Discovering John Dillon Park
Last fall I discovered an absolute gem for family camping, hiking and picnics. It's International Paper's John Dillon Park located on New York State Route 30 (The Adirondack Scenic Byway) between Long Lake & Tupper Lake.
I had driven past the sign for the park thousands of times, even admired the intricate iron gate from 60 mph on highway, but never really knew what John Dillon Park was all about. Finally, last September I went to the park for the first time to help organize and annual event called "A Walk Through The Woods at John Dillon Park." The event is essentially a progressive dinner through John Dillon's trails, where participants stop at different lean-tos to enjoy each course of a 5-course meal. The annual event is hosted by Paul Smith's College who operates the park, and the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce. The food was absolutely amazing and so was the park. I vowed to return and bring the family.
Our Walk Through The Woods
On the first official weekend of summer, I made good on my promise to return to John Dillon Park with my family. When I said I would bring my family, I wasn't kidding! I laugh to myself as I did a head count at John Dillon Park's Welcome Center located two miles off of Route 30:
2 of my children
+ 3 sister-in-laws
+ 3 nieces
+ 1 foreign exchange student
+ 1 me
= Hiking group of 10
After we signed in at the Welcome Center, we began walking northwest along the trail. All of the trails at John Dillon Park are handicap accessible. The wide, gradual sloped trails are lined with a smooth crusher stone making them accessible by a powered wheel chair. The terrain was especially nice for the younger ones in our hiking party, who could easily manage the smooth surface trails. Even the park's lean-tos are accessible by ramps. If you need help getting all of your camping gear, or even members of your party out to one of the pincnic and camping areas, the Paul Smith's College staff at John Dillion Park will be happy to assist you using one of the park's all terrain vehicles.
It was not long into our hike when my 3-year-old daughter reminded us that she helped make the snack we had planned for our trip, and was eager share it with her aunt and cousins. Recalling back on the event last fall, I remembered that the soup and salad station had the nicest view, just wasn't sure what the name of it was. All of the lean-to's at John Dillon are named after animals and are grouped in pairs of two so that they can accommodate larger groups. Replaying the meal in my head and referencing the map helped me to identify that the "Red Fox" and "Black Bear" lean-tos was our desired destination.
Once we arrive at Red Fox, I helped the kids get a drink then began preparing our treat. Since it was early summer (only the second day), strawberries were in season. Using some strawberries that I had picked up from a roadside farm stand and some homemade biscuits, we made strawberry shortcake.
As we finished desert, the younger kids played a game of "Mom's and Dads" a/k/a "house" in the lean-to. Each lean-to is equipped with a broom for campers, so there was a lot of sweeping in their game (I just wish they would do that at home!). While they played, we cleaned up snack and continued to enjoy the view from the great picnic spot.
Let's Find Water
Once our camp area was packed up, we continued along with our hike by heading down toward Grampus Lake. The map marked three locations in which we can access the water: "The Viewing Dock," "The Fishing Dock" and the "Kayak Dock." Based on the proximity of the Viewing Dock to our lean-to, we decided to check that location out first.
The Viewing Dock was an Adirondack style overlook, with a beautiful lake view. We took a few moments to absorb the view and take photos, then the kids decided that they wanted to get even closer to the water, so we decided to head toward the fishing dock. To get there, we followed the trail back toward the Welcome Center. This time, once we passed the Red Fox lean-to where we had our snack, we took a left and moved along the northern side of the loop. The kids had a blast running over the "Grampus Boardwalk." After we crossed the boardwalk we passed the "Osprey Viewing Point," my sister-in-law spotted a lone rare lady slipper wildflower growing near the trail.
The "Fishing Dock" and the "Kayak Dock" were relatively close to one another and they both satisfied the kids desire to be near to the water. The kids laid on their stomaches peering off of the dock in search of fish, then they pretended to measure their imaginary catch of the "How Big Is It?" measuring post at the end of the dock.
Time to go, but we will be back
As we left the fishing docks to head back to the Welcome Center and our vehicles the kids were sad to leave, but their spirits lifted when we told them that there was one more lean-to discover out near the road. Only about 50 yards from the Welcome Center, is the "Bear Cub" lean-to, the only lean-to with drive up access.
We had a great afternoon at International Paper's John Dillon Park. Paul Smith's College does a fantastic job maintaining the grounds, and are always extreamly friendly and helpful. As we signed out of the park, the kids enjoyed the interactive guessing game in the Welcome Center and we used the restrooms before returning home. Hopefully before the end of the summer, we can plan a camping trip at John Dillon Park.