by Karen Rubin
Ahhh, it’s fall. The leaves are turning crimson and gold, the air is picking up that crisp chill, and I am thinking of biking. This is the best season of the year to find a bike trail through the woods. Here are some of my favorite biking and hiking trails that put you right in the midst of the spectacular kaleidoscope of fall foliage:
New York State
The Erie Canalway Trail runs an astonishing 365 miles, from Buffalo in the west to Albany in the east, linking other cities of Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica, and Schenectady. Along the way, you can ride (or walk) the towpath (about 75% of the trail complete with just a few gaps remaining). The trail is mostly level, although portions through the Mohawk River Valley are a little bit steeper. The surface is mostly gravel so you need a hybrid or mountain bike, not a road bike There is actually so much to do along the Erie Canalway, because you go into these charming towns (www.eriecanalway.org/explore_things-to-do_erie-canal-trail.htm; www.traillink.com/trail/erie-canalway-national-heritage-corridor.aspx)
One segment in particular is easily accessible and provides excellent views: the Erie Canalway Trail: Little Falls to Albany (Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway) is 39 miles with a surface that is asphalt, crushed stone and gravel (you need a hybrid or mountain bike, not a road bike). You can also ride along the Hudson River, from Troy into downtown Albany.
Other trail segments of the Erie Canalway Trail include:
There’s actually a nonprofit group, Parks & Trails New York, that organizes a bike trip that covers the full trail. The next is July 13-20, 2014 for the 16th annual 8-day, 400-mile, Cycling the Erie Canal bike tour (ptny.org).
The Harlem Valley Rail Trail is a magnificent scenic ride through rolling farm fields and dense woods on the bed of the New York and Harlem Railroad that ran from New York City to Chatham, New York. The rail-trail has been built in segments, and there is still work to be done to open all 46 miles of the planned trail. For now you can take in two segments, which total nearly 15 miles.
The southern end of the trail begins at the Metro North Railroad Station in Wassaic, New York. It is possible, during non-rush hours and on weekends, to board a Metro North train in Grand Central Station and in a little more than two hours be peddling or walking along this rail-trail. As the trail points north for nearly 11 miles to Millerton, it passes through a pastoral scene.
Farmland stretches before and around you, followed by red-cedar scrubland and beaver ponds. In Amenia, the trailhead parking lot is on the site of the former Barton House, a large hotel that was frequented by business people and vacationers traveling from New York City.
In several stretches, north of Route 61, the trail is at a higher elevation on a steep embankment in some places dropping 50 feet giving you this amazing view of the surrounding farmland. Indian Mountain, straddling the border of New York and Connecticut, is to the east.
The first section of the rail-trail ends in Millerton where there are two train stations restored to how they appeared when they were built in 1851 and 1912 that flank the trail. A third station, once used for freight, stands nearby. There are charming shops and eateries here.
To reach the Wassaic trailhead: From I-84 or I-684, take State Route 22 north at Brewster. Continue north on Route 22 to the Wassaic Station of the Metro North Railroad. The station is on the right side of the road (www.traillink.com/trail/harlem-valley-rail-trail.aspx)
Walkway Over The Hudson: At 212 feet high above the Hudson River and 1.28 miles long, this is the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. The bridge deck provides spectacular views both upstream and down.
Built in 1888 to link New York and New England to the coal beds of Pennsylvania and the West, the steel-truss Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was the longest bridge in the world for a spell, stretching 6,767 feet (approximately 1.28 miles) over the Hudson River. A 1974 blaze, blamed on sparks from a passing train, damaged only 700 feet of the span’s wooden decking. Repair, however, was too pricey for the bankrupt railroad company that owned the structure, and tearing it down would have been far more expensive. Instead they permanently halted railroad operations over it.
Walkway Over the Hudson will eventually be a linchpin in a 27-mile corridor of rail-trails and riverfront parks already built or planned in Ulster and Dutchess counties.
Presently, you ride over the bridge onto the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. This flat, paved marvelous trail stretches a little more than 2 miles through hardwood forests, over Black Creek and under two spectacular stone-arch bridges, stretching between the towns of Highland and Lloyd on the former right-of-way of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
In Poughkeepsie, the Dutchess Rail Trail Park will eventually connect to the Walkway Over the Hudson bridge at Parker Avenue. The Dutchess Rail Trail will eventually be a 12 mile multi-use linear county “park” that will run through the middle of the County along the former Maybrook Rail corridor including the towns of Poughkeepsie, LaGrange, Wappinger and East Fishkill. Two sections of the Dutchess Rail Trail are open: The first is 8 miles starting at Hopewell Depot and ending at Old Manchester Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie. Phase II is a 2.4 mile section that stretches from Morgan Lake to Overocker Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie
To reach the trailhead in Poughkeepsie from I-84, take the Taconic State Parkway north. Exit on State Route 55 west toward Poughkeepsie. Turn right onto Garden Street. Turn left onto Parker Avenue. Parking for the walkway is on the right.
Long Island: Near at hand is one of the most pleasant bike rides: the Bethpage Bikeway, a 12.5 mile section from Bethpage State Park to Sunrise Highway, then you can cross Sunrise Highway and take another trail south to Merrick Road, then ride about 1 1/2 miles on Merrick Road (not pleasant) to Cedar Creek Park for a six-mile paved path that goes along Wantagh Parkway to Jones Beach. From there, in the fall, you can ride through the parking lot to the Jones Beach boardwalk. The section between Sunrise Highway and Bethpage State Park is particularly beautiful, going by swan-filled ponds and streams. Once you get to Bethpage State Park, if you go on a Sunday, see if there is a polo match underway on the Polo grounds (through October).
