Wild Water: Beaches, Spraygrounds, and Other Water Fun in Rochester, NY
Tops on our list of things to do this summer is a day of sun and sand on the Great Lake Ontario. Meaning "beautiful lake" in Iroquois, Lake Ontario has 712 miles of shoreline and is the fourth largest lake in the world. Four area swimming beaches have facilities that are particularly family-friendly. From east to west: Fairhaven Beach, Sodus Point, Ontario Beach Park, and Hamlin Beach are among our favorite day trip destinations.
Fairhaven Beach State Park
Fair Haven, NY 13064
Our pick for best undiscovered beach, Fairhaven State Park is located on the Seaway Trail, halfway between Rochester and Syracuse. Towering bluffs and sandy beaches make for a picturesque natural escape. Rent a canoe or paddleboat or spend the day swimming. On the way out of town, stop by the Fly by Night Cookie Company for a sweet snack.
Sodus Point Beach Park
7985 Wickham Blvd
Sodus Point, NY 14555
With sweeping views of Sodus Bay, this supervised swimming beach is nicely contained – just the right size for a visit with young children. A playground, as well as a bathhouse, restrooms, and a snack bar add convenience and help make for a pleasant day. While in Sodus Point, be sure to stop by the Lighthouse Museum. Sodus Point hosts offers some great family activities during the summer: The Lighthouse Concert series is a series of outdoor performances held on the museum grounds on Sunday afternoons.
Ontario Beach Park
(formerly Charlotte Beach)
4800 Lake Avenue
Rochester, NY 14613
Park staff assistance: 585-330-3782 or 585-865-2831. Water conditions: 585 753-5887
Information and reservations: 256-4950 x320
A grand playground as well as the historic Denzel carousel are highlights of this park, which also boasts a swimming beach. Expansive pavilions, available at a very reasonable price, make this a great group spot for group events as well. Water quality varies during the season, so be sure to call ahead to see if the beach is open. On Wednesday evenings from June –September, the park is the site of the family-friendly Concerts by the Shore series. A journey to Charlotte beach wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Abbott’s, located across the street, for a frozen custard treat. For their concerts by the shore information, call 585-865-3320.
Hamlin Beach State Park
1 Camp Road
Hamlin, NY 14464
With clear water, sandy beaches, a playground, and plenty of picnic areas, Hamlin Beach State Park makes for a great daytrip. But it’s also a popular camping spot. The park has 264 campsites (tent and trailer), an environmental education center, and 10 miles of biking and hiking trails.
Spraygrounds and Splash Pads
Seneca Lake Sprayground is the most famous one in our area. Located at the top of Seneca Lake in Geneva, NY, about 50 minutes southeast of Rochester along Routes 5 & 20, there is both a sprayground and a beach area. The sprayground is open from 11-6 in the summer. Click herefor more information and photos.
The Town of Greece has a Wild Over Water Zone Splash Park that opened in 2015. It is free for Greece residents (must show ID), and just $5 for out-of-town residents. It's open Memorial Day to Labor Day 10am-7pm.
The Town of Chili opened a sprayground at Union Station Park in 2016. It is free to all, but groups of 10 or more must contact the Chili Recreation Department and submit a Sprayground Group Use Form. Hours are 10am-7pm Memorial Day through Labor Day.
More splash pads: KOAA reader Zak Burke created a terrific map that shows the locations of the spraygrounds and splash pads in the greater Rochester, NY area, although it doesn't include the new parks listed above. Thank you so much for sending us the link, Zak!
Western New York is of course reknowned as the home of Niagara Falls, and most of us residents visit The Falls at least once or twice to get "the experience." But there are many other waterfalls close to home that, while not quite as overwhelming, are nonetheless awe-inspiring. And much less, er, touristy.
