Biking on the Empire State Trail
The Empire State Trail consists of THREE SECTIONS
The ERIE CANALWAY TRAIL

The Erie Canalway Trail links Albany to Buffalo and celebrates the history of the legendary Erie Canal. According to the New York State Canal Corporation, the Erie Canal, begun in 1817 and opened in 1825, “is considered the engineering marvel of the 19th Century. When the federal government concluded that the project was too ambitious to undertake, the State of New York took on the task of carving 363 miles of canal through the wilderness with nothing but the muscle power of men and horses.”

 
Along the Erie Canal
The CHAMPLAIN VALLEY TRAIL

The Champlain Valley Trail links Albany to the Canadian Border, a stretch of the state that includes Saratoga Springs, Lake George, Lake Champlain and Plattsburgh.

 
 
Dix Bridge
The Hudson Valley GREENWAY TRAIL

The Hudson Valley Greenway Trail links New York City to Albany and the section through Manhattan is one of the nation’s most popular trails, according to Parks & Trails New York, an Albany-based non-profit organization that works to protect parks, trails and public lands and keep them accessible to the public.  

 
The Springtown Truss Bridge, aka the "Quiet Place" bridge
Rosendale Tresle
The Empire State Trail, One Bite At a Time

The scope of the Empire State Trail can be vast and breathtaking. But digesting it in smaller bites can turn this wonder of the world into a relaxing day trip, weekend getaway or week-long excursion.

Take it all in with Amtrak, as the Empire State Trail mirrors the rail lines that America’s railroad travels in New York.

Raise the stakes by bringing your bicycle on board thetrain, as Amtrak offers convenience when it comes to transporting your velocipede.

Last summer, Joe Gumpper of Albany biked the Empire State Trail from his home to Buffalo in five-and-a-half days. He averaged 50-70miles a day, which was mostly flat terrain with some hills. He met up with his husband in Buffalo and they drove back. This summer, they are considering taking the bike ride together and taking Amtrak back home, or vice versa.

The Empire State Trail/Canalway Trail, Gumpper said, is “kind of like riding through history.”

Bruce Wells of Scarsdale and his wife, Anne Hintermeister,are planning a trip on Amtrak, with their bikes, after Labor Day.

They’ll bike from their home to the Amtrak station in Yonkers, board a train to Niagara Falls and ride their bike back home on the Empire State Trail.

“It’s a great way to see places,” Wells said. “It’s easy to stop and enjoy the scenery or a view or stop in a small café and get a coffee and not have to figure out parking.”

Harvey Botzman, a Rochester resident who serves as the New York State/New York Biking Coalition Representative on the Amtrak/Adventure Cycling Association Bicycle Task Force, has biked the Empire State Trail from Niagara Falls to the Albany area.

For cycling, he recommends the stretch of the trail between Tonawanda and Clyde, which runs through the towns of Gasport, Millersport and larger towns like Albion, home to multiple churches with compelling stained glass.

Adding to the adventure are those municipalities in this area that have established areas along the Erie Canal where camping is permitted at no charge, Botzman said. Spencerport has a museum, laundry services and showers.

Asked what he enjoys about cycling, Botzman said, “I like that I can travel. I don’t have to drive a car. I don’t have to spend money on gas.”

Amtrak, Cycling and the Empire State Trail

According to Dylan Carey of Parks & Trails New York:

  • You can arrive by Amtrak to Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station and bike to Niagara Falls on the Empire State Trail.
  • At the station in Rochester, take your bike off an Amtrak train and head north on the Genesee Riverway Trail to Lake Ontario; and south to Letchworth State Park on the Genesee Valley Greenway.
  • From the Amtrak station in Syracuse, access a new trail through the city built as part of the Empire State Trail.
  • From the station in Utica, the bike ride to Amsterdam goes through the Mohawk River Valley.
  • From the Albany-Rensselaer station, cycle west to Schenectady, home to Rivers Casino, Proctors Theatre and an Amtrak station for the return trip. South from Albany you can cycle on the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail, which is part of the Empire State Trail and follows an old trolley line, to the City of Hudson and its Amtrak station.
Warren County Bikeway
The Capital District

Speaking of the Capital District north of Albany, Carey said, “That stretch of the Empire State Trail is much different from the rest of it—mostly on-road, and mostly on the shoulder of relatively high traffic, high speed state highways,” Carey said. 

