Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

There are plenty of indoor ice rinks to enjoy, but there’s something special about skating outdoors wit the winter wind in your face.  Luckily, the Hudson River Valley in New York offers the perfect opportunity to experience winter fun the old-fashioned way – with a day spent skating and sledding at Bear Mountain State Park.

The Skating Rink at Bear Mountain State Park

Just an hour’s drive north of New York City in the Hudson Highlands, the skating rink at Bear Mountain is a great place to spend an afternoon. Our kids had been clamoring for a skating outing for quite some time, so when we woke on a January Saturday to blue skies and cold sunshine we bundled everyone up, threw the sleds into the trunk and headed over the river.

Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

The rink at Bear Mountain makes it super-easy for families to have a successful visit. There is a large parking area just beyond the park gates and it is a short walk to everything—the skating rink, the sledding hill, and the historic carousel are all right there.

We left the sleds in the car as we planned to hit the hill after skating and got in line for admission. The rink rents figure skates only, so if you prefer hockey skates you’ll need to bring your own. The rink building is large, spacious and heated with plenty of benches and lockers.

Once we were laced up, we stashed our backpack and shoes beneath the bench and headed for the ice.

Two of our girls were pretty solid on their skates, but still spent a lot of the time clutching the wall around the rink. My husband and I took turns wobbling around the ice with the small one. “Hands on your knees!” I kept calling out, a trick we learned to help prevent falling backward when they began to falter.

The Sledding Hill at Bear Mountain State Park

While I got the girls back into their boots and gave them a quick snack, my husband went to get the sleds from the car. The hill just beyond the skating rink is the perfect combination of just steep enough, with some steeper areas, and nice and long, ending with a flat stretch that allows your sled to slow down safely.

It’s also quite spacious, with plenty of room for lots of folks to sled.  People bring all sorts of sleds, from saucers to tubes to old-fashioned wooden sleighs with metal runners. Parents and kids alike zipped down the hill repeatedly, hiking back up for another run.

The Carousel at Bear Mountain State Park

Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

Photo credit: Gina Vercesi / Unplugged TravelingMom

A very special feature of this section of the park is the beautiful merry-go-round, added to the park in 2001. The carousel is home to 36 hand-carved woodland creatures, including a fox, a turkey, a bobcat, a raccoon and a skunk, all of which are native to the region. As riders go round, they are treated to painted landscapes of steamboats on the Hudson River and the sweeping Palisades Cliffs, to name two. 

Inside the carousel pavilion is a snack bar, restrooms and a large stone fireplace.  A ride or two on the merry-go-round’s friendly animals is a great way to end your visit.

Know Before You Go

I highly recommend dressing the kids in full winter gear for this outing. Although it may seem bulky, having them wear snow pants while skating will definitely help to keep them dry and warm—especially if they aren’t strong skaters. Socks that pull up nice and high are also a must, as shorter socks tend to droop inside the skates leading to ankle blisters which are no fun for anyone.

Definitely bring the sleds; I saw lots of sled-less kids eyeing the hill with envy. A picnic lunch is also a good idea; there is a snack bar, but hot dogs and frozen pizzas aren’t very healthy and the cost adds up quickly for a family of four or five.