Pack up the fishing gear, the binoculars and the camera and head for these top-rated family vacation getaways this summer. (June 2006)
How to keep everyone happy on vacation? Finding great fishing close to other types of family fun -- that can be tough! Lucky for those headed to New York, world-class fisheries can be found just minutes from a wide variety of popular family attractions.
Vast tracts of public land are open for boating, hiking and camping. Farmers' markets and flea markets add their unique flavor to the vacation menu. You might find a free children's story hour at the local library, only a short drive from the excitement of riding in a sailplane or watching racecars tear up the track.
Non-anglers in the family may hike behind waterfalls, create their own glass sculptures or learn about the generation of nuclear energy. Or they can explore old forts, lighthouses and railway museums, maybe even check out some of New York's water parks, nature-based recreation programs and forestry exhibits.
With record-breaking fisheries all around, chances are good that vacationing anglers can land truly spectacular specimens of their favorite species, even while providing the family with happy summer-vacation memories that will last a lifetime.
Here's a look at some of the best family fishing, hiking and camping opportunities in New York. Start planning your next family vacation today!
A GREAT LAKE VACATION
When it comes to world-class fishing, it doesn't get much better than Lake Ontario. State-record Atlantic salmon, coho salmon, brown and rainbow trout have all been pulled from this great lake. The lake is also home to many other species, including steelhead and lake trout, Pacific salmon, walleyes, northern pike, black bass and panfish.
Selkirk Shores State Park's campsites overlook a bluff on Lake Ontario and offer excellent swimming and scenic sunsets in addition to fantastic fishing. The park has tent and trailer sites, and cabins. Small boats may be launched from the Pine Grove site, and larger boats from Mexico Point on the Salmon River. A pavilion, picnic tables, a playground and organized recreation programs are available. Hiking-biking trails are plentiful. Selkirk is on a direct migration path of many birds, so nature watchers will have a wide variety of feathered species to enjoy. Call (315) 298-5737 for camping information.
If the attractions of Selkirk aren't enough to keep the family entertained, Sandy Island Beach State Park, Fort Ontario State Historic Site, Southwick Beach State Park, Westcott Beach State Park and Fair Haven Beach State Park are all nearby.
Sandy Island Beach State Park is part of the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Wetland System, a 17-mile stretch from the town of Richmond north along the lake into Jefferson County. The dunes were formed by the winds and waves of a giant inland sea that existed long before Lake Ontario. This is the only significant freshwater dune site in the northeastern United States. Walkovers and viewing platforms have been erected to protect the fragile dune ecosystem, and hikers are welcome.
The park also has a beach, fishing, picnic tables, canoeing, kayaking and recreation programs. Call (315) 387-2657 for more information.
The Fort Ontario State Historic Site has been restored to its 1868-1872 appearance. In the enlisted men's barracks, an orientation exhibit offers families a chance to learn about the history of the fort, see costumed interpreters, and enjoy recreating the lives of the officers, enlisted men and civilians who called star-shaped Fort Ontario home in the late 1860s.
Since 1755, the fort has been rebuilt, re-garrisoned and has changed hands several times. In addition to serving the United States Army, the fort was an emergency refugee center for victims of the Holocaust in the 1940s. Audio-visual programs, brochures, demonstrations, educational services, guided tours, interpretive signs, reenactments and a visitor's center make this a great stop for the history buffs in your family.
Call (315) 343-4711 for more information.
There's plenty more to do in the nearby town of Pulaski. The area has over 20,000 acres of pristine wild land, including the Salmon River Falls, with public trails courtesy of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Birdwatchers will find over 174 species to train their binoculars on, including ospreys and bald eagles. Raptor watching is especially good on Derby Hill.
Visitors with a green thumb will be awed by more than 187 varieties of flowers and trees along the trails.
Shoot the rapids along 20 miles of Salmon River, skim the waves of Lake Ontario on water-skis or scuba dive to explore the great lake's many old shipwrecks.
Anglers may want to take the family to the spawning show at the NYSDEC Fish Hatchery, which is open to the public.
Explore the town to learn who the village of Pulaski is named after, which famous French explorer visited the Salmon River in 1616, or to hear the legend of the "Great Cheese." Visit the photogenic historic lighthouse in Port Ontario, or the Railroad Museum. Learn about the generation of nuclear power at The Energy Centre. Take in some hot racecar action at the Oswego or Fulton speedways.
