SYNOPSIS: If you are looking for a place to cool off, take a drive over to Canopus Lake in Clarence Fahnestock State Park. A large sandy beach and swimming area with a beautiful backdrop await you.
Canopus Beach is a perfect stop after a hike on one of the many trails in Clarence Fahnestock Park, or as a day trip if you just want to spend a few hours relaxing lakeside. Of course, I realize there really is no such thing as relaxing when you have your kids or grandkids running around, but you can still try.
APPROXIMATE TIME: Anywhere from an hour to a full day.
DIFFICLUTLY: Easy (unless you can’t swim).
DIRECTIONS: To get to the lake from the downtown Carmel area, head west on Route 301 for 10.4 miles. A short distance past the intersection with the Taconic Parkway, make a right at the Canopus Lake entrance. There is a $7 per car parking fee as you pass through the gate. About one quarter mile past the gate there is a large parking area for the beach.
THE VISIT: From the parking area, take the walkway that leads through the center of the beach-house building. The sign across the entrance says “Fahnestock Beach”. Once through the gate, stay straight/left and a long, wide concrete path will take you down a hill to the beach.
At the bottom of the hill the path will open up to a wide, flat, sandy beach. There were only a few other sunbathers on the beach when we were there, but it was also a weekday. On weekends, the parking lot and the beach can get a little crowded.
The water was pretty clear, and just the right temperature – not so warm that the weeds and algae take over, but not so cold that your heart skips a beat when you jump in. I can’t say I am a big fan of putting my feet in the muck and decomposing leaves that usually make up a lake bottom, but at Canopus the lake bottom is sandy under most of the enclosed swimming area.
The sand was of decent quality and relatively clean, but my youngest still managed to find a cigarette butt and some old grapes a previous visitor had buried. I guess they didn’t notice the convenient supply of garbage bags near the back of the beach.
The beach house has a concession stand (that wasn’t open when we were there), restrooms and a locker room with showers and changing area, but my wife and daughter said the ladies restrooms were not the cleanest.
HISTORY: Some of the general history of Clarence Fahnestock State Park is laid out in the chapter on Pelton Pond. Canopus Lake consists of two parcels – with different water levels. The southern portion is 65 acres and the northern portion is 50 acres.
According to a Master Plan for the park created in December of 2010 by the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Canopus Lake was created through the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid- 1930s. Route 301 passes over the top of the dam the CCC built at the southern end of the lake. In the 1970s, a midpoint dam was created to raise the water level in the northern portion of the lake, and Canopus Beach was created. The beach opened in the 1980s. The 2010 Master Plan proposes major renovations to the beach area, including a playground, fishing piers, some additional trails, a ball field and a paved parking lot.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: We last visited Canopus Beach in July 2010. The beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and lifeguards are on duty 10am to 6pm every day in the summer. Pets are allowed in the park but not on the beach so you might want to leave Rover at home for this adventure. Canopus is a carry-in/carry-out facility.
While this chapter focuses on Canopus Beach, the lake is a popular spot for fishing and boating. At the southern end of the lake along Route 301, you can rent row boats for a reasonable fee. For more info about the boat rentals or beach facilities call the park office at 845/225-7207 or visit www.nysparks.com.