Memorial Day Highland soldier cover

4 Ways to Spend Memorial Day Weekend Around Rochester

Memorial Day is Monday, May 27, 2024. It is a time for families and friends to come together, often through backyard barbecues, picnics, or ceremonial gatherings, to respectfully remember our fallen heroes.

Many people also regard Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 24–Sunday, May 26, 2024) as the unofficial kickoff to summertime in Rochester. While enjoying the weekend, it’s essential to remember the holiday’s true meaning and take time to acknowledge and remember those who have given their lives in service to our country.

Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

Best of Rochester Award-Winning Book for Best Published Literary Work of 2023.

1. Honor Our Fallen Heroes

Memorial Day Highland flags
Beikirch Park

Although Memorial Day customs may vary, its core purpose remains the same: to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the military.

  • Local cemeteries and veterans’ memorials often hold Memorial Day services, including speeches, wreath-laying ceremonies, flag-raising ceremonies, and moments of silence, to honor and remember fallen soldiers.
  • Remember and honor the service and sacrifice of fallen soldiers, family members, or friends who served in the military by visiting their graves and placing flowers, flags, or other tributes on them.
  • Memorial Day parades are a customary tradition in several communities. These parades typically include marching bands, veterans’ organizations, military vehicles, and floats. They offer a chance for the community to unite, show appreciation for veterans and active-duty military personnel, and honor the holiday.
  • On Memorial Day, at 3 p.m., there is a national moment of remembrance. During this moment, we take one minute to remember soldiers who died while serving in the military. It’s an annual event that asks all Americans to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by these brave soldiers.
  • Consider spending Memorial Day by engaging in community service or volunteering for organizations that support veterans and their families. You can participate in various activities, such as assisting with cleaning up memorial sites, joining charity runs or walks, or lending a hand at veterans’ centers. These activities allow us to honor the sacrifices made by our brave men and women in uniform and show our appreciation to those who have served our country.
  • Memorial Day presents a chance to educate the younger generation about the holiday’s significance. Families, schools, and community organizations can arrange activities and discussions to teach children about the sacrifices made by military personnel and the importance of honoring their memory.

Please contact the Veterans Outreach Center for ways that you can provide or recieve assistance.

Rochester War Memorial
Veterans War Memorial in Blue Cross Arena
Veterans War Memorial in Blue Cross Arena
Veterans War Memorial in Blue Cross Arena

Spend a Quiet Moment at a War Memorial

The Veterans Memorial at the Rochester Community War Memorial

The Blue Cross Arena’s lower level features a tranquil Veterans Memorial, paying tribute to local armed services and offering the community a space for reflection on the sacrifices of those who came before them. The memorial is open to the public Monday through Friday (except for holidays), from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and during evening and weekend Blue Cross Arena events. If the building is closed, you can also peek through the window from the riverside park near Broad Street. Get Directions

Beikirch Park Vietnam Memorial
Beikirch Park Vietnam Memorial
Beikirch Park Vietnam Memorial
War on Terror Memorial Highland Park

Beikirch Park. Prior to 2012, the area south of Highland Drive was part of Highland Park. However, that year, the Monroe County Parks Department dedicated this area as Beikirch Park to honor Vietnam Veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch. The park features several memorials, including the Greater Rochester Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, War on Terror Memorial, AIDS Memorial, Victims’ Rights Memorial, and Workers’ Rights Memorial. Get Directions

It is my hope that as people enter this park and walk among the heroes that are honored and remembered here that they will hear each hero say to them, “There is a different way to live your life. Live your life believing that there is something greater in life than me. Live your life caring for others, loving others. Greater love has no one than this … that you would lay down your life for your friend.”

Gary Beikirch
Livingston County Veterans Monument
Livingston County Veterans Monument
Livingston County Veterans Monument

Livingston County Veterans Monument. Located at the Hampton’s Corners Complex on New York State Route 63, just south of Geneseo, there is a field of 250 metal poppies that sway gracefully in the breeze. Each poppy has been designed and welded by a veteran or a veteran’s family member in honor of their brave service to the country. Get Directions

Attend a Ceremony or Parade

Be sure to check with your municipality for the dates and times of Memorial Day parades and other activities.

National Memorial Day Museum Waterloo NY
National Memorial Day Museum in Waterloo, NY.

