Visiting the LDS Church History sites in New York is an amazing experience. So much came together in upstate New York to make the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints happen. Whether you are visiting in during summer or winter, keep these tips in mind.
One of the first things to remember is that in New York, the freeway is a tollway. It makes for plenty of great rest stops but make sure you have the cash to pay at your exit. Making the long road trip? Be sure to read our 10 Tricks to Stop the Dreaded Question, Are We There Yet? If you are planning to fly into New York, Palmyra is near Rochester but Syracuse and Buffalo are good airport options as well.
There are several bed and breakfasts and camping grounds in the area plus other nearby cities such as Geneva. I recommend trying out an Airbnb (get $40 off your stay when you use my referral link). They can be fun little homes and you get more room than a hotel. Just book early as everything will fill up fast during these last pageant runs. Geneva, which is not too far from the Peter Whitmer Farm, sits on one of the Finger Lakes making it a beautiful option. There is even a playground next to the shore for the kids to have fun while parents enjoy the scenery. Seneca Falls and Waterloo are smaller towns also close to the Peter Whitmer Farm.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant
The Hill Cumorah Pageant is a beautiful production that you don't want to miss. It takes place during the first part of July for a week. Dress rehearsal is on a Thursday night then the Pageant is in full swing Friday (no performances on Sunday). Pageant is only canceled for lightening so bring ponchos or a tarp to save your seats during the day and you'll have a dry place to sit once it starts. You can save 5 seats for every person there to guard them. Pageant starts at 9:15 PM EST and performers come out to talk with the audience around 7 PM. There is food available for purchase on the grounds or bring your own picnic. Parking is free and handled well by local volunteers. If you have more questions about the show, you can find a lot of answers on the Hill Cumorah Pageant website.
The time of year you visit these historic sites in New York will determine the kind of tour you have. During Pageant Season, thousands of people come so the tours are shorter. If you can, aim to visit right before Pageant starts so you can get a bit of longer tour but still see the Hill Cumorah Pageant. You may even want to see the Pageant on a dress rehearsal night or plan on the last night and tour the sites the next couple of days.
The Peter Whitmer Farm is a great place to visit on Sunday if you are there for the weekend. If it's Pageant time, the building will still be packed for services but it's less crowded than Palmyra and the Visitors' Center opens up for tours right after sacrament meeting. If it's not, attend all the services and tour the farm after. Since the Peter Whitmer Farm is where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first formally organized, it's a great place to honor the Sabbath. Church starts at 9:30 AM EST so bring some food and sit at one of the picnic tables after your tour for a peaceful lunch during the warmer months. The inside of this Visitors' Center is similar to the one at Hill Cumorah so if you are worried about seeing it all, don't stress about staying around to see everything inside.
During the summer, the farm can be a bit tricky to spot as the crops tend to grow higher than the last sign showing you where to turn so keep a sharp eye out!
If you tour the Peter Whitmer Farm during Pageant season, look for the tents by the parking lot for a bake sale and great t-shirts. The youth host a fundraiser there every year. One of my favorite pieces of art came from there and it's a great option for lunch as they often have hot dogs and drinks too (not on Sundays though, of course).
Palmyra and Manchester Area
There are 3 main spots to visit in the Palmyra and Manchester area: Hill Cumorah, the Smith Family Farm, and Historic Palmyra.
At the bottom of Hill Cumorah is a Visitors' Center where you can hear more about the history in the area. If it's not too busy, ask the missionaries to take a photo of your family in front of the statue of Christ before you leave. The rest of the Visitors' Center is similar to the ones you'll see elsewhere. There are interactive stations that talk about the Book of Mormon and computers to keep the kids busy with educational games for a bit while you relax in the air conditioned/heated room.
You can either walk or drive to the top of Hill Cumorah. At the top, you can walk over to a monument and take a few pictures. The view is nice and it's fun to see down the hill. If it's Pageant Season, they'll close the top of the hill early so be sure you plan accordingly. You can always call the Visitors' Center for the exact times. There are picnic tables as well making it a great spot for a meal. We picked up sandwiches from Sauders in Seneca Falls (near Fayette) to eat here. It's is a Mennonite store that is great to stop at if you need to restock on snacks and food- lots of great options at great prices.
Smith Family Farm and Sacred Grove
If you only have time for one site, make the Smith Family Farm and Sacred Grove it. You'll begin in the Visitors' Center then head out to the Smith Log Cabin. Walk a little further down the path and you'll see the Smith Family Frame House and barns. Then the best part of all is the Sacred Grove. There are several trails (you may want a map) to take so you could spend 5 minutes or 1 hour in the grove if you wanted. There are benches throughout the grove so bring your journal and take time to ponder. One of my favorite things was to take pictures of each person in our family so I could make them these great Christmas presents. We get them out every week.
Be warned, upstate New York in the summer is hot and muggy. Put on your sunscreen and bug spray and remember to bring lots of water or a small fan. The fall is my favorite time to come to this area. The leaves are gorgeous and you can take any of the leaves that fall on the ground with you as a keepsake. The winter is beautiful too but humid cold is much colder than a dry cold so bundle up! Bonus for this area- you can see the Palmyra Temple as it looks out into the Sacred Grove. If you want to plan on a doing a session at the temple, it is a small temple so you will need to bring your own clothing. If you visit during the winter months, it's best to call ahead to make reservations as it's slower during these times.
The main site in Palmyra is the Grandin Building which is where the Book of Mormon was first published. Inside this historic site, missionaries will take you through the 3 stories explaining the process. If you worry about your younger children getting bored, I find the missionaries do a great job of getting the children involved at every site. The Grandin Building has it's own charm with a building inside of another building concept. Every family also gets to walk away with a full sheet of the Book of the Mormon as it would have been printed.
You can drive by some other sites in Palmyra (ask the missionaries and they will give you directions), however, you can't go inside any other historic sites. The street corner with the 4 churches is always an impressive site to see and you can drive by what was once the Martin Harris farm. There is also a LDS bookstore nearby the Grandin Building if you are looking for souvenirs.
After your time in New York be sure to put all those amazing photos to good use and get them off your phone! Make a personalized ornament or use one of these other ideas so you can remember this one in a lifetime trip.