Category Archives: Family Fun

Super Simple Campfire Cuisine

Memorial Day and the unofficial kickoff to summer is nearly here.  Many of us will be headed to our favorite state park for a weekend of camping fun or a relaxing afternoon picnic.

If you are looking for some easy recipe ideas for your trip, may we suggest…

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MaryAnn’s breakfast sandwich, photo by van-Amos Public Domain

Maryann’s Easy Skillet Breakfast Sandwiches

Ingredients

Bagel or English muffin, 1 per person Bacon, 2 slices per person
Eggs, 1 per person American cheese, 1 slice per person

Equipment

Cast iron skillet Fork
Spatula

Directions

  1. Cook the bacon in the skillet and remove
  2. Remove some of the bacon fat and grill the bagel or muffin
  3. Remove the bagel or muffin and add the eggs
  4. Cook easy over eggs adding cheese went egg is flipped.
  5. Place the egg/cheese on one half bagel or muffin, place two slices of bacon, and top with the other bagel or muffin half.
  6. Season to taste with salt, pepper, hot sauce or other seasoning.
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Jackson’s pita pizza, photo by Jeffrey, accessed from Wikicommons

Pita Pizza, one of Jackson’s favorites:

 

Ingredients

Pitas Tomato sauce (stored in a sealable plastic jar, plastic bags are a no-go)
Shredded cheese Other toppings optional

Equipment

Spoon for spreading sauce Tinfoil is optional but does make a more evenly cooked pizza
Cooking grate optional – you can also use a Y-shaped stick

Directions

  1. Gather all ingredients: pitas, pizza sauce, pizza meat, and toppings and assemble your pizza
  2. Get your campfire hot with low flames
  3. Assemble the pita pizzas and lay them on the grill or Y-shaped stick over the campfire (your Y-shaped stick will not catch on fire as long as it is thick and you are cooking over coals and low flames- do not let the flames touch the stick or pita too much)
  4. Cover the pizzas by tenting some tinfoil
  5. Remove from the fire when the cheese is melted
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Stefanie’s skillet nachos, photo by twopeasandtheirpod

Skillet Nachos are one of Stefanie’s favorites:

Ingredients

1 bag corn tortilla chips 1/4 cup onion ; diced
1/4 cup black olives; sliced 1/2 cup pepperoni; chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese; shredded 1/4 cup tomatoes; diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa

Equipment

10” cast iron skillet

Directions

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. Spread evenly in layers the chips, onions, olives, pepperoni, tomatoes then the cheese. Cover and heat until the cheese melts.

Serve in the skillet with sour cream and salsa.

Recipe from BigOven.com

MacCheeseFoodista
MaryAnn’s Mac & Cheese, photo by Foodista

If you have a hankering for macaroni and cheese, Maryann suggests:

Skillet Mac N Cheese

For camping, measure out the ingredients before the trip and pack in smaller containers or Ziploc bags to save time and space.

Ingredients

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (about 8 ounces) 1-1/2 cups half-and-half cream
2 tablespoons butter 3/4 pound cheese (cheddar and smoked cheddar), shredded
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour Optional toppings: cherry tomatoes

Equipment

10” cast iron skillet Wooden spoon
1-1/2 qt. pot with lid

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth; gradually whisk in cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat; stir in cheese until melted.
  3. Add macaroni; cook and stir until heated through. Top as desired.
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Ro’s one-pot stew, photo by PXHERE

Ro recommends this one pot meal:

Campfire Stew

Serves 12 people

Ingredients

3 lbs. 90% ground beef 3 10 oz. cans of concentrated alphabet vegetable soup
1 large onion, peeled and diced Salt and pepper

Equipment

2-qt. pot with lid Knife
Cutting board Wooden spoon

Directions

  1. Brown ground beef
  2. Add onions and fry until soft
  3. Add vegetable soup and just enough water to keep from sticking.
  4. Cover and heat until hot.

Who can forget dessert?