Visit the National Memorial Day Museum

Waterloo, New York, situated one hour east of Rochester, is the location of the first official Memorial Day. According to the museum’s website, the story of Memorial Day dates back to the summer of 1865. At a social gathering, a prominent local druggist named Henry C. Welles suggested that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War, it would be fitting to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. However, nothing resulted from this suggestion until the following spring when he mentioned the idea again to General John B. Murray, who was a Civil War hero and intensely patriotic. General Murray wholeheartedly supported the idea and rallied veterans’ support behind it. Learn more at wlhs-ny.com.

2. Learn About Our Military History

Fort Ontario
Fort Ontario

Fort Ontario State Historic Site

Fort Ontario State Historic Site is a must-visit destination for those who are passionate about history. The fort boasts a star-shaped structure that dates back to the early 1840s and showcases various renovations that were done between 1863 and 1872. The site contains two guardhouses, a powder magazine, a storehouse, enlisted men’s barracks, an Army office building, unfurnished officer’s quarters, videos, exhibits, ramparts providing breathtaking views of Lake Ontario, and underground stone casemates and galleries that are open for tours.

Fort Ontario has played a significant role in American history. It has witnessed several major events, including three battles during the French and Indian War and two conflicts during the War of 1812. The fort remained occupied by the U.S. Army throughout World War II. However, from 1944 to 1946, it took on a unique role as the only refugee camp in the U.S. for predominantly Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Fort Ontario was handed over to the State of New York in 1946 and was utilized as a housing facility for World War II veterans and their families until 1953. In 1949, it was officially established as a state historic site, with the purpose of safeguarding its storied past and highlighting its multifaceted roles throughout various historical periods.

soldiers standing guard
Old Fort Niagara

Old Fort Niagara

May 25–26, 2024: Soldiers Through the Ages. This timeline showcases the evolution of military history, including the changes in uniforms, weapons, equipment, and transport from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The event will feature special displays of military vehicles, period living history camps, rations throughout history, and a timeline of military weaponry from matchlocks to M1s.

Old Fort Niagara provides a captivating opportunity to revisit the era when mighty empires fought for control over North America. You can delve into real 18th-century buildings and admire breathtaking views as you participate in interactive programs that make history come alive. The Fort’s Visitor Center has introductory displays that exhibit original artifacts and an award-winning 16-minute orientation film that emphasizes the site’s significance.

Discover the fort and its original buildings, constructed between the 18th and 20th centuries, where Native American, French, British, and American soldiers lived and worked. In the summer season, visitors can witness musket and artillery firing demonstrations, take guided tours, and see artisan showcases that provide insights into life on the Niagara Frontier during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Special events feature reenactors who recreate the lives of past Fort garrisons and portray the struggles that shaped the birth of the United States and Canada.

Fort Stanwix visitor center
Fort Stanwix

Fort Stanwix

For thousands of years, there existed a trail that connected the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. This trail, known as the Oneida Carrying Place, served as a crucial link between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Ontario. Before the arrival of the Europeans, this passageway marked an important period in American history, as different nations competed for control over the Mohawk Valley, the homelands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the valuable resources of North America. During this intense struggle, Fort Stanwix played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the dispute.

On Monday, May 27, check out the first-ever Fort Stanwix National Monument Descendant’s Day event. Throughout the day, you can explore the muster records and biographies of soldiers who served at the fort and learn how the park researches these stories.

Genesee Country Village Gunsmith
Gunsmith & Cabinetmaker Shop built c. 1870, Nunda, NY

Genesee Country Village & Museum

Can’t wait until Memorial Day weekend? Visit Genesee Country Village & Museum May 15–19, 2024 during Civil War Living History Week. This event offers a unique opportunity to learn about the Civil War beyond the battlefield and understand the people, stories, and ideas that connect GCVM to America’s greatest conflict. You will get to interact with costumed historical interpreters, tradespeople, and special guests, including Civil War scholars and experts. They will present exciting experiences that are steeped in the details of history relevant to New York State and the Genesee Valley region in the 1860s. You will learn about the ongoing impacts of the Civil War in modern times.

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Old Fort Niagara

Old Fort Niagara served as a strategic stronghold for 300 years during the French & Indian Wars, War of 1812, Revolutionary War, and Civil War.

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Genesee Country Village & Museum

The Genesee Country Village is a living history museum with 68 structures on 700 acres, making it the largest museum of its kind in New York.

