Dutchess County, located in southeastern New York, spans from Fishkill and Beacon to Rhinebeck and Red Hook covering (in total) thirty cities, towns, and villages. There are literally hundreds of ways to explore the area, but I thought I would share twelve ways families can enjoy all that Dutchess County has to offer together. The county borders western Connecticut and is about 90 minutes from Manhattan. Driving from the north end of Red Hook south to Beacon takes less than an hour, so you won't spend days in the car exploring the area.
Start your planning by checking out DutchessTourism.com, which is a well organized, well informed network of suggestions for eating, staying, and exploring the county. They have a section dedicated to family fun and even have itineraries broken up in one, three, and five day stays (in additional to organizing suggestions for shopping, craft beer, spa, LGBT and other themed trips).
My Top 12 #DistinctlyDutchess Activities for Families:
Making History Come Alive:
1. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum and the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site (Hyde Park) is one of our favorite presidential sites. We love the National Park Service (read about why here) and our son is quickly becoming a presidential scholar, so we had to spend the morning exploring the complex. You can purchase separate tickets to the museum or for the house tour. It is free to visit the grounds and gardens, and they are open from dusk to dawn. You can read all about our adventures on the ground, and which activities are better suited for older and younger children, on our full blog post here. Traveling with Kids: Children under 15 receive free admission. Bring the stroller for younger children if you plan to walk the grounds. Make sure your child picks up a National Parks Junior Ranger booklet at the admission desk to earn a badge. The museum covers two floor and is handicap accessible. Restrooms are located in the Visitor Center, both floors of the museum, and next to the Carriage House. There is a gift shop in the Visitor Center and Uncle Sam’s Canteen serves breakfast and lunch items from 10am-4pm daily. Bonus: your admission tickets are good for two consecutive days. Plan on two hours to explore just the museum.
2. Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (Hyde Park) is the 1898, forty room, Gilded Age home of Fredrick Vanderbilt, son of tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. The entire estate covers 200 acres, with over a mile of direct riverfront access, and includes almost two dozen buildings. The mansion just completed (summer 2018) an extensive, three year renovation project to bring the mansion back to its original glory. The grounds are open to the public for walking (dogs are allowed), but to see inside the mansion, you must pay for a tour (children under 15 are free). Be sure to check the website for tour times. Start in the Visitor’s Center, which was once a guest house for single male guests of the Vanderbilts. There are restrooms, a gift shop, and a Nationals Parks passport stamp. Traveling with Kids: The tour lasts about an hour and gives you access to both the first and second floors, as well as the basement of the mansion. The house is handicap accessible with an elevator and chair lift, but strollers and backpacks are not allowed. Our park ranger guide had lots of fun anecdotes and trivia about the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age, but there is not much interaction, no place to sit, and you must make sure not to touch any of the items in the house, so I would not recommend this tour for younger children. My eight and ten year old children liked seeing the decor of the rooms, the ice box in the basement, and the (still working) bathrooms, but even they were a little whiny by the end of the tour. The mansion is not air conditioned.
3. Hyde Park Railroad Station Museum (Hyde Park) was a great, quick stop to learn about the railroad history of Dutchess County. It’s completely run by volunteers, who are eager to show guests around the two rooms of models train displays and explain how the old fashioned Adams Chewing Gum machine and scale work (they even provide the pennies!) The first station was built in the 1850s, along with several other little stations that Fredrick Vanderbilt had torn down to expand the two track system to four tracks. The current station was the site of a 1939 visit from the Queen and King of England, who boarded a train to Canada after a visit at the Vanderbilt mansion. The station permanently closed in 1959 and later reopened as a museum. Toddlers will like the small train table at their level on the main room, and older kids will definitely want to race cars on the tracks in the upstairs room. Make sure to pay close attention to the details of the town terrain the three tracks run through and check out the tv, which projects the camera angle inside the front train car. Traveling with Kids: The museum is open on weekend in the summer and Monday nights all year long. The museum hosts several special programs, including hobby nights, Thomas the Train time, and Ghost Train and Polar Express Nights. There is a restroom inside the museum. Leave the stroller in the car; there’s no room for it. Plan on a half hour visit.
4. Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome (Rhinebeck): Now celebrating it's 60th year, a visit to the Aerodrome is the best way to travel back in time to the early 1900s. From the music that is piped in throughout the grounds to the staff dressed in period costumes to the 70+ airplane (20 of which still fly regularly!) and dozens of vintage cars on display, you'll truly believe you're in the 1958 world of Cole Palen, who founded the oldest flying museum in the country. The grounds are open from early May through the end of October, with air shows and special events every weekend from mid May through mid October. The grounds are divided into two areas, separated by Norton Road. On the left side, up the hill from the main parking lot, are three hangers housing several World War I and II planes as well as vehicles from the early twentieth century. The "History of Flight" hanger includes a gift shop, restroom, and several more planes and automobiles. Also on display are lots of model replicas and other flying memorabilia, appareil, and souvenirs. The main grounds are home to the air shows, work shops, larger gift shop and restrooms, and concessions. On the weekend, guests are able to purchase fifteen minute, two person plane rides on a 1929 open cockpit bioplane. Make sure to check out the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane Charles Lindberg flew non stop across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Check online for special events like Kids Fly Weekends (when kids can build their own model plane and learn all about some of the special planes in the collection) and fall weekends when pilots drop pumpkins from the planes. Air shows run every Saturday and Sunday from 2pm-4pm. Sunday shows begin with a vintage fashion show and car parade (audience participation is encouraged!), followed by the flight of several planes. Traveling with Kids: Wear sneakers and bring a stroller for younger children. Consider bringing earplugs or headphones to protect little ones' ears during the air shows. Concessions includes drinks and snacks and there are plenty of picnic tables under a tent. Plan to spend about two hours before the show exploring the museum and hangers. Children under age 6 are free to visit. Seating for the air shows are planks of wood, so consider bringing lawn chairs if you have guests who need stronger seating.
Little Kids’ Top Picks:
5. Mid Hudson Children’s Museum (Poughkeepsie) was recently voted Best Children’s Museum and for good reason. The museum (which covers two floors) has tons of interactive exhibits for children of all ages. Younger kids will love the Rivertown area on the first floor, which includes an art studio, bakery, grocery store, construction site, fire truck, and Baby Park (only for infants) and the Early Learning Junction (for the four and under crowd). Upstairs, older children will be fascinated by The Science Center, filled with STEM activities and challenges, building structures and Wonderdome light bright, and the indoor playscape and stage for theatrical performances. Be sure to check online for special programming offered during the week, like Science Labs, Toddler Time, and Move & Groove (additional fees apply) and for special hours. There is also the Poughkeepsie Waterfront Market, which runs every Monday afternoon from June- through early September. Traveling with Kids: Parking is free, just make sure you get an exit slip from museum staff when you leave. Restrooms are located on both floors, and there is a coat rack and cubbies next to the admissions desk. No need to bring the strollers; little ones will be too excited to sit still. There is an elevator. The museum participates in the reciprocity programs of both the Association of Children’s Museums and the Association of Science and Technology Centers, so you can get reduced admission fees if you are a member of either organization. Plan on an hour to explore the museum, although your child might linger for an hour just for their favorite spot.
6. Splashdown Beach Water Park is "America's biggest Little Water Park." There is plenty to see and do to keep kids of all ages (and heights!) happy. Smaller children will enjoy the Water Whirler, Splash Works, and Shipwreck Lagoon and older (and taller) kids will definitely like the thrills of Humunga Half Pike, Megalodon, and Arctic Plunge Racer. There are also separate areas, like Coconut Pool and the Croc Creek Wazy Lazy River, for calmer fun. If you need a break from the sun, check out the arcade in Adventure Island. Food options include various shops for waffles, pizza, hot dogs, candy, frozen treats, and a full grill and cafe. Traveling with Kids: If possible, wear bathing suits and apply sunscreen before you arrive. You can rent lockers (bonus: your "key" is a plastic bracelet that scans to open your locker, so no worrying about keys!) and there are changing rooms separate from the restrooms. Get there early in the morning for the best parking spots and lounge chairs. You can rent cabanas with shade, lounge chairs, tables and chair, and food service. Before you go, check out the website for "Thrill-O-Meters" ratings (and height and weight restrictions) for each of the exhibits so you know what to expect. You can also purchase discounted tickets online here.