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Sarah’s peach cobbler, photo by Okie Boys, accessed from Flicker

Lazy Peach Cobbler from Sarah:

Ingredients

2 (30 ounce) cans sliced peaches, in syrup ½ stick (1/4 cup) butter
1 package white or yellow cake mix 1 can whipped cream, optional
Ground cinnamon to taste

Equipment

12” camp Dutch oven (the ones with feet and a flat top)

Directions

  1. Place a 12-inch camp Dutch oven over 15 hot charcoal briquettes.
  2. Pour contents of peach cans into oven. Spread dry cake mix evenly over peaches. Sprinkle cinnamon over all to taste. Cut butter into equal slices and arrange on top.
  3. Put lid on top of oven and place 10 hot charcoal briquettes in a checkerboard pattern on top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until done.
  4. Spoon into bowls and add cream, ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Recipe from Lodgesmfg.com.

Mock Angel Food Cake from Ro:

Serves 12 people

Ingredients

Loaf of white bread 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (pull top)
3 cups shredded or flaked coconut

Equipment

Cutting board Knife
Three small bowls 3’ long straight sticks or pie irons

Directions

  1. Open the milk pour in one bowl
  2. Open coconut and pour about half into one bowl
  3. Trim off crusts off the bread
  4. Cut into 1 in long strips place in one bowl
  5. Dip the bread into the milk and then roll in coconut
  6. Toast on a stick over embers, or cook in a pie iron or a reflector oven.

From Cooking Out of Door compiled by Alice Sanderson Rivoire published by Girl Scout of USA, 1960

Allison’s helpful hint for making refrigerated items last: fill 1-gallon jugs or large yogurt containers with water and freezing them to put in your cooler. They will last longer than a bag of ice and your food won’t be swimming in water as the ice melts.

Need more ideas? Check out these books and websites.

Books

Bell, Annie, The Camping Cookbook, Kyle Books, 2010.

Hansel, Marie, The Campout Cookbook: Inspired Recipes for Cooking Around the Fire and Under the Stars, Workman Publishing, 2018

Time Books, The Outdoor Adventure Cookbook: The Official Cookbook From The Ultimate Camping Authority, Oxmoor House, 2017

White, Linda, Cooking on a Stick: Campfire Recipes for Kids, Gibbs Smith, 1996

Websites

Reserve America’s Camping Recipes

Dessert Recipes from Utah State Parks

Campfire recipes from Huron County Parks

Camping Recipes from South Carolina State Parks

KOA’s Camping Recipes

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Enjoy your cooking

Camping Chenango Valley State Park

If I were to ask you to name the best state parks in New York just off the top of your head, parks like Letchworth or Watkins Glen are probably what leap to mind. However, there are an abundance of parks that have a lot to offer but never make the list. That’s not to downplay parks like Letchworth, by any means – they stand out for a reason. Still, there are other great parks in New York State, but they don’t make it onto people’s radar because they are overshadowed by these larger or more publicized parks. Chenango Valley is just one of these beautiful but unjustifiably underrated parks.

Outstanding Camping

New York State Parks offer visitors some of the best camping in the state. Our family has camped in many of the parks but have found few campgrounds that can compare with Chenango Valley. Chenango Valley has 182 campsites spread throughout three camping loops – Chipmunk Bluff, Sunrise, and Pine Bluff. We found some incredible wooded and private campsites that really gave the impression of being away from it all. This park is surprisingly uncrowded; we were able to get a great campsite without even having to make a reservation at the peak of summer. However, making a reservation in advance is still the best bet to insuring that you will get the site you want.

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The author’s campsite, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

People often shy away from wooded camping sites because they don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes that usually accompany the shaded sites. That isn’t usually a problem in Chenango Valley State Park. Why you might ask? This park has a large population of brown bats – but don’t let the idea of bats scare you. These little critters are actually quite helpful, eating between 600-1000 mosquitoes per hour which can help make your camping experience that much more comfortable.

