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Get out And Explore … The Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks

Centered on the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, the Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks offers opportunities for both hikers and paddlers.

Covering Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga Washington, Schoharie, Montgomery and Fulton counties, the region includes a dozen state parks, as well as eight historic sites that reflect a history dating back to the Colonial era.

Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Saratoga/Capital Region, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

In addition to the name and distance of each designated trail in a park, the maps include facilities such as parking, comfort stations, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches. To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. 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.

Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Albany County


John Boyd Thacher State Park, 830 Thacher Park Road, Voorheesville, NY 12186 (518) 872-1237: This popular park protects more than 2,000 acres and includes more than 20 miles of trails. In the heart of the park’s South Zone, the iconic Indian Ladder Trail is both scenic and historic, originating as a Native American footpath and offering sweeping views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valley. The trail descends the Helderberg Escarpment, a 100-foot tall limestone cliff rich with fossils.  There is a staircase at both ends of the trail and a walk between the two along the Clifftop Trail will make a loop hike of about 1.25 miles. Trail heads are at the LaGrange parking lot and the Visitor Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols, this trail is one-way only, and must be started at the LaGrange lot. After climbing down the stairs, the trail runs along the base of the cliff,  passing under seasonal waterfalls and over an underground stream. Interpretive signs along the way tell of the geologic and cultural history of the area. This is a rocky trail with steep drop-offs. Wear sturdy shoes and please stay on the trail. 

Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park

In the park’s lesser-traveled North Zone, which has no picnic area or restrooms, try the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail. This three-mile loop leads to a scenic view from the cliff at High Point. The red-blazed trail is fairly level with an easy slope at the beginning and end of the loop. The trail begins at an old quarry on Carrick Road, off Old Stage Road. A kiosk in the parking area offers information about the interesting geology of the area and the Long Path. The aqua-blazed Long Path joins the trail briefly on its journey from New Jersey to the north. The Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail leads through mixed forests and across small fields, reaching the cliff edge at the midpoint. The limestone bedrock is full of marine fossils and karst features such as sinkholes, caves, and crevices. At the cliff edge enjoy sweeping views of the Hudson Mohawk Valley from High Point, where the Helderberg Escarpment reaches 1,300 feet in elevation.

The view from the Helderberg Escarpment on the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail at Thacher State Park.

Find trail maps here for the North Zone and the South Zone to plan your own adventure in this amazing park.

Peebles Island State Park, 1 Delaware Avenue North, Cohoes NY 12047 (518) 268-2188: Set at where the Mohawk River joins the Hudson River, this island park features a scenic 1.85-mile trail loop that offers wonderful views of the water. Take in sights including Cohoes dam, Horseshoe Falls and the Old Mohawk Paper mill. There are plenty of deer on the island, but kindly do not feed them! This is very shaded, intermediate trail. No bicycles are allowed, but there are picnic tables along the loop to rest and enjoy a snack.

Find a trail map here…

Waterfalls on the Mohawk River at Peebles Island State Park. Be safe and stay off the falls, as the rocks are slippery.

Rensselaer County


Grafton Lakes State Park, 254 Grafton Lakes State Park Way, Grafton, NY 12082 (518) 279-1155: Covering more than 2,300 acres, this popular park has more than 25 miles of trails. A favorite is the Shaver Pond Trail, a moderate two-mile loop that circles the lake. Much of the trial is rolling terrain with some roots and rocky sections. Look for beaver chews along the lake’s edge as well as barred owls. With many sections of hemlock forest, Shaver Pond is a cool choice for hot summer days as well as an excellent spot for winter animal tracking in the snow.

For a map of the park’s North Zone, which includes the Shaver Pond Trail as well as the 2.5-mile Long Pond Trail, click here… Kayaks and canoes can be launched at Mill Pond, Second Pond or Long Pond.

Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park.

