New York’s state parks are home to some of the best lakes the state has to offer — including Grafton, Moreau and Thompson’s.
Grafton Lakes, located in Rensselaer County, actually consists of multiple ponds — Shaver, Long, Mill and Second. Nestled between the Hudson and Taconic valleys, these “lakes” are surrounded by more than 2,500 acres of land that includes 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to all kinds of boats, including canoes, kayaks, sailboats and rowboats. Boats with engines are also allowed.
The park where the “lakes” are found offers visitors biking and nature trails, and it isn’t uncommon to see someone riding a horse along these trails. If you want to spend the day, there is a sandy beach and swimming area, as well as several pavilions that can be rented out in season.
Picnickers can choose one of the many tables and can bring their dog, too — a maximum of two pets is allowed in many day-use areas.
Before you take in the clear waters of Long Pond, where the sandy beach is located, you can hike up the Fire Tower Trail to view the recently restored Dickinson Hill Fire Tower. Climbing its 80 steps provides views of Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains, Vermont’s Green Mountains and the Adirondacks.
Alane Ball Chinian, regional director for Saratoga and the Capital Region for New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said Grafton offers a new nature playground that is adjacent to the beach parking lot.
“It is made out of natural materials that kids can build in and crawl in,” Ball Chinian added. “There is a miniature fire tower they can climb, an eagle’s nest and a pollinator garden.”
Grafton Lakes State Park is also home to a bird conservation area, boasting more than 30 acres of wetlands, which makes it perfect for bird lovers to spot not only birds such as the Great Blue Heron and the Eastern bluebird, but also raptors such as the Cooper’s hawk and the Red-Shouldered hawk. The Grafton visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Tuesday. The building is staffed to provide park orientation and interpretation throughout the day.
For information about Grafton Lakes, visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/graftonlakes/maps.aspx.
Another Capital Region gem is Moreau Lake State Park, home to Moreau Lake.
Moreau Lake lies amid hardwood forests, pine stands and rocky ridges. Shady groves of trees shelter picnic grounds and a pavilion overlooking the lake.
Wooded campgrounds are quiet and secluded, offering facilities for group campers, as well as tent and trailer sites.
Three pavilions can accommodate up to 75 people each, and can be reserved on a daily basis.
The sandy beach, nature, hiking and cross-country ski trails, opportunities for boating, fishing and ice fishing, and proximity to the Saratoga Springs and Lake George areas make the park attractive to visitors.
In the summer, beach lounges, beach umbrellas and fishing gear can be rented.
“We are so fortunate to have natural attractions like Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County. People come to enjoy and explore the beautiful lake, trails and beach at Moreau, and then ultimately visit other Saratoga County towns, villages and cities for shopping, food and lodging,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “The state park is such an asset to our community. Being located near Saratoga Springs and Lake George, and its proximity to I-87, also helps to attract visitors.”
In addition, Moreau hosts a nature center right on the beach that features live animals and interpretation from naturalists, as well as nature programming. Starting Saturday, the nature center will open on weekends, and on June 14 will be open six days a week (excluding Tuesday). Hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The nature center will be open at whatever capacity is allowed as the season progresses. On Tuesdays, the center will be offering public hikes and taking care of the animals. Be sure to check out the website below for additional specifics.
New for 2021, Moreau Lake State Park is offering seven accessible campsites intended for use by persons with disabilities. At least one member of a camping party must be in need of the accommodation.
The sites will support power equipment for those with a legitimate medical need, and documentation from a physician is required. You can contact the park manager for information at 518-793-0511.
“It is a beautiful place to go where you have plenty to do,” said Ball Chinian. “You can have a picnic or go swimming. The lake is surrounded by protected land and you can hike to some views that are just spectacular.”
For more about Moreau Lake State park, visit: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/moreaulake/maps.aspx.
Thompson’s Lake in Albany County sits inside John Boyd Thacher State Park.