“As such, we really only recommend that experienced riders do travel on that route.” 

One leg of the Champlain Valley Trail is the Champlain Canalway Trail, which extends from Schuylerville, which sits east of Saratoga Springs, to Fort Miller. 

This seven-mile section runs north from a visitor center on Ferry Street in the Village of Schuylerville. The first 1.25 miles is on the towpath of the 19th century Champlain Canal, through Hudson Crossing Park to the iconic Dix Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River. The route from there is designated along local roads to Fort Miller, passing by woods, farmlands, river views and the active Champlain Canal. This section ends at the intersection of North River Road and Route 4 in Fort Miller.

Another branch worth checking out, Carey said, stretches from the Fort Edward station—which has a bike shop in the same building as the station: Evergreen Bicycle Works. Offering new and used bicycles, gear, apparel, maintenance, repair and rentals, Evergreen Bicycle Works is located on the Empire State Trail. So you can step off your train, step into their shop and, if you didn’t bring a bike on board Amtrak, you can rent a bike.  

According to EvergreenBicycleWorks.com, the store and the station are just minutes from the Feeder Canal/Champlain Canalway Trail. And cycling expeditions to Lake George, Fort Ann and Schuylerville can be done in a day right from the Evergreen front door. Carey recommends taking the Empire State Trail north and making a right onto the Feeder Canal Trail, into Glens Falls. Once in Glens Falls, which has its own Amtrak station, you can also access the Warren County Bikeway north to Lake George Village. The Warren County Bikeway, Carey said, is “one of the oldest rail trails in the state and one of the most enjoyable to ride.” 

Along the Champlain Canal
Evergreen Bicycles at Fort Edward station
Albany-Hudson Electric Trail
The Hudson Valley

The Manhattan Greenway Trail, which runs from The Battery to Inwood Hill, is a 12.5-mile section that marks the beginning and end of the Empire State Trail. This leg starts at the southern tip of Manhattan, affording views of the skyline, including the Freedom Tower, and continues north along the west side of Manhattan. The Greenway is separated from vehicle traffic and runs through Battery Park City, Hudson River Park and Riverside Park. 

One of the most compelling sections of the Empire State Trail spans the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge in the Hudson Valley. Opened on February 2, 1957, the George Clinton Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge stretches 7,793 feet, links Dutchess and Ulster counties, and is named for the “Father of New York State.” George Clinton was born in 1739, died in 1812 and served as governor for 21 years, longer than any other chief executive of the Empire State.

The bridge that bears Clinton’s name, commonly referred to as simply the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge offers easy access to Kingston in Ulster and Rhinebeck in Dutchess. Kingston is home to Hutton Brickyards, which offers lodging and dining on the Hudson River shoreline. Kingston is also home to the Broadway Theater at Ulster Performing Arts Center, which has hosted concerts by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame. And the historic Stockade District preserves the city’s colonial period history while offering coffee shops, restaurants and shops with modern-day flair.

Manhattan Greenway Trail
Rhinebeck also boasts plenty of history.

Home to the Beekman Arms, the oldest inn in America, Rhinebeck is also where you can find Samuel’s Sweet Shop, which is co-owned by actors Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton.

But most important is that Rhinebeck, the hamlet of Rhinecliff to be more specific, is home to an Amtrak station that offers easy access to the Empire State Trail.

Board an Amtrak train to Rhinecliff and you will arrive at a station perched on the edge of the Hudson River’s eastern shoreline. Cycle into Rhinebeck for a snack or cup of coffee, and then return to the Empire State Trail off River Road.

Head west toward the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and you will ascend the Empire State Trail as it climbs high above the Hudson. The Catskill Mountains greet you to the west and you can peer down to see the very train tracks on which your journey began. Continue west across the bridge to reach Kingston and, further south, Rosendale, the Rosendale Trestle, New Paltz and sweeping views of the Shawangunk Mountains. 

The Rosendale Trestle offers scenic views of downtown Rosendale and the Rondout Creek, and provides easy access to Main Street. 