Each Friday through the summer, a rich assortment of local crafts and locally grown and prepared foods go on display in Pulaski's South Park from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The market even includes live music and talent shows, all for free. The town also has numerous flea markets, including a large indoor multi-vendor market just outside the village.
For a waterfront view, dine at Carnsie's Irish Wigwam. Or enjoy the full menu offerings at the Golden Fish in Port Ontario. For those traveling with the Happy Meal crowd, there is a McDonald's in Pulaski and a Dunkin' Donuts in nearby Oswego.
Just a short drive away from Pulaski are museums, shopping malls, professional baseball games and a nationally recognized zoo in Syracuse.
For more information, log on to www.pulaskinychamber.com or call (315) 298-2213.
THE FABULOUS FINGER LAKES
Seneca Lake spans the boundaries of Ontario, Yates, Seneca and Schuyler counties. At the northern tip of the lake is the city of Geneva, and at the southern tip is the village of Watkins Glen.
Seneca Lake has the most water volume of the eleven Finger Lakes, and lies at their geographic center. The lake spans 43,343 acres, with a maximum depth of about 618 feet. Fish i
nhabit both the depths and shallows of this lake, with lake trout, smallmouth bass and yellow perch being the traditional mainstay species.
Over the decades since the first fisheries survey was conducted in 1927, other species including rainbow and brown trout, landlocked salmon, northern pike and largemouth bass have made a prominent showing.
Seneca's excellent fishery has benefited greatly from annual stocking of lake trout, browns and landlocked salmon. The rainbows here are sustained by natural reproduction, mostly in Catherine Creek and its tributaries.
Seneca Lake State Park lies on routes 5 and 20 and 96A in the city of Geneva. There's parking for 30 cars with trailers and a hard-surface ramp.
The Geneva Chamber of Commerce maintains free launch ramps and temporary docking.
Twelve miles south of Geneva, at Sampson State Park, anglers will find concrete ramps and parking for 64 cars and trailers. Boat access can also be had at Lodi Point State Marine Park, five miles west of the Village of Lodi, and at Severne Point, about eight miles south of Dresden.
Watkins Glen is a great base of operations for Seneca Lake adventure. Boat access is available off Route 414 on the canal portion of Catherine Creek, with hard-surface ramps and parking for 60 cars and trailers.
There's plenty for an active family to do in the Glen. Watkins Glen State Park is at the south end of the village on Route 14. This is the oldest and most famous of the Finger Lakes state parks, with 305 campsites and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The park offers outstanding hiking. Take the 1.5-mile Gorge Trail from the main entrance and hike 520 feet in elevation to the top. Walk beside, above and behind the 19 waterfalls and cascades in the gorge carved into the west side of the valley south of Seneca Lake, and then explore one of two rim trails on your return trip. Or hike Catherine Valley Trail along a former canal that ran from Watkins Glen to Elmira and travel the same trails the Seneca Indian Nation once used.
The Finger Lakes Trail is a footpath stretching 560 miles from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. Forty-eight of those miles pass through Schuyler County's Sugar Hill State Park, the Finger Lakes National Forest, Texas Hollow and the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area. Queen Catherine, a branch trail of this footpath, makes a nine-mile orange-blazed loop starting at the entrance to Watkins Glen State Park.
Golf, sailing, scuba diving, camping, bicycling, horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing are all nearby. New York's only national forest (13,000 acres) is here. Explore Catharine Valley Marsh and Wildlife Area, one of the largest cattail marshes remaining on the east coast, home to many rare species of plants and butterflies.
The Windmill Farm & Craft Market was originally formed as an outlet for local producers and craftsmen. Now in its 20th year, it plays host to more than 200 vendors and craftsmen every Saturday, boasting everything from farm-fresh produce to on-site chiropractic services, so there's bound to be something for everyone.
The 26-acre site houses three main buildings, a street of shops, a produce shed and many picnic tables for family dining. The grounds also offer scenic flower gardens, easy-to-navigate sidewalks and a pond complete with water lilies.
Visit www.thewindmill.com for more information.
The Rockwell Museum of Western Art has one of largest collections of Western American and American Indian art in the eastern U.S. Children's art packs make for family fun, and souvenirs are available at the Trading Post gift shop. Call (607) 937-5386 for details.
The Watkins Glen Public Library on Decatur Street offers preschool story time every Wednesday morning, and offers Internet access and a wide variety of local and national newspapers for mom and dad to enjoy while the storyteller keeps the little ones busy.
