Whetstone Gulf State Park – Lowville NY

Whetstone Gulf State Park – Lowville NY

Located along a three-mile long gorge, Whetstone Gulf State Park features a small campground with 62 sites (24 of which are electric). The sites are all very spacious and mostly wooded, with two picnic tables per site as well as a stone campfire pit. The campground offers flush toilets and hot showers, a single washer/dryer room ($1 per wash/$2 per dry), a designated swimming area and beach, and easy access to a few hiking trails including a five-mile loop around the rim of the gorge. Cross-country skiing trails interlace the campsites, providing easy access to all areas of the park and making for interesting aimless wanders, if you’re so inclined. While not as modern or impressive as Green Lakes State Park, nor as large as Sampson, Whetstone offers a quiet retreat and an opportunity to slow down under a shady canopy of pines.

Entrance to Whetstone Gulf camping area
Whetstone Gulf swimming and beach area

The Whetstone area has been a popular scenic recreation location since the late 1800s, but didn’t become an official state park until the early 1900s while later receiving further improvements (the campsites, beach, and picnic areas) after World War II. Red pine and Norway spruce were planted throughout the park, both trees chosen specifically for their rapid growth rate. The official park land covers over 2,400 acres which is largely undeveloped. The gorge running through the park is cut into the eastern edge of the Tug Hill plateau. Whetstone Creek flows through the gorge, after passing through the 500-acre man-made reservoir above the gorge.

We parked in site 44 for four nights, which was a large grassy site with a short gravel back-in area. The site was large enough that we could have driven further to the back for a tiny bit more privacy, but with the threat of rainstorms in the forecast, we didn’t want to risk getting stuck if the ground turned muddy. Turns out that it barely rained during our visit, but the cloudy skies threatened to open up on a couple of days and thunder rumbled in the distance one afternoon. I think most of the sites are officially limited to a maximum 30-foot length for trailers, but I don’t know for sure. Maneuvering into most of the sites might be tricky if you have a large rig, but we did see a handful of 30+ foot trailers in some spots. For more photos of nearly every campsite in the New York state park system, check out campadk.com – it’s a great resource and very easy to use.

When we stay in more remote locations, our rate of exploration slows a bit and the days seem to stretch a little longer. Rather than hopping on our bikes in the morning to ride off to a new destination, we might have a leisurely breakfast before heading out for a walk around camp. I prefer to head outside soon after waking up in the morning, where Ashley would rather eat something first and slowly make her way outside as morning turns closer to noon. OK, that might be a small exaggeration, but I’m writing this so I can take creative license. During this stay, I did head outside briefly each morning but came back to make breakfast – veggie pancakes and gravy with homemade sausage one morning, Western omelettes with a side of bacon another morning – if you’re curious.

Rather than rushing to check things off a to-do list (yes, I still make lists), I might let the list grow a little longer depending on what the weather looks like that morning. We did find time to take care of a few minor maintenance issues on an overcast, dreary day (replacing a couple of broken plastic drawer clasps with heavy-duty magnetic closures, and adding a broom mount on the wall). And while Whetstone does have a swimming area, neither one of us wanted to wade into the murky creek water after just leaving the pristine waters of Green Lakes. The water here is clean too, it’s just the comparison doesn’t hold up very well. We walked the “fitness” trail one morning and halfheartedly used the exercise stations along the way before storm clouds sent us scurrying back to the RV to close the windows.  We enjoyed a couple of nights outside playing games on the picnic table and even cracked open one of the few Finger Lakes wines we stashed in the RV.

A tense round of Yetisburg with a bottle of Bully Hill wine

We waited until Sunday morning to hike both the North and South Rim trails around the gorge because the weather looked the best that day (it was, sunny and in the low 70s). The entrances to both rim trails from the park are fairly steep, but both level out quickly and provide some nice views of the gorge. The trails are plastered with warning signs imploring people to stay back from the edge and don’t start hiking after 3PM, and while rocky and covered with tree roots, none of the trail was necessarily treacherous. Yes, you (or your small child or dog) could fall off the edge if you got too close in some spots, but at no point on the hike do you have to cling to tree limbs or boulders to maintain your footing.