For a map of the park’s lesser-used South Zone around the Dunham Reservoir, a former water supply for the city of Troy, which has seven miles of trails, click here… The reservoir also is a good place to launch a kayak or canoe.

Schodack Island State Park, 1 Schodack Island Way, Schodack Landing, NY 12156 (518) 732-0187: Hike Schodack Island’s Orange Trail for a shaded walk along the scenic Hudson River. This trail starts at the main parking lot and runs approximately 4.3 miles for a round trip. The hike is well worth it. The path is wide and flat perfect for any experience level. Hikers will pass the Historic Ice House Chimney _ a remnant of when ice was commercially harvested from the Hudson River _ as well as the park’s new wetland area filled with migratory bird species, and two pond blinds. Birdwatchers will find it perfect for viewing great blue herons, eagles, ducks, snowy egrets, kingfishers and a variety of turtles.

Find a trail map here…


Cherry Plain State Park, 10 State Park Road, Petersburgh, NY 12138: Nestled in the heart of the Capital District Wildlife Management Area, Cherry Plain State Park is part of the Rensselaer Plateau, one of the largest and most ecologically intact native habitats in New York State. Cherry Plain has more than seven miles of tails, but a popular favorite is the Waterfall Trail. This two-mile, out-and-back trail is mostly moderate with several steep sections, as well as some rocks and roots. The waterfall trail winds through the woods overlooking small streams with the waterfall located towards the end of the trail. A fun hike for older kids, but be prepared to cross the steam a couple of times. Hiking poles or walking sticks and waterproof shoes are recommended during spring and after heavy rains. Looks for red efts on the trail and broad-winged hawks soaring above the trees in the summer.

Kayaks and canoes can be launched in the park’s Black River Pond. Find a trail map here…

Waterfalls at Cherry Plain State Park.

Saratoga County


Moreau Lake State Park, 605 Old Saratoga Road, Gansevoort, NY 12831 (518) 793-0511: Covering more than 5,300 acres, this park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails for all abilities. For experienced hikers, check out the trail to the Spring Overlook, which involves a challenging short one 1.25-mile climb up to a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Indicated by yellow trail markers, the trail begins at the Spier Falls Road trailhead.  The trail beginning is wide open and takes you under some power lines but narrows as you make your way into the woods through white pines, black birches and hemlock trees. You will pass a trail marked in yellow and blue, which is the waterfall trail, this in not the same as the all yellow trail.  Continue to follow the yellow trail markers while you cross under an old power line and walk along some steep rocks and tall grasses. While you are climbing you will see another trail junction marked with a 13 for the blue Eastern Ridge trail. At the intersection, continue left on the yellow trail to reach the rocky overlook for a scenic view of the river. This is a out-and-back hike, so when you have had your fill of the nice breeze and beautiful view head back down the way you came.  

Spring Overlook Trail at Moreau Lake State Park, with the same view in the fall (below).

For experienced hikers, consider the short but advanced hike to the Moreau Overlook Trail. This one-mile hike starts at the back parking lot behind the park kiosk. Follow the blue trail markers up a moderate but challenging climb. At the intersection labeled number 1, stay right to remain on the blue trial and pay some extra attention you will also see red and white markers indicating other trails. The climb gets steep and rocky before you reach the top of this trail overlooking Moreau Lake. Sometimes even from the top if you listen hard you can hear the beach goers enjoying themselves.  If you reach the intersection marked number 2, that is too far turn around. This is also an in-and-out hike.  

For those seeking a gentler hike, try the 1.7-mile Lake Bonita Trail. The trailhead starts in the parking area off Wilton Mountain Road.

Find a trail map here…

Schoharie County


Mine Kill State Park, 161 Minekill Road, North Blenheim NY (518) 827-6111: Kayaks and canoes can be launched into the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir near the parking lot. At that lot, the Yellow Trail splits to the north and south for hikes along the reservoir where bald eagles, belted kingfishers, and families of ducks are often spotted. Take the Yellow Trail to the south, then left on the Red Trail, and then left on the Orange Trail, for a hike along the Mine Kill Creek. This joins up with the Long Path. Take a left at that intersection to reach a waterfall near Route 30.

