I wasn’t really certain what to expect when we drove through Upstate New York, but in a lot of ways it reminded me of where I grew up in northern Minnesota, with similar plant life, lots of lakes, and lots of mosquitos. 😝 In Minnesota, I got to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, one of the five great lakes. Similarly in New York, now I had the opportunity to see both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, two of the other Great Lakes.
Considered part of the Rust Belt due to the decline in its manufacturing industry, Upstate New York has a lot of rural land filled with forests, lakes, and mountains, most notably the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, all which contribute to the state’s tourism industry. Beyond tourism, agriculture is another strong industry in the area, including vineyards, which we saw quite a few of near the Finger Lakes.
Moreau State Park
Our first stop was Moreau State Park, just south of the Hudson River and just north of Albany, the state capitol of New York. We came in on a rather rainy, dreary day, but still managed to get out for a few hikes on our free day during the two nights we were there. Upon arrival, we were a little concerned whether we would fit with so many trees close to the road as we drove around our camp loop, but thankfully we had a very spacious and level site, so setup took hardly any time at all. Our site was C55. While we were there, the spongy (aka gypsy) moths were EVERYWHERE, but other than a minor annoyance they are harmless.
Across Moreau Lake is a large picnic and children’s play area, which we saw as we hiked around the smaller portion of Moreau Lake, and then continued around Mud Pond before circling back using this GPS trail guide. We saw a deer and a great blue heron during our walk, and enjoyed the solitude. I then opted to do one more hike to Moreau Lake Overlook using this route, which starts near the park entrance. It is fairly steep toward the top of the climb and there are a few rocky sections, but the views at the top are a nice reward.
Our stay here was just two nights, but we made the most of it and recommend this campground for dry camping (no hook ups). They did have a dump station between Loops C and D along the main camp road, which were fully functional. And I did check out their bathrooms and shower facilities, which seemed spacious and clean, though the showers are push button, which are a bit of a pain. For a state campground, I recommend this place.
Selkirk Shores State Park
Next up, we drove across Upstate New York to Selkirk Shore State Park, which sits alongside Lake Ontario, about 45 minutes north of Syracuse. There are four camping loops, two restroom and shower buildings, 30 cabins for rent, two boat launches, a swimming area, picnic areas, playgrounds and several trails.
I wandered the trails on several occasions, and only saw two other people, because the mosquitos are vicious here; however, if you have proper attire and bug spray, it is a place you can find some quietude and explore the flora and fauna of the area. I used the shower facilities, which were ok. They weren’t the cleanest, but there was plenty of hot water. We camped in Loop A, and found this to be one of the more raucous campgrounds of our travels, but folks did abide by the quiet hours.
On one night a friends of ours we met while living in Portland, Oregon visited with us. Alison grew up nearby, and happened to be staying with her folks while we were camping here, so we got together for a meal and a campfire, catching up on each other’s adventures. We also got to hang with her sweet dog Okie and watch fireflies twinkling in the dark night sky. All in all, it was a decent stay and fun times were had. If you want a quieter experience, I recommend the nearby cabins for rent.
Though not right next door, we were about 1 1/2-2 hours from the Finger Lakes, which are 11 long, narrow lakes in the Uplands. First, we went to Skaneateles (pronounced “skinny-atlas”), which has a small lakeside community on the north end of the lake. There is a centralized parking lot, so we took advantage of this and walked over to GOOD eats and sips for a couple of healthy lunch bowls. They also offer bagels, coffee, tea, smoothies and other drinks. Afterward, we took a walk along the lakeshore, peeking into a few shops here and there before driving back.
On another occasion we drove to Watkins Glen State Park on the south side of Seneca Lake, one of the largest of the Finger Lakes. Along the drive we saw several vineyards and a few breweries on the west side of the lake, and had beautiful views of the farmland across the way on the east side as well which made for a scenic journey. However, we should have done our due diligence, because it was 10 degrees hotter at Watkins Glen than our campground. 🥵
We tried to stay in the shade and enjoy the waterfalls wherever possible. There are 19 waterfalls in all, and there is a lot of infrastructure built alongside Glen Creek, with stairs seemingly everywhere giving you several routes to choose from. On the south side of the creek is a campground as well, but we didn’t see it during our visit. We liked the beautiful landscape carved into the ravine blanketed in dabbled sunlight, and I found it to be fairly relaxing despite being a bit crowded at times.
