Dutchess County, NY
Val-Kill in Hyde Park is easy compared to some other day trips, and was the home of Eleanor Roosevelt, and is now a National Historic Site. Wander the estate or take a tour of the Stone Cottage. Ask about the National Parks Service Junior Ranger program, which gives a patch and certificate to kids who complete a series of activities during their visit. Afterwards, visit the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt or the Vanderbilt Mansion, both in town. For spectacular views, stroll along the Walkway Over The Hudson (there are entrances in Poughkeepsie and Highland). Formerly a railroad bridge, this pedestrian path stretches 1.28 miles across the river. It’s a sight that’ll take your breath away.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk isn’t as big as Connecticut’s famed Mystic Aquarium, but it’s chock-full of excitement in the form of jellyfish, harbor seals, touch pools and an IMAX theater. Catch a cruise on the Long Island Sound aboard a research vessel to spot seals and birds in their natural habitats. While in Norwalk, visit the Stepping Stones Museum for Children to see vibrant LED light galleries, a construction center that’ll suit them up in hard hats before building and an energy lab where they’ll learn about hydropower. If you’ve got a little extra time, head about 40 minutes north to the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange for 4,000 square feet of unique dispensers and memorabilia.
Orange County, NY
While the kids wait for LEGOLAND to open in Goshen next year, take them to see New Windsor’s Storm King Art Center. It’s a 500-acre, open-air museum with giant contemporary sculptures, so you’ll want to take a tour or rent a bike when you get there (only full-size bikes available; no child seats). Then, grab a hard cider at Angry Orchard’s 60-acre spread in Walden. The bustling Hudson Valley cider house is family-friendly and boasts outdoor space with rotating food trucks and a treehouse that’s open seasonally. For an overnight, stay at The Kartrite, a just-opened resort with a hotel and indoor waterpark (the biggest in NY!) in Monticello in nearby Sullivan County.
The Pine Barrens, NJ
This famed South Jersey gem has a spooky reputation for being home to the Jersey Devil (and a bit of a bad rap if you’ve watched The Sopranos). But with more than a million acres, the National Reserve is also a gorgeous destination to explore with the kids. Pineland Adventures in Wharton State Forest is a great place to start. Families can spend day trips kayaking on Atsion Lake (ages 8 and up) or camping nearby. Atsion Village and Recreation Area is home to Atsion Mansion, an 1826 Greek Revival home open for seasonal tours. The neighboring Batsto Village boasts a sawmill, gristmill, blacksmith, ice house, general store and a 32-room, 19th-century mansion.
Pocono Mountains, PA
If you’ve got an active bunch, the Poconos has plenty to offer. Head to Bushkill Falls, known as The Niagara of Pennsylvania, for spectacular hiking paths and eight stunning waterfalls. Kids ages 10 and up can tackle aerial obstacles and zip lines at Skytop Lodge’s Adventure Course. Head to Camelback Mountain Adventures in Tannersville for similar treetop challenges for tweens, plus a course for younger kids. Get the best view of the Lehigh River on the Pocono Bike Train that leaves from Jim Thorpe. Load your bikes, then ride along the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway before pedaling a flat, 25-mile route. Pack a picnic lunch, go for a swim or pose for pics with waterfalls.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo is smaller and great for younger kids’ day trips and has animals like sea lions, red pandas and marmosets. After the zoo, explore the 526-acre park, designed by the duo behind Central Park. Take a ride on the carousel in Children’s Corner, or go horseback riding on a 3.5-mile bridle path with Kensington Stables. Have a picnic by Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn’s only lake. Spring is also the best time to visit Brooklyn Botanic Garden next door, located in Mount Prospect Park just minutes from the Brooklyn Museum. See cherry blossoms in full bloom, explore the Discovery Garden, take in views at the Lily Pool Terrace and sniff around the Fragrance Garden.