Whether the Hill Cumorah Pageant has been on your family bucket list or not, this is the year to do it. This July is the very last time that the historic pageant in Palmyra, New York, will be performed, and it is definitely worth the trek whether you are coming from the opposite coast or just a few towns away. Though Palmyra is a small town, it is brimming with incredibly rich Church history sites, fantastic food, and beautiful (and free) outdoor romps for you and your children to enjoy.
As a local mother of several young children who has attended the pageant for years, I’ve gathered a few resources and insights to help you plan your trip and make a few extra stops along the way. If you’re one of the parents of young children daunted by the pageant’s late (9:00 p.m.) start due to the incredible pyrotechnics and lights used to showcase the stories in the Book of Mormon, rest assured that a fun, fulfilling, and testimony-building experience for both you and your young children awaits.
Things to Do Before the Hill Cumorah Pageant
Palmyra, New York, is a darling, rural town, nestled in the lush landscape of Central New York. In July, Palmyra boasts the most delicious blueberries you will ever taste and is brimming with roadside farm stands. Just drive around and you will see locals selling farm-fresh eggs, berries, milk, and other produce. A breakfast of fresh, local food is the perfect start to any morning before you head to any of the following local sites:
Temple Road is aptly named: you can’t miss the incredible and sacred view of the Palmyra Temple from it. Your children will love to sing “I Love to See the Temple" as you drive into the circular parking lot. Let them get out of the car and walk along the path that winds around the landscaping of the temple. The stained-glass windows are breathtaking. You will also get a clear view of the Sacred Grove.
The Sacred Grove is a very short drive (less than three minutes) from the temple, and the missionaries are always friendly and eager to give tours of the Smith family homes and farm. You will also be able to walk through the Sacred Grove with your children. Though nothing is to be taken from the grove as a keepsake, your children will always remember the tender spirit that they feel in the grove as they listen to the bees that really do hum and the birds that really do sing sweetly. You can choose between a short or a longer path through the grove that will lead you back to the parking lot.
As you drive over to the Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center, you can remind your children that Joseph Smith walked from his own home to the hill after a night of no sleep and a morning of hard work on the family farm. The visitors’ center is an incredible place to learn more about the Smith family. There is a beautiful Christus room and the missionaries will answer any questions you or your children may have.
On your way to see a few more sites, there are several great places to eat downtown, such as Athenia Restaurant (diner-style), and Happiness Garden (Chinese), but Mark’s Pizzeria is my personal favorite New York pizza in the entire state and is located across the street from the Grandin Building, where the first Book of Mormon was published. After eating, walk over to the Grandin building for a tour.
Work off lunch even more by walking about a mile through town to Chill and Grill, home to the largest ice cream cones you will ever see. It’ll do you good to spoil yourself and your kids a little!
For my young family, post-lunch and treat time means nap time. This is a great time to get back in the car and let the blood sugar drop with a nice long snooze for the little ones. Hop onto I-90 and drive to the Peter Whitmer Farm.
The Peter Whitmer Farm is a wonderful place for children to learn about Church history; the missionaries are always friendly and there are even exhibits specifically designed for young children to enjoy.
Once you’ve soaked in the incredible spirit of the Whitmer Farm, head back to the Hill Cumorah site for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. To know what to bring, read on!
What to Bring to the Hill Cumorah Pageant
- Seating at the Hill Cumorah Pageant is tricky because it’s a first-come-first-serve arrangement, and often large sections are specially reserved. Even if you arrive hours early, there are no guarantees that your seat will still be saved by the time the show starts. Furthermore, what child likes to sit in a chair for several hours waiting for the show to start? My kids certainly don’t. Your best bet for enjoying the pageant to the fullest extent is to bring several large picnic blankets or quilts. Spread them out in the grass (you will see the area at the front and on the sides, very close to the stage) where this is allowed. You will have an excellent view of the stage and your little ones will be able to sprawl out, dance, crawl, and eventually fall asleep if they can’t keep their eyes open toward the end of the pageant.
- One reason upstate New York is so lush and green is because we get a lot of rain, so be prepared! Bring ponchos, umbrellas, and a dry change of clothes for your littles, just in case. You may want to bring a couple of extra blankets as well in case the ones you are sitting on get soaked through.
- Speaking of extra clothing, I always pack pajamas for my children to change into right before the pageant starts. We arrive early (around 5:00 p.m.) and then right as the sun begins to set (around 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m.), we head for the bathrooms, and I help them put on their pajamas. Even if the day has been hot and humid, nighttime gets cool, and they seem to be more comfortable if they are in their comfiest PJs.
- You’ll also want to bring bug spray. Humidity means mosquitoes, and mosquitoes equal major discomfort. You don’t want to be swatting the pesky bugs all night, so spray yourself and your children down well at the beginning of the night and reapply as needed.
- Part of the reason the pageant is such a memorable experience is because families make it an all-afternoon event. There are some food vendors at the pageant, but most families pack a picnic dinner with lots of snacks and enjoy socializing with one another as they eat. There are a few local restaurants if picnicking isn’t your thing, but we have found it to be such a big part of the whole experience that it really wouldn’t be “The Pageant” without a picnic basket.
- Make sure you have a camera! The cast will come out, fully costumed, a couple of hours before the show begins. They are fun to talk to and will take pictures with you and your children. A voice of experience, however: King Noah is very convincing, and if your children know the story of Abinadi, they just might cry when he tries to talk to them.
- Lastly, make sure you have a stroller. If your children are asleep by the end of the pageant, you won’t want to carry them (and all the items you brought with you) all the way through the field to the parking lot. Keep in mind there is only one area to exit the parking lot at the end of the pageant, so a line will form, but it moves fast. Members of the surrounding stakes serve as parking directors and do a great job at directing the cars in orderly fashion, but it will take 20 to 30 minutes to exit the parking and get to the road.
- Other helpful items include a flashlight (when it gets dark, it gets really dark), extra water bottles (you don’t want to have to walk to the water fountains in the middle of one of the intense Book of Mormon scenes), glow sticks (these are favorites with many of the children at the pageant), and extra blankets in case it gets chilly.
Other Sites to See
While you are visiting Church history sites in New York, don’t forget about other wonderful sites not too far from us:
The Priesthood Restoration Site in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, is a holy and beautiful place to visit with rich history and knowledgeable missionaries who will take you on a testimony-building tour that you will never forget.
Joseph Smith’s birthplace in Sharon Vermont is home to a visitors’ center nestled in a densely wooded forest. The spirit of the Restoration is strong as you learn about the life and teachings of Brother Joseph.
The Kirtland Ohio Temple is a fascinating and holy place to visit. It is now considered a National Historic Landmark, and it is a very sacred experience to visit the place where some of the keys of the priesthood were restored.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant has been a rich and rewarding experience for thousands of members of the Church and many who are not of our faith but who are local to the upstate New York area. Don’t let the logistics scare you: if this is on your bucket list, make the trip. While you are at it, cross a few more Church history sites off of your bucket list as you strengthen your relationships with your children and gain a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the gospel.