Searching for snow? Head to New York

tree with ice Interior 3

Cape Vincent

York County’s winter weather has been something less than exciting this season.  Meteorologists have measured only five inches of snow.

And that’s five inches TOTAL. It’s somewhat frustrating to those of us who enjoy skiing, ice fishing, sledding, skating.

Searching for snow? Always a good spot to check is western New York state, along Lake Ontario. Lake effect snow is a strange phenomenon that can dump two feet or more on one neighborhood, but only dust a town a few miles away.


Selkirk Shores State Park

To get there, travelers from York can take Interstate 81 from Harrisburg for about 320 miles right into the teeth of Lake Effect Snow (LES), through Syracuse and toward Watertown.

LES becomes a winter blizzard when winds from the west pick up moisture from an unfrozen lake (in this case Lake Ontario), and then dumps that moisture as snow when winds hit land. Watertown averages about 112 inches of snow annually, and this past weekend– mostly late in the weekend–  picked up two feet in places.

Normally, it’s a beautiful drive this time of year, with a coating of white on everything. Unfortunately, last weekend there was no snow until crossing the New York state line, and that was slight.

Snow amounts gradually increased farther north, and not until nearing Oswego and LES did the snow amount to more than a few inches on the ground.

falls from above

Salmon River Falls

Near Pulaski, exit I-81 and hop onto state route 3, a lightly traveled and pretty road along the Lake Ontario shore. Seven state parks are scattered along the road for the next 60 miles north, almost to Canada. Most were deserted last Saturday, and some park roads weren’t plowed. Fortunately, the blizzard hadn’t hit yet, so making new snow trails in a few inches of snow wasn’t a problem.

The Selkirk Lighthouse,  built in 1838, is just north of Selkirk Shores State Park along the Salmon River. The Salmon River Falls Unique Area is 17 miles to the east and features a nearly frozen 110-foot falls this time of year.

Further north, visit Sandy Island Beach State Park, Southwick Beach State Park, Robert G. Wehl State Park, Wescott Beach State Park, Long Beach State Park, and Burnham Point State Park.

Sackets Harbor is a comfortable little town that explodes with tourists and boaters in the summer but is quiet in winter. A few ice fishermen grumbled this weekend was the first time they felt comfortable on the ice for a long time. Most restaurants were shuttered for the season.

Sackets Harbor was the site of two battles during the War of 1812 because of its importance in building warships. A visitor center explains the history.

Continue north to Cape Vincent and the picturesque Tibbetts Point Lighthouse. The light was built in 1854 and stands 69 feet above Lake Ontario.

tibbets point lighthouse

Tibbets Point Lighthouse

Cape Vincent is a village of about 2,000 but is another quiet tourist town in winter. Along the lakeshore, wind makes ice sculptures on the trees and bushes. Most of the houses along this shore road leading to the lighthouse are summer homes, empty in winter. Wind and single-digit temperatures on the lake freeze any exposed skin.

Saturday, The Weather Channel was warning about a winter ‘pipeline’ blizzard — a narrow band of snow –coming through the Watertown area soon.

Knowing that, it was time to head south and a return to an early Spring.




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