Archive for the ‘Longer Road Trips’ Category

Bushkill Falls

November 1, 2013

Known as the “Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls boasts a number of  waterfalls deep in the woods. The trails are easy to do, since they are mainly wooden walkways, stairs, and bridges connecting one waterfall to another. This time of year, it looks like the Main Falls near the entrance takes the prize for most impressive in the waterworks department. Count on spending 3+ hours here if you’re as insane a shutterbug as I am.  We did the red trail and then the yellow trail – combined, these two trails cover the entire area.  A word of warning – we came here in the morning and the walkways were manageable.  By noon, the crowds picked up and traffic pile-ups became the norm.

Stairs, stairs, and more stairs!
Bushkill Falls

I wouldn’t say any of these walkways were scary. They felt sturdy with no gaps in the floorboards. This place is good for kids who are able to climb up and down stairs.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls

This was one of the more anemic falls.
Bushkill Falls

A glimpse of the Delaware Valley from a lookout point.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls

Standing on top of the Main Falls. The water here is supposed to be the cleanest in Pennsylvania. However, its yellow/brown tinge would give anyone pause to drink it straight out. The color comes from the tannin and tannic acids that come out of tree roots and tree debris in the water.
Bushkill Falls

The Main Falls from below.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls is a 2-hour drive from NYC. Take Interstate 80 to Exit 309, Rt. 209 north. Turn left onto Bushkill Falls Road at the blinking light in Bushkill, PA. The falls is open April through November, 7 days a week, from 9am to dusk. Admission is $12.50 for adults, $7 for kids ages 4 to 10, and free for kids less than 4. Dogs are welcome.

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The Berkshires: Bartholomew’s Cobble and Bash Bish Falls

October 25, 2013

Bartholomew’s Cobble is named after the farmer who used to own this stony outcropping of quartzite and marble along the Housatonic River. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971 for its unusual diversity of plants. The highlight of the Cobble is Hurlburt’s Hill, which climbs 1,000 feet before it plateaus into a meadow with vistas of the Housatonic River Valley. The hiking trail (called the Tractor Path) starts across the street from the visitor center and runs along a flat meadow before gradually climbing up. This climb may tax your strength, but what you are climbing is most definitely not a mountain, a fact for which you will be thankful when you reach the top. You are soon rewarded with a bench to rest yourself and a 180-degree view, mainly north. With your binoculars and a little luck, you can also spot some hawks going along their migration route. We had the binoculars but not the luck.

This picture doesn’t do the hill justice. It was hard to capture the height of this place because of the wide plateau.
Bartholomew's Cobble

The Cobble also has a number of trails by the visitor center. We did the short Craggy Knoll Trail but found it disappointing. The longer Ledges Trail is supposed to be more promising with some caves along the way. There is also the historic Ashley House that you can explore if you take the Hal Borland Trail.

Bash Bish Falls, located in Mount Washington State Forest, is Massachusett’s highest single-drop waterfall. At the MA/NY border, the water flows out of MA and into NY where it later joins the Hudson River. There are two ways to get to the falls, from the MA side or the NY side. We opted for the NY side and did not regret it.

Once we parked and started on the trail, we soon encountered a fast-flowing stream created by the falls almost a mile away. There were plenty of large rocks to scramble over.

Bash Bish Falls

We found this guy hula hooping in the middle of the stream with headphones on, clearly unfazed by the audience of hikers.

Bash Bish Falls

When we got to the falls, we were rewarded with this.

Bash Bish Falls

…and a view from below via stairs.
Bash Bish Falls

Bartholomew’s Cobble is in Sheffield off of Route 7A. The entry fee is $5 per person. No dogs or bikes. Bash Bish Falls is in Mount Washington and can be reached off of Route 22 – look for signs for Copake Falls or Taconic State Park. Parking is free and the walk to the Falls is a 3/4 mile of gradual climb. Dogs are ok, but no bikes and no swimming.

