The guides from Wilderness Rocks help urban dwellers escape to nature with five- to six-hour day trips through the Catskills and beyond. Groups of up to 14 get scooped up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and whisked away from the concrete jungle's hectic routine of hailing taxis and dodging falling coconuts under the Panamanian Consulate. Departing throughout the year, hike options range from the Catskills snowshoe trip on February 11—a 6-mile trek through the snowy sanctum of the Catskill Mountains—to the Pound Mountain trip on April 7, which involves moderate rock climbing and spelunking. Rather than sprinting ahead to nab the freshest, most coveted pinecones, guides make several stops along the way, allowing everyone to catch their breath and take in the serenity of their surroundings. Once hikers have finished each trail, Wilderness Rocks transports the group back to the 86th Street rendezvous point with nothing but their gear, memories, and carefully rehearsed alibis. Before departure, check each trip's page for departure times, clothing requirements, and what equipment to bring.
The third-oldest zoo in the United States, the Buffalo Zoo was originally founded in 1875 as a deer park in the northwest corner of Delaware Park. Since then, it has grown into a 23.5-acre home for diverse species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, all under the care of the Zoological Society of Buffalo, an organization dedicated to advancing the conservation of the world’s exotic, endangered, and ordinary animals. Within its habitats, creatures ranging from Asian elephants to poison arrow frogs serve as ambassadors from far-off kingdoms, and at the Delta Sonic Heritage Farm’s 1800s-era barn, a collection of berkshire pigs, southdown sheep, and other farm animals represents the fauna that once commonly lived along the Erie Canal. To carry out its educational mission, the zoo regularly hosts programs such as behind-the-scenes workshops and Zoo Snooze, in which kids can stay over for the night and wake up alongside the lions roaring angrily at their rooster alarm clocks.
When Utica Zoo opened its gates 98 years ago, three fallow deer comprised its entire animal population. Today, visitors can traipse the zoo's walking trails to view more than 200 animals, including alligators, bald eagles, zebras, and an African lion. The zoo also provides a safe haven for threatened species such as snowy owls and mexican spider monkeys. Staff members guide tours and conduct presentations, allowing visitors to get a close look at animals.
"I love the early mornings out on my tractor preparing the soil, checking the fields," muses Farmer Pete. "We care about this land, the food it provides, the visitors growing family traditions." That care is evident to anyone who visits Barton Orchards. The farm?lovingly maintained by Farmer Pete, his dad, Bruce, and a staff of experts?produces a wealth of pick-your-own fruits and veggies that range from summery peaches and green tomatoes to fall staples such as pumpkins and Braeburn apples.
But produce is just the tip of the spading fork. Each fall, Barton Orchards beckons visitors to its corn maze, which was voted one of the Top 10 Corn Mazes for Families by Kidventurous. The maze, also featured in the New York Post, winds participants through 5 acres of cornstalk artwork and quizzes as they immerse themselves in the theme of the year (previous iterations have referenced Harry Potter and the movie Labyrinth). In celebration of the fall season, Barton Orchards also hosts a haunted house and a fun park with a football pitch, slides, and trains.
Bailiwick Ranch & Discovery Zoo introduces visitors to exotic animals from around the world including camels, alligators, and Titan, a bengal tiger. Those who want to learn more can pair their trip with one of the educational shows offered daily at the zoo, or even have the animals come to them?certain zoo residents are available to travel for special events.
Over on the ranch side, kids can get up close and personal with a more domestic animal during horseback-riding lessons at the onsite equestrian center. After a few basic horsemanship lessons, students aged 7 and older can take part in trail rides around the ranch. The rides last anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day and traverse the nearby woods, mountains, and waterfalls of the Hudson Valley.
Operating since the early 1900s and voted Best Petting Zoo of 2011 by readers of the Long Island Press, White Post Farms stimulates visitors with a smorgasbord of exciting diversions. Guests commune with an exotic menagerie of man’s second-best friends in the petting zoo, home to zebras, kangaroos and a sublimely patient giant tortoise. Friends of the feathered can hang out at Ronnie’s Birdie Landing, a free-flight aviary that boasts a 70-foot waterfall and a flock of parakeets that moonlight as a Flock of Seagulls cover band (feed, $0.92–$4.61, is not included). Guests can also enjoy the company of faux furry companions, gawking at the spectacle of the animatronic Animal Band Jamboree and the Singin’ Chicken Show.