The Bluebird Trail is an easy, beginner mile-long loop that goes around the pool complex, the park office, and disc golf course. The trail is a good place to spot eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, American Goldfinches, butterflies, and other forms of wildlife.

Find a trail map here…

A bald eagle takes flight (upper right) over the water at Mine Kill State Park.
A bluebird takes a break along the namesake Bluebird Trail at Mine Kill State Park.

Cover Picture: Shaver Pond in Grafton State Park All photos from NYS Parks

Post by NYS Parks Staff

Glide Through Winter on State Park Ski Trails

“Can you imagine anything freer and more exciting than when you, swiftly as a bird, zoom down the wood-clad hillsides while country air and spruce twigs whiz by your cheeks and eyes; brain and muscles tense, ready to avoid any unknown obstacle which any moment might be thrown in your path? You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”

Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian explorer, scientist, humanitarian and advocate for cross-country skiing, 1890

The use of skis to cross winter terrain dates back millennia, with the oldest-known image of a person on skis carved about 5,000 years ago into the rock of a Norwegian island.

When winter graces the state with snow, State Parks are a great place to enjoy cross-country skiing, with many miles of ski trails for all abilities, from beginner to expert across 104 state parks and eight historic sites spanning the state.

Known in shorthand as XC (or also as Nordic) skiing, this family-friendly sport is a full-body, low-impact cardio workout as well as a wonderful way to get outdoors during winter to see how beautiful the season can be. Skiing is quiet as well, so skiers often have a chance to spot wildlife (and also get a close look at its tracks) that has not been scared off by their approach.

A 1938 poster by the Works Progress Administration promotes cross-country skiing in New York State. (Photo Credit-Wikipedia Commons)

After a promising December start for XC skiing, this season has suffered from a dearth of snow. Perhaps a snowstorm or two is still to come before spring, or if not, this list can be held until the start of next season. Always call ahead to check on snow conditions.

This online map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is a handy tool for getting a picture of snow cover across the state when planning a ski trip.

Either way, to help decide where to go in State Parks when conditions allow, here are some staff favorites. Check each park’s website for a map of their trails:

Allegany Region

With 24 miles of trails, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area at Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, offers some of best groomed skiing in western New York. Novices can try the 3.5-mile Christian Hollow Trail, a loop with gentle grades, or the multi-use, 3.5-mile Red House Bike Path.

Intermediate skiers can try the 3.3-mile Patterson Trail, which is a former rail bed. There are parking areas at both ends of the gently sloping trail, so a shuttle trip can be done by leaving cars at both ends.

Other more adventurous skiers can tackle the Ridge Trail for a 7.7- mile trek geared to intermediate to advanced skiers.

Ski equipment rentals are available at the park’s gift shop at the Red House Administration Building. Trail reports can be found online here.

Finger Lakes Region

The extensive trail network at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in Springwater, Livingston County, has grooming and is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. Be prepared to share some of the trails with fat tire bikers on occasion.

A golf course can be a great place for novices to learn and practice, since such terrain is open, free of obstructions and tends not to be very steep. Going doing hill as a beginner? Remember to hold those skis in a “V” shape to control your downhill speed as you test out the friendly terrain at  Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, Chemung County.

Central Region

There are 12 miles of trails at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski, Oswego County. A staff favorite is a beginner/intermediate three-mile loop that incorporates the Front Pond Trail, Pine Grove Trail, a section of the 52C snowmobile trail, and Red Fox Trail, before returning to the Pine Grove Trail

Verona Beach State Park, in Verona Beach, Onedia County, offers miles of trails where they might encounter wildlife like white tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, and more. The two-mile Hog’s Back Trail loop follows a natural rise along Verona Beach’s massive swamp. Keep your eyes open at the overlooks for a potential glimpse of the nest of a mated pair of bald eagles.

