The Good: Scenery, Cabins, Nice trails, Clean beaches, (rumored) Good fishing
The Bad: Expensive, Lack of bedding options in cabins, Campsites are close to one another, Filthy bathrooms
The Basics: A nice state park with a great beach is compromised by expensive cabins and pretty filthy bathrooms.
For those who know me, it might come as something of a surprise that I have been developing a spontaneous side. Yes, while most of my reviews indicate a mind clearly devoted to researching the hell out of every item and activity, I have taken it upon myself to open up to life's rich pageant and be spontaneous. So, when a friend and I were looking for a place to escape together for a night back in August, we decided we would simply drive around until we found a place. I think she was just eager not to spend another night at home and didn't want to end up in a hotel.
We did end up finding a place to spend the night and that place was Fair Haven Beach State Park. After four hours of driving around - pretty pathetic considering that the Park is about forty-five minutes from our house! - we drove by the sign for the state park neither of us had ever been to and we decided to stop in. It was that spontaneous, random chance that spurred us to a night in a nice - if not mind-blowing - State Park.
Fair Haven Beach State Park is located in the Finger Lakes Region of the New York State State Park System. This state park is located two miles north of Fair Haven, New York on Lake Ontario. If that's of absolutely no help, it's not a surprise; Fair Haven is pretty much the middle of nowhere in the north of the thruway realm between Rochester and Syracuse. It is directly accessible from Route 104A and getting directions from MapQuest (which I did later on for this review) provides reliable results when one uses the address of: 14985 State Park Rd. Fair Haven, NY as the destination.
The nearest place to shop - this becomes relevant later - is Oswego, which is approximately fifteen miles northeast of Fair Haven Beach State Park. Traveling spontaneously for trips renewed my joy over driving a hybrid car.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
Fair Haven Beach State Park is remarkably easy to get around. When one checks in at the ranger's station at the park entrance (about a mile into the park), they have ample maps and the staff was quite helpful in pointing out where everything was. Indeed, when my friend and I went, we were allowed to enter the park on a five-minute pass to inspect the cabin we'd be staying at before committing to stay there for the night.
The roads throughout the park are well-maintained, clearly marked and easy to navigate around. We passed at least two parking areas near the beaches before we arrived at the cabins. Every cabin that we saw had parking room enough for four cars (at least), that's how far they were set back from the main roads. Getting around and parking within the State Park was not a problem at all.
The roads around the park were fine as well, though there are some hills in the area that I suspect are bad in the winter.
The reason I tend to plan ahead on virtually everything is because the unforeseen usually becomes expensive. My friend and I lucked out as someone had just canceled a night of their cabin rental and thus we were able to squeeze into a cabin for a night. Usually, the cabins at Fair Haven Beach State Park - and throughout the New York State Park system - have a two night minimum stay during peak stay periods. We were able to squeeze into an eight bed cabin for a night at the shocking rate of $90.00 plus park entrance fee ($7.00) for the night. There is no discount given to people arriving after 6 P.M. and doing them the favor of taking their last available cabin.
But what we got for our $97.00 was pretty impressive. The cabin had eight beds, which I am liberally describing as beds, in two rooms. Entering the cabin puts a visitor in the main room with a decent sized dining room table, fireplace (propane, heats the place up night for a chilly summer night!), refrigerator and stove. There was no microwave, but there was the gas range stove with oven. Turning either left or right from the main room put a visitor in one of the two bedrooms. The bedrooms had four separate beds - again, they are little more than cots featuring plastic-coated sleeping mattresses (full size). In other words, thoughts of a romantic getaway pretty much die at the bed. Yes, these are close quarters for anyone looking to sleep together.
Add to that, as a state park, there are (obviously, apparently) no linens or pillows. That meant that Spontaneous Trip Night became a trip back to Oswego for a stop and Bed, Bath and Beyond for sheets, pillows and food. Obviously, this is not a hotel, so one needs to bring their own food. They also need to buy their own firewood if they intend to make, say, s'mores over an open fire at night. Mmmm . . . s'mores.
There were curtains on the windows and the locks on the cabins worked well. That was nice because the cabin was a bit close (approximately fifty feet away) from our nearest neighbor and he was a creepy guy sitting out in a lawn chair watching us at 11 P.M. Sigh . . .
When the cabin was filled with food, bedding and pillows, it spruced right up. Fortunately, it was clean when we arrived.
What was not clean were the bathrooms. Sure, it's a public campground and a beach, but the bathrooms were freakshow unclean between the . . . umm, habits (?) of other users and the sheer number of bugs. Very hard to feel clean in any of the two bathrooms we checked out nearest our cabin. There were more bathrooms, some even closer, but they were locked at dusk (thank you for that!).
In addition to cabin camping, there were campsites for tents; there seemed to be plenty, but we didn't even wander over near them.
Whenever one is thinking of traveling to a state park, there is usually a reason, something one hopes to see or do. Fair Haven Beach State Park is a wonderful escape from the compulsion to do anything. There were no less than three different bodies of water including Lake Ontario, a stream, and a lake or pond our cabin was on (great view of cattails and frogs!). There are two beaches for swimming in Lake Ontario and the truth is they were two of the cleanest beaches I've yet seen. The water was clean and the sandy beach was kept remarkably clear of debris.
The State Park offered options like canoe rentals and equipment for that, though we opted not to go boating. Instead, we wandered the trails through the nearby woods. It's quite scenic and watching the sun set over Lake Ontario was beautiful. The trails gave us a good workout and checking out the local flora and fauna was nice. There were quite a few bugs at night, but they were not bad in the morning when we went for another walk before checking out.
The stream seemed especially popular for fishing and people seemed to be catching quite a few fish. We tended to avoid the fishing, though we did go out on one of the abandoned stone piers (we probably weren't supposed to given its condition, but it was pretty cool) and generally explored the area.
And there was the firepit outside our cabin where we made s'mores.
This State Park is ideal for people trying to get away from a routine and who want to simply kick back and enjoy time together. There are activities if one wants them and if one is just looking to go for long walks in nature, it's incredible for that. But, it's definitely an outdoorsy location with the intent being to enjoy nature. Those who like plush accommodations will not find them here.
In the winter (some of the cabins are winterized), ice fishing and skiing through the park are allowed and it seems like it would be a great location for both. It's remote enough that the trails must be beautiful after first snow!
Well, it's nearby for people in Upstate New York and it was generally a satisfactory trip, though it was a bit pricey and thinking about the bathrooms still makes me shudder. That said, I'm likely to return again to wander about and explore the trails, even if we don't stay in a cabin again. If you're coming in from out of town, it's a wonderful location, though knowing the limitations in advance (like the lack of beds one - or rather two - might share) will allow you to better plan ahead. This would be a steal for a family looking to camp together; with eight beds for $90 and all the potential things to do out in nature or at the beach, that might make it worth it. But for couples, I'd say spoil yourself somewhere else or visit and plan to spend the night elsewhere unless you truly enjoy mild "roughing it."
For other state park reviews, please be sure to visit my takes on:
Verona Beach State Park
For other travel reviews, please visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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