7. Trevor Zoo is home to over 80 species of animals, including eight endangered animals. In total, the 180+ animals call a section of Millbrook School, a private 9-12 boarding school, home. Many of the students regularly attend class somewhere on the zoo property and students often volunteer at the zoo. The layout is organized by continent and each exhibit has helpful placards with information on the species of the animal, identifying features, typical diet, conservation statistics, and a map. Especially unique to Trevor Zoo is the "Birds of Prey" exhibit with birds who are being rehabilitated and cannot be released into the wild. Their home is "handicap accessible" to meet their individual needs. Children will especially love whistling at the turkeys who gobble back, listening to the lemurs who "sing" to guests, watching the alpacas and sheep "mow" the lawns and the emu eat pine trees (they feast at Christmas time!) and trying to walk next to the muscovy ducks who roam free. Traveling with Kids: Wear sneakers, although the flexi-pave path is much easier to walk on than typical asphalt. The zoo is well mapped out and you most likely won't need the stroller (although the zoo is handicap accessible and the parking lot is a quick walk if you change your mind). The Educational Center has restrooms and changing stations, as well as a classroom for special programs and birthday parties. Trevor Zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so if you have a membership at your local zoo, you may receive reduced admission. You may bring in food for picnic lunches (check out the benches overlooking the pond outside of the Ed Center, or the area overlooking the otters) but make sure not to feed any of the animals. Plan on spending two 90 minutes to two hours at the zoo, and if you visit during the summer, make sure to check out one of the Keeper Talks offered throughout the day.
8. Walkway Over the Hudson (Poughkeepsie) is a 1.25 mile steel bridge over two hundred feet above the Hudson River which connects Poughkeepsie and Highland, New York. Along the path (they have designated spots for walkers and bikers) there are placards with historical facts, short bios of influential explorers, and trivia about the area. There’s a mobile web tour with additional information (just scan the QR code on any of the placards with your mobile phone). In addition to the main walkway, there are several additional trails (check out the map here), including walking over the MidHudson Bridge. On the west bank (Highland side) you can also explore Franny Reese State Park, a 250+ acre park for hiking or Berean Park for swimming and fishing. The longest loop path, which covers two bridges and several areas of both the east and west banks, totals about four and a half miles. (As of July 2018) They’re in the middle of constructing Welcome Centers, which will include amenities likes restrooms, covered picnic areas, benches for resting, and gathering spaces. We parked on the East Bank (Poughkeepsie side) at the 61 Parker Avenue parking lot, which had plenty of availability. Traveling with Kids: The walkway is open from seven am to sunset each day. Bring the stroller for younger kids, or if they’re experienced, have them ride their bike. The railing (and fencing at some points) is quite high, so you should feel secure if they run a little ahead of your group. There are occasional benches and telescopes (bring quarters!) to rest and check out views and there is an emergency elevator located almost half way across the bridge.
9. Upper Landing Park (Poughkeepsie), located next to the Mid Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie is a great spot to run around, relax on a bench with a book from the miniature lending library or snack from the Poughkeepsie Waterfront Market (Monday afternoons from June- September), or take in the views of the Hudson River (look up at the Walkway Over the Hudson and look across at the Hudson River). During the summer, the Park hosts FREE, family friendly summer movies every other Saturday night. If you don’t like the view (and who wouldn’t??!) there’s even free wifi.
10. Victor C Waryas Memorial Park (Poughkeepsie) is located right on the Hudson River with plenty of ways to enjoy the beautiful views of the massive cargo boats travel on the river and the loooong (we’re talking 100+ train cars) trains that travel alongside the river. There are plenty of picnic tables and grills for picnicking, a boat dock, a covered stage for concerts and performances, and two playgrounds (a recent addition to the left of the entrance and a smaller, older playground to the right). There is a small parking lot next to the park and lots of parking options further up the hill. Right on the water is the Poughkeepsie Ice House, with plenty of patio seating in addition to the indoor restaurant. Good options include flatbread pizza (it’s small, so choose it as an appetizer), burgers, salads, sandwiches and fish. The passing boats and trains should hold children’s attention.
