My family just did a 1-week trip to Palmyra, NY the second week of July, 2019. We experienced and learned so much, so I wanted to share some tips, suggestions, and experiences to help anyone else who wants to visit this wonderful area!
For those of you who have no idea where Palmyra, NY is, it’s in upstate New York. It doesn’t look anything like you would expect. It’s green and gorgeous, with lovely mountains and valleys, and lots of farmland. You will love driving there if you do!
So, why is Palmyra important? Well, it’s the place where the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began. There are many places in and around Palmyra that members of the church hold very sacred. It is a place I highly recommend anyone visit. Now that we know where it is and why it’s significant, let’s move on to my tips, shall we?
Planning your trip: I spent countless hours planning our trip to a T. We barely followed what I planned. We did go to the places I planned, but the order in which we did everything, and the days, changed based on weather, how long we were at certain places, etc. I do recommend if you are going to the church history sites and are able to spread them out, do it, especially if you have small children. It’s nice to do the spiritual, historical things and then do something more creative or fun. All the Palmyra places are close to each other, so it’s okay if you drive a little out of the way. It does not matter which order you do the church history sites, but you will probably want to go to the Priesthood Restoration Site on your way to your trip or on the way home. The only other site outside of Palmyra is the Peter Whitmer Farm. Just go first thing in the morning and then head back to Palmyra, or wherever you want to spend the rest of your day. Do not skip ANY of the sites if you can help it. Those two sites were two of our favorites.
Driving in the car with kids: I wish I had the magic answer for this, haha! I do know the kids did best when they had movies to watch (we just brought and hooked up our laptop), books to read, and fun music to listen to. They also liked having blankets and stuffed animals with them. Bring lots of food and snacks. We often ate lunch in the car throughout the trip. The more space the kids have, generally the better. Maybe put a bag in between them. That actually helped us!
Stops along the way: If traveling from the east coast (we are in NC), great stops going up or coming back from Palmyra are Hershey, PA and Gettysburg, PA. We stopped in Hershey on the way and Gettysburg on the way back.
Hotel Recommendation: Homewood Suites by Hilton in Victor, NY. We loved it because they served breakfast each morning (with variations on the menu), and they had a social M-Th from 5-7 that worked super well as dinner. We took advantage of the social three out of four nights. They also had a pool, hot tub, nice fitness room, and more. They even have fresh cookies at the front desk every morning. It was a very clean and comfortable place in a great location in between Palmyra and Rochester. As another note, we booked our hotel in January to stay in July. Book your hotel early!
Tolls: There are tolls around that area of upstate New York. The first toll you stop at you will get a ticket. At the second, you will pay the toll. It’s cash only, but isn’t super expensive. Just have cash and change on hand.
Weather and Bugs: Definitely pack the bug spray. There are tons of mosquitoes in the summertime. We heard it would be really humid there, but honestly, it was nothing compared to NC. It was actually sometimes too chilly, so maybe pack a light jacket or sweater.
Anti-Latter-day Saint Protesters and Sites: The church history sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are sacred places. They are places where you will feel the Spirit of the Lord very strongly, places where you will feel peace and a tugging at your heart. You will feel of God’s love so abundantly. Unfortunately, Satan is also at work. Near or at most of the sites you will see buildings that advertise websites, exhibits or videos that are meant to pull you away from that Spirit. At the pageant, it is no different. There were a group of people with signs, and one man on a megaphone saying some very hurtful, untrue things about Latter-day Saints. My best advice is to not listen to them. They are not trying to help, but rather to hurt. If you are a member of the church, just think about how you feel when you are in these sacred places and at church. Remember God’s love for you and don’t doubt it. If you aren’t a member of our church, please try to find out for yourself if what our church claims is true. Listen to your heart, study it out, and pray. You will not find truth about our church from those who hate it, but only through the Spirit as you read the Book of Mormon, learn about Joseph Smith, and pray fervently. Truth will always be opposed, and to find truth, we need to go to the source.
This pageant is the biggest reason we went to Palmyra. The pageant ends after next year, sadly, so we highly recommend you go in 2020. It’s free, there is ample parking, and it’s right next to the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center. The stage is huge, and there really isn’t a bad seat. If you do wish to reserve a seat, you can do so from noon on. I do recommend doing it if you can, but it’s not required. Watch the weather and be prepared for rain. Bring blankets, ponchos, jackets, etc. It will not only be wet, but cold. The pageant is only canceled if there is thunder and lightning.
Here is our experience: As we walked to our seats, it was wonderful to speak to cast members before we sat down. They were all so nice. Right before the show was to begin, sadly, it started pouring down rain. It was a cold and fat rain. Luckily, we had ponchos and rain jackets. The show began anyway, and even though the weather made it a little hard to focus, it was still a beautiful production. The rain let up occasionally, but always started to pour back down after a few minutes. Just when I felt I could no longer take the cold and wet (I had given my poncho to one of my sons), the rain stopped and stayed stopped. It stopped around the time the Savior was introduced into the story. It was poignant for me. My little girl ended up next to me at one point when Jesus was on stage. I whispered to her that Jesus loves her, and not long after that, she fell asleep on me. I felt the Spirit so strongly at the pageant, especially closer to the end with Christ visiting the Americas, Moroni burying the plates, and then finally the miraculous events leading to the restoration of the gospel. Oh, it was so worth seeing. Once it was over, we followed thousands of people to the parking lot. My husband was able to help get a car out of the mud. Our hearts were full that night.
