Last summer, we took a trip to Verona Beach State Park. Verona Beach was named one of the Top 100 campgrounds in the nation, and we understand why. We had a great time!
Verona Beach is on the eastern edge of Oneida Lake, New York State’s largest inland lake. This lake is known for its tempestuous behavior. I grew up in a small town on the western rim, and we learned at an early age to respect the water.
Our travel started off a little shaky: heavy rain and claps of thunder. We arrived at the park just as the rain was dissipating– 9am. Admission was $7 for our van, but it was an all-day pass, so we could leave the park to forage for lunch and return later. I liked that.
I do love Oneida Lake. Always have. It just seems so personable and likable, and so full of surprises. When we arrived early on the empty beach, the water was sloshing back and forth gently toward our feet. The sand squished between our toes, and over our heads the swooping seagulls screeched. Big blue clouds rose up from the lake and bunched together like wads of cotton balls. It was idyllic. We walked up and down the shore (well, I walked, the kids ran) and picked our way over chunks of slate blue stones and foamy pools of seaweed and water. A few small speedboats whizzed out across the lake, and we even saw a sailboat scoot by.
But in a moments notice, a strong west wind picked up. The locust trees were the first to notice, because their poor little branches immediately started to quiver. Then the seagulls were affected. They would be in mid-flight, but then they suddenly stopped, mid-air, against some invisible force holding them back and up. It still makes me chuckle to remember how silly they looked, frozen in the sky in mid-swoop. They frantically flapped to no avail against stronger invisible forces. In the photo below, you can see the waves starting to pick up.
Then it hit us. The wind roared in our ears and did not stop for the rest of the day. I watched as the speedboat– stuffed with six people and fishing poles– suddenly lost its speed. It still tried to zip by, but it was no match for the roiling lake. The waves were suddenly huge– two and three feet high– and the boat was undulating like a cork in a swirling tub. I was actually in the verge of calling 911, because the boat driver spun his craft around and the waves hit it broadside, causing the boat to tip back and forth sideways. It looked like they were going to capsize. Thankfully, the boater gained control again, and lost no time in getting to the dock. We did not see any boats again for the rest of the day.
I found out later that a boat did capsize in that very same area, a week later during bad weather. A sailboat with two boaters was tossed over by the strong waves. The boaters waited in the water for half an hour before they were rescued. Thank God they were OK.
Above is a photo of a tide pool. Look beyond, to the lake, to see the churning crests from the waves
Swimming and wading were forbidden until 11am when the lifeguards arrived. The water activities at the lake are monitored closely, which I appreciated. We puttered around. The kids found a sand mountain, piled up by a bulldozer parked nearby. Hoh boy, what fun they had!
I walked up and down the shoreline, taking in the beauty of the lake and the freshness of the air.
We explored the area for about an hour and a half. There are many fun little playgrounds. The camping sites looked clean (but busy) and there were innumerable picnic tables and pavilions. As noon approached, tummies started to grumble. We decided to leave the park and look for a local McDonald’s. We don’t go to McDonald’s that often at all, so this was a real treat for the kids.
I drove north up to Sylvan Beach. Didn’t find a McD’s. I didn’t look terribly hard, staying on the main drag, but I was surprised to find nothing but “seaside” restaurants. I just kept driving. Good heavens, we drove to the other side of the lake– through Cleveland, Bernhard’s Bay, Constantia, West Monroe, and finally, Brewerton! Oh well, we mused– we knew there was a McD’s there (I lived in Brewerton as a kid), and maybe we could check out the Fort and the Barge Canal.
Fort Brewerton was closed. Padlocked. I called the telephone number on the sign, and got a recording that they were now only open two days a week, four hours those days. Aw! I so enjoyed the fort that I’d wanted the kids to see it, too.
Well, we ventured toward the Barge Canal. It is a favorite spot for fishermen (and fisherwomen and fisherkids) and folks on lunch break. It was busy. We explored the banks, and I snapped photos of the Rt. 11 bridge and the railroad bridge. I told my kids of how every year or so, we schoolkids were notified of another tragic death of a teenager who had foolishly jumped off the bridge in a daring swimming dive.
Our stay was short. We got our hamburgers and started our drive back to Verona Beach. It is truly a beautiful drive. We read state historical markers along the way (sped-read– it is hard to read them fully while zipping past them). We saw the areas of Samuel de Champlain’s “shoot out” with the local Iroquois natives, the landing spot of St. Leger’s army to beseige Fort Stanwix that fateful August day 230 years ago, and an interesting marker about Frenchman’s Island that we missed. We stopped at an ice cream stand to see if we could see the famous island, but we were too far. Oh well, it’s on Google Earth anyway.
When we arrived at the beach again, it had filled considerably with more campers and swimmers. It was quite a festive site, with people, colorful towels, chairs, and bikes everywhere. There were people of all ages streaming across the beach. The sand was just starting to warm up now, too. The seagulls were resting on sandbars in the lake. At first I thought they were floating on water!
All the while, the wind still roared like no tomorrow, and the waves were tremendous. My kids ventured in the lake, and didn’t come back out for two hours! They loved the waves! The shore slopes very, very slowly toward the lake. You could wade out 200 feet and be in water only 2 feet deep. It was warmer then the air temperature, too, and every wave seemed warmer. My son also found dozens of the notorious zebra mussles on the seaweed in the lake.
We really enjoyed Verona Beach! We decided we would try to return every year. The price was right for a full day’s swimming and fun on the sand, and the beach is so clean and comfortable.