Spanning the Wallkill River on the Empire State Trail and Wallkill Valley Rail Trail between Rosendale and New Paltz is the Springtown Truss Bridge, which was featured prominently in the film “A Quiet Place” and the HBO series “I Know This Much Is True.”

In New Paltz, the Empire State Trail takes you west to Highland, Poughkeepsie and what New York State officials say is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world—Walkway Over the Hudson. The Walkway stands 212-feet above the Hudson River and stretches more than a mile long. Views to the north offer yet another perspective on the Catskills.

The Walkway is a former railroad bridge that opened as a state park in 2009. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was built in the late 19th century to link New York and New England, and for decades operated as a major rail corridor. The bridge was abandoned after a 1974 fire. Today it is a pivotal link in the Empire State Trail.

If you choose to cycle north from Rhinebeck, toward the City of Hudson, the Empire State Trail will bring you through the campus of Bard College in Annandale, from which Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan graduated. 

North of Bard lies the quaint Village of Tivoli, Clermont State Historic Site and Olana State Historic Site. Though situated at the top of an uphill ride, Olana offers breathtaking views of both the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Due north of Olana is the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and its Skywalk, with the City of Hudson and its Amtrak station just a few miles farther. 

Keep in mind that all of this encompasses just one leg of the Empire State Trail, but a stretch of rail that includes three Amtrak stations—Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff and Hudson. 

River-to Ridge Trail
Looping You In
  • Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation Director David DeLucia is an avid cyclist and has biked the Empire State Trail in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Ulster counties. He also played a role in the trail’s beginnings. 
  • DeLucia was directly involved in working with state officials to designate Westchester County’s North-South County Trailway, which runs 36.2 miles from the Bronx to the Putnam County line, as part of the Empire State Trail.
  • He said the Empire State Trail offers a “wonderful” experience and said Amtrak’s efforts to make train travel easier for cyclists aligns nicely with enjoyment of the Empire State Trail. That’s because the railroad builds on the Empire State Trail’s linear park design by creating a loop.
  • “Loops are more popular than down-and-back routes,” he said. “If you take the train, you’re in essence creating a loop.” 

BOARDING A BIKE WITH YOUR TRAIN

“Part of the joy of a journey by train is the ability to explore the stops along the way, and what better way to do that than by bike,” reads Amtrak.com. 

SO WHAT’S TO KNOW??

Amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard has the whole deal: 

  • New York’s Empire Service and Maple Leaf lines offer Carry-On services. Bikes are stored in designated bike racks/areas inside Coach cars. There are typically only four bike slots per train. The Lake Shore Limited offers train side checked service, in which bicycles are stored in baggage cars.
  • Reservations required.
  • Most Amtrak routes charge a fee.
  • For Carry-On bicycle service, arrive at the station at least 30 minutes prior to departure. For train side checked bicycle service, arrive at the station at least 45 minutes prior to departure to check in with the customer service agent at the ticket counter. At an unstaffed station, go to the platform and an Amtrak crew member will assist you.
Insider Tips For Biking With Amtrak By Bill Claytor

Bill Claytor is a resident of the Capital Region and a biking enthusiast. He enjoys taking his bike aboard Amtrak to explore destinations with great biking trails.

NIAGARA FALLS

  • Niagara Falls station: (address), no checked baggage service
  • Best to travel on day 1, ride day 2, return travel day 3 (all inbound trains arrive late afternoon to late night, outbounds depart in the morning)
  • Bikeshare available, https://reddybikeshare.socialbicycles.com/
  • Local shops for rentals?   
  • Multiple trails in/along river gorge, plus Goat and Grand Islands, mostly by trails
  • Lewiston, Stella Niagara, Youngstown to north, culminating at Fort Niagara (on-road)
  • Adjust planning to account for wind

BUFFALO

  • Depew Station, Dick Road in Cheektowaga, has checked baggage service for long-distance routes
  • Exchange Street Station (no checked baggage) is right downtown, 1/2 mile from the effective start of the EST at…
  • Erie Street and Lakefront Boulevard.  Local streets are a tangled mess near/under The Skyway, suggest preparing navigation directions in advance
  • Buffalo Harbor is rife with historical sites and museums
  • Shoreline Trail: optional extension south, a great place to train for riding in a crosswind, also site of April 2024 solar eclipse totality path
  • Bikeshare available, https://reddybikeshare.socialbicycles.com/