The Berkshires: Pleasant Valley Sanctuary and Mount Greylock

October 18, 2013

Mount Greylock was Massachusetts’ first wilderness state park. It also lays claim to being the highest point in the state at about 3,500 feet in elevation. You can hike to the summit from the visitor center or drive up the summit road, which is open from late May through November 1st. There are several lookout points along the summit road.

Mount Greylock

When you reach the top, you will find the Veteran’s War Memorial Tower. Normally, you can climb to the top and get an even more aerial view of the State, but unfortunately, it is closed indefinitely for repairs.

Mount Greylock

I recommend plopping yourself down near the edge like these folks for some silent contemplation.

Mount Greylock

Bring your binoculars!

Mount Greylock

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary near Lenox has an extensive network of trails going through dense woods, streams, and ravines. It is well-known for its beavers. Amazingly, these beavers are all descendants of three beavers gifted by the State of New York in 1932. Beavers are nocturnal creatures, so if you’re dead-set on seeing some, going close to dusk is probably your best bet. Here’s a beavers’ nest, probably with beavers sleeping inside.

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

The easy, flat trail around Pike’s Pond is very nice and has a viewing platform with benches.
Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

I suggest taking the Yokun trail to the Old Wood Road trail to see some more beaver habitats. Although we didn’t see much in the way of beavers or birds at 11am, we did see droppings from a large-ish animal (bears and bobcats roam around here). We had to make do with sightings of turtles, catfish, and large colorful mushrooms.

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

If you’re up for a challenge hiking up a very steep trail to the top of Lenox Mountain, you can do so from the sanctuary – it’s 3 miles roundtrip and is north of Pike’s Pond. We opted not to do this hike.

Mount Greylock is located in Lanesborough. Overnight camping is permitted, and there is also paid lodging at the summit. Dogs and bikes are allowed. Pleasant Valley Sanctuary is located at 472 West Mountain Road in Lenox. It is open from dawn to dusk and the entry fee is $5 per person. No pets or bikes allowed.

The Berkshires: The Ice Glen and Monument Mountain

October 11, 2013

This will be the first in a series of posts about the Berkshires, which we just returned from recently with its vivid-colored splendor. We explored a number of interesting outdoor spots, so I plan to highlight two per post. This first post will give you two great things to do around the town of Stockbridge.

The Ice Glen is  a not-to-miss geological wonder of green mossy boulders and caves within a gorge. Once you park your car, you will first need to cross a bridge that deposits you onto railroad tracks.

Ice glen

Cross the tracks into the forest beyond – you will immediately start seeing giant rocks situated snugly among the trees. Pretty soon, you will come to a fork in the road. Take the path to the right.

Ice glen

As you climb up a bit, you’ll find yourself taking in the solid green masses of close-set rock as you enter the gorge. A damp chill sets in. They say that snow remains hidden in the caves in the summer. I can *maybe* believe it. Be prepared for some rock scrambling up and down the boulders.

Ice glen

Ice glen

There are a lot of red newts underfoot taking advantage of their moist surroundings.

Ice glen

This area is also known for Laura’s Fire Tower trail (the trail to the left at the fork in the road) The trail climbs 600 feet and deposits you at the foot of a metal fire tower that promises a view of three States. We did the steep climb to the fire tower, but when we got onto the platform of the metal contraption, we were sadly disappointed. The view was hidden by too many dense trees that had not yet shed their leaves! I would only recommend this climb when the trees have lost all their leaves and only under non-rainy/snowy conditions because of the steep trail.

Monument Mountain offers much better views on top, but it is not for the faint of heart. You will also need to be in relatively good shape to make the climb up to the 1,642-feet summit, with places where you will be maneuvering along a 1-foot wide ledge on the face of the mountain. There are two lookout points to get to – The Devil’s Pulpit and Squaw Peak.

We decided to take the easy ascent up by way of the Indian Monument trail and then come back down on the very steep Hickey Trail. This worked out well for us. The hike up and down the mountain was also rewarding in its own way, with sunlight bouncing off some of the fuzziest green rocks I’ve ever seen.

