I recently made the mistake of counting the screens in my house. It’s not an insane amount, but it’s definitely not a blueprint for sanity either.
There’s the TV in the living room, one more in my son’s room, three laptops, three iPhones and two tablets. My daughter briefly had a television, but in the most 2021 move ever, she broke it by throwing another screen at it — my wife Vera’s cell phone.
If I took the Hot Tub Time Machine back to 1986 and laid out that inventory for 7-year-old Grant, it would sound completely over the top considering our second TV back then was a 13-inch lime green set with rabbit ears that got one channel from across the Long Island Sound in Connecticut. (Its key benefit was that I could watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune an hour earlier then go out to the living room and impress all the adults with my fake knowledge of random topics like the Roman Empire and potent potables along with an innate ability to correctly guess a phrase based on just one letter.)
While by today’s standards 10 screens for a family of four flies just under the cuckoo’s nest, it’s still enough to make us go a little crazy on occasion, especially 14 months into this era of working from home while mostly social distancing.
This is why it’s been more important than ever for us to force ourselves to get outside and be active, even if that means watching my kids go through screentox withdrawal for 30 minutes at the mere thought of moving their feet and breathing fresh air.
Keeping in mind our desire to not let the little ones fall into a Youtube or Nintendo Switch coma, we’ve found ourselves taking more spontaneous day trips or mini-vacations that revolve around the outdoors. A trip to a farm stand might turn into a hike at a local park and then a full day out.
Last weekend, with no plans in place and a fear that we might fall into bad habits, Vera and I decided on a day’s notice to book a hotel room upstate and head to Minnewaska State Park outside New Paltz in Ulster County on our shared day off from work.
When I checked to see if I could pay for parking with a debit card, I noticed a link to the Empire Pass, which might sound like something that helps you cut the lines at the Star Wars land at Disney World, but is actually an annual pass for access to our state parks. While I’m sure my son would prefer the former, it’s the latter that will ultimately save us in a galaxy far, far away from electronic devices.
So we spent the $80 as a way to motivate us to get out and experience the natural beauty of New York State this year. This is actually something we’ve been doing anyway with return trips to the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks in recent years, but now it’s something we can do more formally.
“We only have to use it eight more times to get more than our money back,” Vera instantly remarked, a sure sign that while I was memorizing Jeopardy questions growing up, she was doing her actual math homework.
With this basic equation in mind, I made a list of the nine state parks visits I’d like to make this summer to beat the system and shaft New York State out of $10 in 2021. A few will be new to us as a family, others will be returns to personal favorites.
Here they are along with the state designated region they are grouped in (for Long Island I listed the hamlet).
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Palisades Region
We are so glad we decided to make this trip. Just three hours from the East End this is a must-visit that can easily be done in one day. It boasts over 50 miles of trails, including many that are very accessible for hikers of all skill levels, but have just enough of the elevation we’re missing on Long Island. We ended up hiking close to four miles, which considering we were accompanied by a 7- and 4-year-old is pretty much the equivalent of completing a triathlon through a lava pit.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Great River
For my money — and I don’t have too much of it, so take it easy if you prove me wrong — this is the best state parks property on Long Island. Designed by iconic landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1886, it remains a stunning site. Perfectly landscaped and featuring a simple lakeside loop around the historic mansion, plus additional hiking trails for you to explore, it makes for a great afternoon out from anywhere in Suffolk or Nassau counties.
Watkins Glen State Park, Finger Lakes Region
This is hands down the top park for the Parpan clan. The Gorge Trail here is simply gorgeous and it’s really unlike anything else you’ll see in the Finger Lakes or just about anywhere else in New York. We like to make a long weekend out of a trip here, with visits to nearby wineries and towns like Ithaca, which boasts our favorite farmer’s market.
Orient Beach State Park, Orient
When my family hits a park, Vera and I want nature and the kids want a playground. That’s a big reason why Orient Beach is a top local spot for us. It boasts an expansive playground area on the bay and has the best drive into a park anywhere as you stare out at the ferry terminal with one eye and make sure you don’t strike wildlife with the other.
Niagara Falls, Niagara Region
I visited here once with my parents when I was 18 years old and while they went out and experienced the mist, I mostly slept in the hotel room. For 24 years now, I’ve wanted a second chance. This time I will be determined to make sure my own kids make the most of it. This is on the summer vacation must-do list.
Bear Mountain State Park, Palisades Region
The fall months are a great time to visit this region and from the elevation at this particular park you can get some great hiking views of the fall foliage. Plus it’s a quick shot through New York City, making it an easy trip for a same-day return.
Montauk State Park, Montauk
There are few, if any, more iconic Long Island landmarks than the Montauk Point Lighthouse, located at this state park. It’s so easy to visualize and when you arrive it still takes your breath away. My heart may be on the North Fork, but Montauk is just too easy to fall in love with.
Walkway over the Hudson State Park, Taconic Region
I’m not sure a lot of people realize the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge is located in Poughkeepsie. At just over a mile and a quarter long, the bridge is 21 stories high and should create a thrill while also leading to spectacular views.
The Great Indoors
The cottages at Wildwood State Park, Wading River
Ever since we wrote about them in the magazine, I’ve secretly pined for a staycation inside the new cottages at Wildwood. I’ve been here many times, having grown up just a few miles away. I’ve even camped here before. But I’ve never lived this large. And hey, we can even hook up the devices on this trip!