There are over two dozen farms in Dutchess County where you can hand pick fruits, vegetables, flowers, and even Christmas trees. You can find a comprehensive list here. Print out the Farm Fresh Coloring Book for your child to color on the drive. We explored two different farms with similar missions but different activities and produce:
11. FishKill Farms (East Fishkill) is easily accessible from Interstate 84. The 270+ acre farm, established in 1913, is open seven days a week year round, with opportunities to pick your own fruits and veggies from June (strawberries) until the first frost or the end of October (pumpkins and apples). The farm grows almost 100 varieties of apples, in addition to dozens of other fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The property includes over 100 acres of farmland plus woods, ponds, and wetlands. The farm is certified organic for veggies, berries, and some of the apple orchard varieties. There’s also Treasurery Hard Cider, which the farm produces and sells in their outdoor cider tent on the weekend. Special events throughout the spring, summer, and fall include races, Peachtopia, and Yoga on the Farm. The grill is open on the weekends (fact check) along with live music. The farm is also in the process of restoring and expanding the farm store building and deck. The store sells dozens of homemade donuts, jarred fruits, pickled veggies, and sauces, as well as homewares, t shirts, hats, and other home decor. Traveling with Kids: There’s plenty of parking in marked lanes in front of the farm. Wear closed toed shoes as your feet with get wet and muddy in the fields. There is an admission fee of $5/per person over age 12, but everyone is free on Tuesdays. There are only portapotties available on the farm. If you’re local, or in town for an extended stay, stop by frequently, as what is being harvested and picked changes daily. Plan on at least an hour to pick produce
12. Sprout Creek Farms (Poughkeepsie) was a huge hit with my children, mainly for all of the hands on ways kids can be involved in aspects of farm life. Established in 1991, the 200 acre farm focuses on educational experiences for children and adults to learn about agriculture and farming. The farm has tons of experiences, ranging from summer day camps, week long overnight camps where children are involved in chores ranging from milking cows to harvesting the veggies to make meals each night, cooking classes, cheese making classes, and numerous school programs. The property is opened year round and encourages visitors to come with a picnic blanket and lunch and relax or check out the cheesemaking process. You can also play with baby goats (they love chewing on your clothes and shoe laces!), find the 8 cats who call the farm home, or pick veggies in the quarter acre garden. There are over 160 different animals who live on the farm (just last year, over 100 baby goats were born) and you can get up close and personal with many of them. If I lived closer, this place would be in my regular rotation of favorite spots. Traveling with Kids: Wear closed toe shoes (even better, wear sneakers you’re about to throw out) as your feet will get muddy and dirty from the barns. Make sure to sample (and then purchase to take home) some of the farm made cheese and breads (carriott, zucchini, and banana all smelled amazing!). The farm also produces and sells eggs, and pork and beef cuts. Bonus: this may be the only farm I have been to that has indoor, actual restrooms for visitors- score! Plan on an hour to explore the farm and check out some of the barns.
Eating with the Locals: There are hundreds of options when it comes to dining out in Dutchess County. Check here for a very comprehensive list. Since we’ve traveled to Dutchess County a few times, we’ve had opportunities to explore several spots. Here are some spots we enjoyed:
- Beacon: Melzingah Tap House just opened in 2018 on Main Street in Beacon and offers 23 beers on tap, a wide variety of appetizers, about ten different burger choices, and "main meal" options ranging from mussels and sausage to chicken and dumplings to trout almondine. The brunch menu also looked really good. My children were happy with the options on the children's menu.
- Hyde Park: Hyde Park Brewing Company has at least six house made beers on tap at any time and a massive menu with everything from burgers and sandwiches to pizzas and salads, plus tons of options for appetizers and a very good children's menu (dessert's included!) . Note: The restaurant is closed for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays. The restaurant is located right across the street from the FDR Presidential Homestead, Library & Museum.
- Hyde Park: The Culinary Institute of America has five options open to the public during the academic year (September-June). The best option for families is either the Apple Pie Cafe or The Post Road Brew House . The Apple Pie Cafe is open breakfast or lunch/afternoon meals, and the grab and go hours extend until 6pm. It's a more casual setting with plenty of varities or soups, sandwiches and salads- and don't forget about dessert! The Post Road Brew House is open for dinner (lunch only on Saturdays) with steak and fish options (and an amazing mac and cheese) and a special Sunday brunch menu.
- Millbrook: Babette's Kitchen is located right on Franklin Street, situated amongst many cute shops (check out Juniper next door for unique baby gifts and home decor, and then go around the corner to Cordially Corinne for beautiful stationery. Babette's is small (about six or seven tables inside and a few bistro sets outside) but the homemade sandwiches, quiches, pastries, and cookies are delicious and easy to grab and go. There are also plenty of other homemade grab and go's to enjoy later, like cheeses, olives, granolas, and honey.
- Rhinebeck: Terrapin is located right downtown, inside an old church and is home to a bar/bistro on one side and full dining room on the other side. They pledge to resource local, organic, sustainable food and many items on the menu are designated vegetarian, vegan, or wheat free. Their children's menu is varied, and reasonably priced. It's located on Montgomery Street amongst many cute shops.
Staying Locally: There are plenty of options from chain hotels to smaller B&Bs if you are visiting without children. We were hosted at the Hyatt House Fishkill/Poughkeepsie, located less than five minutes from Splashdown Park and about fifteen minutes south of Poughkeepsie. Hyatt Houses have a great layout for families with separate one and two bedrooms suites and full kitchens. Breakfast is included in your stay, and I was happy there are made to order omelettes available during breakfast.
I already have future plans to visit other parts of Dutchess County. Where should we visit next? Leave your suggestions in the comment box below. And if you want to follow along on my family's adventures, please "like" us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Dutchess Tourism for my family's visit. All opinions expressed are my own.