Monument Mountain

Getting to the Devil’s Pulpit is scary. I will not lie to you. I am scared of heights and there were moments climbing up that made me freeze for a good 5 seconds wondering how I got myself into this mess. The view is worth it though. This is a tiny spot on a ledge, so I suggest you go when you don’t expect too many other hikers around.

Monument Mountain

The view from Squaw Peak is great as well, this one being a full 360-degree view.  You can see the Catskills to the west and Mount Greylock to the north.  In some places, it may be wiser not to look down the sheer drop.  There is not much space up here, so again, make sure you go when you’re not competing with other hikers.  I suspect the peak can’t take more than 6 people at a time, given the lack of elbow room…and you certainly don’t want to get elbowed off-balance here!

Monument Mountain

Both the Ice Glen and Monument Mountain have no entry fees and are open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are ok in both places, but not bikes. To get to the Ice Glen from Stockbridge, turn left onto US Route 7 and travel 0.2 mile to Park Road. Turn left onto Park Road until it ends in a parking lot. Monument Mountain is easier to find – it is along Route 7 between Great Barrington and Stockbridge.

The Adirondacks (Lake Placid and Lake George)

November 18, 2012

Continuing our upstate NY trip, we drove from the Finger Lakes to the Adirondacks.  This region is huge with plenty of little towns to explore, but we decided to focus our last 4 days on Lake Placid and Lake George.  By mid-October, the crowds are thinned to a minimum and there is plenty of peace and quiet in the woods.

The Brewster Peninsula Trail behind the Howard Johnsons takes you to a fine view of Lake Placid. Surprisingly, we found out the hard way that if you are not staying at a hotel or vacation home on Lake Placid, you will not have access to the lake. All roads around Lake Placid are private. This was one of the few places that let you get a glimpse. The other place we discovered that allows public access, although we didn’t have a legitimate reason for being there, was a boat docking area.

Brewster Peninsula trail

Brewster Peninsula trail

Lake Placid

Mirror Lake, the smaller lake that sidles up against Main Street in the town of Lake Placid, is far more easily accessible and is quite stunning. We enjoyed watching this lake change color throughout the day. Aside from the outdoor spots right off of Main Street where you can view the lake, there are two hidden locations that provide amazing views, complete with comfortable seating. The library on Main Street has a sun room with rocking chairs and a large window framing the lake. This is a great perch for when it’s cold. The coffee shop in the mall on Main Street has an outdoor balcony with cafe seating. The view here is worth a panoramic shot (my photo-stitching skills are not quite there yet).

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake at sunset

If there is only so much you can take of lakes, there is one excursion outside of Lake Placid that I highly recommend called High Falls Gorge.  The treetop walkways and bridges give you a view of the Ausible River churning angrily below.  The place has a feel of a mining operation (it actually does have a “mining for gems” feature for kids).

High Falls gorge

High Falls gorge

After a couple of days, we continued on our way to Lake George, about a 2-hour drive south. We stopped off at a taxidermy shop in between. Taxidermy seems to epitomize the Adirondacks for me.

taxidermy shop in Keene

Lake George has a different feel to it than Lake Placid. It is much more casual and we felt the off-season atmosphere more clearly here. We only spent one full day here and got busy seeing what there was to see. Here is a view of the lake and surrounding area from the top of Prospect Mountain. There is a fee to drive up this mountain.

Prospect Mountain

Prospect Mountain

The lake is also quite beautiful from the ground.

Lake George

Lake George

Lake George

I can imagine the Adirondacks being beautiful in the winter with snow on the ground and in the treetops.  There is plenty to do in the winter, especially in the Lake Placid area.  I don’t believe the lake is full of activity in the winter, but there is skiing and snowshoeing in the nearby mountains and woods.   For a place to stay, I recommend the Winterberry Bed and Breakfast right outside the center of town.  Our room was inexpensive and breakfast was delicious.  For Lake George, we stayed at the Inn at Erlowest, a grand old mansion right on the lake.  If you want luxury in a rustic setting, this is it!  The drive from Lake George to NYC is about 3 hours.  If you are planning a trip just to Lake Placid, the drive will be 5 hours.

