Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Wilder Parts of New York State

Algonquin Peak & Heart Lake, Adironack Park, New York, U.S.A.

When many non-Americans hear of New York, they probably think of a large bustling metropolis and not an American state with much to offer lovers of wilder countryside. If they ever do, it might be the much celebrated Niagara Falls on the Canadian border near Buffalo.

There is more than that shared with Canada for the list includes Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Both are part of the offer in visitor websites from the likes of Clayton Chamber of Commerce and Oswego County. That is not all for there also is the Great Lakes Seaway Trail together with Visit 1000 Islands if you want to see more about what is found hereabouts.

The waterside theme continues with the Hudson Valley and the eponymous river links two on the Empire State's wildest corners: the Adirondacks (pronounced ae-dee-ron-daks) and the Catskills Mountains. The former covers most of the northern third of the state and gets protected as a State Park that is bigger than many National Parks. It is its wilderness that gains it this type of protection but the area has an industrial past too.

The watery theme continues with an area called the Finger Lakes, again in the north of the state. This may be wine country and there may be associations with Mark Twain but it again is the possibility of outdoor activities in less wild areas that caught my eye. After all, you may not want to go hiking in black bear country on first exploring a place.

All of this gives you choices in a perhaps overlooked chunk of America's northeastern corner. New York State may have no National Park like Yosemite or Yellowstone but there is plenty for an outdoors enthusiast to go exploring and you can make your excursion as wild as you want. That may be enough reason to go about learning more about the place.

Exploring the Outdoors

Ongoing perusal of Moon's New York State guidebook has revealed that it has a range of state parks offering networks of hiking trails. Rather than trying to cover all of them here, I am sticking with just three areas for now, though that number may expand in subsequent revisions of this article.

Adirondacks

The size of the Adirondack Park is such that there is plenty to do as you should find from Adirondack Experience, Adirondack.net, Adirondack Almanac, Adirondack Life, Adirondack Explorer or The North Guide. There is not just hiking here for there are cycling trails too as you will see on Bike the Byways and North Country Scenic Byways. The embarrassment of riches does mean that you need to decide where to go and where to base yourself for a visit.

Though some may decry the numbers of visitors that they get, Lake Placid and Lake George (which also is a chamber of commerce website if you want to know more) are accessible without a car so they could make good places to start. For those with their own transport, other possibilities include Old Forge and Tupper Lake. Those who fancy those aforementioned fringes could do worse than check out the Adirondack Coast that lines Lake Champlain or the Adirondacks' foothills in St. Lawrence County, which takes its name from the nearby St. Lawrence River.

Catskills

Though extending over a smaller area, the Catskill Mountains also have their own State Park. Unlike the Adirondacks, they do not have central bases as large so nearby places along the Hudson River like Kingston and Saugerties could have their uses giving a workable bus network. That they have their own attractions like Saugerties Lighthouse possibly gives more reason for you to do so.

Even with the lesser area, being around half way between New York city and Albany makes the place popular and all of the constituent counties want to make the best of any tourism opportunities. This makes for a sizeable list of visitor information websites: Great Northern Catskills, Great Western Catskills, Ulster County Alive and Sullivan County Catskills. Between all of these, you should be kept busy surveying possibilities like Platekill Mountain for a little while.

When it comes to hiking, there is the Catskill Scenic Trail and the Andes Rail Trail along with much more that can be seen from maps produced by the likes of the New York New Jersey Trail Conference and Appalachian Mountain Club. Then, there is the Catskills 500 Club if you want more ideas.

Finger Lakes

Compared with the others above, this may not come across as wilderness but there are times when we need to control our exposure to such things. Websites like Finger Lakes Tourism AllianceVisit Finger Lakes and Finger Lakes allow for an overview of what is here. It also is another large area and it covers a lot of counties with the list including Watkins Glen & Shuyler County, Seneca, Yates, Wayne, Tioga, Livingstone, Cortland and Cayuga. There are hiking possibilities like the Finger Lakes Trail around this collection of narrow north-south oriented lakes. Nearby cities like Corning, Ithaca, Syracuse and Rochester could make useful bases for a longer stay in the area.

Conservation

It was during the nineteenth century that people became attracted to the Adirondacks and Catskills and both of these are now state parks. As you will see here, both areas have their fans and the Catskill Mountains has organisations the Catskill Mountain Club and the Mountain Top Historical Society being devoted to the area. Preserve America takes an interest too so encroachment on these wilderness areas should be opposed regardless of the political or economic environment.