There are about 15 miles of trails at Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, Otsego County. The mile-long trail around the namesake lake is periodically groomed, as is the two-mile Ice Pond Trail to the Twin Fawns Lake Trail.

Genesee Region

In Wyoming County, head for Letchworth State Park in Castile, and its Humphrey Nature Center and the Winter Recreation Area at Trailside Lodge. Here, there are three beginner trails, each about 1.5 miles long.

The park contains seven different parking areas to access about 15 miles of (usually ungroomed) trails. Glide through old-growth forest on the Gravel Loop and the Bishop Woods Loop. For great views of the spectacular Great Bend Gorge, check out the Chestnut Lawn Loop.

Long Island Region

There are two ungroomed trails at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, Suffolk County _ the 1.5-mile beginner Green Trail that goes through woods, fields and wetlands, and the 1-mile Orange Trail that offers view of Willow Pond.

At the Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale, Suffolk County, there are many miles of marked hiking trails that can be skied. There is no grooming, and trails range from one to eight miles in length. The preserve includes an historic former sportsmen’s club and a newly-restored 18th century gristmill.

About six miles of ungroomed trails, ranging from intermediate to advance, are found at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, Suffolk County. Take the Field 4 Trail to ski through woods before reaching overlooks for Sunken Meadow Creek and Long Island Sound. No skiing is allowed on the golf course.

Niagara Region

At Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Erie County, explore the Outer Loop Trail that begins at the Red Barn Parking Lot. A 2.7-mile trail suitable for beginners, it meanders through open pastures and fields, with some short legs through forests and views of farmlands and valleys.

Explore trails at Evangola State Park in Irving, Chautauqua County, to capture views of Lake Erie. The trail network covers about five miles, with the Rim Trail running along the edge of the lake.

Saratoga/Capital Region

At Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, Schoharie County, start at the park office for the moderate, three-mile Long Path/Bluebird Trail Loop, which offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley and the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir. Snowshoes and a small assortment of XC skis are free to borrow from the Park Office with a small deposit.

The moderate/intermediate Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton, Rensselaer County is a two-mile loop around the pond, where you can often see signs of beaver activity. The trail has some roots and rocks, so be mindful of snow cover. The park office rents snowshoes, but not skis.

Skiers have been going to Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, Albany County, for years because of its extensive trail network. Try out the lesser-used North Zone of the park, and its Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail, a three-mile intermediate loop through fields and forests. Use the Carrick Road parking area.

Beginners can practice on groomed trails that run for a total of three miles through the camping loops and around the lake at Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, Saratoga County. There is skiing on ungroomed trails through the rest of the park.

Taconic Region

While there are no marked or groomed trails for skiing at James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, the park’s golf course and many small, undulating hills there are a great place for beginners to practice climbing, turning, slowing and (maybe a little) falling.

Skiers could spend days touring the 25 miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, Westchester County. Some favorites are the beginners’ 1.15-mile Brothers Path/Swan Lake Carriage Road, with views of the lake; the Thirteen Bridges/Gory Brook Carriage Roads, which along 2.5 miles of intermediate terrain offer view of the Pocantico River and waterfalls; and the intermediate Rockwood Hall Middle, Lower and Foundation Loop Carriage Roads, that go past the Hudson River.

There are 12 miles of trails at Fahnestock Winter Park in Carmel, Putnam County. Equipment rentals are available at the lodge, which also marks the start of the popular Lake Trail. Weather permitting, trails are also groomed on the lake. The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands.

Cross-country skiing at Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County can be as near as one’s own backyard, as most of the ungroomed 26-mile trail is bordered by homes.  As the park is level, the area is great for those who are new to the sport. 