Wildlife and Nature at Chenango Valley

My favorite part of getting out into nature is the opportunity to see animals, or at least evidence of their presence. This park is home to a large variety of animals. One night, as we sat around our campfire, we had the spine-tingling experience of hearing a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Everything from the rarely seen black bears to more common white-tail deer roam the woods, in and around the park. Visitors might catch a glimpse of animals such as flying squirrels, gray squirrel, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, red fox, beaver, raccoon, rabbits, and woodchucks. Although we didn’t see many animals during our time in the park, we did see evidence of beavers and met one spunky chipmunk who wanted to pose for a picture for us. Chenango Valley is also known for being an excellent park to bird watch as the trails run through a variety of habitats from woods, lakes, marsh and the river.

Things to do at Chenango Valley

Chenango Valley has a unique geological feature within the park, in the form of two kettle lakes. These lakes were formed by chunks of ice that broke away from a receding glacier. The chunks of ice sat in one place for a long time creating depressions in the earth, thus creating these small lakes. Lily Lake and Chenango Lake are both really quite lovely, with crystal clear water that is excellent for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Visitors can rent canoes and kayaks or bring their own and really enjoy the peacefulness of these pristine lakes.

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Kayaks and boats ready for a ride, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

Chenango Valley has one of the nicest swimming areas that I have found among the New York State Parks. Although the park calls it a beach, I’m not sure that title is really applicable. It is more like a pool cut into the end of the lake. The “pool” is divided into 4 sections of varying depth. This is excellent because there is a significant separation between the wading pool, perfect for the little ones, and the deep water of the diving area.

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Swimming area, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The park is full of hiking trails too. Our favorites are the trails that circumnavigate the lakes as well as a truly unique section of the park, the bog. If you camp in the Sunrise Loop, you can very easily hike to this area. When I heard bog, I immediately thought of some dark, uninviting place, but this wetland area was spectacular. I’m quite serious when I say that the bog looks like you have stepped back in time to the Jurassic period and at any moment a brachiosaur is going to come walking past. This unusual natural community seemed completely out of place, but my kids loved it and had fun “dinosaur hunting.” Of course, for your own safety and for the protection of the bog environment, you will want to make sure to stay on the trail and not go wandering off into the bog.

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Lily bog, photo by NY Natural Heritage Program

Chenango Valley also has a world-class golf course for those looking to play a round within the beautiful and idyllic scenery of the park. Some of the hiking trails do take hikers pretty close to the golf course, so beware of flying golf balls.

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Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The New York State Parks offer visitors the chance to experience the most breathtaking and beautiful parts of our state. This gorgeous park is one of New York State’s hidden gems. Chenango Valley is a place where you can truly get away from it all and appreciate all the beauty that nature has to offer. A trip to this tranquil retreat is something everyone should experience.

Post written by Kimberly Crawford

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.

Burning calories while relieving stress, cross-country skiing is a popular activity on the parks peaceful and tranquil trails.

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An unbroken forested ski trail at Evangola.
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The only sound while skiing is the soft crunching of the snow as you glide through the woods.

Cross-country skiing is a wonderful way to connect to nature!

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Fresh snow clings onto the branches, enhancing the beauty of trees and shrubs.

Three major trail systems are avaliable at Evangola State Park. The Evangola Snowmobile Trail is located on the east side of the park and snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails are on the west side.

Many snowshoers and skiers utilize the 3.5 mile snowmobile trail since it is lightly used by snowmobilers. The trail is fairly flat and easy for beginners.

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Evangola Snowmobile Trail.

The Evangola Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe trail is an easy two mile loop trail through forest and shrubby wetlands.The trail starts at the baseball field located on the west side of the park and goes right into the woods.

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Snowshoers head out on the trail.

With a variety of tracks along the way…….

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A skier discovers eastern coyote tracks.

A fun activity while skiing or snowshoeing is to investigate fresh animal tracks. The tracks left behind are a magical record of a nocturnal creature’s travel, allowing a glimpse into their secret lives.

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Four toed animals include the fox, coyote and dogs. Raccoon prints have 5 clear toes. Deer tracks resemble a divided heart. Image from NYS Dept. of Conservation
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White-tailed Deer are often seen crossing the trail, photo by Ed Conboy Jr.
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A skier checks out the Evangola Nature Center. The nature center is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day and is sometimes used as a resting spot during winter sports programs.
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When the snow gets deeper and the world turns quiet…

The Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office has free snowshoes to loan to adults and children and many people bring their own snowshoes. It is easy to learn snowshoeing and participants become proficient on their first winter snowshoe hike.

