As much as I cherish summer, I’ve grown to appreciate the arrival of fall. Living in New York City, I am grateful that we can experience the change of the seasons—it always feels like a new beginning. For families with kids, fall brings new schedules, new teachers, new fashions, not to mention that cool, crisp air. The changing leaves are definitely my favorite part of the season, so I’m lucky that just a few hours north of the city we can experience fall foliage at its best.
Last month, our family headed up to Ulster County for the perfect fall getaway. Since it was Columbus Day weekend, we had an extra day to soak it all in.
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Our first stop was Rocking Horse Ranch, which has been on my radar for years now, recommended by countless friends who have taken their children there. Located in Highland, New York, on a 500-acre spread in the heart of the scenic Hudson River Valley, Rocking Horse offers four seasons of activities for families of all ages. Take advantage of the seasonal chill at the winter fun park, which includes snow tubing and a beginners’ ski practice hill. If you want to get out of the cold, the indoor waterpark will keep the kids busy for hours. During warmer weather, enjoy unlimited horseback and pony riding, outdoor pool, tubing, arcade, and family entertainment, among other things. This was our family’s first experience at a dude ranch, and I can definitely say it won’t be our last!
The kids were a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do first, so we walked outside to check out all of the animals on the property. The super friendly hotel staff handed us a list of activities for the entire weekend, and boy were there plenty of things to do for the kiddies. On the ranch, there were pigs, goats, donkeys, Scottish cows, zebras, plenty of horses and even a camel. A camel! They were speechless.
After some quality animal time, we drove over to an apple festival on Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. The neighborhood was quaint and charming, and the street was lined with local vendors selling everything from clothing and candles to local cider tastings! It was such a treat getting to chat with the locals about their artisan designs, and their neighborhood. This National Historic Landmark District encompasses 30 buildings across 10 acres at the heart of the New Paltz. With the autumn foliage as a backdrop, we visited all of the old houses along the picturesque street.
The following day, we hit the lottery with the weather for our Hudson River Cruises tour. This two-hour excursion took us down the Hudson as a guide pointed out bridges, landmarks, lighthouses, and famous mansions and estates. Ryder, Siella, and Gemma love being on the water, but they were especially excited to learn that it was the same Hudson River that we see from our apartment window every day. Funny how drastically the scenery changes just a few hours north! The Hudson River Cruise line staff were extremely informative about our surroundings, in fact the captain sat with the kiddies giving them a mini history lesson along the way.
The river tour docked in downtown Kingston, and by pure chance we stumbled upon the community’s annual Italian Festival. We missed the Feast of San Gennaro in NYC in September, so this was a welcome treat. (Hello sausage-and-pepper heroes, zeppoles, gelato and face painting!) It was our first time ever in Kingston, and what a way to spend the day! We tried to hit up all of the vendors, but my favorite one was the raffle asking if you say pasta or macaroni! Pasta won in our tribe!
As if we hadn’t done enough for one day, we headed back to Rocking Horse Ranch, where the kids hit up the indoor waterpark, followed by lots Halloween activities after dinner. Their indoor park has slides and the kids probably went down them at least 100 times. We then trick-or-treated through the grounds, took a not so Haunted Hayride, and capped the evening off by roasting marshmallows for s’mores—an absolutely fav of ours. The Rocking Horse Ranch also invited local vendors to bring in cheeses, jellies, snacks, ciders and wine for the guests to enjoy. It was an absolute blast!
Our last day on the ranch, it was finally time to get in some horseback riding. As we walked up to the stables, one of the ranch hands was giving a horse a new pair of shoes. I had no idea what was involved, but it was such a cool thing for us city slickers to watch.
Then it was time to mount up. With over 100 horses on the property, you can enjoy trotting the trails, horse-drawn wagon journeys, and sleigh rides all year long! The trail riding program starts at 48 inches, so Gemmie just made it. If she had missed the cut off, she could have ridden one of the ponies, which all the little guests were gushing over. Our guide was super patient with us the entire time, and I think the kids found a new love for horseback riding.
What’s fall without apple and pumpkin picking? It’s certainly my favorite part. On our way home, we stopped at Hurds Family Farm, which turned to be so much more than your average apple-and-pumpkin picking destination. There was a petting farm, tractor rides on these adorable little cows, live music, and a market stocked with produce from the farm. We spent all day there making sure we did every activity, and returned home with loads of apples, three perfectly picked pumpkins, and some homemade honey and jam, too.
Considering how close it is to New York City, Ulster County was such a welcome fall escape for the family and we cannot wait to go back. It’s weekends like these where my family and I get to reconnect and enjoy all that New York has to offer. And with all these kid-friendly activities and fun lodging options, we can’t wait to go back next year!