Category Archives: Outdoors Adventures

America’s Great Open Spaces Filling Up Fast

Hiking in Yosemite National Park. National and state parks are in high demand as families look forward to gathering together again after a year of separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With more and more people – especially those over 65 years old and the most vulnerable – getting vaccinated, Americans are chomping at the bit to get out there and reconnect with family. For many, the ideal destinations are national and state parks, where there is space and enough outdoors, plus all the experiences being in nature affords, to bring the entire family together. Not surprisingly, bookings are already skyrocketing, with campsites, RV rentals, hotels nearest the parks, still operating with COVID19 restrictions, filling up. Those who are just emerging from an isolation mindset may have awakened to find space already booked.

In fact, Tracks & Trails, which specializes in packaging RV vacations to national parks in the western United States and Canada, citing unprecedented demand, is opening 2022 reservations on April 1.

RV Vacations, Novel Lodgings Surge

RV vacations skyrocketed in popularity over this past year, giving renewed focus on the “road trip,” because they offer the freedom and flexibility of touring the country in a fully-equipped and self-contained unit that has everything needed for a perfect vacation. “Picture it as your personal cabin on wheels going to scenic places where lodges or hotels often don’t exist,” said Dan Wulfman, founder and president of Tracks & Trails, whose specialty is packaging RV vacations to national Parks in the Western U.S. and Canada – not just renting the RV.

RV travel allows friends and families to be autonomous and as private as they please while enjoying the freedom of America’s open roads. Time for lunch? Just pull off at the next scenic turnout and open the fridge. Potty stop? Easy. End the day in the natural beauty of national park campsites chosen especially for Tracks & Trails travelers. 

Wulfman notes that the pandemic is turning millions of non-campers into aspiring RVers, and the trend is exploding. The RV Industry Association found that 20% of US residents surveyed are more interested in RV travel than in flying, tent camping, cruises, or rental stays amid coronavirus concerns.

“But getting in an RV and setting off without a plan can be daunting for a first-timer,” says Wulfman, who introduced the concept of packaged RV vacations in 1996. “That’s where the sage advice, travel tips, and insider knowledge of experts can make or break the experience. Because of COVID, choosing your dates 6 to 12 months in advance is now essential.”

Tracks & Trails is sold out for July and August of 2021, but trips in September and October may still be available. And due to unprecedented demand, the company will begin accepting reservations for 2022 trips on April 1, 2021. 

For those savvy enough to lock in their dates early, the hard part is done. The company’s team of expert planners handles all the arrangements that make it so challenging to organize a worry-free 7-14 day, multi-destination RV trip on your own. Travelers work with their T&T Trip Wizard to select one of the 20 carefully-crafted itineraries, decide on the right RV, and pick optional excursions that suit their tastes. The company takes care of the rest: reserving prime campsites, booking guided excursions with trusted outfitters, and preparing comprehensive documentation that ensures things go smoothly on the road.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of Tracks & Trails’ most popular itineraries is the 13-night Mighty 5: Utah & the Grand Canyon  beginning and ending in Las Vegas that visits all 5 of Utah’s national parks – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – and the Grand Canyon. Optional excursions that can be prearranged include canyoneering, rafting, ATV riding, horseback riding, and Jeep tours. The base trip cost, which includes up to 4 people, ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 and is available from May 15 to October 15 (sold out July-August 2021). (www.tracks-trails.cominquiries@tracks-trails.com, 800-247-0970)

Another source for RV vacations is Blacksford, a new recreational vehicle rental business with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, no generator fees, bedding, bath and kitchen supplies, free Wi-Fi, free annual national park pass and 24-hour roadside assistance. Blacksford also curates road trip experiences by connecting travelers with vetted campsites, guides and other hand-picked attractions. https://www.blacksford.com.

Other sources for places to stay:

An oasis in Death Valley: The historic Inn at Death Valley, one of the Xanterra Travel Collection hotels in national parks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xanterra Travel Collection (www.xanterra.com) is the management company that oversees lodgings – including the campsites, cabins and lodges – in many of the most popular national parks, including the most iconic hotels, like El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, the Inn at Death Valley, Zion Lodge and the historic hotels and lodges in Yellowstone. For information about what’s open, what services will be available, reservations as well as any travel guidelines in this post-quarantine world, go to https://www.xanterra.com/contact/national-parks/.

Other sources for lodging for DIYers: hotels.com, booking.com, koa.com, glampinghub.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com,

Tour Companies Enhance Experience

In many instances, the best way to experience the national parks is through a tour program with an outfitter or company that specializes in hiking, wilderness, nature, or any number of specialties. Not only do they bring an extra measure of enjoyment, literally maximizing the experience, but also have access and expertise casual travelers do not have. Tour companies range from those that are laid back, sightseeing oriented – the classic bus tour like Tauck (tauck.com) and Collette Tours (gocollette.com); find more at Escorted National Parks Tours (escortednationalparkstours.com, 800-942-3301) – to active, adventure trips, even private expeditions.

Among them:

Grand Canyon, hiking the South Kaibab Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads has trips to Yellowstone & Tetons, Glacier, Kenai, Olympic, Arches & Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion & Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Saguaro & Tucson, Hawaii, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, https://www.backroads.com/tours/national-park-vacations, 800-462-2848

Roadscholar, specializing in trips for seniors, offers 220 national parks trips in Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Sedona, Yellowstone, Banff, Appalachian Trail, Mt. Rushmore, Group or solo packages include lodging, meals, & expert-guided educational tours. (Roadscholar.org/parks)

Off the Beaten Path (www.offthebeatenpath.com), based in Bozeman, Montana, is an outdoor, active travel company offering guided small group adventures and private custom journeys across the globe, including national park experiences in the Rocky Mountains, Desert Southwest, and Alaska.

Natural Habitat Adventures expedition leaders guide exclusive small groups to the most remote parts of America’s famed nature sanctuaries. https://www.nathab.com/us-national-parks-tours/ 800-543-8917

REI Adventures offers hiking-oriented trips in Great Smoky Mountains, Utah, Alaska, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Big Bend, Yosemite, Grand Canyon national parks (https://www.rei.com/adventures/p/national-parks/a/hiking, 800-622-2236).

Sierra Club Outings, the Sierra Club’s tour operation, offers a variety of active experiences in national parks (content.sierraclub.org/outings, 415-977-5522)

Zion National Park, Utah © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Geographic Expeditions (www.nationalgeographic.com) has trips and private expeditions to Alaska; Denali to Kenai Fjords; American Southwest National Parks Private Expedition; Arches, Canyonlands & Mesa Verde National Parks Private Expedition;  Glacier National Park private expedition; Yosemite Private Expedition; Grand Canyon, Bryce & Zion; National Parks Family Journey: Yellowstone & Grand Teton, and Discover American Canyonlands, (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/destinations/north-america/national-parks/, 888-966-8687)

Country Walkers www.countrywalkers.com), renowned for well-crafted itineraries for guided walking and self-guided walking that highlight local cuisine, authentic accommodations, and immersive cultural experiences  has programs in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (www.countrywalkers.com/tours/wyoming-yellowstone-grand-teton/, 800-234-6900).

Escape Adventures (www.escapeadventures.com) operates adventure travel vacations catering to the full spectrum of active traveler, from road cyclist to mountain biker to electric biker, hiker, and multi-sport enthusiasts, and from first timer to friends and family groups of all ability levels, in the Grand Tetons & Yellowstone (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/grand-tetons-yellowstone-road-bike-tour/) and Zion and Bryce Canyon other national and state parks (800-596-2953).