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The “Forest to Lake” snowshoe hike traverses Evangola’ s forested trails……
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….and ends with a majestic look at the ice formations of Lake Erie!

Stunning Ice Formations

A spectacular winter trail at Evangola is the “Rim Trail” along towering cliffs over Lake Erie, where you can see all the way to Canada on a clear day! But clear skies or cloudy, check out some of nature’s ice sculptures all along the shore.

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Even the rim trail fence can bow with the weight of wind driven ice waves!
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The “Rim Trail’s” chain link fence with ice.
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A lone skier checks out the “Rim Trail” view. During winter, arctic waterfowl and even an occasional Snowy Owl can be seen. Some of the biggest Red Oak in the park also occur along this trail.
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A winter icescape along the rim trail.
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Lake Erie ice volcano vents can be seen from above along Evangola’ s “Rim Trail”.
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Throughout Evangola’s winter trails there is plenty to see including the iconic “Scotty’s Covered Bridge”!
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Evangola Sunsets during winter can be spectacular too!

Winter is a great time to get outside and explore Evangola State Park. So, come join our outdoor snowshoe hikes and cross-country ski programs or get out on your own to enjoy the park’s “lake-effect” snow trails.

Post by Dave McQuay, Evangola State Park environmental educator

Enjoy Winter – Get the Kids Outside

It’s cold outside, it takes forever to get the kids bundled up and out the door. Is it worth all the trouble? You bet! You don’t need a lot of planning, just a few tips and tricks to encourage kids – and you – to enjoy the outdoors in winter.

Bundle Up

Look for hats and hoods that are not just fun or cute, but that are also warm and comfy (and don’t keep falling over their eyes). Warm and waterproof boots, mittens – not gloves – to keep those fingers warm, and a scarf if it is really nippy or windy out. For the little ones, mitten clips or strings keeps them from getting lost. If it is sunny, don’t forget to apply some sunscreen on the face and ears, and fair eyed kids and adults may want sunglasses.

Build a Snow Sculpture

We all hope for snow! Building snow people or forts or animals, small or large is always fun. My father once built us a snow duck we could sit on. Look for leaves, sticks, and berries on the ground to decorate your snow sculpture with.

Let’s Go Sledding! Snowshoeing! Hiking!

Many parks have places for sledding. Pick the size of slope that is right for the kids and a location without trees or other hazards. Likewise, choose the right size route for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and make it fun. If there is no snow, there are still lots of places to hike. Avoid icy trails. You can find flat trails around a lake or campground or on bike paths that are good for beginner snowshoeing and hiking with or without snow. Some of the nature centers even have snowshoes to borrow. Start small and work up to a longer outing. Older kids may enjoy the challenge of a longer day out; just remember to bring lunch and water and plan for some stops.

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Learn to ski! Photo by Anneli Salo, accessed from Wikicommons

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Sledding is always fun.

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Out for a hike.

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Accessed from Wikicommons

Look for Animals Kids are good at spotting animals and animal tracks. Stop and look and listen for squirrels and birds in the bushes and trees. You don’t need to be able to identify what animal it is, just take the time to look. Where do the tracks go? Are they big or small? What kind of animal do you think it might be? Common animal tracks to see in the winter at the park are squirrels, dogs, birds, snowshoe hare, and deer.

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Chickadees will sometimes come to a little birdseed in your outstretched hand.

Need a little help? Take part in a park-led activity like a snowshoe hike or ice fishing day.

Be an Explorer 

There are all kinds of cool things to see in winter. Take the time to look around, it’s amazing what you can find. Some kids are naturally curious, others may need a little encouragement or direction to get started. If so, make a game out of it like a scavenger hunt for shapes, colors and/or things. Try this: find a sign of 1 animal; a place where an animal might hide; the shape of the letters U,V,X,Y; something green, something blue.