The Aqueduct is crossed by many streets, and the best cross-country skiing is found in the sections with the fewest road crossings.  Top on the list is the section from Gory Brook Road in Sleepy Hollow to Country Club Lane in Scarborough, about two and a half miles of level trail through the woods.  This section connects to Rockefeller State Park Preserve.   Those who like hills should enter Rockefeller Preserve just north of the Weir chamber and follow the Peggy’s Way trail south for some gentle hills before returning to the Aqueduct.

Another popular area is at the northernmost section by the Croton Dam.  Here the trail clings to the sides of a steep gorge through which runs the Croton River.  The Gorge is a park of its own, operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation and called the Croton Unique Area.  Only two lightly-traveled roads cross the 2.5 miles of wooded Aqueduct trail as it heads south to Croton.

Curiously the most densely-populated area through which the trail runs also features a fine area for skiing.  This section, likewise of about 2.5 miles, has two road crossings, but almost all of it runs through the woods, with unparalleled winter views of the Hudson River and Palisades. 

Palisades Region

There are stunning clifftop views from trails at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, Ulster County. Being free of rocks, roots and other obstructions, the 16-mile network of carriage trails are wide and “skiable” even with only a few inches of snow.

Thousand Island Region

At Robert Moses State Park in Massena, St. Lawrence County, there are more than five miles of trails through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in  NY. The Nicandri Nature Center offers ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction.

In the western Adirondacks, Higley Flow State Park in Colton, St. Lawrence County, has the popular 1.3-mile Overlook Trail that passes through a pine and spruce forest.  This trail connects with the Backcountry Trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.

This is just a sampling of the ski trails at State Parks. So, when snow is on the ground, grab your skis, and get out there!


Cover Photo: Skiers at Saratoga Spa State Park. All photos by State Parks.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks


Read this history of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks.

Fall in Love with Autumn Camping

If you think camping in a state park campground is enjoyable in the summer, wait until you experience an overnight getaway in September or early October, when New York’s outdoors is awash in enough colors and sounds of the season to overwhelm the senses.

The autumn mist rising from the water’s surface on a brisk morning, paddling along a tree-lined shore edged in spectacular reds, oranges and golds, the crunch of leaves underfoot on a hike, the aroma of coffee over a crackling fire — these are just a few of the experiences awaiting those campers who prefer to camp once the crowds thin, schools are back in session, and Labor Day is in the rearview mirror.

Benefits to fall camping include fewer neighbors, fewer bugs, and a greater selection of sites from the peak summer season.  With the right clothes and gear, the slightly cooler temperatures make fall camping more comfortable than in the commonly muggy dog days of summer.

Plan to extend a leaf-peeping day trip and sleep under the autumn stars. You can book ahead to reserve a spot or opt for a spontaneous adventure and just grab your gear and go. Many state park campgrounds throughout New York are still open with availability for tent and trailer sites, yurts, cabins, and cottages.

Here are just a few of our fall favorites:

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Listen to the rustling leaves while you camp at Allegany State Park, photo by State Parks.

At 65,000 acres, Allegany State Park is the perfect setting for embracing nature’s colorful palette in the fall months.  Lakes, ponds, and miles of trails, beckon outdoor lovers for hiking, biking, nature walks, fishing, paddling, and more.  Choose from tent and trailer sites, cabins, and cottages.

The Middle Falls At Letchworth State Park
Ballooning at Letchworth State Park, photo by Jim Vallee.

In the Genesee Valley, the sweeping views at Letchworth State Park are jaw-dropping in every season, but add vibrant foliage to the mix and prepare to be amazed by the sheer grandeur.  For campers, the park offers tent and trailer sites and cabins.  Visit the new Humphrey Nature Center or explore the gorge trail on your own — views from Inspiration Point and Middle Falls are a must-see.

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Enjoy the waterfalls at Taughannock Falls State Park, photo by State Parks.

