Sampson State Park, Finger Lakes, New York
Updated: May 6
Sampson State Park was great for our brood for the following reasons:
Great new playgrounds. They are quite big with play equipment we have not experienced before
We enjoyed fishing along the shore and fishing pier. There are monsters in Seneca Lake
Great location to experience the finger lakes
There is a lot of space to explore and play
Sport courts including tennis, basketball and volleyball. Fields to play baseball and softball
Many roads and areas to ride bikes
Deer graze along the roadside at dusk
Great staging area for exploring the other state parks in the area with their hikes and waterfalls and the local wineries
Sampson State Park is located on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. If you look at a map it is about ⅔ of the way up the lake. The site began as a Naval Base during World War II and then as an Air Force Base during the Korean War. The State of New York bought the base from the military and turned it into a State Park. Remnants of the military are all over the place. The road network seems odd for the state park and you can imagine how the layout looked as a military base. The mess hall building still stands near the basketball and tennis courts. The museum is an original building. A quick look at google maps shows the satellite view of transition in progress. Northeast of the campground you can see many buildings still upright and as of today an excavator. It appears they are still removing buildings. Further East is the massive ammunition depot. You can only begin to imagine what this location was like 70 years ago.
Today, the campground is thriving. The marina is brand new and they are adding more campsites to the park this year. Additionally, they have cottages for rent. We stayed in Loop One. In loop one we had 30 amp service. Water was available at 3-4 fount located in the interior of the loop. We filled our fresh water tank before setting up camp. However, some site could hookup to the water founts with long hoses. We saw one trailer with three hoses run their hose across the road to a fount to fill their tank short term. The pumpout was small with only two sewer locations one in front of the other. We bought a portable waste tank specifically for this trip and we couldn’t be happier with it. We were able to setup for a full week and used the tank to pump out during off peak hours when no one was at the pump out station. We were able to fit our 35’ Class A into a great site. We saw bigger motorhomes and trailers but make sure you pick the appropriate site for your setup. The gravel pad was a tight fit for us. However, the grass area was spacious and we had woods bordering two sides which made it feel like we were in our own private site. We also needed an extension cord for our electricity. Two sites share the same electrical post so expect to have more than your normal cord distance to electric.
The bathroom in our loop was clean with decent showers and normal stalls\toilets. The bathroom also had a laundry tub. The bathroom by the beach was also nice. Speaking of the beach we enjoyed our time by the beach, playground, and marina. We camped in early June before New York schools were out for the Summer. Our best guess is that they provide full services for the season after school gets out. It seemed like the beach, concessions, and swimming were closed early in our trip. Then when school got out everything opened that weekend. Even the water at the beach was seemingly cleaned up overnight and lifeguards were on staff.
The playground at the beach was very nice with new equipment and a lot of space. Be warned, much of the equipment is for getting dizzy. There are merry go rounds and spinning items, as well as balance items and slides and forts. There is equipment for all ages and benches for those that want to take a break by the lakeshore. While some were playing at the playground others were fishing on the fishing pier. Tucked in the woods behind the lifeguard station is a bathroom with space to change in and out of swimsuits. If you get tired of the beach there are also a couple of bridges behind the bathroom that are fun to explore. Concessions are available on the hill behind the playground. It wasn’t open when we camped but it looks nice.
We enjoyed out time on the fishing pier. The water was clear. All sizes of fish were swimming beneath us. There are big monsters in the Finger Lakes. We tried all the bait in our tackle bags but unfortunately, didn't catch anything. Maybe if we had worms we would have fared better? Still, fishing here was a lot of fun. One sunset we noticed fish jumping to the right of the beach closer to the parking lot. One word of caution on the fishing pier. As you can see by the pictures there were snakes poking their heads out of the concrete cracks. We noticed at least 6 at the same time sunning themselves from various locations in the pier. We also, saw a similar snake sunning themselves on a 2x8 floating in the water.
Bring your sports equipment to Sampson State Park. We played tennis everyday. The basketball court is nice, too and both are within easy access of Loop 1. The volleyball court is located near the campground office. There are miles of paved roads that are hardly used for roller blading, razoring, skateboarding, bicycling, walking, and jogging. I'm sure there is vehicle traffic but these roads were built for the military base and aren't used frequently today. You may want/have to wear blaze orange during hunting season.
We chose to camp at Sampson State Park because Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls and other state parks were already booked solid. We feel this was a benefit in disguise. Sampson State Park was more quiet than the other parks we visited. Watkins Glen is in the city and seemed busier and less our style. The town was very tight with a lot of cars and great boutique’s restaurants and stores. We just don’t like that type of camping. We also got to see a lot of the countryside, which again, was beautiful.
Improvements to the park include new cottages, the marina upgrades, and new campsites. All these items are along the shoreline. Details on all that is available are on their websites. Here are two
The surrounding area is quiet and country. We really felt like it was similar to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If you need supplies, there are a lot of Dollar Generals. Restaurants are limited but we found Little Venice in Trumansburg. The restaurant has an ambiance all its own and the bar can get a little rowdy. We enjoyed the food and the service. Most of the wineries are South of Sampson State Park.
While we were in the Finger Lakes and Sampson State Park we hiked Buttermilk Falls, Watkins Glen Gorge, Taughannock Falls, and Robert Treman Gorge. Click the embedded links to read about those trails. There are many more hikes in the area. Unfortunately, this is all we had time for. On our way back from Watkins Glen we stopped at many wineries. and wrote about that experience, too. The blog post includes the wineries we visited that day and a few other places we enjoyed while we were in the area the other days.
In Summary, Sampson State Park is a great place to call home while staying in the Finger Lakes. We enjoyed the campground and all it had to offer. The location was also close enough to the gorge trails we wanted to hike. Looking back, I don’t think there is anything we would have done differently. If we go back we will look to experience some of the places we didn’t have time to go to and maybe travel in the Fall. Although we hear it is busier. Thanks for reading. What was your experience like in the Finger Lakes area and what questions do you have?