Instant Itinerary: Road Trip to Herkimer, NY’s Diamonds and Canals

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No matter what direction you travel from on your road trip, you’ll have a beautiful drive into Herkimer, New York. Nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, Herkimer is home to the Herkimer Diamond Mines and award-winning KOA campground, as well as Lock 18 of the Erie Canal. While these attractions are right off the NY State Thruway, I recommend a more scenic route for your road trip. Take Route 5  – a gorgeous drive along the Mohawk River that parallels the Thruway from Utica to Albany.

Mining diamonds at Herkimer Diamond MineOur first stop on our road trip was the Herkimer Diamond Mine. Herkimer Diamonds are actually the hardest of all quartz crystals and have a diamond-like geometrical shape. With your admission you are given use of a hammer, zip-lock bags for your diamond finds, and entrance to the museum. There are three separate mining areas where you are free to dig and chisel for diamonds all day (be sure to bring your sunscreen!).

My kids loved the mines. The hammering was difficult for them – you need to actually break apart rock to look for diamonds – but they had lots of success digging in gravel areas and finding small diamonds. We hammered and dug for a couple hours before the heat and hunger set in. We also spent some quality time in the extensive gem shop and museum where there’s lots to learn and see.

Our next stop was the Mohawk River waterfront: Gems Along the Mohawk. Here we found one of those awesome gift shops that contains an “everything but the kitchen sink” array of local products. We had a delicious lunch at the Waterfront Grille and then we were ready for our boat tour on the Erie Canal!

The Captain of the Lil’ Diamond II was not only knowledgeable, but great with the kids. He gave us an animated history of the canal and lock system. Each child got a chance to steer the boat. And then the best part — moving through the working Lock 18.

You enter the lock and the gates close behind you:

Lock 18 Erie Canal Herkimer NY

With the gates closed, the water level in the lock starts to go down. You can barely feel the boat moving, as you see the concrete walls rising above you. See the yellow rails at ground level in the photo above? Those same yellow rails are above the gates in the photo below.

Lock 18 on the Erie Canal in Herkimer

We all loved it! (More Canal photos here.)

When it’s time to rest, I recommend the Herkimer Motel and Suites – a clean, comfortable facility in a perfect location. There are also several excellent campgrounds and bed & breakfasts in the Herkimer area. For dinner, be sure to check out beautiful Beardslee Castle in nearby Little Falls, NY, which is known for its ghost stories (and the food is amazing, too!).

If you have a few days in the Herkimer area, check out Fort Herkimer, a Revolutionary War site that is discussed on the Lock 18 boat tour. There’s a wonderful campground and opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Or bike along State Bicycle Route 5. And just a 45 minute drive south is the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Whether you visit for a day trip or a full-on camping vacation, this upstate New York town is full of history and outdoor fun for the family.

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday.

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