The Finger Lakes gorge parks also provide a stunning backdrop for camping this time of year.  Take a break from campfire cooking and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table restaurants or the premier wineries in the area. Home to 19 waterfalls, Watkins Glen State Park on Seneca Lake welcomes campers to an array of wooded campsites (many with electric hookups) and rustic cabins.  Walk along the winding paths of the gorge or take a bike ride on the nearby Catharine Valley TrailTaughannock Falls State Park on Cayuga Lake leaves visitors spellbound with its namesake waterfall and rocky cliffs that perch high above the gorge.

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Fall camping with a furry friend at Green Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks.

The only thing more colorful than the fall foliage at Green Lakes State Park is the actual Caribbean-like hues of the glacial lakes themselves.  With campsites nearby including many full-service sites and renovated cabins, campers also have easy access to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trails and championship golf course.

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If you camp at Moreau Lake State Park, take a hike around the lake, photo by State Parks.

Moreau Lake State Park is situated in the foothills of the Adirondacks with tent and trailer sites, cabins and cottages. Hike or bike on the 27 miles of trails and enjoy paddling and fishing on the scenic waters of the park’s beautiful lake or the Hudson River.  Wildlife viewing is a favorite!

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Autumn campers at Taconic State Park, photo by State Parks

Taconic State Park offers autumn campers incredible sites for tents or trailers, cabins and cottages, and plenty to see and do including biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, and more.  As part of the adventure, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Trail, the South Taconic Trail, Bash Bish Falls, and the Copake Iron Works Museum.

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Fall colors at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by State Parks

Tip:  Whether planning a fall camping adventure or taking a leaf-peeping day-trip, a good resource to determine peak color location is the I Love NY Fall Foliage Report issued weekly.

Want to try snowshoeing? Park experts tell where to go

Don’t let the snow deter you from exploring State Parks – just grab or borrow a pair of snowshoes and head out to the trail.  Go snowshoeing on a trail in a nearby park or try one of State Park staff’s favorite snowshoeing spots.

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A group pauses during a snowshoe trip at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, photo by State Parks

In western New York, Tina’s favorite snowshoeing spot is at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County in Wilson.  This is where you will find the Red interpretive trail nestled along the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek.  As you snowshoe through the changing landscapes, you’ll pass through successional fields, marshland, and finally through a mature forest of old growth beech and hemlock trees.  Keep your ears open for calls of the pileated woodpecker.

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Snowshoe to this historic tower at Allegany State Park, photo by Adele Wellman, State Parks

At Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Adele recommends the Bear Paw Trail located across the road from the Art Roscoe cross-country ski area on the Red House side of the Park.  Bear Paw Trail is the newest trail built for the snowshoeing enthusiast.  The 2.4-mile long, easy to moderate trail has 15 interpretative sights and runs along the ridge above Salamanca to historic Stone Tower. The trail loops through large stands of Black cherry and White ash trees. Look for small secret plants such as wintergreen and princess pines along the trail. Each Monday evening in January and February, the park offers sunset snowshoe hikes. The Environmental Education Department has a few pairs of snowshoes to borrow during programs.

In central New York, Katie’s favorite part about snowshoeing is how the landscape constantly changes during the winter. Even if you snowshoe at your favorite local park, in her case Clark Reservation State Park in Jamesville, everything looks different in the winter.

After the leaves fall off the trees, you can see so much farther into the woods. You will be snowshoeing along at Clark Reservation, and suddenly notice that the ground drops away not far from the edge of the trail into a steep ravine. You might never notice the ravine in the summer because rich greenery hides it from view. Winter’s arrival reveals forests secrets. Soon though, they are covered up again, this time with ever changing blankets of snow. Nature’s snow sculptures change daily, so you really need to hit the trails often so you don’t miss out!

About once a year, the park gets special permission to host a moonlit snowshoe hike it’s amazing how bright the forest is with the light from a full moon reflecting off the snow. You can even see your shadow! Keep your eyes on the calendar to find out when this year’s Moonlight Snowshoe Hike will be, or come out on your own any day to check out this special place.