For families with older children, a visit to the National Soaring Museum and a sailplane ride might be in order. The museum is working to preserve the history of motorless flight, and has a multitude of displays, computerized flight simulators and educational programs. The 37,132-square-foot museum is on the top of Harris Hill, directly across from the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation's airfield, at an elevation of 1,709 feet.
For families who want to experience soaring first hand, the corporation offers rides for a fee. Contact the flight office at (607) 734-0641. For more Soaring Museum information, visit www.soaringmuseum.org or call (607) 732-6745.
The Corning Museum of Glass (www.cmog.org or 1-800-732-6845) has live glassmaking demonstrations every day and lets visiting families make their own glass creations at their Walk-in Workshops. Kids 17 and under get in for free, so families will have extra cash to shop for glass treasures from around the globe in the Glass Market.
Seneca Harbor station is a train station originally built in 1876, now restored and renovated with a custom-built mahogany bar, 16-foot ceilings and a spiral staircase to give guests a sense of grandeur reminiscent of the station's heyday. Both the dining room and the attached deck offer spectacular views of Seneca Lake.
If that's not good enough for your crew, go exploring aboard the vintage motor vessel Stroller IV, which was christened in 1934. The captain and first mate will take passengers back in time with a historical narration while pointing out the sights.
Families will be captivated by the 165-foot Hector Falls, a look at the local salt industry and the majestic cliffs on the east shore along with American Indian paintings.
To learn about shorefront dining as well as dinner and sightseeing cruises, call (607) 535-4541 or log on to www.senecaharborstation.com.
Or you can take to the waves aboard the Malabar X by visiting www.senecadaysails.comor by calling 607-535-LAKE.
For adventure beneath the waves, check out the S&R Underwater Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Shop at (607) 936-9242.
For more information, go to the Watkins Glen Visitor Center's Web site at www.schuylerny.com, or call 1-800-607-4552.
If you want to catch large northern pike, Great Sacandaga Lake in the southern Adirondacks is a good place to start. The state-record northern pike (46 pounds, 2 ounces) was pulled from this lake, which is also home to walleyes, bass, trout and salmon. Sacandaga Reservoir in Northville is listed as one of the
state's best carp-fishing locations. You may not break the state record -- a 50-pounder -- but it's fun to try.
Sacandaga State Campground is nestled in a stand of white pine and northern hardwood on the shore of the Sacandaga River. In addition to great brook trout and smallmouth bass fishing, the 143-site campground has excellent hiking trails, including the Auger Falls trail about 10 miles to the north and the 133-mile Northville-Lake Placid Trail. The camp has a Junior Naturalist Program for kids.
There is no boat launch on the river, which won't accommodate typical bass boats. There is a boat launch, however, on the back side of Algonquin Lake.
Shopping, restaurants, movie theaters and golf courses are all nearby. Or head to Old Forge for some family fun. Ride the Scenic Railroad, or visit the Enchanted Forest-Water Safari for New York's largest water park experience.
Stop by the Forest Industries Exhibit Hall to see 5,000 useful products made from wood. Call (315) 369-3078 for exhibit information.
Tour the Eagle Mills Cider Company in Broadalbin, a water-powered mill featuring baked goods, a gift shop and children's activities that include gem mining, a dinosaur dig, train rides and a play area. Visit www.eaglemillsfun.com for more information, or call (518) 883-8700.
While in Broadalbin, take a break at the Java Junction Coffee House or stop by the Lakeview Restaurant for a full meal.
For a fun way to cool off, head for the Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George. The park has 125 rides, shows and attractions in addition to Splashwater Kingdom. Or head to Amsterdam and strap on some roller skates at High Rollers Family Fun Center, which also offers batting cages and go-karts. Visit www.highrollersffc.com, or call (518) 843-0783 for more information.
If all that exercise leaves the family famished, stop by Michael's Restaurant for full menu offerings, or head to Nicolino's for some homemade Italian specialties.
Bowling is a great family activity, and Perry Lanes Family Recreation Center in Johnstown can have your family knocking down pins in no time. Visit www.perrylanes.com, or call (518) 762-8616 for details.
For more outdoor fun, visit the nature trails at Wilderness, Inc. Call (518) 835-6335 for details.
For a homemade breakfast or lunch, stop by the Railside Café on Perry Street. Or try Pete's Ice Cream on Main Street for a mid-afternoon scoop. When it's time for dinner, Gloria's Restaurant on North Perry Street offers casual Italian dining.