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From the Footlights to the Falls in New York

It’s a long way from New York to Niagara Falls. But for groups making the trip, getting there is a big part of the fun.

The Empire State enjoys two of America’s most storied tourist destinations. On the southern tip of the state, New York City attracts millions of visitors every year, and Niagara Falls on the Canadian border is among the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the United States. Groups visiting the Northeast from other parts of the country can enjoy both of these marquee destinations on a New York-to-Niagara itinerary.

There’s a lot of ground to cover between the two places but also a lot of fascinating places to see along the way. From a gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden to an iconic sports attraction and one of the most fun-loving museums in the country, groups will enjoy the journey from New York to Niagara almost as much as the final destination.

Storm King Art Center

Just over 60 miles north of Manhattan, the bustle and crowds of New York City fade into the distance as visitors take in the beautiful expanses of the Storm King Art Center. Established in 1960 by a pair of local businessmen, this 500-acre outdoor sculpture park has become a favorite destinations for city dwellers looking for an artful respite.

The center was first envisioned as a museum that would showcase paintings by Hudson River artists but soon shifted its focus to sculpture. Today, there are more than 75 sculptures spread throughout the farm fields, formal allees, natural woodlands, wetlands, lawns and streams of the park, which sits at the base of Storm King Mountain. These include wide-ranging modern and contemporary art — large-scale sculptures, earthworks, drawings and photographs — that are on exhibit in the museum.

Groups can take advantage of a number of special events and educational programs at the Storm King Center. Scheduled events include music, performances and poetry readings, as well as lectures and presentations from artists. The staff also organizes hands-on workshop experiences led by artists, conservators, art educators and environmental educators.

National Baseball Hall of Fame

Cooperstown, a small village in eastern upstate New York, has a reputation far greater than its size. As home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the town is a something of a pilgrimage destination for sports fans from around the world.

“The museum has been open since 1939, and we’ve had more than 17 million visitors pass through our doors over the years,” said Jon Shestakofsky, vice president of education and communications at the Hall of Fame. “We have over 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts, and about 10 percent of those are on display at one time.”

Exhibits throughout the museum highlight those treasured artifacts, such as a bat that Babe Ruth used to hit more than 25 home runs in a single season. Groups can also work with the museum staff to have a private artifact spotlight session, in which they get up-close experiences with fascinating artifacts from the museum’s collection.

Groups also enjoy the museum’s new welcome film, “Generations of the Game,” and a gallery called “Whole New Ballgame” that features videos and interactive exhibits along with more recently collected artifacts. And guests shouldn’t leave without taking time to visit the Hall of Plaques, which features plaques that honor every Hall of Fame inductee.

Visiting is a fascinating experience any time of year, but enthusiastic baseball lovers may want to time their trips to coincide with Hall of Fame Weekend, which includes an induction ceremony, a parade and opportunities for Hall of Fame members to interact with fans.

“We have many folks come up in groups for induction weekend from all over the country,” Shestakofsky said. “You just want to make sure you get your hotel reservations in quickly.”

Strong National Museum of Play

In Rochester, a thriving upstate technology hub, groups will find a museum that redefines fun for visitors.

“What makes our museum completely unique is that we were the very first in the world to be dedicated to the study of play,” said Shane Rhinewald, senior director of public relations at the Strong National Museum of Play. “At our core, we’re an American history museum. We collect artifacts of play and explore cultural history through the lens of what people were playing with. What could they afford? Were their fears or hopes relayed through what they were playing with?”

The museum was founded in 1982 to showcase the toys, dolls and miniatures collected by a wealthy local woman. It has grown to encompass thousands of toys and other artifacts from America’s history. Guests get to have fun throughout their visits.

“Right when you walk in our front door, there’s an 1890s carousel,” said Karen Dodson, the museum’s tourism sales associate. “We like to get groups on there to set the stage for what they’re going to do inside. Then we do a 45-minute iconic collections tour. We show them the first ever Monopoly board ever designed. And we have a comic book heroes section that many adults love. They can take pictures of themselves as one of their favorite comic book heroes, then email that picture to themselves.”

After the guided tour, groups get free time to play with interactive exhibits like a vintage pinball arcade. They can also explore the on-site butterfly garden and enjoy dinner in a 1950s-style diner.

Last summer, the museum broke ground on a 100,000-square-foot expansion that will open in 2021 to focus on the intersection of play and technology.

Niagara Falls

This trip through New York comes to a thundering conclusion on the Canadian border in Niagara Falls, a destination that was among America’s most popular honeymoon destinations in the 20th century and is still home to one of its most powerful natural attractions.

Groups can choose from dozens of activities in the Niagara region. But nearly everyone who visits spends time at the falls.

“The No. 1 thing to do when you come here is Niagara Falls State Park,” said Tina Mt. Pleasant, director of leisure group sales at Destination Niagara USA. “Inside are some great attractions groups can do, like Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds and the Top of the Falls Restaurant.”

Mt. Pleasant recommends that groups plan an entire day to enjoy the 400-acre state park, which borders the Niagara River. Many group visits begin with a trip up the 230-foot observation tower, from which they can see landmarks on both the American and the Canadian sides of the falls. Next, they get a much closer look at both Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the iconic Maid of the Mist boat ride. Passengers hear the roar of the 187-foot-tall waterfalls and don ponchos to stay dry from the spray from the 3,160 tons of water that flow over the falls every second.

At the Cave of the Winds, guests walk behind Bridal Veil Falls. Though the cave protects visitors from the ferocity of the cascade, brave souls can step out onto the Hurricane Deck to feel the full force of the waterfall. Thankfully, ponchos are provided.

After a day at the falls, groups should stay in the area to enjoy some of the area’s other attractions.

“The Niagara Wine Trail has 22 wineries,” Mt. Pleasant said. “We also have breweries, cideries and a meadery. The Niagara escarpment is very famous for grape and fruit growing, so a lot of wineries use fruit and grapes grown here.”

Other area highlights include Old Fort Niagara — a living-history site built around an 18th-century French Castle — and Lockport Locks, where visitors can cruise through locks and dams along the Erie canal.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.