Our experience with the historical sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township, PA (used to be called Harmony) – As we got closer to the site, and were driving along the river, My husband and I both felt such a peace. We felt that the place we would soon arrive at was a sacred place, and that miraculous events truly happened there. The whole experience was wonderful, from the video to the Visitors center, to the walk to the Hale and Smith home, to the cemetery visit where Joseph and Emma’s first sweet baby is buried, to actually being at the river near where John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver and gave them the priesthood authority to baptize. We loved our visit to this wonderful place.
The Hill Cumorah – The Visitors center was beautiful and we felt so happy there. We loved sitting in front of the Christus and hearing Christ’s words. There were so many things to read and watch there. My husband was so full of the Spirit there. He sat and contemplated alone for a bit. We then walked up to the actual hill, the Hill Cumorah, where the prophet Moroni buried the gold plates hundreds of years ago, and where he, as an angel, would show them to Joseph Smith with a sacred charge to translate them. I loved being there. We didn’t want to go down. Walking back down, we felt so much joy and peace.
Grandin Building, the Book of Mormon Publication Site – It wasn’t easy in there because nothing was really touchable, and our little ones wanted to touch everything and run around. Regardless, we gained so much appreciation for the time and care that went into publishing this sacred work. It took two years and $3000 up front to publish 5000 books. The whole process was painstaking. I think I would have lost my mind doing any one part of it. We got to take home a replica of the first 16 pages printed. One of our sons was so excited about that. I was too! We also loved seeing the gorgeous original works of art. We felt the Spirit so much.
Peter Whitmer Farm – This site is about 35 minutes from Palmyra in Waterloo. We watched a wonderful video. The kids were good the whole time and very quiet. I felt the Spirit so strongly. This farm was where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery finished translating the plates. It’s where the three and eight witnesses were chosen. And it’s where the church was founded. The first Sacrament meeting was in the Whitmer home. It was such a beautiful and special place to be. I loved how excited one of my sons was to hold a replica of the first edition of The Book of Mormon. He wanted me.to take photos of every angle.
The Sacred Grove and Smith Family Farm – This is where the restoration all began. It wasn’t my favorite site, mostly because there was no video in the welcome center and the tour wasn’t very organized, but ultimately, it felt amazing to be able to walk into the grove where Joseph Smith as a 14-year-old boy knelt to pray vocally for the first time. He was not sure which church he should join, and somewhere in that grove of trees by his home, he was visited by two Heavenly personages, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Walking in that grove only further solidified my testimony, and that of my family. I was so proud of my boys for individually going off, finding a spot in the grove, and praying to their Heavenly Father. It was so precious, and an experience I will never forget.
Places other than the church history sites that we went to and loved:
Park down the road from EB Grandin Building – I don’t know the address, but if you are walking past the Grandin building as it’s on your right, you will see a cute little park with old-fashioned play equipment. My kids had so much fun there and it was a great place to relax for a while. It was hot, but pretty shady.
Pal-Mac Aqueduct County Park –The Eerie Canal runs through it and there is a small waterfall. There isn’t much there, but the kids had a lot of fun in the open field and jumping off rocks. It was a nice place to just relax and run for a bit.
Palmyra Community Library – I am so glad I found this library! They do lots of fun activities all summer, and they also served free lunch to all children up to age 18 from 12-12:30 M-Th. We ate lunch there twice on our stay. It’s also a great library in general – it’s big and there’s a great children’s section with toys and books.
Alvin Smith’s Gravesite – Alvin Smith was Joseph Smith’s brother who died in his 25th year. It was tender to talk to the kids about how Alvin hadn’t been baptized, which worried his family, but what a blessing it was when the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith about baptisms for the dead in the house of the Lord.
Palmyra New York Temple – My husband did a session at the temple one day while the kids and I were at a storytime at the library. If you aren’t an endowed member of the church, it’s still wonderful to walk the temple grounds. It was so humbling and beautiful to think that on the Smiths’ very farmland now stands a glorious temple of the Lord. Did Joseph forsee that day? We felt so happy at the temple.
Long Acre Farms – This town is super close to Palmyra. It was hot and we were almost the only ones at the farm, but there is so much for kids to do, like jumping pillows, playgrounds, a huge tube to slide down, and much more. All of my kids had a blast, and it’s affordable to go there.
Highland Park Playground – We went here to play for a bit before going to the Strong Museum. It’s a great place to climb, practice balance, and use your imagination. We loved it.
The Strong Museum of Play – If you are ever in upstate NY, and have kids, you must take them here. We were there for a super long time and barely got through the whole thing. It’s probably the coolest, most fun museum we have ever been to in our lives. All of my kids found things they loved. My husband and I also had a blast. Little tip- if you spend $20 on tokens to play in the arcade, you will be able to play 100 games. That was a great deal, lol. It was so cool to see how toys have changed throughout time. Talk about nostalgia. I loved every second there. They also have a great food court, as well as a Bill Gray’s, a gift shop (don’t bother shopping there as it’s way pricey), and a carousel.