The most prominent among these are the three sets of waterfalls at Letchworth State Park in Mount Morris, which is about 45 minutes south of Rochester; a nice photo of the Middle Falls from the LetchworthStatePark.com, is pictured to the left. The 2008 Letchworth Vacation Guide can be downloaded in PDF format at http://www.tttraveler.com/pdf/sp08web.pdf.
About 17 miles to the south of Mount Morris, in Dansville, is Stony Brook State Park. The Ross family had heard about this park but had not visited until a few years ago; what a find! The spectacular waterfall system culminates in two wonderful spring-fed swimming pools, with a nice nearby bathhouse. Make sure you visit their web site for more photos and interesting information about the park. Great playground, too!
Racing fans who have traveled east to the Watkins Glen International are likely to be familiar with the spectacular gorge and waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park, but it's worth the 85-mile trip just for the chance to walk behind (yes, behind) the waterfall. It's an experience right out of Last of the Mohicans. Make sure that for both the Stony Brook and Watkins Glen trips you leave the strollers in the car; you'll find yourself awkwardly carrying them up and down what seems like miles of slippery steps.
The fact is, our area has too many beautiful waterfalls to detail all of them here. Fortunately, our aforementioned friends at Footprint Press have done it all for us in their book 200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York. For waterfall hunters who are determined to experience some little-known treasures of Western New York, it's a must-have resource. The Freemans even detail the exact time and effort it takes to reach each waterfall.
Remember, too, that we ingenious humans have found many ways to manufacture our own "wild water" experiences, which, though vastly different from the ones Nature supplies, are in many ways as invigorating. Roseland Water Park in Canandaigua on Routes 5 & 20 has attractions such as the "Mammoth Raft Ride" and the "Twister" (ever surf on a tornado?) that get the heart racing. Seabreeze, voted # 7 on our 2012 Top 20 list, has a water park with a wave pool, body slides, and inner tube slides. And, of course, Darien Lake, located a bit south of the New York State Thruway between Rochester and Buffalo, also has a wave pool, as well as such rides as the Raging Seas and Grizzly Run.
ON the Water, not IN the Water
Want to get even more up close and personal? Take a ride on the Colonial Belle, which leaves from Packett's Landing in the middle of Fairport three times daily Tuesday-Saturday, at 12pm (2-hour cruise), 2:30 (3-hour cruise) and 6:30 (3-hour cruise). It departs twice on Sunday, at 12 noon for a "1½-hour Special" (a good introduction to the Canal at a low price), and at 3pm for a 3-hour cruise. Reservations are recommended, and boarding is 15 minutes before departure. Call 585-223-9470 for more information.
Another way to get to know our famous waterway is the Sam Patch packet boat. The crew on the packet boat Sam Patch (sails from Schoen Place in Pittsford), and its companion wooden vessel Mary Jemison (sails from Corn Hill Landing), offer fun, relaxing, and educational tours of the Canal's history and ecology. The Sam Patch leaves from Pittsford at Schoen Place, with such a frequent departure schedule that we can't list all of the times here; click here to see the schedule and the rates. Reservations are strongly recommended for all daily cruises and are required for all meal cruises. You also can call 585-262-5661 for more information or to schedule a day or evening cruise. Corn Hill Navigation runs the web site. It has some neat details about their educational programs.
On Your Own Steam
Does a regular boat not get you close enough to cool you off? How about a ride in a canoe or kayak! Genesee Waterways Center is located right on the Genesee River across from the University of Rochester's Genesee Valley Park, just north of where the Canal crosses the River. The Center offers rentals for all levels of experience, plus classes and camps to get you and your kids started. Call 585-328-3960 for reservations.
Or, check out BayCreek Paddling Center, off Empire Blvd at the lower end of Irondequoit Bay. They even have a shuttle service to Ellison Park, so you can paddle down, and ride back up. Their web site has lots of information and plans for groups and families.
Oak Orchard Canoe and Kayak, also off Empire Blvd in Irondequoit Bay, provides canoe and kayak rentals as well as sales.