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From the February 2014 Conservationist

People showshoe on a trail through the woods on a sunny winter day

Winter Fun at New York's State Parks

There's no reason to think its's off-season

By Wendy Gibson

The dog days of last summer are a distant memory, but many intrepid New Yorkers thrive in winter and are eager for falling temperatures and continued snowfalls. To these hardy adventurers, a few extra layers of clothing combined with the snowy terrain of parklands, and some gear thrown in for good measure, is a winning recipe for fitness, togetherness and outdoor fun.

Two snowmobilers come out of a covered bridge
With 90 miles of groomed trails,
Allegany State Park is a snowmobiler's
winter paradise.(Photo: Darren McGee)

In fact, a number of New York's 179 state parks remain open for activity this time of year, offering a winter wonderland in which to experience nature's splendor. From cold-weather sports to the quiet beauty of snow-covered landscapes, snowshoe treks to winter carnivals, skating rinks to seal walks, New York State Parks are popular destinations for winter recreation and the perfect remedy for cabin fever.

Allegany State Park is the largest state park in New York at 65,000 acres, and this flagship property offers four seasons of adventure. Many outdoor enthusiasts consider Allegany to be a premier winter destination for cold-weather fun in the northeast. Frequent lake-effect snow covers the park's higher terrain in beautiful blankets of white. Allegany features 18 trails with 80 miles of hiking and snowshoeing, more than 25 miles of cross-country skiing, and 90 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. While the mercury may be dropping, the park heats up as families enjoy winter activities and snow-based recreation in this vast, near wilderness setting. Convenient and affordable winter lodging options at the park include heated cabins and cottages available for rent.

A young boy in a furry hat hold out a fish he caught while ice fishing
Winter fun at state parks doen't need
to be limited to just skiing and snow-
shoeing. Many parks, such as
Glimmerglas State Park, offer other
activities such as ice fishing. (Photo:
Tom Hughes)

With winterized cabins and the incredibly scenic Genesee Valley gorge as a backdrop, Letchworth State Park is another ideal destination for winter sports. Winter activities include snow tubing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Families can also rent the Maplewood Lodge, located in the middle of the park near the entrance to the Highbanks Camping Area. A popular choice for snowmobilers, it connects to the New York State snowmobile trail system. The three-bedroom lodge sleeps up to eight people and consists of a furnished kitchen, living room with cozy fireplace, dining room and a full-size bath and powder room.

Two cross-country skiiers on a trail on a sunny winter day
Spend a day cross-country skiing.
(Photo: OPRHP)

Wellesley Island State Park along the St. Lawrence Seaway in the Thousand Islands is another prime location with winterized accommodations to host weekend getaways or an impromptu overnight when available. The park's Minna Anthony Common Nature Center is open year-round and includes nine miles of hiking trails, and five miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. During the winter months, visitors can warm up by the fireplace and meet other explorers. The trails have a diversity of habitats, including field, forest, wetlands and views of the St. Lawrence River.

Livingroom of a wood-walled cottage
Warm up in a cozy cottage at the Betty
and Wilbur Davis State Park.(Photo:OPRHP)

In Cooperstown, Glimmerglass State Park offers a variety of child-friendly activities such as tubing, ice skating and winter trail sports. Reserve one of the cottages that sleeps eight at nearby Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park, and bring the whole family to enjoy a day of snowmobiling.

In and around the Capital District, several state parks including Moreau Lake, Grafton Lakes, and Schodack Island have activities and events such as regular guided snowshoe hikes, skating and weekly bonfires, winter festivals, ice fishing, cross-country skiing and winter nature programs. While these parks do not offer accommodations, a range of lodging is available nearby.

For upscale lodging options within a few hours' drive of New York City, Saratoga Spa and Bear Mountain State Parks each feature luxury accommodations, a restaurant and a spa set among properties steeped in a long tradition of year-round hospitality. The blazing fire at Saratoga's warming hut offers respite from a day hitting the groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, or skating on one of the park's rinks. And visitors can soothe those tired muscles with a mineral bath and treatment at the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa located on this national historic landmark property. Farther south in the Hudson Valley, Bear Mountain State Park is located in the Hudson Highlands and draws many families from the tri-state area to its renovated Bear Mountain Inn and popular skating rink amidst expansive views.

A balck and a white horse draw a wagon through the snow at a state park
Visitors enjoy a horse-drawn wagon
ride at Grafton Lakes State Park.
(Photo: John Rozell)

For city-dwellers or visitors to New York, Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, built on a rooftop along the Hudson River, features a covered, outdoor ice rink that draws skaters young and old. Out on Long Island, the annual 5K run series is held at multiple state parks in the region throughout the winter. For a slightly slower pace, visitors can "meet the locals" with a guided seal walk at Jones Beach and Montauk Point State Parks and learn more about these favorite park residents and their habitat.

So if the long days of winter are making you feel cooped-up, head outside. There is no "off-season" for a number of the state's parks, and every reason to get outside and embrace all types of cold-weather recreation among the wintry landscapes.

More information on the various parks.


Wendy Gibson heads the marketing and promotions unit in the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation office in Albany.


Photo: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation