Growing a bit bored with pools and playgrounds? Maybe it’s time to get outside and enjoy something a bit different than swimming or climbing. Western New York has plenty of fine places for family-friendly outdoor activities, and the five below are near the top of the list.
Best of all? All of the options here guarantee that your little ones will end up exhausted, and ready for some R&R when you get home.
Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve
For years, Blasdell’s Penn Dixie was on my “I can’t believe we’ve never been there" list. A friend’s birthday party last summer gave us the opportunity to visit, and it was worth the wait. The fossil-hunting favorite is fun for kids of all ages, and offers a large space for searching. There are even some cool fossil ID cards to fill out.
Be warned, though, that the fossil-hunting takes place in direct sun. Bring some drinks, and maybe snacks to enjoy in the shaded pavilion after your scouring.
Best for: ages 5 and older.
Info: 4050 North St., Blasdell; penndixie.org. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 adults, $9 senior citizens, military and students; $7 for ages 3 to 17; ages 3 and younger are admitted free. Bring your own tools or rent them for $5. Penn Dixie has a list of suggested tools you can bring here.
Charles E. Burchfield Nature and Art Center
The Burchfield has a well-kept art center (currently closed for renovations) and a killer playground, as well as a well-kept art center. It is the nature trails, however, that stand out in the memory. They wind through the 19-acre property, a stunning area of woods, gardens and animals. Paths lead to Buffalo Creek, and many visitors (and dogs) spend time in the water. It’s a wonderful place to explore and walk as a family.
Best for: all ages, although older kids may better appreciate the art and environment.
Info:2001 Union Road, West Seneca; burchfieldnac.org. The park is open dawn to dusk.
Chestnut Ridge Park
Just about anyone who grew up in the Southtowns has memories of sledding at Chestnut Ridge. The fun continues long after the snow has melted, as the more than 1,000 acres feature picnic sites, playgrounds, ravines and tennis courts. And there is the stunning Eternal Flame Falls.
Biking might be the best way to truly enjoy what the Ridge has to offer. And when your hike or ride is complete, enjoy that unequaled view from the top of the hill.
Best for: children ages 7 and older, due to the amount of walking/riding.
Info: 6121 Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park; www2.erie.gov/parks/chestnut-ridge. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Labor Day; to dusk in the winter.
Canalside Paddle Boats
Going out on the Canalside paddle boats has become an early-summer tradition for me and my son. Taking place in the canals -- right next to the Explore and More construction site -- and offering a nice, low-angle view of Shark Girl, the paddle boat experience is a blast.
While kids pedal boats are offered ($5 for 20 minutes), I’d suggest the adult, two-person paddle boats ($10 for 20 minutes). The adult boats offer a surprisingly good workout, especially when your companion is a child.
Best for: the solo Paddle boats are for ages 3 to 8 and a maximum weight of 60 lbs; the pedal boats are for all ages, but riders under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Tifft Nature Preserve
Like Penn Dixie, Tifft is an old faithful for area families. The 264-acre nature preserve offers five miles of trails -- definitely grab a map at the visitor's center -- along with fishing. Some choose to visit during the winter, when snowshoe rentals are offered and the trails are dotted with cross country skiers. But activities and events are offered all summer long.
In fact, every Sunday features “Trek Tifft,” a casual, volunteer-led tour. While the walks are free, a $2 donation per person is suggested.
Best for ages: 5 and older; there’s lots of walking.
Info: 1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.; tifft.org. Trails are open dusk to dawn. Visitor Center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Griffis Sculpture Park (East Otto), the Amherst Bike Path, the Independent Health Wellness Trail (along the Outer Harbor), Beaver Island State Park (Grand Island), Knox Farm State Park (East Aurora).