Many New Yorkers thrive in winter and are eager for falling temperatures and consistent snowfalls. To these hardy adventurers, a few extra layers of gear combined with the snowy terrain of parklands is a winning recipe for fitness, togetherness and outdoor fun.
Welcome the new decade, enjoy the winter landscapes, and unwind after a hectic holiday season by joining a First Day Hike on January 1, 2020.
There are more than 75 such hikes planned at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas, trails and public lands across the state as part of the 9th annual First Day Hikes program. This map can help find one near you…
Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers and partners at many sites, will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions. Remember to dress appropriately and keep this old Scandinavian saying in mind: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, fire towers, and more. If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways.
Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted.
And know that you are part of something that is happening all across America. First Day Hikes, which started in Massachusetts in 1992, are now a national event taking place in all 50 states.
Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes. Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.
If you’ve never been on a First Day Hike, 2020 is the year!
Cover photo: First Day hikers at a DEC fire tower. These hikers are wearing traction gear on their boots, which is important in steep or icy conditions.
With more than 2,000 miles of marked trails across New York, the State Parks have something for hikers of every ability. That includes the beautiful Taconic Region, located on the east side of the Hudson River and stretching through Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.
Palatial estates, highland trails, Hudson River vistas and woodland campgrounds define some of the exceptional treasures to be found in a region with 14 parks and eight historic sites.
If you are new to hiking or have not yet explored hikes in this region, named for the Taconic Mountain range that runs north-to-south along the state border with Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, here are some suggestions to start you out.
As with all hikes, there are few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera, to capture what you see. Be mindful of hikes on steep terrain or that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of emergency is never a bad idea.
Hiking poles are useful, and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back. And use a trail map, which is available online at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the main office at each park. Check the park’s individual website to see if its maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device.
These maps include Park facilities such as parking, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches in addition to the location, name and distance of each designated trail in the park. For some facilities, data is available as a Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more…
It never hurts to know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish it. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve, 125 Phelps Way, Pleasantville, (914) 631-1470: With 55 miles of crushed stone carriage roads that crisscross the former country estates of petroleum tycoons John D. Rockefeller and William Rockefeller, the preserve offers a wide variety of hikes for any ability, with the carriage trails offering a consistent, predictable surface. After parking at the preserve office, follow the markers for Brother’s Path, a 1.1-mile loop around scenic Swan Lake. Heading south on the Brother’s Path, there a connection on the right to the .9-mile Overlook Path, a gentle climb and a good place to spot Eastern Bluebirds and get a beautiful view of Swan Lake. The preserve is home to more than 180 different species of birds and 120 different species of native bees.
Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, 2957 Crompond Road, Yorktown Heights, (914) 245-4434 : This is a short hike in the woods on level terrain leaving to a small pond. From the parking lot for the swimming pool, take the white-marked trail, turning onto the blue-marked, 1.2-mile trail for Crom Pond. At the end, turn around, or continue on the orange-marked, .7-mile Mohansic Trailway through more woods before turning around.
Fahnestock State Park, 1498 Route 301, Carmel, (845) 225-7207: Hike, sunbathe and swim all at one location. Start at the Canopus Beach Parking Lot, where you can pick up the blue blazed AT Connector Trail from the north corner of Canopus Beach. A short 0.3-mile hike passing along the edge of Canopus lake will lead you to the famous Appalachian Trail. Turn right and take the white blazed AT trail northbound. A steep section of trail will lead you to a beautiful viewpoint over Upper and Lower Canopus lakes. Continue north and after one mile on the AT turn right and head south onto another blue blazed AT connector trail. A rolling 0.75-mile hike will lead you back to the Canopus Beach Parking Lot and all the other activities.
Mills Norrie State Park, 9 Old Post Road, Staatsburg, (845) 889-4646: This park has a very scenic hike along the Hudson River. Turn onto Norrie Point Way and follow signs for the Marina, where you find signs for the White Trail. If you brought a kayak or canoe, you can put it into the river there. The White Trail is approximately two miles long and and leads to Staatsburgh State Historic Site, the elegant 65-room country mansion of Ogden Mills and his wife Ruth Livingston Mills. You can choose to take the White Trail back along the river, or the Blue Trail. Along this wooded trail you can view the historic Hoyt House and Carriage Barns. While at Staatsburgh, catch a view of the 148-year-old Esopus Meadows Lighthouse on the river. If you plan to visit by boat, the Mills Norrie State Park marina has 145 boat slips.