Western River Expeditions operates rafting trips in Grand Canyon, Utah and Idaho,  866-904-1160 (Local: 801-942-6669) or visit http://www.westernriver.com/. Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).

OARS (www.oars.com), famous for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, has introduced a series of “Road to Whitewater” road trips: five itineraries that lead to at least one major rafting adventure, as well as incredible sites and experiences along the way. The itineraries are designed with Covid-19 protocols and precautions in place. Itineraries include: Colorado Rod Trip: Denver to Dino Loop in Northwest Colorado, Utah and Wyoming; the Scenic route to the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon from Portland Oregon; San Francisco to Southern Oregon to experience national parks, wild rapids, majestic redwoods and coastal vibes; Salt Lake City to Moab, an ultimate Utah national parks road trip; Los Angeles to Yosemite; and The Tahoe to Yosemite Loop (www.oars.com/road-trips, 800-346-6277).

Novel Ways to Experience The Outdoors

With sustainably built, LEED-certified “tiny house” cabins, Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, is nestled in a wooded setting at the foot of the Teton Range, enabling guests to get back to nature while enjoying the intimacy of a boutique hotel and the ambiance of their own cozy residence. https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/

Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Wyoming.

Guests at the Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, stay in fully-stocked private cabins and enjoy farm-to-table cuisine while participating in equestrian programs, cattle branding, hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, fly fishing, shooting, family-friendly activities and cooking classes. https://red-reflet-ranch.net/

A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains, rivers and Yellowstone National Park. Go hiking through shaded forests and wildflower-filled alpine meadows, float or fly fish a clear, cool river, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking at Big Sky Resort, or tour the natural wonders and wildlife of Yellowstone. https://thewilsonhotel.com/

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Road Trip: Sunrise, Sunset in Death Valley National Park, Nature’s Geologic Art Gallery

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Laini Miranda, Dave E. Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On our second morning in Death Valley National Park, we’re up before sunrise to race to Zabriskie Point, one of the not-to-be-missed highlights, to watch the brilliant display as the rising sun seems to set the rock faces aflame with color.

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today’s itinerary in Death Valley National Park is on a strict schedule around Laini’s zoom appointments (COVID has given rise to “worker nomads” and “workations”) – the proximity to the places we wanted to see was one of the reasons we left Designed to Death AirBnB, 45 minutes drive into the park, for the Ranch at Death Valley, just about 7 minutes drive from Zabriskie Point, in the most central part of this vast national park. We rush back to the Ranch at Death Valley, until her next break, so grateful for its close proximity to what we would like to do today. It requires incredible planning and logistics considering the distance to get to places in a park twice the size of Delaware.

But these breaks give me more time to explore and enjoy the Ranch. It is a full resort with a very casual, family-friendly vibe almost like a dude ranch resort; in fact it once was a working ranch and now has stables offering horseback and carriage rides and a marvelous “Last Kind Words Saloon” that looks like it is straight out of a western movie. It is laid out with two-story units of rooms that open out to either a patio or balcony, with everything from a gorgeous swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, playground. There is even a full 18-hole golf course, at 214 ft below sea level, the lowest elevation course in the world. The ranch also offers Jeep rentals to explore the park in a rugged 4×4.

The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “new and improved” 224-room Ranch at Death Valley is part of a $100 million renaissance along with the nearby Inn at Death Valley (a historic, four-star luxury resort), and is at the vital center of activity in Death Valley. Set along Highway 190 next to the National Park Service Visitor Center, it offers a classic town square with towering date palms and Mission California architecture. Among the improvements: a new restaurant, ice cream and coffee bar, general store with souvenirs as well as groceries.

There’s also a gas station next door. It really is an oasis. (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/)

The Ranch offers a real surprise when I come upon a museum with an outdoor display (the indoor museum is still closed as a COVID precaution) of coaches, mining implements, even a full train locomotive train, set outside almost like a park. And you realize that this wasn’t all that long ago – the turn of the last century, a blip in context of the eons of time on view in Death Valley’s dramatic geology.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum at the Ranch is not to be missed. When you are in the midst of this unforgiving harsh environment, it is astonishing to realize how people lived and worked here, that they even lived here at all – extracting resources like salt and borax, mining gold. The way the artifacts are displayed, it seems almost as if they had just been left behind – there is this immediate connection.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You are overwhelmed in Death Valley by nature and its powerful force, but here at the museum, you are reminded of man’s handiwork. The first white men to enter Death Valley were gold-seeking pioneers with the Death Valley Wagon Train in 1849, looking for a short cut to California. They came to Travertine Springs, near where we are here at Furnace Creek. Stranded, they eventually walked up to Stovepipe Wells and used wood from their wagons to cook meat of slaughtered oxen. We had seen the marker at Stovepipe Wells Village of “Burned Wagons Camp,” the site of the first tourist accommodations in Death Valley.

Step back in time at the museum at The Ranch at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You also feel the presence of the workers and miners when you drive through the 20 Mule Team Trail and walk over the Badwater Basin salt flat, visit the Harmony Borax Works and hike passed a mine shaft.

I contemplate all of this as I sit outside on the porch of the wood cabin with a cup of coffee coffee.

We’ve timed it so as soon as Laini has another break we dash back to Zabriskie Point for a short hike (the trail connects to the Golden Canyon trail), before rushing back for her next Zoom meeting.

Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into Gower Gulch from Zabriskie Point © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back again at the Ranch, I do something I rarely ever have time to do: swim in the pool. It is absolutely glorious – naturally heated by hot mineral springs to a perfect temperature. And the scenery! We see what we couldn’t last night when we had the stars – the mountain peaks all around. We lounge for a couple of hours.

We’ve plotted an afternoon hike for when Laini finishes: Sidewinder Canyon.

We eat our lunch in the car as we drive the 32 miles to Sidewinder Canyon, a slot canyon where you are supposed to be able to explore three separate slots.

This trail is really for adventurers, much less visited than the star attractions (there isn’t even an outhouse at the trailhead here); and it’s not at all well marked.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are supposed to watch for cairns – stones others have arranged in the shape of an arrow, or a pile of stones to mark the entrances. Even the notes say that the first slot, supposedly at the .8-mile mark, is easy to miss. What we think is the first slot has a fairly dramatic entrance, a stony scramble of pointy sedimentary rock like concrete that has come out of the mixer with lots of stones.

Heads up! Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The second slot though is great – scrambles to get to higher levels – interesting formations with light coming through. It is dramatic when you enter, like something will happen, especially when look up and see a boulder wedged in a space between narrow walls above you. It dares you.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The landscape here is really harsh, unforgiving – RoadRunner cartoons come to mind, especially when we see a coyote and what seems to be roadrunner’s feathers on the ground.

Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking into the slots in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sidewinder Canyon is more of adventure than I anticipated. Rugged, stony, not a lot of color, more scramble than I imagined (Dave and Laini go further into the canyon while Eric starts back with me), and not as picturesque, making me appreciate the Golden Canyon trail all the more, but in retrospect, a wonderful adventure. We hike uphill for a mile and then return.

Hiking in Sidewinder Canyon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The contrast between these two canyon hiking experiences – the Golden Canyon yesterday and Sidewinder today – is remarkable, in fact, all the hikes prove so wonderfully different.

We again rush back to Zabriskie Point for sunset – we had missed it by five minutes the night before, so this time, we make sure to get here in plenty of time to appreciate the changing light and colors. It proves not what I expected – I actually find myself more entranced by the full moon rising from behind the mountain peaks. (Artist’s Palette is another popular place to watch the sunset – get there at least a half-hour ahead in order to see the rich colors in the rock.)

Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moonrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sunset at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This evening, we treat ourselves to a special dinner at the luxury, grand hotel, the Inn at Death Valley (originally named the Furnace Creek Inn), sitting outside on a lovely terrace rather than the dining room. The historic hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America, dates from 1927, built by Richard C. Baker  of the Pacific Coast Borax Company as a means to save its newly built Death Valley Railroad, and played a pivotal role in the transformation of Death Valley from a mining wasteland to treasured national park.

The luxury historic Inn at Death Valley is set in a oasis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inn was designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull. Baker hired the Fred Harvey Company to manage the inn (a similar story to the famous El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon), which it did for decades.

The luxury historic Inn at Death Valley is set in a oasis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 90 years, the AAA Four Diamond resort remains an elegant hideaway- and how much more romantic could it be that it is set in a desert oasis and lists among its famous guests are Marlon Brando, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Open from mid- October to mid-May, it offers fine dining in one of the world’s most remote settings, a magnificent spring-fed pool, lush palm gardens, and golf on the world’s lowest golf course, 214 feet below sea level, located at the adjacent Ranch at Death Valley. Both the Ranch and the Inn at Death Valley are part of the Xanterra Travel Collection (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com; xanterra.com; you can also book at historichotels.org)

Celebrating the day’s achievements at a special dinner, al fresco, at the Inn at Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before returning to the Ranch, we head to Harmony Borax Works, one of the best places to see stars (I even see a shooting star), though on this night with a full moon, we probably should have gone back to the Badwater Basin salt flats where we likely would have seen amazing shadows cast by the moon. The difference though, is that Harmony Borax Works is just five minutes away from the Ranch versus Badwater Basin, a 30 minutes drive.

Star Gazing at the Harmony Borax Works © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the moonlight, we can make out what remains of Harmony Borax Works. Borax ore was processed here from about 1884 to 1888. It was built by W.T. Coleman who developed the system of 20-mule team wagons that hauled the borax 165 miles across the desert to the railroad at Mojave. But after only five years, Coleman’s financial empire collapsed and the Harmony plant was shut down.

The next morning, we pack up to leave the Ranch, with a plan to hike the Mosaic Canyon trail on our way out of the national park.

The four-mile roundtrip hike into Mosaic Canyon is sensational from start to finish – stunning, improbably smooth marble walls, scrambles on the way in that become natural slides on the way back (from eons of floods, apparently, or perhaps all the backsides that slide down).  This is like amusement park ride from start to finish – sheer delight. We follow cairns in the shape of stone arrows that point the way.

Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Mosaic Canyon is a geological art gallery: irregularly shaped fragments of tan-colored Noonday Dolomite, sandy matrix, and limey cement create what seem to be murals on the canyon walls,” the National Park Service notes read. “In other places, dolomite, transformed into marble by heat and pressure, forms colorful swirls in stream-polished whirlpools and chutes in the bedrock. This is because the geologic history of Mosaic Canyon is a succession of fill-and-scour cycles – major flash floods fill the canyon with up to 20 feet or more of gravel every couple of decades, often blocking easy passage with large boulders. Less intense storms slowly scour the canyon again, removing the earlier deposits. The remains of iron railings and steps installed at the first narrows serve as reminders of a filled canyon only a few decades ago. Hiking up the canyon is a visual and intellectual treat. The canyon itself offers evidence of past floods and serves as a vivid reminder of the enormous power of water.” (https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/mosaic-canyon.htm)

Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Using the smooth rock as a slide in Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Using the smooth rock as a slide, at Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mosaic Canyon, “a geological art gallery” in Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can take just an easy one-mile roundtrip hike through the narrows or hike 2.2 miles to the upper end of the canyon.

I have to actually try my (minimal) rock-climbing skills, with lots of cheers and support from everyone. It is a hoot. And the colors and patterns!

It takes us less than three hours, gorgeous and fun from very beginning, perfect for our final hike before driving back to Sonoma, with a short stop to enjoy the view of Mono Lake in the late afternoon light.

As we drive away, we start a list of what we need to do when return: the Telescope Peak hike (a strenuous 7-mile hike up 3,000-feet to 11,049 feet altitude, which Eric does just weeks later when he returns); Dante’s Peak (for an amazing view); and Darwin Falls (an actual water fall) top the list.

Plan your visit to Death Valley National Park, nps.gov/deva, 760-786-3200.

Death Valley in art: “Sidewinder Canyon” diptych by Laini Nemett (2020, 12 x 9 in, oil on linen on panel). Visit www.laininemett.com.

See also:

ROAD TRIP: DISCOVERING DEATH VALLEY’S TREASURES, RICHER THAN GOLD

ROAD TRIP: HITTING THE HIGHLIGHTS OF DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

AD-VAN-TURING, NEWEST TRAVEL TREND

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Road Trip: Discovering Death Valley’s Treasures, Richer than Gold

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Laini Miranda, Dave E. Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the quest, so very popular in these days of coronavirus, of finding open spaces to become renewed, revitalized, revel in nature and contemplate one’s place in the universe, there is no better place than Death Valley National Park, spanning California and Nevada.

Our four-day trip to Death Valley has an overlay of planning that goes beyond planning for hiking in a vast desert: the coronavirus pandemic. It impacts our route, where we stay (an Air BnB at the outskirts and the Ranch at Death Valley in the park, having double-checked their COVID-19 protocols), how we organize food and water to take with us (and ice chest) to cut down on the need to eat out.

And our itinerary is designed to pack as much as possible from such an expansive landscape into such a limited time. In the process, we discover that we are very much following in the footsteps of the miners who came before seeking the treasures in these landscapes. For us, the treasures we find are not the material kind, but even more enriching.

With an eight-hour drive ahead of us, we calculate when to depart in order to get to Death Valley in time to begin our exploration. With meticulous planning and organization that the Army would be proud of, we pull away from Sonoma at 5:39 am, taking an interior route, east toward Tahoe, then south, passing the eastern side of Yosemite National Park.

The fall scenery all along the way is breathtaking, going from wilderness, through these little Western towns and ranches.

We pass the ski resorts at Lake Tahoe, where the road takes us up to an altitude of 8,000 ft. and temperatures as low as 19 degrees, and by the end of the day, down to 275 feet below sea level at Death Valley. As we drive out of Tahoe, we watch the thermometer ticking up a degree every mile, until reaching the 80s. Actually, the weather is quite cool and comfortable for Death Valley, which is the hottest place on the planet, with ungodly temperatures that reached 130 degrees this summer, but can also get frigid in winter. Our visit, in October, is actually a terrific time.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laini plots our route so we would stop at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, in Lee Vining, California, where we have a picnic lunch. The first sight of Mono Lake from the highway above is astonishing: a stunning, ethereal scene with its brilliant aquamarine color and striking tufa formations. We stop at the overlook and then drive down along the shore to the parking lot. The visitors center is closed (because of COVID-19 restrictions), but we go into a trailhead that leads to a short boardwalk to the lake edge.

California created the reserve to protect these spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate (limestone) spires and knobs formed by the chemical interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. The reserve protects the lake surface as well as the wetlands and sensitive habitat for the 1 – 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Covering 65 square miles, Mono Lake is ancient – over 1 million years old and one of the oldest lakes in North America. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline. “The extremely high salinity and alkalinity of Mono Lake has created a rare ecosystem, supporting a complex food chain of green algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies, and more than 80 species of migratory birds.” (www.parks.ca.gov)

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Preserve, Lee Vining, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California, 760-647-6331, www.parks.ca.gov; also www.monolake.org).

