hotel uticaZoos in winter can be lonely places. But the animals still want company. The Utica Zoo, in upstate New York came up with a brilliant idea, offering snowshoe rentals, for little kids through adults, so you can take a winter hike through the facility.

But you don’t have to just stay outside. The zoo has a small primate house, a reptile house and a gift shop with coffee and hot chocolate.

On the other side of the hill where the zoo is, the small, city-owned Val Bialas Ski Area has 5 trails for downhill skiing and snowboarding, snow tubing and sledding ice skating and cross country skiing.

Any time of the year, you can trek through the magnificent Root Glen at Hamilton College. The Glen, with over 65 species of trees, has magnificent old growth forest. In winter, you can bring your own snowshoes.

If you want to stay indoors, spend a few hours at the Munson Williams Proctor Museum of Art & Fountain Elms, in downtown Utica. The art museum has drop-in yoga classes (for a fee) most Saturday mornings; bring your own mat.

But even if yoga is not your cup of herbal tea, the museum is a delight, with an interactive children’s gallery and a decent collection of paintings by artists like Picasso, Kandinsky, Jackson Pollack and Georgia O-Keefe.

fountainelmFountain Elms, the family home of the museum’s benefactors, is a gorgeous Italianate mansion filled with period furnishings. In warmer weather, visit the outdoor sculpture garden and eat outside in the excellent café.

If you like to stay in historic homes, book a room at the grand Renaissance Revival Hotel Utica. The hotel, built in 1912, has its glorious plaster and woodwork meticulously restored. It is a member of the National Trust Historic Hotels.

We also stepped back in time at the Delta Lake Inn. This cozy restaurant was built in 1909 and in winter you can sit by the fire for a family friendly meal (in summer, you can dine outdoors, overlooking the namesake lake and dam).

If you really want to indulge all your senses, stay in supreme comfort at the Blueberry Brooke, a small Bed and Breakfast that offers serenity, outstanding breakfasts and access to the common rooms. You feel like you are staying in your best friend’s house, if your friend has impeccable style and a culinary background. Unlike many B & B’s, Blueberry Brooke is both child and dog-friendly.

Note: we were guests of Oneida County Tourism.