When the snow falls in Central New York, it’s time to trade in your hiking books for snowshoes and explore a wonderland of winter landscapes. Onondaga County’s Beaver Lake Nature Center is a perfect destination for winter fun. The 660-acre park operates trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and even rents snowshoes for a small fee so that everyone can get in on the fun. There are two loops designated for snowshoes. The easiest is the 1.3-mile long Northern Exposure Trail. To get a view of Beaver Lake and cover just enough elevation gain to feel like you’re getting in a workout, you can set out on Southern Exposure Trail, a 2.2-mile loop that’s just for snowshoers (no walkers or skiers).
With the exception of Lake Loop Trail, each trail in Beaver Lake Nature Center explores the forests and fields on the east side of Beaver Lake. The visitor center is in the middle, with the Northern Exposure Trail to the north and the Southern Exposure Trail in the other direction. Step inside the warm visitor center to pick up a trail map and rent snowshoews if you don’t have your own pair. Snowshoes can be rented for $5 per hour (as of February, 2016).
When you’re ready to go, step out into the snow and strap on your snowshoes. Head south from the nature center on a track of pressed snow that is roughly two feet wide. Pass a sign for Hemlock Hollow Trail (open to walkers only) and reach a junction with Three Meadows Trail (open to skiers only), less than a tenth of a mile from the start. Follow a sign for Southern Exposure Trail and bear left here to hike the loop in a clockwise direction. The snowshoe trail will pass through an arboretum, where there are are markers identifying the areas plants and trees, now stripped of their foliage and buried in snow.
Continue up the trail as it travels over and around small hills that border Beaver Lake, passing through a mixed forest of birch, oaks, maples, pines, and firs. After about 1.4 miles, as the snowshoe trail intersects the cross-country skiing tracks on Lake Loop Trail for the second time, you will spot a short spur path breaking off to the left. Before proceeding on Southern Exposure Trail, head this way and walk a couple hundred feet to the edge of Beaver Lake. There is a bench here, but you will probably want to stay upright as you gaze out over a frozen inlet on the 200-acre lake.
Backtrack to Southern Exposure Trail and carefully step over the ski tracks. Press on for another 0.8 miles to complete the snowshoe romp on Southern Exposure Trail. You will pass through more lakeside woodlands, where fortunate snowshoers will find fresh snow sticking to the trees.
Return your rented snowshoes to the visitor center when you’re done, or take a stroll around Northern Exposure Trail to maximize your snowshoe experience.
In addition to the rental fee for snowshoes, Beaver Lake Nature Center has a $4 entrance fee (as of February, 2016). The park opens at 7:30 a.m. and the visitor center opens at 8 a.m. The park closes around sunset, except on snow-covered evenings during the period of the full moon, when Beaver Lake Nature Center stays open until 9 p.m. to accommodate moonlight skiing and snowshoeing. To see if the ski and snowshoe trails are open, you can call the park at (315) 638-2519 or simply check their facebook page, which is updated regularly regarding snow levels. When the snow melts, Southern Exposure Trail and Northern Exposure Trail disappear and the other trails in the park convert to hiking trails for year round fun at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Dogs are not allowed. No permit or reservation is required to snowshoe at Beaver Lake Nature Center, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Syracuse, take Route 690 northwest toward Baldwinsville. Seven miles north of I-90, take the exit for Genesee Road (Route 370). Drive west on Genesee Road for three miles and turn right (north) up East Mud Lake Road. After 1.1 miles, turn left (east) into Beaver Lake Nature Center. There is parking outside the visitor center.
Trailhead address: 8477 East Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville, NY 13027
Trailhead coordinates: 43.180415, -76.402519 (43° 10′ 49.49″N 76° 24′ 09.06″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding New York trails and campgrounds.
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