Our favorite, easy to reach ride in Connecticut is the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, offering a glorious and scenic 27 miles of paved off-road trail, but when completed, the multi-use linear park will stretch more than 80 miles from New Haven to Northhampton, Massachusetts.
The trail follows the corridor of the defunct Farmington Canal, New England’s onetime longest canal. Completed in 1835, the waterway stretched 87 miles from New Haven to Northampton, boasting 28 locks and three aqueducts. Traces of the canal remain throughout the Farmington Valley. Most notable is Lock 12, a trailside museum in Cheshire that centers on the restored lock.
You can begin the southern section of the trail right at the Yale University Campus, New Haven, at the Malone Engineering Building.
The Hamden to Cheshire section is completed and extends 15.1 miles, ending at Cornwall Avenue. Woods soon line the asphalt path, and you’ll cross bridge after bridge over a meandering stream. To learn about the corridor’s canal and railroad roots, pause to read trailside historical markers and watch for the old brick depot and adjacent freight house just past the second parking area. Approaching Cheshire, you’ll reach the aforementioned Lock 12 and keeper’s house, now a historical park. Here you’ll find trailhead parking, picnic tables, toilets and drinking fountain.
The Southington section meets the Cheshire section and continues north 4 miles, with parking at both Center Street and Mill Street. The trail ends at the 25-mile mark near Hart and Curtiss Streets. From an inviting trailhead parking area on West Main Street in downtown Southington, this asphalt trail bridges the Quinnipiac River and passes through the heart of a restored mill section starting at Center Street. From here, turn right on Center Street to check out the downtown eateries, or continue north to the trail’s end (www.traillink.com/trail/farmington-canal-heritage-trail-.aspx)
The Delaware & Raritan Canal stretches 70 miles and offers some of the most magnificent scenery and vistas that make you think you have stepped back 150 years. You can rent canoes and kayaks, and also bike (or walk) on the historic towpath along the main canal from Bakers Basin Road (Trenton) to New Brunswick, on a trail of crushed stone (not paved asphalt, so you need a hybrid or mountain bike, not a road bike). Our favorite section is from just outside Princeton University, going north to New Brunswick.
Along the canal you will come upon wooden bridges and 19th century bridge tender houses, remnants of locks, cobblestone spillways and hand-built stone-arched culverts, The upper portion of the feeder canal follows the Delaware River through historic New Jersey towns such as Frenchtown, Stockton and Lambertville. The main canal passes the Port Mercer bridge tender’s house, through the charming villages of Kingston and Griggstown to Blackwells Mills, ending up in New Brunswick. You can rent canoes and kayaks at Griggstown and Princeton. You might even see the Princeton crew team.
This linear park is also a wildlife corridor connecting fields and forests. A recent bird survey conducted in the park revealed 160 species of birds, almost 90 of which nested in the park.
An excellent source to find out about biking trails and plan your trip comes from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, www.traillink.com, 202-331-9696.
The Berkshires are stunning in fall, and are also a cultural and historic mecca. When in the Berkshires, I always do the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, an 11 mile rail trail that goes from Adams, Massachusetts south roughly following along Route 8 to Lanesboro, Massachusetts. The trail goes through the Hoosic River Valley between the Hoosac Range and Mt. Greylock and offers pleasant water views along the way. The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is completely paved and has ample access points and a few restrooms along the route. We love to stop in Adams, a charming town, for lunch (www.railstotrails.us/ma_ashuwillticook_rail_trail.htm).
Then, not far away, just outside of Great Barrington, is one of the most splendid hiking trails – one that has attracted the literary giants who gravitated to The Berkshires: Monument Mountain, which offers views of the southern Berkshires and the broad Housatonic River Valley from the summit. For two centuries, this imposing natural feature has attracted artists and writers, hikers and nature lovers. Each year, more than 20,000 visitors explore Squaw Peak.
The mountain is also notable for its geology: the mountain is composed predominantly of pale quartzite, rising abruptly above the Housatonic wetlands and river valley.
During the course of the hike, you ascend 720-feet in elevation, to the 1642 foot summit of Squaw Peak, where you can revel in views as far north as Mount Greylock and in the west, the Catskills of New York, with the Housatonic River Valley below.
There are three sections: the 1.51-mile Indian Monument Trail takes you past more than 300 years of history – the remains of ancient Native American trails, stone walls of former sheep pastures, woods roads, cart paths that brought hemlock bark to tanneries, hearths of charcoal makers, horse-and-carriage pleasure roads, recreational foot paths, and roads traveled by Ford Model T’s; the 0.83-mile Hickey Trail, leaving right (north) from the parking lot, is the most direct route – and strenuous – approach (or you can do it on the descent); and the ultimate, the 0.62-mile Squaw Peak Trail to the summit for both the Indian Monument and Hickey trails, offering the best views as a reward for scrambling over massive boulders and is where you really feel like you have accomplished something. Give yourself 2 hours.
Another favorite area for biking is Cape Cod where there are miles and miles of dedicated trails: Cape Cod Rail Trail, Cape Cod Canal (on both sides of the canal), and the Shining Sea trails are breathtaking in any season.
Rhode Island’s best-known rail-trail, the East Bay Bicycle Path, is a 14-mile paved path that hugs the shores of Narragansett Bay, from Bristol in the south and north to India Point Park in Providence. Along the path is a marvelous nature center. The woods and water views are marvelous, and the added benefit is that you can enjoy Providence (www.traillink.com/trail/east-bay-bike-path.aspx).
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