Lake Taghkanic State Park, 1528 Route 82, Ancram, (518) 851-3631: Start at the parking lot at the swimming beach, and pick up the white-marked Lakeview Trail, which goes about 5 miles around the lake but is not a loop. It can be hiked as an out-and-back by going either north or south on the trail, which is mostly level and good for all abilities.
Knox Farm State Park (Knox), located in East Aurora, is the former country estate of the celebrated Knox family. Seymour H. Knox, founding partner of the F.W. Woolworth Company, purchased the property in the 1890’s to train Standardbred and carriage horses. The Knox family made significant contributions to the business, educational, and cultural legacy of Western New York and owned the property until 2000 when it was sold to the state. Today the park consists of 633 acres, roughly 400 of which are grasslands and 100 acres of woodlots and wetland areas.
The grasslands provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a diversity of life that cannot be found in many other places in Western New York. Visitors can hike, ride horseback, cross-country ski, or snowshoe through the scenic trails. No matter the season, Knox always provides a memorable experience.
After the winter thaw, some of the most anticipated yearly arrivals to the park are the boisterous bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Both bird species only nest in grasslands and can be found in large numbers throughout the park. Bobolinks breeding in Knox may have migrated from as far away as Argentina, making them the longest migrator of any of the New World passerines, or perching birds! Males perform a captivating display flight making a series of buzzes and whistles that sound like R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Female bobolink, photo by Paul Bigelow
Male bobolink, photo by Paul Bigelow
Another grassland representative of the park, the eastern meadowlark, is usually heard before it is seen. They can be found along the trails singing their sweet, lazy whistles from atop a fence post or stalk of high grass. Like bobolinks, female eastern meadowlarks build their nests in a small depression on the ground, hidden amongst the tall grasses. Other grassland birds you may encounter are savannah sparrows, field sparrows, and eastern bluebirds.
While walking the trails you may also encounter a striking resident of the park, the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), named for the orange and black colors of George Calvert, the first Lord of Baltimore. The caterpillars of these beautifully marked butterflies can be found in wet areas of the park where they feed on white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). However, they are more frequently encountered along the grassland trails where they make use of English plantain (Plantago lanceolate). Adults can be found nectaring on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and other flowers in the designated butterfly meadow.
Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar, photo by Niagara Programs Office
Baltimore checkerspot adult, photo by Niagara Programs Office
A walk through the grasslands of Knox will always yield an exciting surprise. From incredible vistas to the theatrical display flights of male bobolinks, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a feeling of bliss. All trails in the park are easy to walk and some paths are even paved, making them accessible to all. If you haven’t made a trip to Knox Farm yet, be sure to mark it on your list and enjoy this unique and diverse 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.
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.
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.
A curious chipmunk, photo by Kimberly Crawford
On of Chenango Valley’ American sycamore, photo by NY Natural Heritage Program
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wilson Tuscarora State Park, located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County, is just 12 miles east of historic Fort Niagara State Park and the mouth of the Niagara River. Established in 1965, the park, encompasses 386 acres bordered by the east and west branches of Twelve Mile Creek, and has approximately four miles of trails.
When you choose to hike the red Interpretive Trail at Wilson Tuscarora, you will experience several amazing things, particularly if you choose to visit in late spring. Along the trail, you will hike through many different habitats, including wetlands, successional fields (a field transitioning to a forest), shrub lands, ending in a mature beech-hemlock forest.
Your journey begins at the marina parking lot heading toward the large weeping willow tree, with its bright yellow green leaves drooping toward the ground.
Once past the old weeping willow tree you will find the trail and the real journey begins through a successional field and into shrub lands as you follow the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek. Along the trail, you will notice red-osier dogwood shrubs forming thickets on each side. Quaking aspen trees are found along the way as well, revealing their name’s origin as each breeze cause the tree’s leaves to quiver or quake in the wind.
Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides
Keep your eyes on the wetlands too. You may see a beaver, or at least signs that they are active in the area. If you are lucky enough you may catch a glimpse of the pileated woodpecker. Look for pileated woodpeckers in the mature beech-hemlock forest area of the park. Chances are you will hear them before you see them. Listen for a deep, loud drumming and shrill, whinnying call.
This trail is best known for its spring wildflowers; especially trillium. New York’s largest flowered trillium, the white trillium, blankets the forest floor in May. The name trillium refers to three, the number of leaves, sepals (bud covers), and petals.
If you haven’t gone down Wilson Tuscarora’s Interpretative Trail yet, be sure to head there this late spring to see these unique natural features!