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Celebrate WNY winter with your family

Get out! No, seriously get outside and enjoy this amazing wintry weather. And bring the kids, too. Let’s face it, winter in Western New York can be challenging – slick driving, shoveling, brutal cold. But, it can and should be celebrated, too. You will make incredible memories with your kids and they are tougher than you think, so go for it. Bundle up and enjoy our winter wonderland. Here are some suggestions.

Hot Spots

These popular outdoor spots offer plenty of outdoor activities for the family.

Canalside (canalsidebuffalo.com) is one of the hottest spots in Buffalo during the summer and it is just as cool in the winter. The 33,000-square-foot rink at Canalside is the place to be for fun for the entire family. The rink has a big city feel – and the views are fabulous. Besides, you’re sure to run into someone you know. Yes, the kids will fall down (you might, too) but, they’ll get back up and laugh it off. The rink is open daily. Cost for kids ages 6-12 is $4; 13 and older is $6; and free for age 5 and younger.

If you’re up for trying something different, check out the ice bikes at Canalside. It seems a little crazy, but looks like so much fun (I haven’t quite worked up the nerve just yet). (winterbikesofbuffalo.com) The ice bikes are better for older kids and adults. Open weekends only; $10 for 30 minutes.

Rotary Rink (Fountain Plaza; buffaloplace.com/rotaryrink). Ah, it’s such a staple in winter. Free skating overlooking beautiful downtown Buffalo. I can’t even tell you how many memories I have from taking my girls there. Skate for a bit, then head into the heated atrium to warm up and get some hot cocoa. Open Tuesday through Sunday and on Monday holidays.

If you’re like me and on a budget – there are plenty of super cool freebies. Many of them are run by the county. We pay taxes, so we might as well take advantage. Besides, I find the local parks to be less overwhelming for the little ones. They’re close to home and you’ll likely run into some neighbors.

Chestnut Ridge (6121 Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park www2.erie.gov) is the jewel of the Southtowns. I’m a Northtowns girl, but my husband grew up in Orchard Park and is always bragging about this park. You’ll find tobogganing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking and snowmobiling on designated trails. I know, right? So much to do.

Toboggan chutes are operated from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays, and from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. The sled hill is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. You’re bound to take at least one face-plant, but isn’t that part of the fun?

Como Lake (2220 Como Park Blvd, Lancaster www2.erie.gov) is where you can marvel at the peaceful nature right in front of you, and find plenty of adventure sledding, cross-country skiing and ice skating with two free ice skating rinks open noon to 8 p.m. You can stay dry and warm in the casino as well.

Bond Lake County Park (2571 Lower Mountain Road, Ransomville niagaracounty.com) is set on the spectacular Niagara Escarpment. Check out the tubing hill for inflatable tubes only. There is a large ice skating rink for the family as well as one used just for hockey. There are 13 miles of cross-country skiing trails. The warming house can give you a bit of a break from the cold with its roaring fire and seating area. Can’t you picture it, now? Tubing is weekends and holidays from 11 a.m. to dusk. Ice rinks and warming house are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Tifft Nature Preserve (1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.; tifft.org) is one of our favorites. You can take a hike and explore the beautiful grounds at Tifft for free every day from dusk until dawn. There are five miles of nature trails. Cross-country skiing also is a fun way to see nature in all its glory. Story time, arts and crafts and other events are offered throughout the winter. It’s very low key and the kids learn while having fun.

Delaware Park (84 Parkside Ave.; bfloparks.org) is gorgeous all year. A walk around Hoyt Lake is the perfect trek in the winter. You can bring your sled and head down the hill in the park for some fun, too. Don’t forget your earmuffs – no, not to block out all of those kids screaming with delight, but to keep your ears warm.

You can also check out the sledding, ice skating, cross-country skiing and other winter activities at Elma Meadows Park (1711 Girdle Road, Elma; www2.erie.gov), Fort Niagara State Park (1 Scott Ave, Youngstown; stateparks.com), Akron Falls Park (44 Parkview Drive, Akron; www2.erie.gov) and Beaver Island State Park (2136 West Oakfield Road, Grand Island; nyparks.com). All have hills that are great for little ones. Not too big. Not too small.

