Wonders of the Winter Beach

Getting cabin fever? Well, bundle up and take a trip to a beach-front state park! Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Long Island parks or the many parks on small lakes: Glimmerglass, Green Lakes, Long Point-Chatauqua Lake, Allegany, or many others.

This is the time to explore the many interesting patterns and colors of wintertime “icescapes.”


For now, enjoy some spectacular views from Southwick Beach State Park and its wild ice formations on the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. With no other visitors in sight on this day, there was no problem for this intrepid explorer to keep safe distances while enjoying the scenery.

During such visits, dress warmly and in layers, as shorelines can be chilly, as well as windy. But it is the wind that makes for fantastic ice sculptures along the shores. Sometimes the nearby trees or dune grasses will be laden with frost and salt spray. Or you may find some interesting driftwood and shells tossed up on the shore by the waves and wind.

Look way out to the water’s edge and you will realize that maybe that is not water but rather the frozen froth of waves forming an icy ridge on the beach.

Finding animal tracks in ice, snow or even frozen sand also is often easier than in other seasons. Look for footprints; can you figure out who has been there?

Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Winter is a wonderful time of the year, there’s snow and ice everywhere in our State Parks. Within that snow and ice, you can see traces of what animals have been there – maybe even just moments before you arrive! One of the traces that can help you identify which animal it came from is … Continue reading Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Ice can take interesting or fantastical shapes, as shown by the picture above at Southwick Beach.

How does the ice form shapes like this? A breeze pushes waves against the upper shore and the water at the top edge freezes as it hits the frozen sand. Then thin layers of water build up at the icy edge forming this wild pattern of ledges extending a mile down the beach.

In a different section of beach, the ice forms a pattern much like rickrack, a form of braided trim in a zigzag pattern that was highly popular in the 1960s.


And wintertime can create its own interesting illusions, such as this picture above, in which it appears the forest is floating in the sky above the water. This phenomenon is known as a “superior mirage” which tends to happen in cooler weather, when the air is colder above your line of sight than below. In this case, the air temperature is colder than the lake water. On this day the air was about 20 degrees and the water 40 degrees.

Read more about the science of a superior mirage on Wikipedia.

There is so much to see along our shorelines even in winter. Get out in the fresh air, explore some winter beaches and take pictures to share.


All photos of Southwick Beach State courtesy of Kathy Faber-Langendoen

Post by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program


Prepare to Explore more of State Parks in the winter by reading these previous posts from the NYS Parks Blog.

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour. … Continue reading Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees

Evergreen means these trees keep their “leaves” throughout the winter. Though we may call them pine needles, they are actually very skinny leaves that serve the same function as the leaves on a deciduous tree. Identifying evergreens during the winter months is almost the same as in spring and summer, with the added advantage of … Continue reading Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees

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