Seabreeze Amusement Park – The park is an amusement park and water park. It hosts the oldest running roller coaster in the US, the Jack Rabbit. It was cool to ride it. The park isn’t huge, but we were there from 11-6:30 anyway. It was almost too chilly for the water park, but we managed. Maybe try going on a hotter, or at least sunny day. We went on a cloudy day – hint, even if it’s super cloudy, wear sunscreen. The price was pretty affordable – get your tickets online for a discount.
Ontario Beach Park – This was not like beaches we usually swim at because it was a lake rather than an ocean, but I loved it because the water was calm, the sand was soft, the only things we saw in the water were algae and rocks, and it doesn’t get deep quickly. It was great for all my kids. The water was a little chilly, but we got used to it. The bathrooms were gross and there was lots of bad language and some making out seen, but overall, we loved being there. Sometimes they do outdoor concerts. They also have a huge pier you can walk on, a carousel, and a playground. It’s free to park and swim. They also have lifeguards on site.
Palmyra – Chill and Grill – This is a small restaurant with hamburgers, hot dogs, junk plates, and lots of awesome ice cream flavors. It was pricey, but really good. In case you didn’t know (I didn’t), NY has something called a garbage plate, or junk plate, or great plate. It usually includes a layer of baked beans and mac (macaroni) salad on the bottom, and is topped with two cheeseburgers, hamburgers, or hot dogs (or a combination of any). It also has lots of toppings and condiments. You can customize to your liking. It sounds gross, but I loved it. One junk plate here fed my husband and I very well. This restaurant is very close to the Grandin Building, Pal-Mac County Park, and the Palmyra County Library.
Rochester – Bill Gray’s – This restaurant is right behind Seabreeze, so is a perfect place to eat dinner after you leave. It was delicious! They have a large menu, and also a kids’ menu. I got my second junk plate here (they call it a great plate). They also had Abbott’s Frozen Custard, which was so silky, creamy, and downright fabulous! We all left with full, happy bellies!
Gift Shop Ideas:
Palmyra – Latter-Day Harvest – We didn’t get a chance to go in because their hours were limited, but it is right by the Grandin building and sells wonderful gifts and things to help you remember the spiritual history of Palmyra. They also have a website – oldnauvoo.com.
Rochester – Simply New York Marketplace & Gifts – This store was very clean and well-organized. The lady working was super friendly and patient with my kids. The store has tons of things made in NY, and everything is made in the USA. Some things are pricey and other things are more affordable. It’s a great place to shop if you want to bring a little bit of NY home with you. It’s right down the road from Seabreeze.
Places we considered going but didn’t go to, but are still awesome:
Niagara Falls – We didn’t go because we don’t have passports and the Canada side is much better. Also, we wanted to stay close to where we stayed. Finally, it didn’t seem to be a good activity for our toddler.
Watkins Glen Park – It looked so lovely, but we didn’t go because we felt the hike would be too hard for our toddler, and it wasn’t really close enough to go to, or on our way to anything else.
Genesee Country Village & Museum –It looked really fun and interesting, but it was pricey, was a little out of the way of where we were, and we were already doing a ton of history stuff. My kids weren’t super interested.
George Eastman Museum – This looked like a really interesting and lovely museum, but it didn’t seem very kid-friendly, at least not for littles.
Rochester Museum and Science Center – Due to time, it was either go to this or the Strong Museum of Play, and the Strong Museum looked way cooler to us.
Chimney Bluffs State Park – This looked like an amazing landscape, but the kids weren’t super interested.
Pittsford Farms Dairy – It looked like a fabulous ice cream place, but since we found Abbott’s, we didn’t feel we needed to go. We also didn’t do anything else in Pittsford.
Six Flags Darien Lake – Of course this would be a fabulous park, but we almost felt it would be too big, and thus too hard, to keep up with all of our kids there. It was also out of the way and pricey.
Roseland Water Park – We had to decide between this and Seabreeze. Because some of us really preferred roller coasters and non-water rides, we chose Seabreeze. Roseland would be better on a hot, sunny day when all you want to do is water rides.
Historic Palmyra – These are five museums showing Palmyra history. Because we were already going to so many historical sites, we decided not to go. The price is really good, though!
Nick Tahou Hots – This is the home of the garbage plate. We didn’t go, though, because the reviews weren’t super good, and we were able to get the same thing at other restaurants.
Wegmans – Apparently this is the best grocery store ever. We passed one but never had time to go in one. We did see a play one at the Strong Museum, though!
Dinosaur Barbeque – This restaurant came highly recommended. It looks fabulous for people who love barbeque, ribs, wings etc. It didn’t look so appetizing for the kids, and was pretty expensive, though.
There is so much to do in this area, and that’s not even most of it – these are just the places I was most interested in! There is something for everyone.
As you can see, this was a full trip. We came home better people with stronger testimonies of Christ. We will truly miss upstate New York. It changed us and filled our hearts with joy!