We stop off at Carroll’s Market (probably the last one we will see), which actually gets high ratings on Yelp, especially for its blue cheese dressing, and has become its own attraction. We buy a dozen gallon jugs of water and stop off to fill up at a gas station.

Death Valley National Park

Father Crowley Vista Point view over Rainbow Canyon, a colorfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity, nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a long flat stretch with mountains in the distance, we drive the winding mountain road (make sure you have a full tank of gas), entering the park at Panamint Springs. We stop at the Father Crowley Vista Point for the view over Rainbow Canyon, a colorfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity. Nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon”, it’s where the military practices Star-Wars type of flying. The wind today is so intense, it practically throws us over.

(Nearby is Darwin Falls, a seeming oxymoron in this desert place, quickly turning from a gravel canyon to a lush oasis of cottonwoods and willows, creek crossings, and finally 20-foot waterfalls, a two-mile roundtrip hike, which we have marked down for a return visit.)

We stop at the historic Stovepipe Wells Village – like something out of a Western movie – that links back to the very beginning of tourism in Death Valley. In fact, long after mining gold, borax and talc had collapsed, tourism has been the enduring enterprise in Death Valley.

Stovepipe Wells General Store evokes the earliest days of tourism to Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Herman William “Bob” Eichbaum effectively invented Death Valley’s tourism industry here, believing its “beauty, mystery and history” would attract tourists. Indeed, since 1915, motion pictures, automobile companies and writers weaving tales and promoting advertisements sparked interest (early social influencers) in visiting. In 1925, Eichbaum built a 38-mile toll road over Towne Pass and 20 tent-style bungalows, a restaurant, general store and filling station. He opened the Stovepipe Wells Hotel in 1926. Just a few months later, the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn was opened by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, setting off an intense rivalry. Most enthralling is that both places are still around and give you this sensation of stepping back in time. (Open year-round, deathvalleyhotels.com, 760-786-7090).

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s only a short drive from the village to reach Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a little after 4 pm, giving us at least one hour before sunset. We have just enough time to play on the dunes and watch the colors (and temperature) change with the setting sun. People bring cardboard sleds, using the sand like snow.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is an extraordinary setting:  sprawling over 14 square miles, ringed with mountain peaks, the contrast of colors, shapes, contours is just stunning.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In late afternoon, the sand is cool enough to take off shoes and feel remarkably soft granular sand on toes. We climb the dunes –as much as 150 feet high- wowed in the colors of the golden hour as the sun descends.  All the pure joy you had playing in a sand box when you were four comes bursting through.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon; on a dawn hike, the notes say, you might see tracks of nocturnal animals and if you hike at night in the warm months, they warn, be alert for sidewinder rattlesnakes (I’m still thinking about the tracks of nocturnal animals).

Designed to Death

We drive on, reveling in the scenes of the road disappearing into the far distance, headed to our Air BnB, with the intriguing name, Designed to Death, in the small town of Beatty, about 20 miles outside the park’s eastern border (Las Vegas would be about 1 ½ hours beyond). Though the name evokes Agatha Christie, it is breathtakingly beautiful, cozy luxury, with a bit of a Western vibe – easily explained because the hosts are interior designers and the house is a showplace for their talent.

Preparing dinner at Designed to Death AirBnB, Beatty, Nevada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are here for too short a time to fully enjoy all that the house affords. Set on an isolated stretch of high desert, the 1,200 sq. ft.,  three-bedroom, two-bath vacation home was designed by Peter Strzebniok to incorporate the vistas, providing stunning views while making the desert part of the interiors – merging the inside with the outside. What we do thoroughly enjoy though, is the large open kitchen, dining room, living room, that opens onto a 900 sq. ft deck with hot tub. The Presidential Suite at a five-star hotel would not have been any nicer or more comfortable.

Our Designed to Death Air BnB hosts are Karen McAloon, an interior designer who works in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, who was an HGTV host and her partner was her producer. (They have two sister properties, Hip Modern cottage of Amazingness in Lake Tahoe, @hipmoderncottageofamazingness, and Too Pool for School in Joshua Tree, @toopoolforschooljtree.)

They provide excellent notes – like the nearest place for supplies would be at Family Dollar, but the nearest actual grocery is 70 minutes south at Pahrump. They also supply tour information of nearby ghost towns, museums, attractions and of course Death Valley National Park. There is an interesting note about the wild burros that we might see (there is even a traffic sign like a deer crossing), which are descended from burros abandoned by miners a century ago. “Don’t feed them, they can be destructive. They tend to be down at the creek in the morning and wander into town at night.”

We take full advantage of the gorgeous kitchen to prepare dinner (we brought food for dinner and breakfast).

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

The next morning, we pack up quickly and head out early morning with a plan to stop off on our way into Death Valley to visit an actual ghost town, Rhyolite.

It is so fascinating to try to piece together what this town might have been like and to realize how big it was – most surprising, really (especially when you see the context) is what’s left of a hotel and casino. A casino! “100 years ago, Rhyolite was the largest city in southern Nevada with more than 10,000 residents. Yet after only a decade, the town became a ghostly remnant of itself” – a classic boom and bust story, with all sorts of lessons about the transitory nature of success in the span of history. It is tremendously exciting to wander about these ruins, so dramatically set.

Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.
Rhyolite, a Death Valley ghost town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

In its heyday, between 1905-1911, Rhyolite had two churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, two undertakers, 19 lodging houses, eight doctors, two dentists, a stock exchange and an opera.

The ruins that remain today include the Bottie House, the train depot (there is a caboose there), the remains of a three-story bank building and the jail.

It is one of several ghost towns that are scattered through Death Valley, “the silent ruins of broken dreams.”

Death Valley in art: “Rhyolite Bank Window,” a Death Valley ghost town, by Laini Nemett (2020, 12 x 9 in, oil on linen on panel). Visit www.laininemett.com

Next: Hitting the Highlights of Death Valley National Park

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Topnotch Skiing at New York’s Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks

By Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On what must have been one of the busiest ski days of the season at Gore Mountain – the last day of Presidents’ Week, bluebird sky, no wind, crisp and comfortable temperature in the 20s and gorgeous powder after a couple of snowstorms – we were among the delighted downhillers, having snagged capacity-controlled lift tickets, easing into the COVID-19 routine to enjoy a sensational day on the slopes.

Winter resorts provide refuge, revitalization and renewal, especially in this time of COVID, and understandably, the three New York State-owned Olympic Regional Development Authority ski areas – Gore Mountain and Whiteface in the Adirondacks, Belleayre in the Catskills – sold out their Ski3 season passes early on. Lift tickets, capacity controlled, should be booked online to make sure there is still space. So the day we visited was one of the busiest of the season because the tickets were sold out. Even so, the mountain was gloriously uncrowded, even on the busiest day. And it was heavenly.

The modifications for COVID safety in facilities and services are pretty seamless, even ordinary, by now. In fact, they have led to improvements, like the ability to order food online from the lift and pick up at the Base Lodge, and RFID direct-to-the-gate ticketing.

I went through the rental process – the large room kept as open and as uncrowded as possible, with minimal transactions and the attendants behind a plexiglass protective screen.

A sign of the COVID-times: wearing masks on the lift at Gore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The base lodge had no tables or chairs inside to minimize the amount of time people stay inside, but you could still purchase grab-and-go items at the food court (we brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water to have on the mountain). You are urged to use your car as your personal base lodge but that wasn’t necessary. Other concessions to COVID this season: there isn’t day care for non-skiing kids or ski school, but private lessons are available (families and pods okay).

