There are 46 famous “High Peaks” in Adirondack Park, and the trails to their summits, are well trodden — when they have trails, that is. Less congested are the roads that wind between the mountains, through dense forests and along pristine rivers and lakes. Towns? Few and far between. Two-lane highways penetrate New York’s 6.1-million-acre wild side, but they don’t come close to taming it. Which is precisely why it’s a great place to bicycle.
Hundreds hit the road for the 112-mile cycling portion of last Sunday’s Ironman competition in Lake Placid. The route has become a popular year-round training destination for endurance athletes.
For Green Mountain cyclists, the Adirondacks are the yang to Vermont’s yin. “Vermont is cow country. It’s flatter and more wide open,” says Bill McLaud, who leads rides for the 291-member Green Mountain Bicycle Club. “There, it’s much more mountainous. It means more hills and, as far as I’m concerned, more spectacular scenery. It’s nice to go over there, where the terrain and the geology are so different.”
Avid cyclist George Thabault savors the contrast between “jazzy Church Street and bustling Chittenden County” and the Adirondacks, where “the pace is slower, the rustic look mostly real and the prices more down-to-earth.”
The requisite ferry ride — from Charlotte, Grand Isle or Burlington — is a great way to prepare for the cultural and topographic transition. “It’s the only way to get to the New York side,” deadpans Lou Bresee, a 69-year-old cyclist who led GMBC’s 40-plus-mile “Double Ferry” loop last Sunday. The group went over on the Charlotte-Essex ferry, rode up the New York side of the lake to Port Kent, and returned on the Burlington boat.
“The ferry rides make for nice rest breaks,” Bresee observes, “depending on which way you’re doing it. You socialize, get something to eat, something to drink and talk about how great, or miserable, the ride was.”
Bresee helped found Lake Champlain Bikeways in the early ’90s, before Local Motion existed. The organization — a consortium of business owners, cycling enthusiasts and environmentalists — describes itself as “a network of interconnected, international bicycle routes around Lake Champlain in New York, Vermont and the Upper Richelieu Valley of Québec.” It publishes most of the guides you find at Local Motion HQ on the Burlington Bike Path. Two of them are devoted to Adirondack loops, with detailed information about history, elevation and routes. Those range from the 11.7-mile “River Forks Trail,” which runs from Jay to Ausable Forks on Routes 64 and 9N, to the 38-mile “Climber” out of Saranac Lake, which is all uphill for the first 15 miles.
With those excellent resources in mind, we asked a handful of cyclists to recommend their favorite routes on the other side of the pond. These are day trips only, but you can easily stretch them into multiday biking vacations.
Port Kent to Keene Valley 40 miles
Rte. 373 to Soper Road to the town of Keeseville
Rtes. 9 & 22 South to Auger Lake Road
Right on Dugway Road to Green Street to the town of Jay
Rolling Plains Road to Upper Jay
Rte. 9N to Keene Valley
George Thabault of Colchester describes the Green Street stretch on this route as “one of the nicest stretches of bicycling road in the North Country, featuring almost zero traffic, terrific mountain views, fronted by a scattering of homes up and down the economic spectrum, from trailer to game farm to pricey mountain-view retreats.” He recommends cooling your heels — literally — in Jay’s town swimming hole. There’s another swimming spot at Hulls Falls, a half-mile off 9N between Keene and Keene Valley.
No New York bike trip would be complete — for Thabault, anyway — without a stop for home-baked berry pie and coffee at Keene Valley’s Noon Mark Diner.
Ausable River Ride: Port Kent to Lake Placid
Follow 9N along the Ausable River from Port Kent to Ausable Forks
Right on the Silver Lake Road to the town of Black Brook
Left on the Wilmington Road to Wilmington
Follow Rte. 86, aka “Wilmington Road,” to Lake Placid
Vermonter Bill McLaud, formerly of Lake Placid, claims “this is probably my favorite ride” — especially from Ausable Forks on. The stretch from Black Brook to Wilmington is “probably the prettiest stretch of road I’ve ever ridden on. It starts with woods, a few rolling hills, and then opens into a beautiful panorama of the Ausable River.” The view of Whiteface doesn’t hurt, either. Plus, “you never see any cars on that road.”
Another benefit of this route, according to McLaud: “All the way up to Ausable, you feel like you’re just one gear lower than normal.” But on the way back, it’s all downhill. Not many bike rides give the impression of being steeper going down than up.
McLaud is leading the “Awesome Ausable River Ride” for the Green Mountain Bicycle Club on Sunday, August 30. Click here for more info.