Niagara Falls

November 11, 2012

I have to admit that Niagara Falls has never been on the top of my list of places to visit, despite having lived in NY my whole life. However, our recent trip to the Finger Lakes brought us in close proximity and we had to take the opportunity once it presented itself.  If you read my previous post, you’ll know that we based ourselves in Canandaigua to explore the Finger Lakes.  The drive from Canandaigua to Niagara took one and a half hours.   If you get there early enough in the morning, before 11am, you will find parking easily on the NY side (at least in mid-October).   Here are some views of the falls from the NY side.  There are in fact, three waterfalls, which I didn’t know about until I did some research for this trip.  Here is a view of Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island.  You can somewhat tell from this picture that it is indeed shaped like a horseshoe.

Niagara Falls

Here is a view of the other two falls, the large American Falls and the tiny one next to it called Bridal Veil Falls (yes, that tiny sliver of a waterfall in the foreground that is separated from the other waterfall by a ruined platform).

Niagara Falls

I didn’t know why my Canadian friend insisted I had to cross into Canada to see the falls until I got here.  Considering the limited view of the tops of the falls on the NY side, you owe it to yourself to bring your passport and cross over to Canada!  There are two ways to cross into Canada from the immediate area – cross Rainbow Bridge by foot or cross it by car.  Crossing by foot is far easier because you will not get stuck in traffic.  We went through the customs office on the NY side in 5 minutes (keep in mind we were there before noon).   The walk across the bridge takes just another 5 minutes, but I would imagine that everyone spends at least 15 minutes just gawking and photographing the falls from this vantage point.
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

The view from the Canada side is not that different from the view from the bridge.  I will spare you the multiple pictures I took from the Canada side that look almost identical to the one above, just a little closer and flatter in appearance.   Some things of note on the Canadian side – lots of casinos and a sea of authentic Korean and Japanese restaurants (many of them did not have English translations on their storefronts).  Very interesting.  Also, keep in mind that you will need to drop two quarters into a turnstile to cross the bridge back over to the NY side.   Those Canadians!

I don’t know how many people just look at the falls and then leave. That would be a mistake.  Further up north on the NY side is a beautiful area called Whirlpool State Park where you can see whirlpools from a safe distance.  The water from the falls meanders its way here where its goes through some turbulence as it swizzles around a bend before making a 90 degree turn eastward.  The whirlpools appear and disappear without any noticeable pattern and greatly vary in size.  Whirlpools are quite disturbing if you have never seen one in real life.   Now I can truly appreciate how ships can get sucked up into a whirlpool, never to be seen again.  There is an aerial tram that takes you on a scary ride above the whirlpools from the Canadian side to the American side.  It was not operating the day we were there because of strong winds.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

For folks coming from NYC, I would recommend a trip to Niagara Falls if you happen to be near that area anyway, but not as a trip for its own sake.  Also, I would agree with most people that you must visit the Canadian side to get a full view of the falls, but I would not recommend spending the night there unless you like casinos and amusement parks.

The Finger Lakes

November 4, 2012

My little blog won’t be able to do this northwestern part of the state justice.  I barely scratched the surface during my 3 days here, but what I can give you is a little flavor to whet your appetite.  On the map, you can easily see how the Finger Lakes got its name – deep grooves left by glaciers resulted in long slender bodies of water side by side resembling fingers. There is an abundance of gorges, waterfalls, forest, and of course, lakes in the area.  Perfect for nature lovers!

We came here to see the leaves change and at mid-October, we were in time to see the colors peak.  It’s absolutely gorgeous at this time and with the summer crowd gone, the perfect time to explore at leisure.  Here are a few highlights from our stay.

Taughannock Falls is at the bottom end of Cayuga Lake, close to Ithaca.  It can be seen from two vantage points, from the top at a parked lookout point and from the bottom of the falls itself.  Here is the view from the lookout.  What I saw didn’t match the pictures, possibly because there hadn’t been enough rain in some time.  Its height is still impressive though.