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Family fun at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by State Parks

At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park, Thousand Islands, Molly notes that there are four trails open to snowshoeing.  Probably the most heavily snowshoed trail is North Field Loop.  Only a half mile long, it meanders through a forest full of white pine trees, passes through a seasonal wetland, and into a forest of towering red oak trees.  School groups explore this trail on snowshoes and the nature center staff lead moonlight snowshoe hikes on the trail throughout the winter months.  There is nothing prettier than snow covered woods on a moonlit night.  The park has both children and adult snowshoes available for rent for $3 a pair.

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Snowshoeing through Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks

In the Capital Region, Liz at Grafton Lakes State Park suggests the Shaver Pond trail loop. Just under two miles, it offers picturesque views of Shaver Pond, with a trail winding through forest of hemlock and maple trees over easy terrain.  Inquisitive visitors may see mink or fox tracks along the way.  Trail maps are for sale & snowshoe rentals are available at park office on a first-come, first served basis for $5 for four hours.

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Family snowshoe program at Moreau Lake State Park, photo by State Parks

At Moreau Lake State Park, Rebecca mentions that the park has 30 miles of trails and there are new places to explore as the seasons change.  The parks offers snowshoe hikes and classes for all ability levels, including first timers.  The park also has snowshoes available for rent to hikers or people who want to go out and try it on their own for $5 for a half day and $10 for a full day rental.

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Fun times with friends at Thacher State Park, photo by State Parks

At Thacher State Park, the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail is one of Nancy’s favorite snowshoe walks. This three mile loop in the wilder northern part of the park takes you through beautiful woodlands of mixed hardwoods with stands of spruce and hemlock trees and across a couple of open fields,  without much elevation change.  Midway on the loop, you can take in the scenic snow-covered views from the cliff edge at High Point.  Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center rents snowshoes to the public.

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Heading out on the trail at Fahnestock Winter Park, photo by State Parks

In the Hudson Valley, Kris at Fahnestock Winter Park mentions two unique snowshoeing trails. If you’re looking for more rugged terrain, and challenging descents, “Appalachian Way” treks along a ridge line to a stunning overlook of Canopus Lake. The trail “Ojigwan Path” offers the beginner and intermediate snowshoer a snaking walk through hemlock groves and strands of mountain laurel. Both routes take around 2.5 hours to complete. Snowshoe rentals are located in the newly renovated winter park lodge, where you can also warm up with a cup of delicious chili!

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A beautiful day on snowshoes at Sam’s Point, photo by State Parks

Laura D. recommends a snowshoeing trail that will lead you to expansive cliff top vistas, through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens, and around the glacially carved Lake Maratanza. The Loop Road at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the perfect trail for viewing these breathtaking vistas. While on the three-mile Loop Road, stop at the Sam’s Point Overlook, where on a clear day, you can see four states!  Snowshoe rentals are available at the Sam’s Point Visitor Center for $15 per adult and $14 per junior (17 years and under) for the day or $5 to join a public program.

From Region Minnewaska
Minnewaska Falls, photo by State Parks

A novice snowshoer will find the modest Mossy Glen Footpath loop just right for a snowshoe trip.at Minnewaska State Park Preserve notes Laura C.  This approximately four-mile route follows the Mossy Glen Footpath as it hugs the edge of the scenic Peter’s Kill stream, winding through quiet forests. At the end of this Footpath, take the Blueberry Run Footpath to the Lower Awosting Carriage Road back to your starting point. This loop begins at the Awosting Parking Lot.

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photo by State Parks

These are just a sampling of the many trails you can explore on snowshoes .  We hope to see you out on the snowshoe trail this winter.

