Winter, spring, summer, or fall, Bowman Lake State Park is an outstanding RV destination. There are lots of things to do, and the RV campground is one of the largest ones in central New York.
Bowman Lake State Park is one of the oldest parks in the New York state system. As far back as 1929, officials set aside this land for public recreation purposes. The camp’s facilities and amenities have been continually refined and updated ever since then.
In warm weather, many visitors enjoy boating, swimming, or other such lake activities. Others enjoy exploring the old-growth forests in this area on one of the park’s many winding hiking trails. Once the snow falls, the aquatic activity turns to ice fishing, and the hikers turn into snowmobilers or cross-country skiers.
The sprawling RV campground has over 150 sites in three different loops. Campers enjoy all the comforts of home, or at least most of them, in a rustic, back-to-basics environment.
Bowman Lake State Park is one of a number of parks and preserves between Syracuse and Binghamton. Once you pull off Interstate 81, State Highway 23, and the other main drags in the area, there are a number of rural roads that crisscross this area. If you want, you can stay on those major thoroughfares almost all the way to the park entrance. Or, if you prefer to take the scenic route, there are plenty of other options. The closest town is tiny Preston. Early settlers first arrived in this area right after the Revolutionary War, just when western New York opened to such settlement.
Inside Bowman Lake State Park, there is ample parking near the boat launch and beach/swimming area. Large vehicle parking is also available near the outdoor recreation area and several of the main trailheads.
Collectively, these three RV campsite loops have 159 tent and RV sites. Most of them are back-in, but there are a few pull-through sites here and there. There are two shower areas and about a half-dozen restroom areas. Drinking water spigots are scattered throughout the campground as well. The outdoor recreation area is quite nice. It includes a large children’s play area, basketball court, and baseball field. The campground is not adjacent to the lake, but there is a small pond where RVers can go boating or frolic in the water. The campground roads are wide and there is plenty of shade. All in all, it’s a very nice place to park your rig for the weekend.
The swimming area is located on the eastern shore of Bowman Lake. There’s a wide, sandy beach there which has a sand volleyball court, drinking water spigot, charming boat dock, and changing room. Two children’s play areas flank the beach to the north and to the south. The south play area is near the concession stand, and the north play area is near a cluster of picnic tables. Lifeguards are generally not on duty, but in tranquil Bowman Lake, most swimmers do not have to worry about vicious currents or riptides. Plus, the boat launch is basically on the opposite side of the lake, so swimmers need not dodge kayaks and canoes.
The boat launch is near Bowman Lake’s extreme southern tip. A large parking area and multiple picnic areas are adjacent to the launch. On warm and calm days, it’s very relaxing to have lunch here and watch unpowered boats drift over the glassy surface of the water. If your rig is not towing a canoe, kayak, or other watercraft, rentals are available through most of the warm weather months.
Bowman Lake State Park has eight major hiking trails. Most of them have off-trail detours if you want a closer look at some of the trees and other plant life, or if you have the urge to chase a rabbit or deer. If you want a long trail, try the Kopac Trail. It starts near the RV dump station and goes all the way to McDonough State Forest’s Kopac Pond. Hikers can also take the shorter Bowman Lake loop. Honorable mention in this category goes to the XC2 trail, which goes through the dense forests in the eastern part of the park. For a shorter sojourn, try Whaley’s Pond trail. It crosses Bowman Creek at several different spots.
During the fall and winter hunting seasons, pretty much all undeveloped areas of the park are open to all kinds of hunters. There are lots of deer and wild turkeys in this area. You might find the occasional bear as well, especially in the higher elevations on the western side of Bowman Lake. If smaller game are your thing, there are rabbits and squirrels aplenty. Pheasant hunting is pretty cool too.
There are several snowmobile trails at various elevations, lengths, and levels of difficulty. Be sure you stick to the trails because as mentioned, much of the park is open to hunters during the winter. The same thing applies to cross-country skiers. For the most part, the flatter and shorter cross-country trails are on the eastern side of the lake, and the steeper and longer trails are on the west side.
In the early 2000s, Bowman Lake was a horrible ice-fishing destination. Major dam repairs sent most of the trout and other fish to the nearby Chenango River. But park rangers diligently stocked the lake over the next several seasons, and ice fishing is now back at Bowman Lake. Most ice fishers are around the boat dock near the beach, er, snowfield. There are some small inlets along the northern shore, and these are usually pretty good fishing spots as well. By late January, the ice is usually thick enough to venture out further.