Taughannock Falls

The hike to the falls itself is an easy 20 minute walk through a partially dry river bed (or you can follow the official trail that is completely dry above the river bed).  We saw hawks nesting on the gorge wall.  Pretty amazing.

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls

For our stay here, we decided to base ourselves at the upper tip of Canandaigua Lake.  This was so we could drive to Niagara Falls without spending too much time on the road (separate post on that coming up).  Canandaigua also happens to have a nice little main street and a historical attraction called the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion.  This estate houses a 40-room mansion and several different styles of gardens.  You can tour the grounds and mansion by yourself, but I recommend the free guided tour of the mansion – you get more out of it than just reading the signs.

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

The real highlight of the Finger Lakes, at least for me, was the gorge at Watkins Glen.  Something about the 800 steps carved into the rocks, forming a meandering and moderately-difficult trail with gushing water and dripping caves, reminded me of Lord of the Rings.  You forgive this man-made intrusion into nature because otherwise you would not be able to experience the sights and sounds of this place.

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

The drive to the Finger Lakes takes about 5 hours from NYC.  To keep your sanity, I recommend you break up the drive somewhere along the way, like in Binghamton.  The Finger Lakes is a huge area and you have many options for where to rest your head.  We stayed at a Victorian bed and breakfast in Canandaigua called the Inn on the Main, which I recommend wholeheartedly because we felt very pampered.  The Finger Lakes is also known for its impressive number of wineries.  For more things to do, especially when the lakes are open for water sports, click here.

Washington Crossing Park

October 28, 2011

We visited New Hope this past weekend in hopes of seeing the start of some fall colors. We were lucky to have good weather and we did manage to see some changes in color. New Hope lies next to the Delaware River and is a small town that seems to know what a good thing it has going for it. It is surrounded by nature, most notably the huge Washington Crossing Park that is located on both the PA side and NJ side of the Delaware River. In PA, it is called Washington Crossing Historic Park. In NJ, it is called Washington Crossing State Park. For this post, I am treating them like they are one large park with the river running through it. As you can guess, George Washington crossed from one side of the river to the other in the vicinity.

If you are interested in making a day trip of it, you may want to strategize beforehand where you want to go in the park because there is a lot of ground to cover. The park on the NJ side is much larger, but the PA side has a tall tower called Bowman’s Hill Tower with amazing views of the surrounding area.

Bowman's Hill Tower

Bowman's Hill Tower

Before you cross over to the NJ side, take a pause by the bridge for a spectacular view of the Delaware River.

Washington Crossing Park

We did not do as much exploring as we would have liked on the NJ side because it was getting late. Here is one shot I managed to get before the sun set.  This is a great place to have an afternoon picnic!

Washington Crossing Park

If you find yourself with some free time, you may be interested in doing a self-guided tour of the 12 covered bridges in the area around New Hope. We started to do the tour but ended up changing our minds. The Van Sant Bridge below is supposed to be haunted.

covered bridge

If you are interested in seeing New Hope, take a stroll down the canal towpath that parallels the river. It is normally a true canal with water flowing, but due to the hurricane, I believe they put in a dam upriver as they make their repairs. Still, it is something to do if you are in town. A lot of folks walk their dogs and bike down the path.

canal towpath

I do not recommend staying in New Hope overnight. The town itself is very touristy with shops that cater to those who like antiques or are into what I call travel shopping. It is also extremely crowded during this time of year with masses of people waiting to cross the street at every corner.  We visited Lambertville on the NJ side as well and it is less touristy but still very crowded.

To get to Bowman’s Hill Tower, take I-95 to Exit 51. (This exit is between the Newtown/Yardley exit and the Trenton exit.) When exiting the ramp, turn onto Taylorsville Road toward New Hope. (From the south this will be a left turn and from the north a right turn.) Follow Taylorsville Road to Route 532. There will be a traffic light at this intersection. Proceed through the traffic light, remaining on Taylorsville Road. When Taylorsville Road ends, turn left onto Route 32. Proceed 2 miles to Lurgan Road to the tower. Travel time from NYC to New Hope is about 2 hours.

Block Island

July 16, 2011

If you are looking for a summer weekend getaway but feel Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are too crowded and developed, Block Island is the way to go.  We wanted some relaxation and decided to do an extended weekend escape with my sister and her husband.  This trip took planning though, because Block Island is still pretty popular and the good hotels and bed and breakfasts are booked far in advance in the summer.   We managed to book two rooms at the Sea Breeze Inn in May for our July trip. We also reserved the ferry tickets in advance.

The drive took 3 hours from Manhattan to the ferry terminal in Point Judith, Rhode Island.  From there, we parked the car and hopped onto the high-speed ferry to Block Island.  The ferry took half an hour and went through some choppy waters, so I was glad to see the island’s famous cliffs grow larger as we approached.

Block Island looks like Swiss cheese on the map.  It is dotted with ponds and is dominated by one particularly large one called the Great Salt Pond. The coastline is amazingly beautiful and is full of beaches, although some are better suited for sunbathing than others.  Here is a brief recap of the highlights.

Our bed and breakfast was within walking distance to the commercial part of town, and yet it felt like it was miles away from civilization.  This is the view from the backyard facing two ponds and the ocean beyond.  You can see more stars out here at night than you would in the city.
Block Island

We rented bikes at the inn and biked everywhere!  It was a lot of uphill and downhill maneuvering.  Not entirely relaxing, but it did give our legs some sorely needed exercising.   I took this pic along the path to the southern lighthouse.  It is so picturesque here.
Block Island

Block Island is home to the endangered American burying beetle, also known as the giant carrion beetle.  I had read about it on the ferry, but didn’t think I would see one.  I found this guy at the southern lighthouse as it was scurrying away from me.  In terms of insects, I was happy to see few mosquitoes on the island, but then I encountered biting flies.  Ugh.
Block Island

This is the lighthouse at the southern end of the island.  It is technically called the Southeast Lighthouse.  It was closed when we got there at 4pm.
Block Island

We also visited the famous Mohegan Bluffs nearby.  As you can see, the stairs leading down are a bit daunting, because you realize that once you get down to the beach, it will be a hard trek going back up!  It was worth it though.
Block Island

The northern part of the island holds a second lighthouse that we had to see.  It was not as impressive looking as the southern one, but there was a rocky beach nearby where we had a good rest. Hubby took a stroll around the tip of the island and was dive-bombed by seagulls.  I think he was near their nests.
Block Island

The Great Salt Pond in the middle of the island is so immense that it actually acts as a harbor for boats and yachts along its rim. There is access to the ocean through an inlet to the west.
Block Island

During our four days here, we ate an immense amount of seafood. It was gluttony at its best rationalized by all the biking we did each day.
Block Island

My favorite beach was close to town, called Crescent Beach.  It was clean and not that crowded.   Someone practiced his surfing in front of us because the waves were high, but he didn’t do so well.  We should have held up scorecards.
Block Island

We enjoyed our weekend and wish we had more time to just sit and stare at nothing.  I liked the laid back vibe and hope to find that again here or elsewhere next summer!
Block Island

You can take the ferry to Block Island from three different terminals. The closest to the city is at Montauk out in Long Island, but if you factor in the Hamptons traffic on a weekend, it will not be the fastest route. There is another access point at New London, CT, but we decided to go further to Point Judith, RI on I-95 most of the way. Parking at Point Judith is $10 per day. The high speed ferry is $36 roundtrip. If you bring bikes, you will need to pay an additional $12 roundtrip per bike. You COULD bring your car on the normal ferry, at a cost of $100 to $115 roundtrip, but we thought it was overkill considering the island is pretty small and is highly bike-able. Once on the island, bikes, mopeds, and cars can be rented in town. We rented our bikes from the inn for $15 a day.