Over the Hills and Far Away West Plattsburgh, Schuyler Falls, Saranac, Dannemora loop 45.2 miles
From Plattsburgh Town Hall, go right onto Banker Road to 22B to the town of Schuyler Falls
Right on Norrisville Road at gas station to Peaseleeville Road
At Devins Corners, right on Ore Bed Road
Right on Rte. 3, through Moffitsville to Saranac
Left on Picketts Corners Road to Dannemora
Right onto Rte. 374, aka Cook Street
Left on General Leroy Manor Road, to Gene LaFave Road to Akey Road
Left on Rte. 374 to Banker Road
Lou Bresee of South Burlington likes a looping bike tour because it gives you “two different rides.” Fair enough. This one requires some climbing, and it “takes you into parts of the Adirondacks where there’s nobody around,” he says. “Each of the towns is kinda different, and there is always something to see in each one if you look.”
It’s certainly hard to miss the walls of the Clinton Correctional Facility, aka Dannemora, in the village of the same name. It’s the largest maximum-security prison in New York. Rappers Tupac Shakur and Ol’ Dirty Bastard both did time there.
Bresee is more interested in the great views of Lyon Mountain, where prisoners used to mine iron ore, and in gazing at farm fields and woodlands on the steep, multimile downhill out of Dannemora. “At about the 34-mile point,” he says, “one, you’re flying, and two, the views are magnificent.”
Willsboro Wanderer Essex, Willsboro, Elizabethtown loop 50 miles
From Essex, N.Y., go north on 22 to the town of Willsboro
Continue on 22 up the big hill and turn left on Reber Road
Right on Rte. 14, aka Deerhead Road
Left on Route 9 and ride 10 miles to Elizabethtown
Left on Rte. 10, aka the Lewis Wadhams Road
Left on Rte. 55
Left on Lake Shore Road to Essex
Most of the views on this ride are of Lake Champlain — not the Adirondacks — but it’s technically in the “park,” and there’s plenty to recommend it. “It’s a little more gentle riding” than other Adirondack rides, notes Donna Leban, and offers “much quieter roads” than Vermont’s. “Sometimes,” she adds, “it’s even a little bit cooler on that side.”
The route described here includes a big, long climb out of Willsboro. Leban estimates it’s 1.7 miles at a 6 or 7 percent grade. “That’s significant,” she adds. But she’s devised a way to avoid the hill that shortens the ride by about 15 miles. “For some people, the hill is the challenge,” Leban says. “Others just want to go for a nice ride with people at a similar pace.”
Happily, both types of rider like ice cream. On this route, there are two places to get it.
Leban leads the “Willsboro Wanderer” for the Green Mountain Bicycle Club on Saturday, September 5. Click here for more info.
Cumberland Head Trip 30 miles
Exit left from the Grand Isle ferry
Right on Rte. 9 to Reynolds Road
Right on Lake Shore Road to Cemetery Road
Left on Cemetery to Point Au Roche
Return on Point Au Roche Road to Rte. 9
For 25 years, Robin Keysor has owned Plattsburgh’s premier bike shop, optimistically called “Maui North.” Since he lives on Cumberland Head, his favorite bike route goes north along the water. There’s a new connector road that runs through the interior of Cumberland Head, so “the old outside road gets very little traffic,” he reports.
“When you get off the ferry, take the southern side,” says Keysor, which is a left. That brings you to the inevitable Route 9 — it parallels Interstate 87. A right — north — eventually takes you to the intersection with Reynolds Road. Go right again — east, toward the lake — to explore a scenic peninsula called Point Au Roche. That’s French for “Rock Point.” Plenty of those, as well as maple trees.
Do not attempt these rides using only the streamlined directions given here. Shell out $5.95 for a Lake Champlain Bikeways map at Local Motion. There you’ll also find Adirondack Coast Bikeways — with 14 loop routes — and Northern Adirondack Coast Bikeways, with seven more. Both those pamphlets are free. Route maps, elevation charts and detailed directions are available at www.thegmbc.com and www.champlainbikeways.com.
New York's Adirondack Park provides the rugged backdrop for Burlington's killer sunsets. But there are many more dimensions to the region, which comprises 6.1 million acres, 11 counties and 46 peaks that rise above 4000 feet. An outdoorsman might say everything's bigger, steeper, longer and colder over there. A sociologist might note the juxtaposition of hardscrabble poverty and blue-blood entitlement, correction facilities and priceless historic camps. The North Country doesn't beckon with some bed-and-breakfast come-on. It's real. And it's real close.
Our stories this week offer a small glimpse into the place that gives Vermonters our most majestic view.
This is just one article from our 2009 Adirondack Issue. Click here for more Adirondack Issue stories.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Riding into the Sunset"