I didn’t really know much about visiting Utica, NY until we partnered with Visit CNY to visit and explore the destination. From outdoor fun to good eats for families, I learned there are so many thing to do in Utica, NY with kids to plan a weekend of family fun memories.
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Utica, New York is located in Oneida County and sits at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. It has a small cozy welcoming feel to it and is the perfect location to explore local family destinations, get outdoors, and create awesome family memories.
When visiting Utica, NY and the surrounding counties, you should be prepared to drive on this trip. The destinations in our Utica Itinerary had us driving around and exploring different areas of Oneida County and Herkimer County.
Each destination was a unique place to visit for our family and worth adding to your Utica trip.
What I love about planning a weekend getaway from Rochester is that even with a short amount of time you can see a lot, and more importantly reconnect with your family and make awesome memories.
Things to Do in Utica, NY for a Weekend Getaway
We had a packed itinerary during our weekend visit, but it allowed us to experience many of the fun Utica destinations.
Friday: Arrive in Utica, NY
We arrived in Utica, NY around 5:30 after making the 2 hour drive from our home in Rochester, NY. Part of our travel plans are dependent on the kids school.
We try to balance school and travel with what works best for our family The kids are in virtual school on Fridays and we were able to leave as soon as they finished for the day.
The drive into Utica was fairly easy and we didn’t run into any evening traffic at all. We arrived at the Doubletree Utica and checked-in for our two night stay.
Check rates for the Doubletree Utica here!
The Doubletree hotel is a renovated historical hotel that used to be the Hotel Utica. Famous stars like Judy Garland and Mickey Mantle have stayed there. It has undergone many different renovations and closures before its grand opening in 2017 as the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Utica.
The rooms were nicely renovated and the lobby holds its classic charms in design and architecture. Hilton hotels are following all safety and health guidelines for travel. You can read them here.
For the evening we settled into the room, ordered a pizza from across the street, and watched a movie in our room. We wanted to relax before our busy day tomorrow.
Saturday: Utica Zoo & Herkimer Diamond Mines
Saturday morning we woke up to cloudy skies with scattered rain. All of our destinations for the day were outdoors and we were hoping the rain wouldn’t deter our day too much!
I always suggest checking the weather and planning ahead before any family vacation. If you are driving it is easy to pack extra shoes, hats, coats, and umbrellas. It is better to have them and not need them then wish you had them.
Our first stop was to pick up breakfast to bring back to our room. Across the street is a cute café and bakery, Wisk Baking Co.
Wisk Baking has pastries and cakes, as well as pancake breakfast and egg sandwiches. I started my day with a large coffee and oatmeal. The kids loved the pancakes, and I have to agree they were delicious!
Our next stop was the Utica Zoo…in the rain! I was a bit nervous about visiting the zoo in the rain, but I put on a happy face and we arrived at the zoo with umbrellas and smiles.
The Utica Zoo was awesome! Due to the rain we were one of the only families visiting. This made social distancing easy and it felt like we had the zoo to ourselves. We only saw 1 other family during our entire visit.
The rain ended up being light and only lasted for the first 30 minutes of our visit. The Utica Zoo requires masks around the grounds and there are arrows to direct you during your visit.
I really love that destinations are making it easy to see everything and follow a path. A few of the indoor exhibits were closed but we were able to see most of the animals.
You might think a small city zoo wouldn’t have as much to offer as some of the larger cities but you would be mistaken. We really enjoyed the different animals that we might not typically see at a large zoo.
Some of our favorites were the arctic fox, red pandas, and the alpacas. We also enjoyed the nature path that gave the kids some time to run around and explore.
We spent around 1.5 hours exploring before hopping in the car to drive to lunch.
For lunch we stopped at Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner in Herkimer, NY. Crazy Otto’s is famous for creating the world’s largest omelet that used 45,000 eggs. I stuck with the spinach and cheese omelet! Crazy Otto’s offers take-out as well as dine in.
After lunch we made the short drive to Herkimer Diamond Mines.
All the kids were super excited for Herkimer Diamond Mines because you get to enter an actual mine and try to find diamonds.
What we discovered when we arrived is the Herkimer Diamond Mines are so much more than a one-stop destination. They offer the mining, sluicing, and jewelry making as well as dining options and camping!