Post by State Parks Staff

 

 

Lakes Have Seasons, Too

As the northeast transitions from fall to winter, watch for changes in Parks lakes and ponds nearest you.  You might notice that the water churns more than it did during the summer, or you might even notice ice beginning to form at the surface.  Such phenomena can mean exciting happenings deeper in the water.  One of the most fascinating changes to observe is lake-turnover, or the mixing of cool and warm waters.

Lakes that turn over twice a year are known as “dimictic”: di=twice, mictic= mixing.  They are one of the most common types of lakes on Earth.  Dimictic lakes freeze in the winter and melt completely by summer.  These lakes mix during the spring and fall, after ice melts and before ice forms.  Examples of dimictic lakes are seen across New York State, including Shaver Pond in Grafton Lakes State Park, Moreau Lake of Moreau Lake State Park, Lake George of the Adirondack region, and Lake Erie.

combined spring turnover image
Long Pond at Grafton Lakes State Park during spring turnover: ice melting after winter (top), followed by water mixing into the lake (bottom). Fall turnover is the opposite: water mixing followed by ice forming in early winter. Ice photo by OPRHP. Mixing photo cropped from original by L. Schelling, OPRHP.

Without turnover, aquatic life in different areas of a lake may not have enough oxygen or nutrients to thrive.  Calm waters tend to separate into layers – with denser, “heavier” waters sinking below less dense surface waters, creating an invisible boundary through which oxygen and nutrients cannot pass.  Water is most dense 4 degrees Celsius above freezing (4 OC, or 39OF) and becomes less dense as it cools or warms from this point.  In the summer, this means warmer water is at the surface, closer to the air and thus richer in oxygen for fish.  Meanwhile a layer of cooler, 4oC water settles at the bottom – where many nutrients accumulate, but also where decomposition of dead animals and plants can lead to little to no oxygen in the water.

adapted figure of dimictic temperatures
Dimictic lake temperature throughout the seasons, with the layering (“stratification”) and mixing of warmer (red) and cooler (blue) waters. Spring turnover results from ice melting, and fall turnover results from wind chilling and mixing surface waters. Image adapted from Figure 44.10 in “Ecology and the Biosphere” (Candela Learning).

 

As chilly, windy fall weather kicks in, some of the oxygen-rich surface water can cool, sink into the lower levels of the lake, and push the deeper, nutrient-rich waters up closer to the surface.  The result is a well-mixed habitat for fish.  In dimictic lakes, this turnover happens again in the spring, when the surface ice melts to that heavier, 4oC water and mixes into the deeper waters.

Why are some lakes dimictic and others not?  One reason is lake location — dimictic lakes are more common in temperate regions with warm summers and cold winters, where lakes may freeze over completely.  Another factor is lake size.  Two lakes that are famous for not having complete mixing are Round Pond and Green Lake in Green Lakes State Park.  These are the rare “meromictic” (mero=part) lakes which mix in the upper waters but are too deep to allow surface and bottom waters to mix.  Alternatively, some lakes may be so shallow that they mix frequently (“polymictic”). NY Natural Heritage Program describes 7 different types of lakes in the state.

Seasonal turnover is important for lake recreation as well as for fish and plant life within lakes.  Fishing can improve near the end of mixing periods in lakes that experience turnover, since now oxygen and nutrients will be better distributed throughout the water.  Many fish and aquatic life are sensitive to changes in their habitat – oxygen and nutrient levels, as well as temperature changes. Keeping an eye on the changes in the water is useful to biologists and park enjoyers alike.

Post by Erin Lennon, State Parks Water Quality Unit.

Sources and Further Reading

NY Natural Heritage Program Conservation Guide on oligotrophic dimictic lakes

New York Natural Heritage Program’s “Ecological Communities of New York State” 2014 edition describes all of the lake and pond types in the state

Ecology and the Biosphere” from Candela Learning.

Green Lake is a rare meromictic type.

Thermal stratification & the effects of a change in temperature on aquatic organisms.