Enjoying a New England Fall With Kids Without Looking at Leaves

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I love that I grew up in New England, and recent travels have confirmed I will always be a New Englander. One of my favorite things about living in New England is the change in seasons, and there is (arguably) nothing more beautiful than fall in New England. However, I would argue that it takes a more “mature” desire to spend significant time looking at foliage. I don’t know too many toddlers, children, or teenagers who enjoy going for long drives in the country just to look at leaves. If your children are anything like mine, they like to do things, especially when the weather is still warm enough to be outside for extended periods of time.

Here is a list of some of my family’s favorite things to do in the Northeast during the fall and links to full, detailed blog post. Yes, you’ll still see plenty of beautiful foliage while traveling to these spots, but your children will be happily engaged, entertained, and energized:

1. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in the Hudson Valley of New York is always on my “must see” fall list. It’s about an hour north of Manhattan. Get your tickets early as they sell out every year (hint: they go on sale at the very beginning of September). It’s open every night from late September through early November starting at 6:30pm. There are over 6,000 hand carved pumpkins “ablaze” and they add more displays every year. Displays range from a replica Tappan Zee Bridge (yes, you can walk across it!) to a carousel to the Statue of Liberty. It’s hard to pick a favorite. The tour takes about an hour, but chances are good your children (and you!) will linger at least one display. Bonus: there is nothing “scary” about the Blaze, so even the littlest children will love it.
Traveling with Kids: Bring a stroller for little children and make sure you use the restroom before you arrive; there are only porta potties available.

2. Dutchess County, New York: We spent a lot of time this summer exploring Dutchess County, a southeastern part of New York, about 90 minutes north of Manhattan, that spans from Rhinebeck and Red Hook down to Poughkeepsie to Fishkill.   At the very top of the my kids’ must-see-again-and-again list is the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Trevor Zoo, and Sprout Creek Farm. The Aerodrome is open from May through mid October and has air shows each weekend. Shows include vintage fashion shows, car parade, and dozens of WWI and WWII planes and automobiles on display on the ground and in the air! You can even purchase 15 minute, two person rides in an open air biplane. There are special events for children, plenty of concession options, and a four hanger museum to explore. Trevor Zoo is the only zoo in America located on the grounds of a high school. There are over 80 species of animals you can see up close, plenty of ways to interact with the over 180 animals, and special programming throughout the fall. You can even bring a picnic lunch and watch the otters swimming while you eat. Sprout Creek Farm is also home to hundreds of animals, but at Sprout Creek, you can pet and feed many of them, like the sheep and baby goats. You can also watch cheese being made, purchase everything from cheese to home grown veggies to a wide variety of homemade breads and pastries. Bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon outdoors at the farm.
Traveling with Kids: All three locations are handicap and stroller accessible and have plenty of restroom facilities.

3. The Farmer’s Daughter in Westerly, Rhode Island is more than “just” a gardening center; in the fall, it has plenty of outdoor activities to keep children busy practically the whole day. There are barrel train rides, hay rides, pony rides, face and pumpkin painting, a corn maze, pumpkin slingshot, and the popular pumpkin arcade with games for children of all ages. Make time to check out the beautiful displays throughout the property, almost all of which are for sale, and purchase just-picked fruits and veggies and just-baked goods.

4. Newport, Rhode Island is a city filled with child- friendly ways to learn about history. Fort Adams is still my children’s favorite fort tour (and we’ve toured at least 7 forts by now- you can read about our adventures at Fort Stanwix here and Fort Sumter here) because they got to go through tunnels with a flashlight and stand tall at the top of the barracks. The Tennis Hall of Fame has a fun scavenger hunt for children to complete as you explore the museum- and you can even play a game of tennis on one of the famous grass courts. If your family enjoys the outdoors, definitely take a walk on one of the designated path at the Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge (you’ll see all sorts of wildlife animals; make sure to borrow a backpack of supplies and tools from the Visitor’s Center) and visit nearby Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium, located right on Easton’s Beach.

5. Yankee Candle Village in Massachusetts is one of the most popular destinations in New England, especially in the fall. Besides the opportunity to purchase candles (there are over 300 scents and many sizes of candles)  and other housewares, there is so much to do. You can make your own candle (either from scratch choosing your own scents and colors or by taking a photo to put on a classic candle), create wax molds of your hands or favorite ornaments, fill a candle jar with your favorite candy, visit Santa is his satellite workshops (he’s there ALL year!),  or hang out in the outdoor courtyard and play lawn games. There’s a Bavarian Village to explore (it snows every few minutes!), a Man Town filled with sports memorabilia for the non candle connoisseurs, and a candle making museum with live demonstrations offered every day. There are plenty of food options and the entire Village is one of the most child friendly places we have visited.

6. Salem, Massachusetts, located about a half hour north of Boston, is known for the infamous Witch Trials in the late 1600s. In the fall, the city comes alive with every museum and theater highlighting the trials and individuals involved in that period of time. There are plenty of shows and experiences for teenagers and adults. Younger children will be better entertained (and less scared) by visiting  the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The Peabody Essex Museum is one of the oldest, and most popular, museums in the country and for good reason: over a dozen exhibits of art. Children will be entertained by the Art and Nature Center for Children. There is a magnetic wall and mosaic tile areas for future designers, a craft space, book nook, and other rotating exhibits.  The National Historic Site (read about why we always make time for National Parks locations here) includes several homes to explore, the Friendship of Salem ship from the 18th century, and a junior ranger scavenger hunt for children to earn a badge and other prices.

7. Mystic, Connecticut welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors for the summer season. The seaside town is known for its shipbuilding history and a visit to Mystic Seaport is the best, hands-on way for children to learn about maritime history and everyday life during the late 19th century. You can spend the whole day visiting the replica shops, exploring three ships, and walking through the museums. Children will also love the Mystic Aquarium, where you can touch stingrays, watch seals being fed, and blow kisses to beluga whales. The aquarium includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Plus there are dozens of restaurants with a view of the water and fall foliage, and plenty of nearby wineries that will allow families to visit (many of them offer music and festivals on the weekend). Clyde’s Cider Mill is only open during the fall, so take advantage of the season and visit one of the only working steam-powered mills. They offer demonstrations in the mill each weekend and the store sells delicious homemade goods as well pumpkins, gourds, and Indian cord.

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