power of falls to harness energy.

EXPLORE AND CONNECT:
Niagara Falls State Park | Facebook | Instagram


Things to do in Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Science Museum

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

Thirty minutes from Niagara Falls and at the top of our list of things to do in Buffalo, New York is more edutainment for the family. One of our favorite experiences in Buffalo was the Buffalo Science Museum. With 15 different exhibits to explore, the only problem you’ll have is negotiating with your children which exhibit to visit first.  We have a few favorites we’d love to share with you.

Antarctic Dinosaurs

Enjoy every minute you spend in the Antarctic and do it all from a climate-controlled museum! Take your family on a tour of the Antarctic as you follow scientists through extreme weather to collect and preserve fossils. See a 25-foot Cryolophosaurus. Explore the coldest spot on the planet.

Bug Works

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

Bring ecosystems to life for your kids when you visit the Bug Works exhibit. Here visitors will learn all about the lifecycles, habitats, and survival skills of bugs as well as their importance to our planet.

SensERIE

Perfect for younger children, the SensERIE exhibit is brand new to the museum, having opened in 2021. Here, younger children can explore Lake Erie, the Tifft Nature Preserve, and play at several different activity tables located throughout the exhibit.

Planetarium

The Buffalo Science Museum cordially invites you to gaze at the stars, soar through the solar system, and take a live tour of the sky over Buffalo. During your time at the planetarium, you and your children will land on the moon and learn all about constellations and the ancient tales that help tell their story!

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Science at Home

Not an exhibit, per se, however, if you’re not able to make it to the Buffalo Science Museum but want to give your children an educational gift that will excite them, consider ordering one of the Science at Home kits. Each kit includes four STEM activities and they’re rated for children ages 5-12.

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

EXPLORE AND CONNECT:
Buffalo Science Museum | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Yelp | Tripadvisor


Things to do in Buffalo, New York: Canalside

After a day at the Buffalo Science Museum, take a stroll around Canalside, Buffalo’s beautiful waterfront. Canalside offers a wide variety of activities for everyone including ice skating, bumper cars, and even igloo rentals.

Ice skating at Canalside is available from late November through the end of February. Skates are available for rental as well as training walkers. If you need a place to put your valuables while you’re on the ice, lockers are also available for rent.

Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York
Winter Family Travel: Fun Family Vacation Activities In Upstate New York

When you’re ready to warm up and have some hot cocoa, why not rent an igloo? Or better yet, send your spouse out into the cold with the kids while you pull out a book and enjoy the atmosphere. The igloos at Canalside are heated transparent domes. They are fully furnished with lounge chairs and can accommodate up to eight people. Rental packages include admission, skate rentals, and complimentary hot cocoa. Each rental is available for 90-minutes.

Another fun ice activity you’ll enjoy at Canalside is curling. What is curling? We’re so glad you asked. According to the World Curling Federation, curling is a sport where two teams compete to slide pieces of stone across sheets of ice toward a designated target. Groups of 4-10 people can play curling at Canalside and the fee includes the use of an instructor as well as all of the equipment needed.

While you’re at Canalside check out some of the amazing dining options such as Clinton’s Dish at Canalside or Consumer’s 225 Beer Garden – a double-decker shipping container that offers a wide variety of craft beers and ice cream.

Don’t forget to grab some souvenirs before you leave! Canalside has exclusive merchandise that includes hoodies, beanies, and koozies.

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery

After an exciting day of touring a science museum and power-napping inside of a heated igloo, dine out at one of Buffalo’s most mouth-watering restaurants. The Pearl Street Brewery is a short drive from the waterfront and features a savory selection of house brews such as the Train Wreck, a German Amber beer that is their signature drink. But if that’s not your cup of tea, try the Lighthouse. It’s a blonde ale with a mild flavor.

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The full menu offers a tasty selection of sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, and entrees that include pasta, pot roast, and steak. If you feel like you need to walk off dinner before you drive home, stop by their gift shop and check out their selection of novelty tee-shirts and tap handles.

EXPLORE AND CONNECT:
Canalside | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


The next time the weather forecasts brutal weather, don’t hide inside! Scream “let it snow,” grab your winter gear, and see what adventures await in upstate New York. We promise you fun for the whole family when you visit Niagara Falls, Holiday Valley, and Buffalo, New York. Let us know which adventure you choose! Tag us on Instagram or Facebook so we can see where you went!

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Kristin dePaula
Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.

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