The small unincorporated village of Houghton in Western New York is best known for Houghton University, the private Christian college located there.
But just because it’s a college town doesn’t mean the only things to do in Houghton revolve around campus life. There are plenty of ways to keep kids or a whole family busy and entertained in this rural oasis.
Play Disc Golf
There are not one, but two disc golf courses to play in Houghton.
The most easily accessible disc golf course is located at the Field of Dreams at the north end of Houghton, just past the Firehall. This eighteen-hole course circumnavigates the fields there, including the solar array, with numerous detours into the wooded areas nearby.
The second course is a woods course and much harder to play (without losing your discs!). It crisscrosses the cross-country trails above Houghton University’s baseball and soccer fields, and offers some beautiful views of Western NY woodland.
Even though they are located on college property, both of these disc golf courses are open to anyone to play.
Visit the Horse Farm
A favorite family outing is visiting the Houghton University horse barns. Ahem, I mean Equestrian Center. While arranging for a lesson or a trail ride involves a lot of hassles and is not really a viable option for most visitors, you are still welcome to visit the horses and pet a few noses.
The college students and instructors around the barns are friendly and informative and are normally happy to chat with you about their favorite horses, unless they’re in a hurry to get to class!
You can also check out the schedule for Equestrian events throughout the fall and spring, and time your visit to match up with a show or a competition.
Go for a run on the outdoor track
Located at the north end of Houghton is the Houghton University outdoor track, circling the soccer field. This is a great place to take the whole family for some outdoor time, and it’s even surrounded by a gated fence if containing toddlers is something that would be helpful.
Take the kids there with bikes to ride around the track, or bring a soccer ball to kick around the infield. Or just go there for some walking or running to burn off some after-dinner energy.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to work around the Houghton University sports teams’ schedules, and the track and infield will not be available if a team has practice or a game, or a meet.
Play in the creek
Houghton has a small, friendly creek running through the center of it, crossed by two footbridges as you’re entering campus by footpath.
This creek is a fantastic way to entertain kids and cool off on a hot day. A pebbly or rocky bottom means you won’t get too covered in mud, and throughout most of the summer, the creek is shallow enough that even just-starting-to-walk toddlers can splash in the water without worry.
Look for crayfish, tiny minnows, water striders, and all manner of local birds, including kingfishers, cardinals, ducks, and more. You’ll have a hard time dragging the kids away when it’s time to go home, and they’ll be begging to go back the next day!
Play on a playground
There are two playgrounds that our kids love to hit up in Houghton. Both are tucked away out of sight from the main road, but easily accessible when you know where they are.
The first is the Houghton Wesleyan Church playground. This is behind the southeast corner of the building and has a double slide, a jungle gym, lots of swings, and a bouncy modern see-saw.
The real hit attraction of this playground, though, is the gravel base. While apparently unassuming, the playground is supplied with shovels and toy trucks to allow the younger set to scoop and dig to their hearts’ content.
HWC welcomes any visitors who would like to spend time on their playground respectfully.
The other playground is sponsored by the Town of Caneadea and is located just over the hill behind the Firehall on the Field of Dreams. In fact, the disc golf course goes right around the playground, so you could make this stop a double-feature.
Visit the beaver dam
While you’re down at the Field of Dreams, follow the dirt road around past the cornfield and down the little hill to the right. As you do, you’ll come up to the beaver dam, and if you’re really lucky, you may actually spot a beaver in the water or possibly a muskrat.
This mostly dried-up branch of the Genesee River that comes up next to the Field of Dreams is kept deep in water largely due to the activities of these large, busy rodents. Even if you don’t get to spot a beaver, you can see evidence of their work.
The dam itself is impressive, but equally, you can spot chewed-down logs and stumps, mud-runs and all the other ways that beavers keep themselves busy.
Hike the Greenway Trail
Cutting right past the Field of Dreams, the Greenway Trail is part of a larger network of trails that traverse New York state. It follows the old railroad grade and is mowed and maintained as an excellent hiking or biking trail.
You can hike either north or south from Houghton for really as long as you want to go, but the one downside is that it’s hard to make this into a loop. You’ll have to just turn around and head home when you’ve hiked long enough, unless you have someone to come pick you up.
Nevertheless, it offers a beautiful peek into the fields and woods surrounding the Houghton area, with lots of wildlife to spot and even wild raspberries to pick in season.