The site layout at Whetstone makes this a good campground for larger groups or families looking for a weekend getaway. We saw plenty of kids riding bikes and scooters through the camping loops, and lots of families took advantage of the sandy beach area. You won’t find fancy accommodations at Whetstone but this is a campground, not a hotel or mountain resort. What you will find is a relaxing pine grove tucked into the base of a gorge, with just enough trails to lose yourself for a time as you stroll the woods.

BONUS SIGHTSEEING STOP
We needed to do laundry and pick up a few supplies after leaving Green Lakes on our way to Whetstone Gulf, so we stopped in the town of Rome NY along the way. We weren’t expecting to find a rebuilt historically-accurate Revolutionary War fort in the middle of town (seems like a pretty obvious thing to know about, although we aren’t from New York and we don’t always fully research temporary stops). So as we pulled into the ACE Hardware store near James Street and Erie Boulevard, we couldn’t miss the sprawling wooden battlements of the Fort Stanwix National Monument across the street. As Ashley headed to the laundromat and I gathered a few things from the hardware store, we decided we couldn’t leave Rome without seeing Fort Stanwix. Also, Rome has a rich Italian history and the culture of the town still reflects that mainly in the restaurants. So as we waited for the dryer to finish, I walked down the street and ordered a pizza from Vigneto’s to fuel our fort exploration. The pizza was pretty good, by the way.

Fort Stanwix was originally built in 1758 during the French and Indian War to combat French army invasions and provide a staging ground for British campaigns. When the war ended in 1763, France ceded all of its claims east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain. The American Indians who were allied with France during the war became increasingly dissatisfied with British policies and began a war of independence against them. In 1768, Sir William Johnson negotiated a treaty at the now-abandoned Fort Stanwix in which the Six Nations Confederacy agreed to cede lands east and south of the Ohio River to the British. This, naturally, angered other tribes who lived on these lands and fueled the fire for future conflicts.

During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress ordered General George Washington to have Fort Stanwix rebuilt to protect the emerging nation’s northwest border. In the summer of 1777, an army of 800 British, German, and Canadian soldiers, combined with 800 American Indian warriors laid siege to Fort Stanwix, which was defended by 800 Continental soldiers. Bloody, brutal fighting erupted around the fort as family members, friends, and neighbors fought each other on opposing sides of loyalty and the people of the Six Nations Confederacy fought against one another, destroying a peace that had bound them together for centuries. The siege lasted from August 3rd to August 23rd, ending when Continentals arrived to reinforce the fort’s garrison. This victory at the fort led to alliances between the United States, France, and the Netherlands.

Even though the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, fighting continued between the United States and the American Indians. Various treaties were negotiated over the years until the creation of the federal Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794, ultimately resulting in a series of payments to the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga people in exchange for their tribal lands. Fair and equitable, I don’t know – but this ended the fighting and ultimately lead to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1827.

The city of Rome and the National Park Service worked as partners to build a faithful replica of Fort Stanwix in 1976, using many original plans and documents. Fort Stanwix is an interesting place to explore and the park staff conducts tours and interpretive programs on the grounds throughout the day. We never expected to find a fort in the middle of a city, but we’re glad our journey took us in this direction. If you’re passing through Rome, grab a pizza and spend a couple of hours touring Fort Stanwix.

Just in case you need to refill your rum ration at Fort Stanwix

Ashley wanted to help with the wool preparation

We’re on the way to Buck Pond Campground in upstate New York, then heading into northern Vermont by the end of the week. Thanks for reading and we’ll be back with another update as soon as we’re able!

Mossy picnic table at Whetstone Gulf

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