Ah, springtime! As we begin seeing winter in the rearview mirror, we can start to look forward to what family fun and adventures spring brings to Ithaca and Tompkins County.
Whether you're traveling from afar or looking for a staycation from one of our neighboring regions, options abound for families visiting our region, both indoors and out. Here are a few ideas to get your trip planning off to a good start.
We have four state parks within a 10-mile radius, all with their own unique features. Buttermilk Falls and Robert Treman state parks are within minutes of each other, filled with trails to hike and waterfalls to view. Both have some trails that are open seasonally, so be sure to check in advance to learn which ones are ready for hiking during your visit. Allan Treman State Marine Park features a "hidden gem" of a trail and serves as a boating access point on Cayuga Lake. It's also where Discover Cayuga Lake has public cruises available most days during the warm weather months.
Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg boasts lake access for swimming and boating, and plenty of places for a picnic. Across the street from the main entrance is where you'll want to go walk on the Gorge Trail for an up-close-and-personal view of the 215-foot-tall Taughannock Falls – three stories taller than Niagara Falls! – to get a sense of the roaring waters' power. There are trails available seasonally on either side of the parking area that allow a – steep – hike up to the overlook, where you can see the falls from a different perspective across the gorge. The rim trails also provide a connection to the Black Diamond Trail, an 8.4-mile multi-use trail perfect for a bike ride into Ithaca.
The Black Diamond Trail empties out into the City of Ithaca's Cass Park, right behind the Ithaca Children's Garden. The Garden is a great place to let your kids roam free, as the fenced-in area offers places to see the plants getting their spring start, a sound area for people to work out their favorite tunes, lots of neat spots for little ones to tuck into, a loose parts play area, and the giant Gaia the Turtle that is great for climbing on and jumping from as they experience nature in a wonderful way.
In addition, Cass Park features playing fields, a picnic pavilion, and a small playground, all along the Cayuga Lake inlet. It also connects with the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, a paved multi-use path that follows the waterfront around to the Ithaca Farmers Market and, eventually, to Stewart Park. The Farmers Market, which opens on Saturdays in April and Sundays in May, is a great place for families, with international food options, a chance to see the harvest of our local farmers, music echoing through the Steamboat Landing location, and a beautiful view of Cayuga Lake. In addition to lovely lake views next to willows along the shore and from picnic tables spread throughout, Stewart Park features an inclusive playground, designed to allow children of all abilities to play together.
Cayuga Nature Center, along Route 89 and overlooking Cayuga Lake, has a series of trails for walking, as well as rehabilitating wildlife that kids will love to see. The highlight, though, is TreeTops, a six-story treehouse overlooking a waterfall that will keep your children busy – with a bench next to it to give caregivers a chance to rest while the kiddos tire themselves out.
Myers Park in Lansing is another great spot for families, with swimming and boating access on the east side of Cayuga Lake. Lansing Center Trail is an easy hike in the center of town, with a story walk adding to the enjoyable walk. One note here: One end of the trail empties out at Scoops, an ice cream stand open when the weather turns warm, so that can be an enticement for those who might need one to keep moving along the path. Dryden also offers some great hiking, including the Jim Schug Trail, while Newfield is home to a portion of the Finger Lakes Trail and the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, offering a chance to see nature's creatures in action.
INDOOR FUN, TOO
After all that outdoor activity, or on a too-rainy day, it's nice to have some indoor options for families to play together. The Museum of the Earth, on Route 96 between Trumansburg and Ithaca, takes visitors along a timeline of the earth's history, from its earliest days up to an exhibit highlighting the climate change of today. Kids young and old will be awestruck by the massive whale and mastodon skeletons on display, and hands-on activities provide the chance to learn through play.
The Sciencenter is another place to get away indoors with something for all members of the family. The littlest ones have an enclosed mini version of the rest of the center, and the bigger kids will enjoy looking at live reptiles, experiencing an ocean-coast modeled touch tank, and learning about sustainability and the weather. There also is an outdoor playground and mini golf course that are open seasonally.
FOOD & DRINK
All this play will surely have your family working up an appetite and, fortunately, there are lots of great places for families to grab a bite. Ciao! offers a casual family-style setting, serving up wood-fired pizza and Tuscan-inspired pasta. Ithaca Bakery can fuel you up morning, noon, and night, with great breakfast options and fun – and filling – sandwiches, plus you can order ahead and pick up on the way to your next adventure.
In Trumansburg, Little Venice has fantastic Italian food, a salad bar that never ends, and a great kids menu, while Atlas Bowl offers great food in a fun atmosphere, with seven lanes of bowling available – one specifically for the New England-style candlepin variety. Looking for some outdoor spaces where kids have room to run around? South Hill Cider, Finger Lakes Cider House, and Ithaca Beer all offer outdoor seating and eating, as well as delicious craft beverages to go along with the food.