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3. Take a Ride

Embark on a leisurely drive through the countryside or enjoy a sightseeing boat, train, or hot air balloon expedition.

Sam Patch interior
On board the Sam Patch

Explore the Erie Canal and Genesee River

Now that the Erie Canal has opened for the season on May 17, 2024, it’s the perfect time to explore Rochester’s waterways on board the Colonial Belle in Fairport, the Sam Patch in Pittsford, and the Riverie in Corn Hill. Each boat offers a unique experience of locking through Locks 32 or 33.

New York Museum of Transportation trolley maintenance
New York Museum of Transportation

Take a Trolley or Train Ride

Celebrate the “Season Opening” on Sunday, May 26, at the New York Museum of Transportation in Rush. Enjoy a unique trolley ride through scenic rural areas and a museum filled with trolley cars, vehicles, model railroads, and the two iconic Midtown Plaza Monorail cars. The Arcade & Attica Railroad in Arcade also begins its season on Memorial Day Weekend.

While not a ride, be sure to visit the Edgerton Model Railroad Room during this month’s open house on Saturday, May 25, to experience their four season-themed displays.

hot air balloon launch
balloon launch

Letchworth Red, White, and Blue Balloon Festival

Friday–Sunday, May 26–28

Balloons Over Letchworth, operated by Liberty Balloon Company, offers hot-air balloon rides throughout the three-day festival. Approximately 20 balloon pilots from around the country will come to the event to launch their balloons from the Archery Field. Witness one of four launches scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, and 6 a.m. Sunday. Call (585) 493-3340 to verify the launch schedule. Pilots typically make a go/no-go decision two to three hours before the launch.

Of course, you don’t need to take a ride to enjoy this exceptional view! Bring a chair and pick a location near the Archery Field Overlook to watch the balloons dip in and out of the Genesee River gorge.

Award-winning Letchworth State Park, a little over one hour south of Rochester, covers more than 14,000 acres along the Genesee River in Livingston and Wyoming Counties.

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Rochester-Area Boat Tours

Discover the breathtaking beauty of the Great Lakes, Genesee River, Erie Canal, and Finger Lakes on one of these Rochester-area boat tours.

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All Aboard! Ride the Rails at These 4 Heritage Train Museums

Listen to the rhythmic chugga-chuggas and whistling choo-choos while enjoying the scenic landscape passing by on a Rochester-area train ride.

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Edgerton Model Railroad

Each of the Edgerton Model Railroad’s four season-themed layouts tells a different story of life on the move in the 1950s.

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4. Enjoy Time Outdoors

Holley Canal Falls
Holley Canal Falls

Pack a picnic and enjoy time with family and friends exploring our parks. Most of the gorge trails are open in time for Memorial Day weekend, but please check with them directly before you go.

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When searching for the perfect picnic spots, I look for a picnic table, scenery and proximity to water, shade, and relative privacy.

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Gorge trails call out from their deep, dark, and cool caverns. If you haven’t already, check these spectacular trails off your list.

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Easy Waterfalls

Not all waterfalls are hidden in dark ravines. Many of the region’s most stunning waterfalls can be viewed from the road or a short walk.

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22 Monroe County Parks

Monroe County parks are free and offer 12,000 acres of natural, zoological, horticultural, historical, and geological experiences.

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49 New York State Parks Within a Two-Hour Drive of Rochester

Venture into one of these New York State Parks within a two-hour drive of Rochester and discover what makes them unique.

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20 Paved, Gravel, and Boardwalk Pathways for Easy Strolls

These paved pathways and boardwalks are ideal for folks using strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, or managing other mobility challenges.

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Rochester-Area Parks

Beyond the gorge trails, nature centers, and gardens, these exceptional parks offer unique experiences and amenities worthy of exploration.

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Paddle, Pedal, and Trek Along Rochester’s Waterways

With parks, preserved wetlands, historic neighborhoods, and miles of trails, Rochester has no shortage of adventures for outdoor enthusiasts.

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Unlock the Wonder: 12 Ways to Fully Experience the Erie Canal

Experience the beauty, history, and community of the Erie Canal through activities that offer a unique perspective of life along the canal.

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Do you have a favorite way to spend Memorial Day Weekend around Rochester?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of daytrippingroc.com and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

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