Head to the slopes

Looking for a bit more of a thrill? There is a mountain of fun to explore.

Ellicottville (holidayvalley.com) is a magical place in the winter whether you ski or not. There is the shopping, the restaurants and much more. You can head over to Holiday Valley Ski Resort and check out the 58 trails packed with adventure and maybe a few bumps and bruises (at least for me). It is open daily. Prices and times vary but kids 6 and younger always ski free.

Not a fan of skiing? Not a problem. Ride the Mountain Coaster and twist your way through the snow-covered trees. Located next to Tannenbaum Lodge, the coaster is open on weekends only. You’ll pay $8 for one ride, $15 for two or $65 for a 10 pack. You also can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the free trails or take a sleigh ride through the glistening village (reservations required; 938-6313). Take the family or have a romantic ride.

Ski or tube at Peek N Peak (1405 Old Road, Clymer; pknpk.com). Times and prices vary daily for skiing and tubing, but kids 5 and younger always ski free. Must be 3 years old to tube.

At Kissing Bridge (10296 State Road, Glenwood; kbski.com), daily hours and rates vary but it is always fun to ski. Kids 6 and younger ski free.

On my list of things to do this winter is to visit Bryncliff Resort (2357 Humphrey Road, Varysburg; bryncliff.com). I had no idea that the gorgeous rolling hills of Wyoming County had such snow-filled fabulousness in store. There is downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, tubing, snowshoeing and sledding every day.

Indoor activities

If Old Man Winter is not cooperating, or your kids aren’t loving the cold, there are plenty of indoor hot spots around, too. Here are a few:

The Buffalo Zoo (300 Parkside Ave.; buffalozoo.org) is open year-round. I used to think this was a summer-only thing to do, too. Nope. Bring your kids even when the snow if flying. They’ll love visiting Luna, the uber-popular polar bear as she frolics around in her “Arctic Edge” home. Or stop by and watch the Siberian tigers playing in their frigid tundra exhibit. They thrive in the chilly temps.

If you get cold, no worries. Just stop in the steamy Rainforest where you can warm up while enjoying the sights and sounds. The first Saturday of every month is “Zooper Saturday” with events where kids can learn about the animals and have fun, too. The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults, $12; kids, 2-12; $9 and kids under 2 are free.

Buffalo Museum of Science (1020 Humboldt Parkway; sciencebuff.org). Your kids can dig for fossils or listen to story time. I always have a hard time getting my 4-year-old to leave because she loves it so much. It also offers various camps and the exhibits are always changing. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults, $10; ages 2-17, $8, children under 2 are free.

Bounce Magic (4090 Maple Road, Amherst and 4255 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg bouncemagic.com) is a good place for kids to burn off some energy. Kids jump as long as they like - or you like - for $12. Adults are free with purchase of child’s play pass. Food and drink is sold. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s exhausting. But it is fun for the kids.

Rolly Pollies (9630 Transit Road, East Amherst and 4058 N. Buffalo Road, Orchard Park; rpwny.com) has plenty of hands-on fun with trampolines, climbing equipment and a ball pit that the kids tend to gravitate to. There are classes for ages 6 months to 9 years. Prices vary depending on the class. Open play is offered for kids daily. Your kids can literally run around like maniacs in a safe place. Padding, mats and instructors help kids learn how to do things the correct way. My kids are usually so wiped out, they fall asleep in the car before we get home.

The Strong National Museum of Play (1 Manhattan Square Drive, Rochester museumofplay.org) is a bit of a road trip (about an hour or so from Buffalo), but it is well worth it. My kids love it. It is all about hands-on fun. The “Toy Hall of Fame” will take you back in time, and the shopping at the Wegmans Kid’s Market is a great opportunity for kids to see what shopping is all about. From Sesame Street to the Berenstain Bears – your kids (and you) will love this. Open daily. Ages 2 and older, $14; free for under 2.