Try out the ropes course
Houghton University’s high ropes course is a fun activity if you happen to time it right. While it’s not open to the public just any old time, throughout the summer, they offer Zip ‘n Play packages for all comers over the age of 7.
If you are exploring the area off-season, the ropes course area is still lots of fun to hike around, with lots of hiking and running trails crisscrossing the woods up on the hill above the Houghton campus. This also happens to be the same area where the second disc golf course is located.
Hike the Cross Country trails
I keep mentioning these trails, so they obviously need their own section. The cross-country trails are so named because they used to be the cross-country (running) course for Houghton University. The official cross-country course has moved to the Field of Dreams, but the trail network is still maintained up in the woods on the hill.
In winter, you can ski, in summer, you can run or mountain bike, and you can hike all year round on these delightful trails. They’re well marked, and some of the trail heads even have a map on a board where you can let your kids choose which hike they’d like to complete.
Our family’s favorite is the overlook loop that takes you past the view out over the river valley. It’s undulating enough to be interesting but not so steep that little legs can’t keep up. It’s not well-suited to a stroller, so if you have a toddler along, a backpack or front-pack carrier is a much better bet.
Visit the University garden and beehives
Located behind the Houghton University Flats (grad student and faculty housing block) is the Houghton University garden project. You’d easily miss it unless you know where to look, but this is a fun place to take the kids to see an organic garden project.
My kids love to run between the raised beds like they’re navigating a maze. And it’s also a fun game to try to guess what’s coming up in each section before the plants have fruited. I always remind my crew that we’re looking and not picking, since it’s not our garden.
Right next to the fenced garden are several beehives. If you happen to show up to the garden when it’s being tended, the students working there will be happy to share about beekeeping practices and about whatever other projects they’ve got going on.
Get a coffee at Coppa Co.
Ok, so don’t buy a coffee for the kids, but you deserve one at least. They can choose a different drink. This art studio cum coffee shop has limited open hours and no indoor seating, but you can browse the ceramics and other artwork while ordering your cuppa, then go enjoy your drink in the outdoor seating area.
Get pizza at 3 Bums
If you’re hungry after all that hiking, playground time, and disc golf, one of the few eatery options in town is the pizza shop. 3 Bums pizza has a name that every kid loves to laugh at and great pizza that everyone loves to chow down on.
If pizza’s not your thing, you can choose from wings, burgers, sandwiches, and more. Indoor or outdoor seating is available, or you can take your slice across the street to the park for alfresco dining.
Tour the Houghton University Campus
While you’re in town, you might as well enjoy the beauty of the Houghton University Campus. You can arrange for a formal tour with the University or just walk around on your own to admire the quaint stone buildings and well-laid-out quad.
Pop in to the Campus Store to buy some Houghton memorabilia or a snack, or go down to the Snack Shop or Java 101 in the Campus Center basement for a bite to eat or a chai latte. Friendly students around campus will be happy to chat with you or show you around their little corner of the world.
One of our family’s favorite ways to enjoy campus is to take bikes up to the quad and do laps around the large square. Plenty of attractions along the way will keep toddlers or young kids busy, like the rocking bench, the round stone bench circle, or the swing bench circle.
Play at Leonard Park
Our kids insist that this should be renamed “Boring Park,” since there’s not much to do here. Admittedly, you might not even notice it as a park, being not much more than a slightly larger than normal, open green yard.
It is technically a park, however, and even has a war memorial, a pergola for picnicking, and a nice large rock to climb on.
If you’re looking for a place to stretch your legs and run around for 10 minutes, you could do worse than check out Leonard Park, just across the street from 3 Bums Pizza.
Visit the River Dog Fly Shop
While you’re in the neighborhood checking out Leonard Park, you might as well stop by at the shop directly to the left (south) of the park. This fly fishing and outdoor outfitter, called the River Dog Fly Shop is a unique little store that’s definitely worth a visit.
If you’re not looking for a sweatshirt for a chilly day, you can find a disc for playing disc golf, backpacks, hammocks, or even locally crafted wood carvings and pottery. This place is a must-vist if you’re looking to do some fishing or take a kayaking excursion on the nearby Genesee River.
While Houghton, New York is probably not on everyone’s bucket list as a travel destination, if you do happen to find yourself here for whatever reason, there’s plenty to do, and plenty of fun activities to keep the kids busy. Rural living at it’s best!