When we arrived we checked in got our goggles and hammers and went to the trading post to learn more about what we would be doing once we made the short walk to the mines.
I learned that Herkimer diamond can only be found in this location and have been worn by the First Lady of Japan and Megan Markle. They are also passionate about education and run STEM camps every summer to educate kids on gems and rocks.
With that lesson we made our way to the mines. These mines are not underground and are accessible to most. It does take a bit of manual labor and you will be climbing on the rocks.
We found ourselves a spot and began chipping away and looking for diamonds. Our discoveries were very fun and after appraisal we found about $30.00-$40.00 value in our treasures!
I suggest wearing clothes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty and be ready to put in some manual labor. It’s definitely a fun family activity that we really enjoyed! Check here for the most up to date hours/rates.
You and your family can stay at the mines as long as you would like and you can come and go as you please for the day. Making this a great activity to include in your camping visit to the Herkimer DIamond Mines KOA resort.
Located across the street is the KOA resort. The resort offers tent campsites, glamping pods, and luxury themed lodges. It is my kind of camping!!
The themed lodges include a tree house lodge, wind mill, astronomy, solar, and more. They are thoughtfully created and most can fit up to 6. We really want to plan a stay at the KOA in the future. With the Diamond Mines and the camping resort it would be a perfect family destination.
We also had an opportunity to make jewelry with our gems that we sluiced. The kids really enjoyed bringing a piece of the mines home with them. They couldn’t wait to share them back at school this week.
Herkimer Diamond Mines also has on-site dining options that include Miners’ Table featuring Mine-To-Table meals, Canteen Café, and Prospector’s Pavilion.
Be sure to plan a few hours to explore everything Herkimer Diamond Mines has to offer. We would like to go back so we can explore even more and enjoy the dining options.
It was getting close to dinner time and we had one more stop at Pumpkin Junction for a quick go at their Corn Maze. Pumpkin Junction is a fun seasonal activity to enjoy in the fall.
Our final stop of the day was Babe’s at Harbor Point. Babe’s is a family friendly American restaurant. It was about a 5 minute drive from the hotel. They offer pasta, burgers, and kid friendly options.
Our first day included a lot of stops but it would make a perfect day trip or addition to a weekend getaway with your kids.
Sunday: Adirondack Scenic Railroad
On Sunday we woke up early, made a quick stop at Willie’s Bagel Cafe for breakfast on the road, and started our drive to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.
Before we check-out of the hotel we caught this gorgeous sunrise from our room at the Doubletree Utica.
I was really excited for this part of our trip. I have found a deeper appreciation for getting outside in this last year and I thought this would be a wonderful way to see the leaves and get some exercise.
I was right on both!
The scenery along the six mile railbike tour is incredible. We saw deer close to the rails, as well as the changing leaves were stunning.
The weather can be a bit chilly and I was really glad we packed hats and coats. The high was around 40 and the sun was out, but check the weather before you arrive. There is no shade in the summer and cooler temperatures in the fall and spring.
I got asked about the difficulty level of the bikes a few times when I shared our stories on instagram. I think it depends. You want to be able to ride a bike, and have the strength to pedal the bikes up small hills.
The bikes are 4 to a bike, which meant our family had to split up. We did 2 on one bike/3 on the other, this made it a bit more difficult to have only one adult per railbike.
Be prepared to get a workout if you are the only adult on the railbike.
Honestly, it wasn’t always easy to ride. It was challenging for each of us at some point. This made the end even sweeter. We all left with a feeling of accomplishment and team work.
Traveling and going on family adventures is about making unique and amazing memories, and this ride was something we will never forget!
Our ride took about 2 hours and then we were ready for lunch before we started our 3 hour drive back home.
For lunch we drove into Old Forge to find a quick stop. We were going to stop at Tony Harper’s but it was a bit to busy and chilly to eat outside. We ended up stopping at a Hot Dog stand to get our lunch to go and start our drive home.
Check out our video recap of the weekend!
I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend getaway! With so many things to do near Utica it was the perfect home base for our trip.
We loved visiting the family fun spots and creating awesome memories we will never forget!