On our way back to our camp site, we stopped at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse, a popular BBQ restaurant chain in New York. Though it was really busy, we managed to get a booth in about 15-20 minutes and get a couple of refreshing brews to cool off from the heat of the day. This place has an extensive menu, and everything we tried was awesome. 👍 We had fried green tomatoes as a starter, Matt had brisket and pork with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and cornbread on the side, and I had their Dirty South bowl, which had a little bit of everything in it. Thanks again Beth and Roy for the recommendation! 😍
A friendly visit & Fort Ontario
Part of the impetus for camping here was visiting one of Matt’s friends, a former colleague from Salesforce who grew up in Oswego. Jake returned to the area earlier this year, and was happy to give us a tour of his hometown and take us to Fort Ontario where he used to work as a teenager. This star-shaped fort was built by the British, where it was meant to defend the east side of Lake Ontario from the French during the French and Indian War. It was occupied through World War II and today is open to the public. In addition to a demonstration of what it took to fire a musket, there were several artifacts in one of the barracks, underground casemates, and officer’s quarters to explore.
We had fun relaxing in Jake’s backyard, meeting his family, playing with his son, and sharing dinner together on another hot, summer day in July. Matt and Jake talked shop, we learned what it was like to grow up in Oswego, and took a walk through the neighborhood before saying our goodbyes and getting ready to move onward to our final New York destination.
Westfield/Lake Erie KOA
We only spent two nights here, but found this KOA to be tidy, the staff welcoming, and the amenities aplenty. The bathroom and shower facilities were very clean, there is a creek and fishing pond access next to vineyards, an on-site food cart, a pool and a playground. Though it was right off of the freeway, the road noise wasn’t that bad, and right across the street is Ottaway Park, where you can watch the sunset over Lake Erie. I went over here a few times to work out underneath their park pavilion, and saw several joggers and dog walkers out for their morning exercise. If you’re looking for a nice place to stay southwest of Rochester, I recommend this KOA.
One of the reasons we decided to stay near Lake Erie was to visit Niagara Falls, the famed waterfalls along the US and Canadian border. And, we FINALLY had an opportunity to go to Canada. 😂 We had been thwarted early on in our travels when we attempted to cross into Canada from Montana because we couldn’t get a COVID test to meet their requirements within a 500 mile radius of us. Thankfully, the border crossing requirements have eased somewhat.
You will need to register with ArriveCAN, and must also be prepared to enter a bunch of information. Once you create your account, you will need the following handy:
- Vaccination cards (have pictures ready to upload)
- Dates of travel
- Border crossing location, date and approximate time
- Reason for travel
- Address(es) of your destination(s)
- Your contact information
If you are not vaccinated, you will need a negative molecular COVID test result within 72 hours of your border crossing in hand, and it is no longer free. In the US, we found the cost was around $130 per person. 😮 It was not fully clear to me whether you have the same requirement traveling back to the US, but COVID tests can be upwards of $300 in Canada, so do your research beforehand. As a fail safe, we knew we could just stay on the US side and still visit Niagara Falls, but we knew the views of the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of all the waterfalls, were better on the Canadian side. Thankfully, our border crossing was uneventful.
After grabbing a quick lunch, we parked near the falls and walked along the waterfront, watching large boats of poncho-clad tourists prepare to get drenched as they headed into Horseshoe Falls. It was definitely crowded with tourists, but thankfully the waterfront walkways are really wide. Across the way you can see the American Falls, with tourists on walkways also covered in ponchos, trying to get as close to the spray coming off of the falls as possible.
Overall, we covered about 4 miles round-trip, stopping for a quick refreshment at the Table Rock Patio as we observed a couple in wedding garb getting photographed below. Though we could have gotten some park passes to do more activities, we were only there for the day, and were already overwhelmed enough by the level of tourists. However, if you have family and are looking for things to do, these combination passes give you a sense of what your options are.
It was another really hot day, so we were pretty tired and had a long drive back. Albeit a brief stay, it was fun to see the falls, feel the mist tickle our skin as the wind gusts pushed the spray from Horeshoe Falls our way, and sit in awe of the sheer power of this incredible body of water. However, we were also back on the road the next day as we left New York and traveled to Ohio and needed to ready ourselves from another long travel day. Au revoir Canada and New York! We will come visit again someday. 👏