Buffalo to Rochester on the EST (76 miles)

  • Tonawanda: where you leave the Niagara River behind
  • Amherst: SUNY Buffalo campus, side tour along Tonawanda Creek and Clarence Pathways
  • Lockport: flight of locks, boat tours available
  • Gasport*, Middleport*, Medina*, Knowlesville*, Eagle Harbor*, Albion*, Hulberton*, Holley*, Brockport**, Adams Basin*, Spencerport* (*Includes lift bridge) – just check them off one by one
  • Culvert Road tunnel is east of Medina
  • Medina and Holley have waterfalls adjacent to canal
  • Really have no choice but gain an appreciation for agriculture

ROCHESTER

  • Amtrak station is on the north side of downtown, midway between Lake Ontario in Charlotte (spoken with emphasis on the LOT) and U of R/Genesee Valley Park (EST access point) to the south
  • Genesee River Greenway and associated trails, your north-south trail artery to compliment the EST which is oriented east-west
  • Natural-yet-industrial history at Turning Point Park, High Falls, Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and the South Wedge
  • Grab a Plate or some Dinosaur if you’re hungry, but expect to wait, both in former railroad stations
  • Sea Breeze amusement park (via GV Greenway/St. Paul and Lakeshore Drive, some pathways available)

Rochester to Syracuse on the EST (94 miles)

  • Nowhere near as flat as coming in from Buffalo; trail remains relatively flat, but requires numerous curves and the occasional re-route
  • Natural barrier was and remains the Irondequoit Creek valley, which is why the canal dives to the southeast: look up “The Great Embankment”
  • Trail segment between Brighton and Fairport sees heavy use
  • Boat tours available in Pittsford and Fairport; also the location of trail diversions due to pedestrian conflicts
  • After Fairport, the stream of lift bridges suddenly stop; also you will get reacquainted with the railroad mainline, often in close proximity
  • Optional diversions south to a Finger Lake of your choice, also Seneca Falls historic sites; Montezuma NWR nearby as well.  South of the canal, hills are moderate but substantial
  • Out of nowhere, the trail traverses the Centerport Aqueduct east of Port Byron
  • Trailside store/park/dock facility in Camillus
  • Trail encounters State Fairgrounds on the way into Syracuse

SYRACUSE

  • Downtown Erie Canal Museum
  • New trail routing down Erie Boulevard (former canal alignment, hence the name)
  • Another Dinosaur downtown (the original)

Syracuse-Rome-Utica on the EST (61 miles)

  • Old Erie Canal State Park begins east of city limits with numerous historic structures
  • Chittenango Landing Museum
  • Fort Stanwix NM right downtown
  • Rome Amtrak station is located on the southern city boundary (no checked baggage)
  • Oriskany Battlefield SHS east of Rome

UTICA

  • F X Matt Brewery – Saranac Tours
  • Adirondack Scenic RR bike carriage fees are quite affordable

Utica to Amsterdam on the EST (65 miles)

  • Ilion Marina a great spot for a meal, break, or just a rest
  • Understand, from here eastward, any deviation from the river/canal/valley/corridor will involve some substantial climbing
  • Little Falls: Lock E-21 is the highest vertical lift on the system, also one of the few sluice-gate sites in operation
  • Fort Plain: look for locals selling farm-prepared goods near the grocery store, which is right on the trail.  (These locals are Amish or Mennonite, but I don’t make that distinction because we’re all humans.  But trust me, some cookies or a loaf of bread for a carbohydrate-starved cyclist are stunningly good.)  There is also a popular convenience store and small downtown park just south of the trail crossing  
  • The valley between Canajoharie and Randall is spectacular.  Combine it with a colorful sunset if you can safely ride at night  
  • You may notice the Mohawk and Barge Canal alignments combining, splitting and combining again.  One place where you can explore the three different Erie Canal alignments is in…
  • Fort Hunter: Multiple historic sites including remnants of Schoharie Aqueduct

AMSTERDAM

  • Station is on the far west side of the city (no checked baggage) adjacent to the…  
  • Guy Park neighborhood surrounding lock E-11 and a popular eatery
  • Castle on south side, just off the EST
  • Gateway pedestrian bridge and Riverbank Park offers historical and cultural interpretation and evening concerts/gatherings in summer
  • Numerous restaurants and bars on both sides of the river

Amsterdam to Schenectady on the EST (17 miles)

  • The wind *will* be out of the west, owing to the topography
  • Watch for the iconic Adirondack Power & Light building in Cranesville, just west of lock E-10
  • Country store opposite Rotterdam Kiwanis Park caters to cyclists (that’s a coded way of saying “they have ice cream”)
  • Watch for the observation platform just after lock E-8 to take in the view or just rest for a little

SCHENECTADY

  • Amtrak station is right downtown and offers checked baggage service
  • Stockade Historic District is appealing to history and architecture buffs, dates to 1661
  • Movie and Broadway theaters downtown, plus shopping/dining/lodging/entertainment options abound
  • EST options include Washington-Union-Jay or Washington-Union-College-Green-River to the ALCO Heritage Trail; recommend pre-qualifying on the navigation cues ahead of time

Schenectady to Albany on the EST (23 miles)

  • Get your legs ready to climb; there are hills ahead after you cross Aqueduct Road.  One on-road alternate which smooths out the bumps begins on Nott Street to Lexington Parkway, back to the trail near GE Research Circle in Niskayuna
  • After Blatnick Park you will rejoin the former railroad grade
  • Water and flowing restroom facilities available at Niskayuna Lions Park, 10 miles east of Schenectady; also the site of some stunning views of the Mohawk
  • On-road diversion under I-87, then back up the other side to rejoin the former railroad grade
  • Optional side tour down Manor Avenue in Cohoes to see Cohoes Falls; you don’t want to pass them by
  • Trail ends at Alexander Street; on-road link across I-787 at Dyke Avenue and across Green Island on George Street.  
  • There’s another Dinosaur across the Green Island Bridge in Troy, along with a popular Saturday morning farm market
  • Trail link continues to Broadway in Watervliet where a cycle track begins abruptly; take that past the Watervliet Arsenal to 4th Street under I-787
  • Hudson River trail section runs to Albany from there
  • Corning Preserve park has a number of amenities
  • Narrow, abruptly-turning link over Dunn Memorial Bridge allows you to get to Rensselaer, home of the Albany-Rensselaer rail station, which features checked baggage and over ten trips per day to NYC
  • Or, take the newly-completed cycle track along South Pearl Street to the start of the Albany County Rail Trail.  From there it’s around nine miles to Voorheesville.  There is a hill to climb, but being a former railroad alignment, the climb is gradual.  Just think of how fun it’ll be coming down the other way

ALBANY

  • Parks, entertainment venues, dining, transportation and lodging options abound
  • Empire State Museum has a few exhibits on the canal, naturally

Albany to Hudson on the EST (41 miles)

  • From Rensselaer, the EST continues to climb through neighborhoods to join the recently-completed Albany-Hudson Electric Trail
  • The route transitions from trail to track to road a number of times
  • Off-route diversions will include climbing, but the scenery is worth it

HUDSON

  • Train station does not feature checked baggage service
  • The city is known for its antique stores and diverse restaurants as well as the opera house

Hudson to Poughkeepsie on the EST (65 miles)

  • 2/3 distance on-road
  • From Hudson to Kingston the trail is almost entirely on-road in shared lanes
  • From Kingston to Poughkeepsie you are mostly on trails or cycle tracks
  • Quite a few historic structures/ruins south of Kingston
  • Rosendale Trestle will take your breath away

POUGHKEEPSIE

  • Amtrak station offers checked baggage service
  • Home to colleges and universities and associated night life

Poughkeepsie to Van Cortlandt Park on the EST (88 miles)

  • Over 90% of this segment is on paved trails
  • North of Brewster the EST follows railroad alignments, so the grades are slight
  • South of Brewster is outside of my present knowledge so I don’t want to promise anything!