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Ski tracks form nice V’s

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Do you see a ‘U’?, photo by Julie Lundgren

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A hollow tree trunk is a place animals could hide, photo by Julie Lundgren
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Light green lichen decorates this hemlock log, photo by Julie Lundgren

 

Take a Break – Bring a Treat

Bring a little treat and stop outside on a log or a bench to have a snack and water.  Tangerines, raisins, apple slices, pretzels, nuts are some healthy choices but a little chocolate or a cookie doesn’t hurt. Bringing a thermos and having hot chocolate or tea to have outside seems really special after sledding or midway through a hike or ski.19_kid smiling with snowball

Know when to come indoors

If it is really cold or windy, pay attention to signs of getting too cold. Noses, ears, and fingers can easily get cold and frostbite may happen when the temperatures drop. Get out of the cold if any of you can’t feel your fingers or toes or start shivering. And plan your outing so you are done well before the daylight dims, as temperatures drop when the sun goes down.20_winter_painting2_JLundgrenPost by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program.

More outdoor fun ideas:

Appalachian Mountain Club, 20 Outdoor Activities Kids Can Do Anywhere

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become An Outdoor Explorer

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become a Winter Wildlife Detective!

Ready, Set, Bait

One of the many benefits of living in the northeast is the variety of winter recreational opportunities that are afforded to us. One of the most rewarding of these is ice fishing. It is accessible to young and old alike and the cost to get started can be less than other outdoor winter activities in New York.

New York State Parks has a long tradition of promoting ice fishing events with tournaments at many of their facilities. Northeast of Albany, Grafton Lakes State Park Grafton Lakes State Park has been holding a tournament every winter for the past 33 years. This year’s tournament will be on January 19th and runs from 5 am to 2 pm. There will be prizes for the three longest fish of each species–trout, yellow perch and walleye/chain pickerel–for both the adult and child group. It’s a great day of family fun. Thompson’s Lake at Thacher State Park will be holding their tournament two weeks after Grafton’s on February 2nd. For more information about these tournaments contact the Parks.

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2017 first place brown trout catch at Grafton Lakes State Park.

If learning to ice fish is more up your alley, you can try out Thompson’s Lake on January 19th when DEC’s I Fish NY staff will be on hand to offer a clinic and free day of ice fishing. Moreau Lake State Park’s “Ice Fishing for The Kids” program will be on January 26th from 10 am-2 pm. There will be snacks and refreshments offered by the Friends of Moreau in the warming hut. On February 20th Glimmerglass State Park will host the Otsego Lake Ice Fishing Clinic, also free to the public, from 9 am-3 pm. For more information about these events call the associated park.

There are many other opportunities throughout the season to learn how to ice fish. Governor Cuomo has designated February 16-17th a free fishing weekend as part of his NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative. No fishing license will be required for those partaking over this weekend. Beginning ice anglers are encouraged to download the Ice Fishing Chapter (PDF, 3.7MB) of DEC’s new “I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing” for information on how to get started ice fishing. Additional information, including a list of waters open to ice fishing, can found on the DEC ice fishing web page and the Public Lakes and Ponds map.

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Crappies are a common ice fishing catch.

When ice fishing, please keep in mind that anyone 17 years and older needs to have a fishing license in their possession (except on designated free fishing weekends). Fishing licenses are valid for 365 days from date of purchase. If using live bait, it must be certified, and excess live bait can never be discarded into a waterbody. This prevents the spread of diseases and invasive species.

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Of utmost importance is safety.  Do not go on ice that is less than 4 inches thick and be especially wary of ice on moving water like streams or rivers. Ask the experts and don’t go alone. Remember that tracks left by others is not an indication of safe ice; conditions can change quickly. Areas near docks and shorelines may be less safe.

If you follow these simple guidelines and dress appropriately, you and your family and friends will be able to enjoy a fun filled day of fishing and fresh air. Always keep in mind that ice fishing is a weather dependent sport and you need to be aware of the conditions. State Parks loves to see pictures of your adventures out on the ice — be sure to share them with staff at your favorite State Park. Happy Fishing!

Grafton Wintrer Festival Ice Fishing
Remember to dress for the weather for your fishing adventure.