Get back to Mother Nature with these four Lake George gems

Put down the devices and get outdoors
A butterfly at Up Yonda Farm.
A butterfly at Up Yonda Farm.

Looking for more outdoor time with the kids?

In scenic Lake George, it’s easy to take a break from phones and laptops and spend time with Mother Nature.

Families can do activities they probably don’t do at school or home, like catching frogs, shooting arrows and paddling a kayak.

Here are four ideas for summer fun:

Up Yonda Farm Environmental Education Center

WHERE: 5239 Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing
WHEN: Open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Summer nature programs at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Closed on Fourth of July and Labor Day.
HOW MUCH: $6 parking in July and August; $5 per child or adult for programs
MORE INFO: (518) 644-9767 ,, Facebook
At Up Yonda, a nature center on a centuries-old farm property, visitors wander in woods and meadows.

Youngsters love to discover “the secret, hidden places,” says Director Karin Badey. “And there’s always a naturalist who is happy to answer your questions.”

A small pond, spiked with cattails, is a favorite hangout. “The frogs, trying to catch them, that’s a big excitement,” Badey says.

Up Yonda Farm.Up Yonda Farm.

Children scoop up minnows, crayfish, tadpoles and frogs with big nets, examine their catch in holding bins and then return them to the pond.

Another popular family activity is the easy hike to a picnic table with an astounding Lake George vista and a sign that tells the names of the mountains and islands that you see.

Other well-marked trails lead to an old cemetery and a children’s sensory garden filled with colorful flowers, aromatic herbs, a “tent” made of sticks and trumpet flowers and magnifying glasses for studying insects.

There’s a natural history museum filled with hands-on activities and nearly two dozen taxidermy specimens, from a mountain lion and bears to squirrels and Eastern bluebirds.

Families can see live specimens in a butterfly house and a turtle enclosure or do some bird watching with the aid of binoculars and identification books.

This summer’s programming includes a night hike, a morning bird walk, an inflatable astronomy lab and talks on animal tracking, insects and butterflies. Kids can also spend the day earning a junior naturalist badge.

Some families like to do their exploring in the morning, bring a picnic lunch and then take a dip at nearby Veteran’s Memorial Park Beach in the afternoon.

“We try to make it a personal experience for families. People can make it what they want,” Badey says.

LGA’s Floating Classroom

WHAT: Boat ride where children learn about Lake George and do aquatic science experiments. Two-hour ride is led by educator from the Lake George Association.
WHEN: In July and August, boat departs at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Wednesdays from Shepard Park in Lake George village; also departs 10 a.m. Monday, July 29 from Rogers Memorial Park in Bolton Landing and at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6 from Hague Town Beach.
HOW MUCH: $18 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for children (not recommended for under age 8 or 9); reservations required.
MORE INFO: (518) 668-3558,, Facebook
Is there a budding limnologist in your family? Maybe a young environmentalist?

In the summer, the public is invited to come aboard the Lake George Association’s Floating Classroom to do water quality experiments and learn about the lake’s ecology, geology and animals.

Educators show children how to test the clarity, pH and temperature of the water. Kids collect zooplankton and look at it under a microscope. And it all happens on the deck of the Rosalia Anna Ashby, a custom-built 40-foot catamaran with a canopy to protect passengers from sun and rain.

Lake George Association’s Floating Classroom.

“The Floating Classroom has been our signature education program since it started decades ago. More than 2,100 people participated in 2018,” says Patrick Dowd, director of communications.

The Lake George Association, the nation’s oldest lake conservation organization, was founded in 1885 by fishermen who wanted to protect the fish in the lake.

The Floating Classroom was launched in the early 1990s as hands-on education for schoolchildren, who study the lake from early May until the end of June and from September to mid-October.

Silver Bay YMCA

WHAT: Family retreat and conference center
WHERE: 87 Silver Bay Road, Silver Bay
WHEN: Visit for a day or stay overnight. Family weeks: July 27-Aug. 16, family weekends all year round
MORE INFO: (518) 543-8833,, Facebook
There’s something for everyone at Silver Bay.

“Whether you want to play sit and enjoy the view, try something new, have a family campfire, or if you just want to swim at the beach; everyone from grandma and grandpa to grandkids can be involved,” says Lindsey Butler, director of sales and marketing.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

Families are welcome to stay overnight (97-room inn, 22-room guest house, lodges and cottages) or spend the day but all visitors must be registered as an on-campus, overnight guest or obtain a daily program pass.

Silver Bay’s one mile of Lake George shoreline, with two natural sand beaches, is a big attraction. (Last month, it was mentioned in The New York Times as one of America’s “favorite beaches”).

Archery at Silver Bay YMCA.

“Our historic boathouse is really popular as families love that they can go canoeing, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, and even learn how to sail,” Butler says.

Archery is another popular activity for guests of all ages.

During the summer, children can learn how to sail, swim or play tennis. There’s also outdoor shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball and a gym with a fitness center, indoor rock wall, yoga classes and basketball courts.

New this summer is a nine-hole Micro Disc Golf course.

Silver Bay has 10 hiking trails that range from easy to moderate, including Inspiration Point, with sweeping views of the lake and mountains.

At a craft shop, families can try their hand at pottery, jewelry making, basketry, weaving, beading and stained glass.

YMCA Camp Chingachgook

WHAT: Children’s day and overnight camp
WHERE: 1872 Pilot Knob Road, Kattskill Bay
MORE INFO: 518-656-9462,, Facebook
Chingachgook, one of the oldest children’s camps in America, is steeped in tradition, with a mission to boost mind-body-spirit health and create an appreciation of the natural world.

The Schenectady YMCA established the 200-acre property on Lake George in 1913 as a boys overnight camp, and in 1976, it was opened to girls.

Today, it offers day camp for ages five to 10 and the overnight experience for ages seven to 15, with activities like sailing, high ropes, woodworking, zip line, canoeing, rock climbing, backpacking and evening campfires. Campers attend a daily flag ceremony, where they learn how to hoist, take down and fold our American banner. Adults, school groups and scouts plan visits here too.

On Family Camp Weekends, parents and siblings are invited to join the fun. The next one, a four-day event, is scheduled Aug. 30–Sept. 2, Labor Day weekend. There’s a Family Rock Climbing Day on Saturday, Oct. 19. And on Nov. 2, you can check out Chingachgook during the free Fall Festival Open House.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

Categories: Life and Arts

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