You may have seen the meme of "Star Wars" characters under a heavy Hoth snowfall quipping, "Going to Wegmans. Need anything?" It's true that the Upstate New York climate can be fickle in how it participates in the changing of the seasons — sometimes it feels like all we get is winter and construction season. Both can be equally oppressive and fraught with their share of detours.
While Upstate winter can be windy and harsh, an attraction of Rochester is its versatility, with outdoor activities to enjoy in the summer and the winter alike. Whatever your seasonal preference, Monroe County and the surrounding area has a diversity of parks at which to find your center this winter and beyond. Here are seven parks to explore this winter, free of admission, and what activities can best be done there. Unless otherwise noted, you can find more information about these parks at monroecounty.gov/parks or by calling 753-7275.
Ellison Park (395 Rich's Dugway) resides east of downtown, emptying out from Atlantic Avenue. It's a popular spot for group activities, with its mainly flat areas, lodges for rent, and two designated hills for sledding. Its sprawling lawns, gradual hills, and wooded patches make it a fortuitous spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The quarry is a comely point-of-interest for morning walks, and an ice skating rink is located off Blossom Road (though visitors must bring their own skates). The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Splayed in between Bushnell's Basin and Eastview Mall, Powder Mills Park (154 Park Road, Pittsford) is located southeast of downtown Rochester. Its diverse and coarsely wooded topography could have you busy exploring a full weekend on snowshoes or cross-country skis. The bunny slope is an opportune spot to find footing as a novice snowboarder or downhill skier, and its several inclines and lodges for rent make it ideal for family tobogganing and group get-togethers. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Durand Eastman Park (570 Lake Shore Boulevard), northeast of downtown, is at the shores of Lake Ontario. Its beaches are a cozy location to enjoy serene winter sunrises and sunsets, ornamenting a frozen waterscape. There are cross-country ski paths carved out, and the beaches could be traversed on snowshoes. The rugged among us might elect to join the group of riders surfing Lake Ontario on sharp winter mornings. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Genesee Valley Park (1000 East River Road), southwest of center city, features the mighty Genesee River. This spot offers a rustic element to your lifestyle without having to leave city limits; a sturdy location to stretch your legs on a lunch break. Its indoor ice arena hosts ice skating, hockey leagues, and other special events. Its proximity to Mount Hope Cemetery could include your visit to the park in a longer itinerary, or give you a chance to explore the 19th Ward and PLEX neighborhoods. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Letchworth State Park (1 Letchworth State Park, Castile), just around an hour southwest of Rochester by car, is a bucolic option on weekends when you're longing for respite from urban slosh. This state park is the largest on this list. Its geological features are plentiful, frozen waterfalls are grand, and ponds are available for ice fishing (regulations apply). Cabins are for rent, and robust transcendental scenery makes it an appropriate landscape for sojourns to work on creative projects and ruminate on snowy hikes. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. 493-3600; letchworthpark.com.
Mendon Ponds Park (95 Douglas Road, Honeoye Falls), southeast of downtown — between Clover Street and Pittsford-Mendon Center Road — offers a varied landscape, often coveted for its glacially created geological features, like Devil's Bathtub, and the East Esker Trail. It's the largest park in the Monroe County system, featuring 2,500 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and ponds. Shelters and lodges are for rent year-round. Snowshoeing is welcome, and groomed trails are available for cross-country skiing. There are two designated hills for tobogganing as well. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Braddock Bay Park (199 East Manitou Road) — northwest of Rochester — is located on the Lake Ontario shoreline, and is an ecological hotspot for birds migrating in the spring, making it an opportune park for birdwatching. Its boardwalk to the bay and observation platform offer excellent views and photo opportunities towards the flora, fauna, and horizon of the neighboring lake from which the bay pools. There are five ponds to fish and hiking trails are available. Canoe and kayak launches are also available by the marina property. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. greeceny.gov/braddock-bay-park; 225-2000.