Thompson’s Lake Campground, nestled in the mountains just four miles from the Helderberg Escarpment, is a popular camping ground and recreation area.
Conveniently located within Thacher State Park, this campground offers 140 wooded campsites and is composed of a sandy beach, mixed hardwood and conifer forests, limestone outcroppings and open fields.
Recreational opportunities include a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, a playing field, swing sets, carry-in boat access, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, fishing areas and nature trails. Interpretive and recreational programs are offered for campers throughout the summer. (During the winter, visitors can cross-country ski and ice fish.)
The Emma Treadwell Thacher Center is located on Thompson’s Lake next to the campground and is accessible to campers.
The center opened in July 2001, and offers exhibits, interactive displays, trails for hiking and skiing, and educational programs. Be sure to check the Thompson’s Lake website for specifics on operating hours and opening for the summer. A boat launch site also is available and is carry-in only.
To learn more about Thompson’s Lake, visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/99/details.aspx.
Name of lake: “Grafton Lakes” actually consists of multiple scenic ponds: Shaver Pond, Long Pond, Mill Pond and Second Pond.
Significance/origin of Name: Located in the town of Grafton, hamlet of Grafton
Location: Rensselaer County
Size: Grafton Lakes State Park covers 2,545 acres. Long Pond, the largest, is 33 feet deep at its maximum depth.
Claim to fame: Nearby in Petersburgh, the Grafton Peace Pagoda is one of two peace pagodas in the United States, and 80 worldwide.
Where to swim: Long Pond beach
Where to launch: Long Pond in the State Park offers a boat launch.
Fisherman’s Paradise: Long Pond is stocked in the spring with approximately 900 brown and 900 rainbow trout. It is also home to largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, bluegill, pumpkinseed, rock bass, yellow perch and brown bullhead fish. Both warm- and cold-water fishing takes place at Long Pond.
Lakeside Dining Spot: Because of the rural location, Grafton Lakes does not offer lakeside dining offerings nearby. However, seven miles down the road is Man of Kent Tavern & Cafe. Located in Hoosick Falls, MOK offers a British pub-like eating experience, with excellent beer selections, delicious fish and chips, and outdoor dining option. You could also pack a picnic basket and eat beachside in the park.
Location: Saratoga and Warren counties
Size: 32 feet in depth, 2.9 miles in length, according to NYS DEC
Little-Known Fact: The area around Moreau Lake was originally a summer home and estate developed by George W. McAdam, a wealthy attorney. From 1935 to 1940, the area began to develop as a seasonal campground.
Where to Swim: Moreau Lake State Park features a sandy swimming beach.
Where to Launch: The park offers a boat launch. No motors are permitted, and there is parking for 10 cars and trailers.
Fishing opportunities: Moreau has excellent fishing for both largemouth bass and rainbow trout. On the northern end of the lake, it becomes relatively shallow and weedy, which provides for good largemouth and pickerel habitat. Ice fishing is also allowed.
Lakeside Dining Spot: Due to its rural character, there are few lakeside restaurants around Moreau Lake. However, about six miles up the road in Gansevoort, Chez Pierre is a French restaurant that offers delicious European cuisine in a cozy, old-world atmosphere. For those who want a more casual experience, there is a concession stand by the beach.
Location: Within John Boyd Thacher State Park, East Berne, Albany County
Size: 60 feet deep, 2.5 miles long
Little-Known Fact: The state park in which the lake resides was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Where to Swim: The campground within John Boyd Thacher State Park offers a sandy beach and swimming. You should check the Thompson’s Lake web page for beach capacity, as the beach accommodates campers first.
Where to Launch: You can launch your boat at the state Department of Environmental Conservation boat launch, which is south of Thompson’s Lake State Park off NY Route 157, north of NY Route 157A and Beaver Dam Road. There is a day-use fee during the summer season.
Lakeside Dining Spot: Maple on the Lake, which is actually on nearby Warner’s Lake, offers beautiful views on its patio, and both American and German food.