Adirondack Park is the bigger of the two and covers more are than many National Parks. You have to go to Alaska to find anything that beats its 6.1 million acre size. In an effort to boost tourism since more traditional occupations like logging are in decline, New York State has been buying up land here and there still is a lot of privately owned land in the park. It was worries about the impact of resource exploitation that brought about the "Forever Wild" legislation that protects so much of the countryside around the Adirondack Mountains.

Aside from the Adirondack Park Agency that administers the place, there are advocacy organisations like the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society for there are worries about the impact of an ever increasing number of visitors to the Adirondacks. Industrial exploitation was a concern in an earlier era so The Ausable Club went and bought some land that it still holds as an amenity largely for its members. Between both pressures and that of finite funds, it looks as if the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation have their hands full with an area that has a lot of fans.

Travel

It was from an article in an issue of Lonely Planet Travel magazine that I first learned of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. That was a bit too car focused for a non-driver like me so I took to looking at other travel options and that is how this section came to be here.

While it is possible to fly to Albany International Airport from locations in the U.S. and from further afield with a change of flight somewhere, flying into one of the airports around New York city and continuing from there by bus or coach may be cheaper and more convenient. Each of the New York airports has information about their public transport connections on their websites. For instance, both NJ Transit and CoachUSA's Newark Airport Express will get you into Manhattan with the former serving Amtrak's Penn Station by train.

Going by Train

Amtrak operates services north from Penn Station (Grand Central is the hub for the subway and other citywide metro trains) in New York city to its namesake state's northern reaches and even into Canada to reach cities like Ontario and Montreal. Each of these follows the Hudson River as far as Albany before routes start to change.

The ever useful Adirondack service to Montreal follows the Hudson the longest of all and offers connections into the area from which it gets its name. From Westport, there is a Thruway bus to Lake Placid in the heart of the High Peaks area of the state park. The service is a daily one with one northbound train and one southbound one per day. Trains going between New York city and Rutland double the service level at Fort Edward for Glens Falls and you can pre-book a shuttle that gets you between the two places. Services shadowing the Erie Canal are more frequent and will take you to the Niagara Falls as well as Schenectady, Utica and Buffalo and there is one journey in each direction that serves Ontario.

There are heritage railways too that could as a joint excursion and travel option in places. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad is but one of these and it goes between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake as well as between Utica and Thendara on a seasonal basis. They are hoping to run all of the way from Utica to Lake Placid once they get the necessary permissions to make it happen. In the Catskill Mountains, the Delaware & Ulster Railroad operates between Arkille and Roxbury, both of which are near Margaretville. The Catskill Mountain Railroad too has had its own share of opposition but continues for the present. What should be clear from the existence of these is that heritage railway enthusiasm is not just a British phenomenon but has spread on the other side of the Atlantic too.

Going by Coach or Bus

The Catskill Mountains still do rather better from buses than from the Amtrak trains that run on the other side of the Hudson River. Between Trailways of New York and Shortline (part of CoachUSA), there is a workable network on services for a visitor to use. Incidentally, the former operates as Adirondack Trailways or Pine Hill Trailways, depending on the route.

Trailways operate a number of different services between Kingston and Oneonta. First, there is a twice daily service that calls at Saugerties, Quarryville, Palenville, Cairo, Windham, Hensonville, Hunter, Lexington, Prattsville, Grand Gorge, Stamford, Harpersville, Davenport and Davenport Centre. There is one return journey in the morning and another in the evening.

The above has a more regular counterpart that serves West Hurley, Woodstock, Bearsville, Mount Trempor, Phoenicia, Alaben, Shandaken, Big Indian, Pine Hill, Fleischmanns, Arkville, Margaretville, Andes, Delhi and Meridale as well as Kingston and Oneonta. It is supplemented by another less frequent service that follows the same route between Kingston and Phoenicia before then serving Hunter, Tannersville and Haines Falls.

Bus travel works better for getting to Kingston from New York city too since there are plenty of daily services from early until late operated by Trailways. Shortline too operate from New York city but instead serve Monticello, Liberty, Ellenville,  Wurtsboro, Kerhonkson, Fallsburg, Loch Sheldrake, Woodbourne, South Fallsburg, Swan Lake and Roscoe with an equally workable timetable.

Despite having a bus company called after them, the Adirondacks do not do so well for bus services. The main one is operated by Adirondack Trailways between Albany and Massena with one morning southbound journey and one evening northbound journey per day. This still works for day trips so long as you base yourself in the north and go to somewhere that is to the south of where you are staying. Otherwise, the calling points in the Adirondacks feature useful starting points for land and water based outdoor activities. They include Paul Smiths, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Keene, Keene Valley, Schroon Lake, Pottersville, Chestertown, Warrensburg and Lake George.