Camping is no longer just pitching a tent and cooking hot dogs over an open fire.  Todays campgrounds have something for every style of camper.  The Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA in upstate New York has all the attractions of a traditional campground like campfires, swimming, fishing and of course s’mores but what makes it stand apart from other campgrounds is its 21st century approach to camping with solar-powered cabins and educational science-based activities for kids.

Herkimer Campgrounds

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Part of the KOA family of campgrounds, the Herkimer Diamond Mines campgrounds is nestled along the West Canada Creek along highway 28 near Herkimer, New York. It has 155 sites including RV sites (with water, electric and sewer, fire rings, picnic tables), tent sites (include a fire ring and picnic tables) and a large array of cabins.

Upstate New York Area History

The area was originally the territory of the Iroquois Mohawk Native American tribe. In 1722, newly emigrated Germans purchased land from the tribe along the West Canada Creek and established a village to accommodate other German settlers arriving in America.

The county and village of Herkimer (about 7 miles from the campground) is on the north side of the Mohawk Valley. The area takes its name from a family of German immigrants who settled there in the 1700’s. The most notable of this family was Nicholas Herkimer, a general of the Tyron County militia, who fought and died in the American Revolution.

What Works for Families

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

  • If you enjoy camping: everything
  • Complimentary WiFi
  • Lots of choices for accommodations
  • Cabins with full bathrooms
  • Contained area so kids can’t wander too far
  • Unique educational activities for kids

What Doesn’t Work for Families

  • If you have toddlers a creek side cabin or campsite could be stressful–the creek is shallow but after a series of rains the current is quite strong
  • No easy access off the property for hiking

The Cabins at Herkimer Diamond Mines

There are several different kinds of cabins at this KOA.

Basic Camping Cabins – There are 19 basic cabins for those who don’t own tents but want a rustic camping experience. These cabins are one-room wooden structures with a full bed and a set of bunk beds. They do not have kitchens or bathroom facilities but they do have a small refrigerator, heat, A/C and some even have TVs. You must bring your own linens.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Deluxe Cabins – A trend among many KOA properties, these “glamping” cabins can accommodate from 4 to 6 people and feature full bathrooms, a kitchen area with a small fridge, cooktop, TV and a table with chairs. These cabins come with almost everything you need including dishes, linens, bath towels, basic toiletries and some have porch swings.   A couple deluxe cabins allow dogs—the newly built cabin, Caesar’s Place, even has a mini dog run for your furry friend to hang out off leash.

The campground recently added several new deluxe cabins located along the creek. They have kid-friendly themes (dogs, fossils, dinosaurs) and if you are going to go the deluxe cabin route, I’d recommend these because they have back porches with great views of the creek.

Very Cool Specialty Lodges

Solar Lodges – This KOA has 2 solar-powered lodges and a third that is entirely powered by the other two. They are located on large lots with lovely landscaping, gas grills and fire pits. They can sleep up to 6 and have all the amenities of the deluxe cabins including separate bedrooms and a sofas made from recycled materials. These cabins are the most private on the campgrounds.

Solar energy means campers can feel good about leaving a minimal environmental footprint while still getting some of the creature comforts of home, like heat and air conditioning. The solar lodge 2 also has an organic herb and vegetable garden that guests are encouraged to sample from (if the chipmunks don’t get the tomatoes first!).

Star Catcher Astronomy Lodge – This lodge sleeps 6 and has all the features of the deluxe cabins but its “star” attraction is an exterior raised deck that holds an octagon shaped lunar pod dome with a high-powered Celestron telescope. The telescope uses GPS to automatically find celestial objects for inexperienced stargazers. You can’t open the dome in the rain so the cabin has a compact portable telescope that can be used for terrestrial observations from inside during inclement weather.

Photo: Courtesy of KOA

Robotics Lodge Photo: Courtesy of KOA

Professor Gadget’s Robotics Lodge: Opened in 2014, this lodge was designed by the graduating class of engineers from Binghamton University. Out front, in a weatherproof case, is a prototype of a Rube Goldberg-type rolling diamond sculpture for your own private amusement.

Some of its other high-tech features include a Sensored Lift that uses an electrical engine and computer engineered sensors to move belongings up to the loft. On the porch sits a Centripetal Hammock that uses robotic gears and centripetal force to pull the hammock back and forth. There are LED Light Sensors inside the walls that capture movement and animate the lighting.

The most popular feature with moms is Hazel, the Robotic Cleaner.  Hazel thoroughly vacuums every section of the cabin floor multiple times and we all know how dirty floors get during a camping vacation.

For the kids, Robo the Robot was designed by a robotics physicist who worked at NASA, he looks like a Star Wars storm trooper and is controlled using a remote.  The robot can perform more than 80 actions such as dance, do a karate chop, give a high five, and listen for intruders, and its eyes light up red and blink.  Robo has a full range of dynamic motion, interactive sensors and a unique personality and according to the management is fairly durable to withstand lots of prodding and hugging by excited children.

What to bring

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

  • extra paper towels
  • swim towels
  • rubber boots or shoes that can get wet and muddy
  • tubes/kayak
  • spices and condiments

Amenities

  • pool
  • fishing
  • bike rentals
  • cable TV
  • outdoor recreation center with games and outdoor movies

The Details 

This campground prides itself on its selection of unique and educational activities for children–this is super important when you are faced with rainy weather for few days in a row like we were.  Its owner, Dr. Renée Shevat, is constantly on the lookout for innovative activities to bring to the Herkimer Campground.

The most original activity here is easily prospecting for diamond quartz crystals at the Herkimer Diamond Mines across the street. Although not included with camping fees, a visit to the museum and mines is a must-do. Herkimer diamonds are technically in the quartz crystal family but they are almost as hard as diamonds and come out from the ground already cut into beautifully shaped stones.  This was definitely the high point of the trip for our family.

Other interesting activities at the campground include daily science experiments like dissecting frogs and exploding a volcano. The property recently acquired two drones that staffers demonstrate for visitors and there may one day be a drone-themed cabin.

If science is not your child’s thing, a selection of more creative activities like tie-dyeing, jewelry making and other crafts are also available.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Dining 

If you get tired of cooking there are dining options on and off the campground.

Prospector’s Pavilion – You can order pizza from here on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Rock N’ Roll Café – Across the street, next to the Herkimer Diamond Mines, this casual restaurant has basic food family-friendly options like chicken strips, burgers and ice cream sundaes. It is open every day from 10:30-4:30pm.

The Crystal Chandelier – Also across the street, this restaurant is more upscale but it is still family-friendly and includes a children’s menu with real food like ribs, spaghetti and meatballs and other popular favorites. They had some of the best greens I’ve ever tasted.

The town of Herkimer is only a 10 minute drive and has several restaurants. For baked treats there is Heidelberg Bakery & Café and several other casual dining restaurants and pubs.

Beyond the Campground

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Erie Canal – Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Upstate New York is filled with historical and educational things to do and see.  Most notable nearby:

Gems Along the Mohawk – 800 Mohawk St, Herkimer, NY

Dine on the waterfront, shop for gems and other locally sourced specialty gift items, see the oldest and largest teapot in the U.S, take a cruise along the Erie Canal and travel through historical lochs.

National Baseball Hall of Fame – 25 Main St, Cooperstown, NY

An hour’s drive from the campground but great to check out on your drive home or on a very rainy day.

 

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom