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Off The Train/On The Trail

off the train / on the trail
Six amazing New York hikes (one in Vermont) just a stone’s throw from your favorite Amtrak stop. How cool is that? By Natalie Moore

when out-of-staters think about New York, their minds undoubtedly conjure up images of skyscrapers, honking taxis and crowds of people. In reality, as those who live beyond the city know, New York is those things, but it’s also so much more. Like its neighbor to the east (more on Vermont later), the Empire State is home to countless hiking trails; whether you’re looking to scale some of the east coast’s tallest peaks or take a leisurely afternoon stroll through a nature preserve on the outskirts of a city, there’s something for everyone. As luck would have it, many such hiking opportunities are just a stone’s throw from an Amtrak station. That’s right, outdoor enthusiasts: You can take the train to your next wilderness excursion, get a much needed dose of fresh air and exercise, and—the best part?—sleep all the way home. Ready to get started? Check out these seven New York hikes (one in Vermont) that are all easily accessible by rail.

The author with her dog Nola, enjoys a vigorous hike
on New York’s Bald Peak trail in the Adirondacks.

Train Stop: Westport (WSP)
Difficulty: Challenging
Don’t Miss: The stunning, nonstop views of foliage this hike offers up in the fall. 

As far as bang for your buck, Bald Peak is the most underrated hike in the Adirondacks. (And that’s saying a lot; at 6 million acres in size, the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States.) About 20 minutes from the Westport station, the Rocky Peak Ridge/Blueberry Cobbles Trail takes you up—directly up. But while your lungs may hate you, your eyes will thank you. You’ll shortly arrive at an undulating ridge that offers sweeping views of the Giant Mountain Wilderness and that you’ll follow for the rest of the hike up. The summit of Bald Peak is 3.9 miles in, but serious expeditioners can continue another mile and a half on the trail to the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, one of the Adirondack Park’s famed 46 High Peaks. Be sure to pack snacks; this hike is much more than a nature walk and there’s not much in the way of food service nearby.

Train Stop: Croton-Harmon (CRT)
Difficulty: Moderate/Challenging
Don’t Miss: The injured and orphaned native animals who reside at Trailside Museums & Zoo.

Just 20 minutes from the Croton-Harmon Station (CRT) on the west bank of the Hudson River in Orange County is the 5,205-acre Bear Mountain State Park, which offers fishing, ice skating, picnic areas, a swimming pool, merry-go-round, and, of course, hiking trails. For a moderately challenging hike with views of the Hudson that can’t be beat, check out the 3.8-mile Bear Mountain Loop Trail. Starting the loop heading counterclockwise, hikers will begin on a paved path near Hessian Lake before turning up the Major Welch Trail, which features rock staircases and several rock scrambles. Once you get to the summit, climb to the top of Perkins Memorial Tower, which offers sweeping 360-degree views of the surrounding area, before heading back down the mountain on a scenic segment of the Appalachian Trail. Refuel at the bottom at the Bear Mountain Inn; it boasts both a sit-down restaurant and a grab-and-go hiker’s café.

Train Stop: Rochester (ROC)
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Don’t Miss: The sledding on Cobb’s Hill during the winter months.

Rochester isn’t exactly known for being mountainous, but on the southern border of the city of Rochester is a small range known as the Pinnacle Hills, which offers residents and tourists an opportunity to get out into nature—and see the city from a different perspective. While Cobb’s Hill offers the best view of the Rochester skyline, Pinnacle Hill, which clocks in at 749 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the city and offers the most classic hiking experience. It’s a short walk on primitive trails to the summit, where five of the city’s broadcast towers stand. Keep an eye out for mountain bikers, who can often be seen catching air on jumps throughout Pinnacle Hill’s trails. While you’re on that side of town, be sure to check out the award-winning chicken wings at nearby Jeremiah’s Tavern, a Rochester landmark since 1978.

"The trip to the top is worth it just for the unobstructed views of the
Adirondacks across the Lake Champlain Valley."

Train Stop: Rhinecliff (RHI)
Difficulty: Easy

Don’t Miss: Be on the lookout for remnants of past civilizations such as hand-dug wells, cisterns, root cellars and old foundations. 

For some of the best views in the Hudson Valley, hop off the train in Rhinecliff (RHI) and head seven minutes north to Ferncliff Forest, a 200-acre old-growth forest preserve. There you’ll find four miles of well-marked trails used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding; several lean-tos for free camping (a permit is required); tables for picnicking; and a pond for fishing. The main attraction, though, is an 80-foot fire tower. Erected in 2007, the fire tower is the first to be built in New York State in more than 60 years, and offers unobstructed views of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, Hudson River, and Catskill Mountains. (The sunsets, we hear, are incredible.) For the full Rhinebeck experience, head downtown after your hike for shopping, dining and, if you’re there on a Sunday, the village’s beloved farmers’ market.

Train Stop: Albany-Rensselaer (ALB)
Difficulty: Easy
Don’t Miss: If you look closely from atop the cliffs on the perimeter trail, you can see schools of fish swimming just below the surface. 

At the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, 11 miles north of Albany, is an island. But not just any island. Peebles Island is a state park that, in addition to views from towering cliffs, is home to an abundance of wildlife, including a pair of nesting bald eagles. (Locals share photos of the national birds in a Facebook group called Peebles Eagles.) There are more than three miles of walking trails, including a can’t-miss loop around the island’s perimeter. At points, the trail takes you far above the rivers below; at others, you can walk out on the rock formations jutting into the rapids. After your hike, head across the Mohawk to the quaint city of Cohoes for a much-deserved pint at the hip Bye-i Brewing Company. 

Train Stop: Burlington, VT (BTN) 
Difficulty: Moderate

Don’t Miss: The sunset over the Adirondacks. (Bring a headlamp for the hike down!) 

If your travels take you on Amtrak’s new Burlington service, you’ll have plenty of options for hiking, including two of Vermont’s highest peaks—Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. But even closer (and not as strenuous!) is Mount Philo in nearby Charlotte, which is accessible by a ¾-mile hiking trail or the access road. Atop the 968-foot mountain is a state park with picnic tables and a small campground, but the trip to the top is worth it just for the unobstructed views of the Adirondacks across the Lake Champlain Valley. On your way back to Burlington, stop in picturesque Shelburne to fuel up
or take a tour of the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.

Train Stop: Niagara Falls (NFL)
Difficulty: Varies
Don’t Miss: The Whirlpool, located at a 90-degree turn in the river, that’s visible from Whirlpool State Park. 

If you’ve visited Niagara Falls, there’s a good chance you spent all your time at Niagara Falls State Park, home of the American Falls, Cave of the Winds and the Maid of the Mist. But north of the falls are four more state parks, accessible by—you guessed it—hiking trails. The Niagara Gorge Trail System is made up of eight sections of trail that follow the Niagara River Gorge and vary in difficulty. The trails start at Niagara Gorge Discovery Center near the falls and take explorers through Whirlpool State Park, with its challenging waterside trail that requires some boulder-hopping; Deveaux Woods State Park, which is intersected by the paved Robert Moses Recreation Trail and easy Niagara Gorge Rim Trail; and Devil’s Hole State Park before ending some seven miles away at Artpark State Park, which hosts large-scale arts exhibits, concerts and other community events.