Family Fall
Photo by Lacheev

At this time of the year, retail stores want to remind you that summer is behind you. Back-to-school supplies have crowded the office supply store aisles, and toasty outfits for chilly weather adorn window displays. Don’t be fooled! All you need to do is get outside in the sunshine, warm breezes and canopy of tree leaves will quickly reassure you that there’s plenty of fun to be had.

To jumpstart your autumn activities, check out this list of great ways to get outside, stay cool and celebrate the changing seasons.

Walk on the Wild Side

With their shaded walking paths, playgrounds and live animal demonstrations, zoos are a perfect place to spend the day. Consider other places for checking out animals: Working farms and petting zoos provide a chance for up-close, personal encounters. Want to learn more about the wildlife in your region? Wildlife rehabilitation centers, fish hatcheries and nature centers showcase local animals and habitats along with interactive experiences enjoyable for all ages.

Treasure Hunt

At this very moment, chances are high that you’re near a hidden treasure. And there’s a map telling you how to find it. Geocaching (meaning hidden in the earth) is the name of an activity that uses an app that links to your device’s GPS and allows you to hunt for a secret stash, usually in form of a weatherproof container that holds a scroll filled with the names of those who came before you. The app is free. You simply enter your location and select a geocache that interests you. Geocached objects are hidden in publicly accessible areas but can take you anywhere: parking lots, tourist areas, buildings, wilderness trails and more. Geocaches are ranked by ability, making it easy to select the perfect challenge for your family. Learn more at Geocaching.com.

Seeing Stars

“It’s important to stay connected to nature,” says Katie Peek, owner of Asterisms Labs and former editor with Popular Science. “If you learn about the stars, you will always have access to this piece of the natural world no matter where you are. They are a comforting constant in your life.”

Stargazing is an often-overlooked family activity but everything about it makes it the perfect nighttime outing. For kids, the mere novelty of being out after dark makes it feel like a special treat. Another bonus: As a nighttime activity, there are no worries about heat and sunburn.

Live it Up

Autumn is prime for living history museums and re-enactments. Places like Pennsylvania’s Old Bedford or New York State’s Genesee Country Village & Museum take visitors back in time. And don’t forget renaissance fairs! They serve up their own version of medieval history, fun and playful mischief. Not sure where to go? Search the web for open-air museums, fairs, forts and ecological centers.

Think Ski

Skiing is a winter activity, but many ski resorts are becoming hubs for four seasons of fun. Melissa Yingling, marketing specialist at Blue Mountain Resorts in Pennsylvania, SkiBlueMt.com, explains, “Our mission is to get people outside, having fun, and coming back.”

Blue Mountain’s roster includes an obstacles ropes course with zip lines, outdoor laser tag, Action Archery, which Yingling describes as dodge ball played with bows and blunt, marshmallow-tipped arrows, off-road segways, scenic lift rides, hiking and downhill mountain biking.

These activities vary in difficulty levels. Before you go, check your resort’s website for reservations as well as any height, weight and age restrictions. Downhill mountain biking can be quite challenging, so speak to the resort about recommended ability levels and terrain.

Let’s Eat

Try a local food tour. Local farmer’s markets and outdoor markets are bursting with locally grown, seasonal goodies. You get a chance to talk directly with farmers and maybe score some new recipes. What should you do with all your fresh produce? You and your kids can gain cooking inspiration from local cooking classes.

“Cooking classes give you memories, menus and the chance to try local foods and products created in a healthy way,” says Meg Lindsay, PR and marketing manager at the New York Wine & Culinary Center located in Canandaigua, NYWCC.com. The Culinary Center highlights and promotes the natural beauty, rich history and agricultural bounty of New York State, and foods are both seasonal and regionally sourced. The Center offers camps and classes centered on the importance of eating healthy for lifelong impact on health and wellbeing.

Wegmans, the top grocery store in the U.S. according to Business Insider, embraces an “Eat Well, Live Well” philosophy for healthy living. Their Cooking with Kids program offers up to nine kid-oriented cooking classes held at Wegmans locations. Check your local Wegman’s service desk for times and classes. Learn more at Wegmans.com/Events.html.

Water Worlds

The heat can be brutal in August. Escaping to a natural watery world is a refreshing way to spend the day. Most lakes have paddling centers that rent out kayaks, stand up paddleboards and canoes, and creek walking is especially popular in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Naturally air-conditioned and surrounded by lush trees and dappled sunlight, many creeks reward walkers with a lovely waterfall and swimming hole.

GoWaterfalling.com identifies waterfalls across the U.S. and Canada, sorted by name and state. Each link provides pictures, location and even includes nearby waterfalls.

Beyond Books

Where can you watch a local musician, catch a free magician show or take a class on making a scrapbook page? Answer: your local library. These days, libraries do much more than check out books. Take a peek at the events calendar for classes, concerts, entertainment and arts and crafts. There may be an occasional fee associated with some classes, so be sure to ask ahead of time.

Speaking of fees, some libraries have a number of passes to area attractions that are available on a short-term loan. There’s more. A growing trend has libraries adding to shelves of items on loan: fishing poles and tackle boxes, GoPros, telescopes, tools and musical instruments. The idea is to give people the opportunity to try out a new activity before investing in expensive equipment.

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