YONKERS/VAN CORTLANDT PARK

  • Yonkers station offers limited Amtrak service but no checked baggage
  • If your legs have made it this far, then good luck with the next segment

Van Cortlandt Park to Manhattan on the EST (16 miles)

  • Moynihan Train Hall/Penn Station NY offers checked baggage; be advised you should visit the baggage counter to work out details of boarding your train with your bike, checked or carried or folded.  It’s a chaotic and hectic station, and I have found Amtrak staff are appreciative and helpful if you ask them ahead of time, and it makes the whole experience safer and less stressful for everyone
  • Inwood Hill involves some pretty strenuous climbing, so be ready for it
  • You finish on the Hudson River Greenway running along the west side of Manhattan, terminating at Battery Park
  • To access Penn Station directly, exit the Greenway at 34 St

Sharing my experience bringing bikes on Amtrak

  • Bike accommodations exist under a patchwork of unrelated accommodations.  Please make your arrangements in advance because space is limited and reservations are required.  
  • Did I mention space is limited?  There are typically only four bike slots available to book (per train) on Empire Corridor trains heading to Niagara Falls.  On Fridays, this space sold out last summer, in the middle of a pandemic, all the way from April through the end of October.  Please plan accordingly!  If you show up trained with a full-sized, non-folding bicycle (without a reservation), the conductors will very likely refuse to allow you to travel.  
  • Did I mention reservations are required?  It’s $20 per segment to book bicycle space.  The Amtrak website, phone agent or mobile app will offer you the option to book a bicycle if it is available for your selected itinerary.  This being a democracy, the $20 fee goes to pay back the cost of modifying the onboard luggage racks to the convertible units which accept bikes.  
  • Those onboard racks require you to board the coach with your bike and all your other gear, then remove your bike’s front wheel, and suspending it from the rear wheel in the rack.  I have found that my bike also requires me to remove the seat and post because the seat protrudes into the aisle.  
  • It is strongly recommended that you arrive at your originating station half an hour before the train is scheduled to arrive.  Bicycles transported as checked baggage need to be at the station even earlier than that.  And since I try to make everyone’s jobs easier, I will check in with the station staff ahead of time and plan how to get up to the platform, where to wait, and so on.  
  • When your train arrives, the Conductor (or their assistant) are in charge.  Period, end of story.  They will direct you to the appropriate door for boarding.  I tend to allow other passengers to board the coach first, because if there are people in line behind you, they will try to squeeze past when you are removing your bike’s front wheel and putting it into the rack.  While most cyclists enjoy wearing chainring tattoos, most other passengers do not.  
  • There’s a very good reason I kept mentioning which stations offer checked baggage service.  Long-distance trains (currently only one currently operating on the Empire Corridor) offer checked baggage service, but they make fewer stops.  Long-distance trains also offer spaces to reserve for bike carriage, but they are in the baggage car suspended from hooks; special boarding and post-ride claiming procedures apply.  Also, long-distance trains remain the only way to transport boxed bicycles.  If you ride a recumbent or a trike, it needs to be disassembled and shipped inside a box, meeting certain maximum dimensions.  Boxed bicycles must have their pedals removed and handlebars turned using rider-supplied tools.  So it’s BYOPW, depending on what type of pedal wrench your ride requires.  Don’t forget that the left-side pedal has left-hand threading.  It is a very good idea to break down your bike and test-fit it ahead of time to avoid any surprises.  You will want to bring some zip ties or other suitable devices to attach your pedals to the bike for storage; typically tied to the seat rails.  You will also need to bring whatever wrench is required to rotate the handlebars in line with the frame.  
  • A true folding bicycle, with small wheels, may be brought on as one of your two carry-ons.  It must be smaller than 48 by 34 by 15 inches when folded.  As is the case for other baggage, your bike is your responsibility, onboard, on platforms, and in station buildings.  
  • Motorized electric or engine-propelled bicycles which do not meet the definition of mobility aid devices are not allowed as baggage onboard trains.
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Further Information Regarding Travel

Amtrak has taken several initiatives to ensure the safety of its passengers. They have committed to requiring face masks for all passengers, converting the cafe car to takeout only, adding social distance signage, and much more.