There was a line to get on the lifts from the base – the Northwoods Gondola and the Adirondack Express quad – with people generally keeping a social distance (skis helps provide natural distancing), wearing masks as required. Even though the lines were a bit longer because of the policy to keep non-affiliated individuals on separate chairs, it moved quickly enough under the watchful eye of a couple of ski ambassadors, who pleasantly supplied a trail map upon request and answered any questions.

There are new RFID readers so no person needs to click or read the lift ticket – the gate opens automatically as it reads the lift ticket in your jacket pocket.

The ride up the 7109-foot long Adirondack Express was so delightful, depositing us right at the Saddle Lodge at mid-mountain, where, peeking in, there did seem to be a lot of people standing around, but in their own groups, socially distanced from other groups. The restrooms were extremely clean, with a sign posted that only two people should be inside at any one time.

To warm up, I started down Sunway, a 2.2-mile long green, back down to the base, and back up.

From there, we hopped on Upper Wood-In, a blue-trail, to get to the High Peaks chair – new this season! – which brings you all the way up to the summit. The High Peaks chair replaced a double chair which deposited you lower down, and you would ski to the Streetbrook Quad to get up to the summit. Now, I was able to take the High Peaks chair to the top of one of my favorite blues on the mountain, Cloud, where you have the spectacular view from the Gore’s summit at 3,600 feet altitude.

Riding the new High Peaks chair to Gore’s summit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places – while Dave and Laini love the black diamond trails and the glades (Gore was one of the first Eastern ski areas to develop gladed terrain!). Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. And with a vertical of 2,537 feet, you actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.

It is surprising to realize that Gore is the biggest ski destination in New York State (and New York, with 50 ski areas and resorts, has the most in the nation!), with the most skiable acres (439 acres), 121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails, 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, serviced by 14 lifts including a gondola (a year-round attraction, they cleverly post fun historical notes in each car). Besides the stunning views, the wilderness, what I love best is the long cruisers – the longest run is 4.4 miles and six of the trails are longer than 1 ½ miles. In all, Gore offers 42 miles of skiing. There is even night skiing (at North Creek Ski Bowl).

Cloud, a blue trail from Gore’s summit, accessed by the new High Peaks quad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a vertical drop of 2537 ft. from the summit at 3600 ft. down to the base at North Creek Ski Bowl (998 ft.),  Gore also offers the 6th greatest vertical in the East – a greater vertical drop in fact than such famous mountains as Stowe (2360), Sunday River (2340), Okemo (2200), Jay Peak (2153), Mount Tremblant (2116), Mad River Glen (2037), Stratton Mountain (2003) and Mount Snow (1700) –  and comparable to ski resorts in the Colorado Rockies (Copper Mountain’s vertical is 2600 ft.)

Gore Mountain skiing consists of nine faces across four mountains: Gore Mountain is the biggest and highest, at 3600 ft., Bear Mountain rises to 3200 ft., Burnt Ridge Mountain rises to 2735 ft. and Little Gore Mountain goes up to 1900 ft. The areas are so well laid out and contoured, you can easily move among them, and it’s simple to get back to the base lodge and food-court or the mid-mountain Saddle Lodge to grab a bite or warm up.

And besides having outstanding variety, Gore is an ideal a family-friendly ski destination, with a lot of natural separation of skier abilities; even the way the trails merge together – in most cases flowing together instead of having fast skiers fly down a black and crossing over a green or traverse trail– which makes it a lot more pleasant.

Gore Mountain has great contours and flow among the trails. In all, it offers 110 alpine trails – 42 miles! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each of Gore’s four mountains have their own features and character, and among them is an astonishing array of terrain, not to mention views and the fact that if conditions are not the best in one area or are too crowded (not likely because of the way skiers are dispersed), you can simply move to another. Gore has seven distinct areas:

Northwoods on Bear Mountain is the biggest area, with 29 trails, 5 glades, on 146 acres, and has the lion’s share of green (easiest) trails, including the delightful Sunway that goes into Lower Sunway, a total of 2.2 miles of absolutely marvelous skiing, down to the base. The concentration of beginner trails are accessed by a new Sunway chair. It has the most gorgeous cruisers, including Twister, a long, wide and forgiving blue, lined with trees and providing gorgeous views of the Adirondacks.  There are four black diamond trails including three that have free-style (Lower Sleighride, Wild Air and Pot Luck). The area is served from the base by the Northwoods Gondola, the Adirondack Express high-speed detachable quad, a double and four surface lifts.

Sunway, a 2.2-mile long green trail, gives you lots of time to practice your turns © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The High Peaks Area, known as “The Dark Side” (“where experts like to hide”) offers “Classic Adirondack” skiing with 12 trails (9 blue, two blacks and a double black, Lower Steilhang) and 4 glades on 31 acres. It is accessed by the new High Peaks chairlift which now goes all the way to the summit and the top of Cloud.

It was enjoyable to take Cloud to Headwaters, both blue trails, to the Straight Brook Quad, back up to the summit. Here, though, are a group of some of Gore’s more challenging trails, Chatiemac, Hawkeye, Open Pit and the double-black trails, The Rumor, Lies and Upper Darby.

Straight Brook on Gore Mountain offers a variety of challenging terrain and glades and is where you will find two double-black runs, The Rumor and Lies, rumored (unconfirmed) to be the steepest train in the East. Chatiemac, a black, is one of Dave and Laini’s favorites on the mountain. There are also a couple of intermediate trails – like Cloud – which connects to other blues and greens to ski the whole way down. In all, this area has 10 trails, 4 glades and 55 acres accessed by the Straight Brook quad.

A bluebird ski day at Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Topridge is where Dave and Laini go for southern exposure diamonds with views of Gore summit, plenty of pitch and sunshine. It offers five trails (3 blue including Tannery and Lower Uncas) and two blacks, on 45 acres, accessed by the Topridge triple chair.

The North Side – called “Natural North” because they keep it natural – is off the beaten path, and offers an array of easy-going cruisers and gorgeous views. It’s great for families, with uncrowded trails you feel you have to yourself (9 trails, 2 glades on 37 acres serviced by the North quad).

Burnt Ridge is noted for its geology and great views of North Creek Village and the Hudson River. Its seven trails, five glades (The Cirque is one of the longest glades in the East) on 76 acres are serviced by “one of the most luxurious rides” on the mountain, the Burnt Ridge high-speed quad. This area has Sagamore, another one of Dave and Laini’s favorite black trails on the mountain.

A bluebird ski day at Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

North Creek Ski Bowl, which is owned by the town of Johnsburg but managed in partnership with Gore, is where two triple chairs access a surprising variety of trails – two greens, four blues, three blacks including a half pipe and skier/boarder X, and a double black, 46er – on 47 acres on Little Gore Mountain. The trails are relatively short, with a vertical of just under 1000 ft. A new Hudson chair lift connects Gore to the Ski Bowl (open for twilight skiing on weekends and holidays). There also is a shuttle bus between the two bases.

North Creek Ski Bowl also has the Nordic ski area, with 5k network of trails (3.7k with snowmaking and night lights) and snowshoeing (also “uphilling,” which is snowshoeing up the ski mountain).

The Ski Bowl has a long and storied history – when it opened in 1934it was one of the first commercial ski areas in the nation; skiers from New York City came up by train to North Creek. (Gore’s lift ticket is valid, and you can use it for twilight skiing; a Nordic trail pass is $20.)

We had focused on the upper part of the mountain for much of the day to avoid lines on the Adirondack Express or the Gondola at the base.

Dave skis Twister © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the afternoon, the mountain really emptied out (it was Sunday at the end of President’s Week, after all, and people were probably not lingering over lunch), and we hit Twister which proved my absolute favorite – a long, winding blue, not intimidating, but enough of a challenge to make you feel like a real skier and bump up your skill. It turns out it is just about everybody’s favorite trail. It was no problem to come down to the base (there are two relatively steep drops at the end, but the conditions made it okay) and it was so great, we went back up again for a final run before heading out.

State-owned Gore Mountain, along with Whiteface in Lake Placid and Belleayre in the Catskills, has benefited from significant capital investments in improvements– including enhanced snowmaking, new and improved lifts and lodges – but also for year-round appeal.

Saddle Lodge, one of the many improvements that New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority has made at Gore Mountain over the past few years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In warm weather, enjoy rides on Gore’s gondola and chairlift, hiking, mountain biking and special events.

There isn’t a set closing date for skiing – so far the season has been exceptional – but typically, skiing is open until after Easter, or mid- to late April.

Gore began as a destination ski area – after all, it wasn’t that easy to reach. But over time, especially as the New York Thruway and Northway made it so easy to reach from Albany, Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls and even Montreal, Gore can be a day trip.

But Gore Mountain and the Adirondacks have so much to offer, longer stays are warranted. The landscape is breathtaking, and significantly, still wilderness. You also have some marvelous resorts and lodging – the grand, historic Sagamore Resort on Lake George is 45 minutes away (they offer a shuttle bus to Gore), and in North Creek, the Copperfield Inn is as intimate as an inn (only 31 rooms), but with all the services of a luxury hotel (Copperfield Inn, 307 Main Street, North Creek, NY 12853, 518-251-9808, www.copperfieldinn.com).

North Creek is a charming village with several delightful bistros and shops, and the village offers a free shuttle bus to the mountain, less than 10 minutes away, every 20-30 minutes throughout the day, in season.

Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411, goremountain.com.

See also: Plenty to Discover, Experience Exploring New York’s Adirondack Hamlets 

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

ad-VAN-turing, Newest Travel Trend

adVANturing in a Moterra camper van © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The biggest travel trend to explode out of the time of Corona is ad-VAN-turing – basically a freewheeling adventure in a tricked out van (sleeker than an RV but with most if not all the comforts of a studio apartment on wheels). These high-tech, luxury mobile campers are designed to be self-sufficient, carrying their own water, electricity, toilet, galley kitchen, even solar panels for energy so you don’t have to plug in, but can still have enough power in reserve to run the heat at night so you have incredible mobility and freedom to explore.

In mid-December, we took off with an indefinite week-long itinerary from Sonoma, California, in a Moterra camper van which we picked up in San Francisco.

We spent our first day skiing at Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe, California (we stayed overnight a couple blocks away from the parking lot, which made getting first chair easy!).

In place for first chair at Heavenly Mountain Resort Base © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From there, we drove down to Death Valley National Park, spending one night at the Panamint Springs RV park and another at the trailhead for Telescope Peak (fairly desolate this time of year).  We were really impressed with how our van got us safely to the base of mountain treks without issue, thanks to the four wheel drive.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Summit of Telescope Peak Hike, Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Gorgeous sunset on the drive from Death Valley to Zion © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though the mid-December days were short and the nights were cold, we were cozy and comfortable in our van with round-the-clock heat and cooking amenities. And snuggling up on the roof of the van with wine in hand made for some glorious stargazing (we lucked out our first night in Death Valley with a mind-blowing Geminids meteor shower).

After Death Valley, we made our way to Zion National Park, Utah, stopping along the way in Las Vegas, Nevada, to pick-up a quick dinner. The Angels Landing & Narrows hikes are not to be missed. And being able to pull over at picturesque lookout points for homemade (van-made) lunches made the experience in the park all the more special.

Driving through the wintery scenery in Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Near the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Preparing lunch after a hike in Zion National Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com


On our way back from Zion, we spent a night in Valley of Fire State Park (about an hour east of Vegas). We were shocked we hadn’t heard of this Nevada state park before. The massive red rocks and scrambly canyons made us feel like we were exploring communities and dwellings straight out of The Flintstones! We spent the night at the spectacular Arch Rock Campground.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Arch Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While making our way back towards the Bay Area (by way of Los Angeles), we already began planning our next adVANture for Summer 2021 – we’re thinking the Pacific Northwest. As fabulous as it was to explore the National Parks in the off-season (we hear Zion especially can get unbelievably crowded and Death Valley is known to have some of the most extreme temperatures in the world), we’re looking forward to our next trip with warmer weather and longer days for exploring.

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans Lets You Pave Your Own Path

You’ve probably now heard of glamping – luxury camping. Now Moterra Campervans offer a novel way to experience the national parks and wilderness by luxury camper van, which also provides amazing self-sufficiency.

With all the luxury of a 50-foot long RV, the Moterra camper vans, at 19-foot long,are  much less cumbersome to drive and park, and can even be used in easier-to-book tent camping spots in national parks, so you can stay away from the busy (and likely booked up) RV parks.

Arch Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You don’t even need to plug into electricity because the vans are powered with rooftop solar panels and auxiliary batteries (not noisy generators); or have to plug into a water supply, since they hold between 16 and 24 gallons of fresh water, or bathroom, since they have  their own sink, even their own bathroom facilities (port-o-potty; some actually have its own shower), and with their own galley for cooking and refrigerator, these camper vans provide a new level of mobility.

These camper vans come with bluetooth audio, cruise-control and touch-screen navigation. A backup camera, blind spot sensors and lane assist technology make maneuvering a breeze. You don’t have to stay in an RV park, but can go wherever tents are allowed.

The Moterra camper van is self-sufficient. You don’t need to plug in for electricity or water, so you can follow your wanderlust © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Moterra’s fleet of specially outfitted Mercedes Benz Sprinters, tricked out by Sportmobile, are outfitted with absolutely everything you need for camping, from sleeping stuff (memory foam pillow!), to cooking (marshmallow skewers) and dining, cleaning supplies, amenities like chairs and table, inflatable solar lights, even bear spray.

Enjoying a bottle of wine on the camper van roof and getting set for star-gazing; solar panels provide enough power to keep the heat going all night © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are two models to choose from: The High Roof is perfect for couples – it includes a queen sized bed in the back, galley kitchen, sink, indoor shower and portable toilet. The Pop Top, which sleeps four, is perfect for families, with a double bed down below and a double bed up top in the Pop Top! While the Pop Top does not have an Indoor Shower, you can get as an add-on a solar shower that can be used outside, and has a sink and stove. Both models are rented for $339 a night.

Add-ons available include hammocks & bike racks, and services such as pre-bought groceries.

The Moterra fleet is positioned for adventuring in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Grand Tetons; Utah; Glacier National Park (Montana); Las Vegas (great gateway for desert adventuring) and California.

Death Valley © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Moterra, which founded by Gabe Aufderheide and Trevor James who were formerly with Backroads, the renowned active travel company, also offers packaged and customized tour itineraries.

All-inclusive packages consist of:

Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee

Day-by-day personalized Itinerary with directions and destination info.

Pre-booked campsites, handpicked and booked in advance where possible, or GPS locations for off-the-grid dispersed camping spots.

Scenic routes that take you to the heart of the action while minimizing road traffic.

Individualized suggestions depending on your preferences for hiking, scenic attractions, restaurants and activities.

A wide range of activities to make the trip your own, like white-water rafting, wildlife safaris, road biking, horseback-riding, kayaking and scenic floats.

Zion National Park is featured in Moterra’ pre-packaged 13-night/14 day Mighty 5+ Grand Canyon trip © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For example, a 13-night/14 day Mighty 5+ Grand Canyon: featuring Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce National Park, Zion National Park, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park is priced from $5999.

A six-night/seven-day family-oriented Yellowstone Handpicked Highlights package features Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons National Park (from $4699).

Moterra operates out of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and San Francisco, CA.

Check the website for deals, discounts on early bird bookings, extended trips, spring 2021 discounted add-on for one-ways, and gift cards.

Moterra Camper Vans, 1565 Berger Lane, Jackson, Wyoming 83001, 307-200-7220,

info@gomoterra.com, gomoterra.com.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York’s 750-Mile Empire State Trail, Longest Multi-Use State Trail in Nation, Officially Opened!

Biking over the Rosendale Trestle, 150 feet above the Rondout Creek, on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, part of the New York Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened as of December 31. The trail network spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail means you can go from New York City north-south through the Hudson and Champlain Valley to Canada, and east-west from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal on a safe and incredibly scenic pathway, discovering fascinating historic and cultural sites along the way.

 The Empire State Trail is expected to draw 8.6 million residents and tourists annually and will be an economic boon to rural communities, in addition to providing opportunities for healthful activities promoting wellness among New Yorkers.

“Nearly four years ago, we announced plans to build the Empire State Trail and I am excited to announce it’s been completed on time and will open on New Year’s Eve,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “There’s no trail like it in the nation – 750 miles of multi-use trail literally from Manhattan to the Canadian Border, from Buffalo to Albany. Not only does it provide an opportunity to experience the natural beauty and history of New York, but it also gives New Yorkers from every corner of the state a safe outlet for recreation as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we approach the holiday weekend, there is no better time than now to put on your mask and experience it for yourself.”

“During this unprecedented year, the Empire State Trail has been a lifeline for many, as local residents explored recreational opportunities in their backyards while remaining safe during a global health pandemic,”Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “The completion of the 750-mile state trail not only makes physical connections between locations across the state, but it also continues to build on how we are reimagining our natural wonders and historic corridors as a source of recreation, economic development and tourism in New York State.”

Introduced in the Governor’s 2017 State of the State address, the Empire State Trail will be open year-round, including winter. It connects 20 regional trails to create a continuous statewide signed route. As part of the 58 distinct projects to complete the Trail on time, more than 180 miles of new off-road trail was created and 400 miles of previously disconnected, off-road trails were linked to eliminate gaps and ease engineering challenges such as railroad and water crossings in high traffic areas.

The New York State Department of Transportation improved 170 miles of on-road bicycle route sections to enhance safety and travel on low-speed rural roadways and city streets when possible. New York State also installed 45 gateways and trailheads along the route to welcome visitors and branded the trail with signage, interpretive panels, bike racks, and benches.

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activities and destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities.

Recently completed projects that finalize the trail include:

Hudson Valley

Biking over the Springtown Truss Bridge over the Wallkill River, featured in the movie “A Quiet Place,” on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, now part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Albany-Hudson Electric Trail: The Hudson River Valley Greenway constructed 36 miles of off-road and on road trails from the city of Rensselaer to the City of Hudson in Rensselaer and Columbia counties. The $45 million trail follows the historic route of an electric trolley which operated from 1900 to 1929. The corridor is owned by National Grid, which authorized New York State to build a trail on the route.
  • Maybrook Trailway: Metro-North Railroad constructed a new 23-mile rail-trail on its inactive “Beacon Line” corridor from Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County to Brewster in Putnam County passing through the towns of Pawling, Southeast, Paterson, Beekman and East Fishkill. Along the route, the trail winds through rural landscapes and wooded areas featuring seasonal waterfalls and crosses the Appalachian Trail. The $42 million Beacon Line was the first all-rail freight connection across the Hudson River north of New York City. It originally opened as a rail line in 1892 and served as a vital transportation link between New York and southern New England, carrying trains between Derby Junction and Maybrook, via the bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie that is now the Walkway Over the Hudson.
  • Hudson River Brickyard Trail: The City of Kingston constructed a new 1.5-mile Empire State Trail section along the Hudson River shoreline. The $1.4 million project was built with City of Kingston and Town of Ulster funds matched by state grants from the Department of State and Hudson River Valley Greenway.
  • Battery Park City Gateway: The $450,000 gateway marks the southern terminus of the trail in Lower Manhattan.
The completion of the New York Empire State Trail means you can bike from Hudson River Park in Manhattan, up to the Canada border © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Erie Canalway Trail

Cycle the Erie riders visit the historic Flight of Five Locks at Lockport, the engineering marvel that made the Erie Canal possible © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Gateways: These four gateways in Western New York provide a welcoming connection for trail visitors at key access points in: Buffalo Harbor State Park in Buffalo; at the western entrance to the Erie Canal in Tonawanda; at Five Locks Park in Lockport; and in Genesee Valley Park in Rochester. The gateways include kiosks featuring local and statewide trail information, bicycle racks, and shaded granite block seating. Each gateway features a “Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.” memorial plaque honoring the late owner of the Buffalo Bills. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation provided $2.6 million dollars for the gateways.
  • Macedon Bridge: NYSDOT restored a closed vehicle bridge over the Erie Canal. The $4.2 million investment created a bicycling and walking trail and created a local park.
  • Erie Blvd-Syracuse: NYSDOT constructed a 3-mile trail in the median of Erie Blvd, from East Syracuse to DeWitt. The project cost $23 million.
  • Loop the Lake Trail-Syracuse: Onondaga County constructed a new 1.5-mile trail on the south shore of Onondaga Lake, including a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge over CSX’s rail line. The project was funded with County and federal funds.
  • Utica: New York State Canal Corporation constructed a new 3.5-mile trail east of Utica for $9.3 million
  • Herkimer County: New York State Canal Corporation completed a new 2.2-mile trail section Lock E18 to Route 167, a new 1.3-mile trail section Frankfort to Ilion, and a new 2-mile trail from Ilion to Mohawk. These projects totaled $16.4 million.
Stopping off to visit the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse during the Cycle the Erie bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Champlain Canalway

  • Fort Edward to Fort Ann: The New York State Canal Corporation constructed two adjacent trail sections. The $14.3 million investment created a 12-mile trail from Fort Edward to Fort Ann.
  • Fort Ann to Comstock: NYSDOT built a new 0.75-mile off-road trail in Washington County and designated a 7-mile route on local roads and cost $2 million.

“The Empire State Trail is a testament to Governor Cuomo’s vision to make New York State an unmatched destination for outdoor recreation,” New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said. “Everyone from the most experienced long-distance cyclists to family groups with children will enjoy this pathway. People can take a quick bike ride or walk close to home, or they can plan a multi-day adventure to take them from one end of the state to the other.”

“Governor Cuomo’s vision for the newly-completed Empire State Trail merges economic development with the beautiful views along the Canal system to create exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities, both for residents of canalside communities and for visitors from across New York and beyond,” New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said. “The Erie Canalway and Champlain Canalway Trail segments of the Empire State Trail reintroduce New Yorkers to the historic towpaths of our state’s storied waterways and connect a new generation to the rich heritage of the New York Canal system.”

“Completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail is a truly historic achievement for New York State that demonstrates the intricate connection between investments in transportation infrastructure and the vitality of our communities,” New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said. “This breathtaking trail will allow countless generations of New Yorkers and visitors to explore the world-renowned natural wonders and beauty of the Empire State and provide unparalleled recreational access to users of all ages and abilities – all while promoting environmental responsibility, tourism and economic development. The New York State Department of Transportation is proud to have played a significant role in fulfilling Governor Cuomo’s vision. Excelsior!”

“New York’s landscape offers extraordinary opportunities to explore the outdoors and experience the state’s world-class natural resources while still being able to recreate locally,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “This exciting milestone for the Empire State Trail enhances one of New York’s premier recreational opportunities and demonstrates Governor Cuomo’s commitment to showcasing our state’s diverse communities, boosting their local economies, and connecting more New Yorkers to our environment.”

“The completion of the Empire State Trail further demonstrates Governor Cuomo’s commitment to invest in canalside communities and compliments the Reimagine the Canals initiative,” New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones said. “Together, these investments safeguard the Canal’s role as a driver of economic growth. The Empire State Trail also will improve the quality of life of New Yorkers while simultaneously showcasing the historic beauty that already exists in the landscape surrounding the canals.”

“I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his vision, and our talented and dedicated Metro-North project team for giving new life to this area along Metro-North’s Beacon Line,” President of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Metro-North Railroad Catherine Rinaldi said. “This project ensures that New Yorkers and outdoor enthusiasts alike will be able to enjoy the trailway for decades to come.”

“Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail announcement completes New York State’s vision to create a Greenway trail between New York City and the Erie Canal, and it caps the efforts of communities up and down the Hudson Valley to develop an iconic multi-use trail,” Hudson River Valley Greenway Executive Director Scott Keller said.

Empire State Trail Brewery Passport

In addition, a virtual passport program showcases the 200 craft breweries closely surrounding the Empire State Trail, in partnership with the New York State Brewers Association. The Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, made available through the NYSBA’s existing New York Craft Beer App, will encourage New Yorkers to visit breweries within 10 miles of the Empire State Trail.

Just off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and up the road from the River to Ridge Trail is Coppersea Distillery. In conjunction with the Empire State Trail, New York is has created a passport program and an app showcasing the 200 craft breweries closely surrounding the Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At each brewery along the Trail, visitors can digitally check-in on the app, earning a stamp on both of the app’s passport programs – the Think NY, Drink NY Passport and now the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport.

Exclusive rewards are awarded at levels determined by the number of stamps received on the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, from neck gaiters, to shirts, to backpacks and more. By checking-in at 200 breweries and completing the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport, visitors will receive a branded cooler backpack and a t-shirt stating, “I completed the Empire State Trail Brewery Passport.”

The New York Craft Beer App is the first state-wide beer app in the country and is available for both Apple and Android devices. The app gives craft beer enthusiasts access to a map containing every brewery across New York State, searchable by region, and includes directions to breweries and allows users to build and save a personal tour of selected breweries. (https://thinknydrinkny.com/the-app/)

Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie Ride

Parks & Trails NY is hoping to offer the 23rd Annual 400-mile, 8-day Cycle the Erie biking/camping trip on July 11-18, 2021. The state has made improvements to complete the trail, from Buffalo to Albany, as part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meanwhile, Parks & Trails NY, a long-time advocate and activist for repurposing trails and byways for recreational use, is hoping to offer its 23rd annual 8-day 400-mile, Buffalo to Albany biking/camping Cycle the Erie trip July 11-18, 2021. PTNY is taking wait-and-see to offer the trip, which had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and is delaying registration until March 1.

“We continue to plan for a potential ‘in person’ 2021 CTEC event while remaining flexible in our options, given the uncertainty of the months ahead in terms of the pandemic and state regulations,” write the ride directors.

“2021 is going to be a great year for the cycling community and with so many new additions to the Erie Canalway Trail we cannot wait to share it with you.” (See https://www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour for more.)

Details on the 750-mile Empire State Trail at https://empiretrail.ny.gov/.

See also:

NEW YORK’S EMPIRE STATE TRAIL COMES TOGETHER: BIKING THE WALLKILL VALLEY RAIL TRAIL IN HUDSON VALLEY

Cycle the Erie: 400 Miles & 400 Years of History Flow By on Canalway Bike Tour Across New York State

Cycle the Erie, Day 1: In Lockport, See Erie Canal Engineering Marvel, ‘Flight of Five’, Cruise Thru Double Locks, and Go Underground to Fathom Rise of Industrial Revolution

Cycle the Erie, Day 2-3: A Sequence of Charming Canaltowns, Pastoral Landscapes, Punctuated by City Birthed by ‘Mother of Cities’

Cycle the Erie, Day 4: Seneca Falls to Syracuse, Crossing Halfway Mark of 400-Mile Biketour

Cycle the Erie, Day 5: Deep Dive into The Erie Canal: ‘Mother of Cities’, Empire Builder, Wonder of the World

Cycle the Erie: At Fort Stanwix, Rome, Time Travel Back to America’s Colonial, Native American Past

Cycle the Erie, Days 6-7: Erie Canal Spurs Rise of America as Global Industrial Power

Cycle the Erie, Days 7-8: Schoharie Crossing, Mabee Farm, Cohoes Falls to Finish Line in Albany of 400-Mile BikeTour

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York’s Adirondacks: Driveable Winter Olympic Playground

Skiing Whiteface, Lake Placid, NY and feeling like an Olympian © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Three of the best ski areas in New York are actually owned by New York State and operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority – Whiteface and Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills. (Among the improvements ORDA has made is  new RFID technology for direct-to-lift access and online purchasing so you can go directly from your car to the slopes; the ticket can be renewed online.)

Whiteface

Top of the list for ski areas with a world-class reputation is Whiteface, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, where in addition to skiing, you can visit Olympic venues and even participate (biathalon, anyone? skate on the Olympic Oval, drive a coaster down the bobsled track).

Whiteface offers the greatest vertical, 3430 ft. from the summit at 4867 ft, of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast. This is a serious mountain – actually three mountains, Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft. – with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail) in the East. It offers 300 skiable acres: 89 runs (24% beginner, 44% intermediate, 33% advanced) and 53 acres of glades and 5 terrain parks, serviced by 13 lifts, including the gorgeous Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride that cuts an aerial path through the Adirondack Mountains on its way to the peak of Little Whiteface.

Skating on the Olympic Oval in Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whiteface is my favorite ski destination in New York, largely because of Lake Placid, the ambiance and the extraordinary activities.

Experience the thrill of what it was like to be an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Winter Games on the new Cliffside Mountain Coaster at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which boasts being the longest year-round mountain coaster in the USA. You control the ride – you have the ability to go as slow or as fast as you’d like. Race your family & friends alongside the 1980 bobsled track to the bottom. During the scenic ride to the top of the Cliffside Coaster you learn about the inspiring Olympic history of the Lake Placid Sliding Center.

Other attractions and recent upgrades to the Olympic Sites include the new Sky Flyer Zipline at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, the new SkyRide Experience, an 8-person gondola that brings guests from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, a new glass-enclosed elevator ride to the top of the ski jumps for a panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!), new Nordic trails at Mt. Van Hovenberg (where you can try your hand at the biathalon).

In Lake Placid village, visit the Olympic Center, skate at the Herb Brooks Arena and on the Olympic oval, and visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa and Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).

Also High Peaks Resort which offers three unique lodging experiences overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondacks: The Resort, a traditional hotel featuring 105 guest rooms and suites (newly renovated in March 2020); the modern retro-vibe Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection, featuring 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the shores of Mirror Lake. Amenities available to all guests include the Spa & Salon at High Peaks Resort, two indoor and two outdoor heated pools, an indoor Jacuzzi, an on-site fully-equipped fitness center, and a full-service restaurant, