Head to the border, the Canadian border that is, on the Champlain Valley Trail through the northern villages, hamlets, and wilderness of Upstate New York.
This trail, part of the Empire State Trail, extends from Troy to Rouse Point and is one of three sections of “America’s longest multi-use state trail.” In total, the Empire State Trail claims 750-miles of pedestrian pathways reaching from New York City to Buffalo and Canada. Other paths include the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail and the Erie Canalway Trail.
Completed in 2021, the trail was recently named the best rail trail in the United States.
As you head north from the Capital Region (where all three trails converge) through the Adirondacks to the edge of the state, here are a dozen spots to experience Upstate New York food, hiking, and education.
Champlain Area Trails
What would a recreational trail through the Adirondack Park be without some hiking? Though the Empire State Trail does not go through the High Peaks region, there are still mountains and trekking to be had. Champlain Area Trails (CATS) is a non-profit organization which has developed 60 miles of trails and is working to create trails that make it possible for people to “Hike the Lake” by walking from hamlet-to-hamlet. You can find maps of their trails on their website: www.champlainareatrails.com/trails.
Fuel up for your Empire State Trail adventure by stopping at Bubble’s Restaurant in Mechanicville. Opened by an Italian immigrant nicknamed “Bubbles” in 1958, this diner has all of the classic dishes. Make sure however, to save room for an ice cream cone served up at the stand right next door. If you’re still hungry after that, stop by the Ugly Rooster Cafe and take on their Colossal Pancake Challenge. Two giant pancakes covered in fruit and whipped cream must be eaten in 20 minutes to get yourself on the wall of fame.
Stillwater Blockhouse Museum
Built in 1927, in part with timbers from Revolutionary War era structures, the Stillwater Blockhouse Museum in Stillwater, NY is a reconstruction of early 18th century blockhouses of the region. Visitors can view a cannon and exhibits that highlight life and conflict in the 18th century. This replica was once located at the Saratoga Battlefield as part of the Saratoga National Historical Park, but was deemed inappropriate for that time period and was moved to its current location in 1999.
Saratoga National Historical Park – The Battlefield
Preserving the site of the Battles of Saratoga, the Saratoga National Historical Park tells the story of the first significant American military victory of the American Revolutionary War. The Champlain Valley Trail runs through the eastern edge of the Battlefield which is the largest of the four sites included with this historical park. Here in Stillwater, you will find the Boot Monument to erected with the inscription: “In memory of the ‘most brilliant soldier’ of the Continental Army.” Intended to honor Benedict Arnold, it is the only war memorial in the United States that does not bear the name of its honoree.
Saratoga National Historical Park – The General Philip Schuyler House
This restored estate in Schuylerville was the country home of General Philip Schuyler both before and after the Battles of Saratoga. The British burned the original house and its outbuildings. The present house, erected in 1777, had many notable visitors including George Washington, son-in-law Alexander Hamilton (who married daughter Elizabeth Schuyler), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Old Fort House Museum
Located in Fort Edward, the Old Fort House Museum features five historical building filled with local artifacts. The Old Fort House operated as a tavern during the Revolutionary period, built in 1772 with timbers taken from the ruins of Fort Edward. It is here that Solomon Northup, author of “12 Years a Slave,” resided during the first years of his marriage when the home was a boarding house. His book was later adapted into an Oscar winning movie of the same name. There is a permanent exhibit on Northup and a Solomon Northup Day celebration on July 24.
If you’ve worked up a thirst while traveling along the Champlain Valley Trail, stop in Fort Edward at Slickfin Brewing Company. The veteran-owned one barrel microbrewery aims to have 10 artisan brews on tap at all times. Try IPAs, stouts, sours, and other seasonal flavors.
Port Henry Champ Beach Park
Stop for a quick dip at Port Henry Champ Beach Park on Lake Champlain. Their website even claims visitors will have a better chance of spotting Champ, the legendary Lake Champlain water monster that has been called America’s Loch Ness monster. You may even want to stay for Champ Day on August 6 as the town has a celebration full of mythical events.
North Star Underground Railroad Museum
As you make your way through Ausable Chasm, make a stop at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in the Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center. This museum provides exhibits telling the stories of fugitives from slavery who passed through Northeastern New York and the Champlain Valley on their way to Québec and Ontario, Canada. It features artifacts from Underground Railroad history including a leg iron found in a nearby Quaker house.
A visit to Ausable Chasm, NY should also include a visit to the Ausable River which features a is a two-mile chasm with striking waterfalls also known as the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks. You can hike, raft, rappel, and even zip line through this beautiful Adirondack Mountains spots. From beginners to adrenaline junkies, there is an adventure here for everyone.
Clare & Carl’s Hot Dog Stand
A long lost cousin of the chili dog, the North Country specialty called a “Michigan” is a steamed beef frank smothered in Michigan meat sauce. You will find plenty of places that may serve Michigans on the Champlain Valley Trail, but if you only have time for one, make sure it is Clare and Carl’s Hot Dog Stand. The slanted building, which has been sinking for some time, is oldest red-hot shop in Plattsburgh having opened in 1942. Car hops still serve up grub right to your window, but if you’re on foot or bike or roller skates, there is also seating available.
Lakeside Coffee Roasters
By now, if you’ve traveled all the way from Troy and have a belly full of Michigans, you may need a pick me up. Stop at Lakeside Coffee Roasters in Rouses Point, “where the coffee rocks and the cinnamon rolls,” as their website says. This fully caffeinated cafe is just a three minute drive from the Canadian border and the last village before the Empire State Trail’s final destination.
To see the complete map of the Empire State Trail visit empiretrail.ny.gov/map.