The first surprise of our journey along about 200 miles of the Empire State Trail: the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail. Is it really brand new, built thanks to the $200 million budgeted to develop the Empire State Trail?
Just call it amazing. Or as the Brit said, it could be in Canada (we biked just a little bit of the Route Verte a few years ago and loved it).
The Albany-Hudson Electric Trail is 36 miles long, and 85% is off-road. A lot is paved, though in Columbia County there was lots of stone dust. It has the usual complications of bridges and even needing to cross under I-90 a couple of times.
Sure, the Empire State Trail signage at times felt like overkill. A trail sign seemingly every half-mile on the road? And on the trail, a sign warning of an upcoming stop sign within easy sight of the actual stop sign, then once you crossed the road, a fresh Empire State Trail sign with a no motorized vehicles sign attached, then right behind it a yellow diamond sign warning of pedestrians and cyclists with another sign saying in the roadway. Did the lawyers take over, using a belts-and-suspenders approach in the event of a lawsuit?
I’d have spent some of the sign budget on mileage signs … you know, (next town) 3 miles, Hudson 20 miles, New York City xx miles.
On the other hand, it’s better than getting lost in a parking lot because there’s no signage. (That happened to us while trying to get out of suburban Boston.) On this trail, we’d have been fine without our Garmins. Skip paper cue sheets too. A comforting thought given that one of the Garmins was acting up.
This is the first day of our Empire State Trail bike ride — from Albany back to New York City. We’re taking time to explore — unless the 90+-degree temperatures make us desperate for air conditioning.
So today we detoured once we reached the charming village of Kinderhook to search out the Martin Van Buren house run by the National Park Service. Van Buren was our eighth president and, as we learned, the first to be born an American (in 1782, so after the British surrendered at Yorktown and the Revolution was won) and the only one whose first language was not English (it was Dutch). He ran for president four times (only won the first time) and played a role in the creation of each of the two political parties we have today.
To get there, we had to bike on high-speed Highway 9H for a couple of miles — quite the contrast to that quiet rail-trail. The better way would be to detour further south, in Stuyvesant Falls. There you can take low-traffic County Road 25 to 9H; the three-story Van Buren place is practically at the corner. It’s also the route we took from the house back to the trail.
One Kinderhook tip: just before you get to the road, look for the benches … and that water tap. So thankful for that cold water on a scorcher of a day. Gorgeous mass of flowers too.
Overall, we biked just under 40 miles. It also was a travel day, so we didn’t start pedaling until after 1 p.m. Here’s the route we took.
I am curious to see how towns and businesses capitalize on the Empire State Trail. Maybe it’s just too new, but beyond one sign for soft serve in a mile (we stopped), I missed any markings pointing me to places to eat near the trail. And for those of us who don’t need pricey Hudson, it would be nice to have some alternatives.
But we ended up in Hudson, thankfully not paying Friday or Saturday night hotel prices. (We picked the St. Charles Hotel since it was the cheapest rate I could find. We were allowed to bring our bikes into the room.) And we ate at that tiny James Beard-nominated restaurant I’d spotted (our challenge to replicate at home: the awesome lime pickle aioli), though there were plenty of other appealing options. My question for Hudson: who shops in all these home furnishings and antique shops?
Taking Amtrak to Albany
So how did we get to Albany? Amtrak. It has become more bike-friendly, though in this case it means taking over the luggage rack, flipping up the racks and … there’s one hook for you to hang your bike from the rear wheel (after removing the front one). We were puzzled at how we were supposed to get two bikes in there … and what to do with the cardboard box already in it. Fortunately we had a nice conductor who didn’t object that we’d taken the wheelchair area instead and left the luggage rack for heavy suitcases.
The train continued to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, meaning we can one day use it to bike along the Erie Canal (also part of the Empire State Trail).
Now on to day 2 of our Empire State Trail ride.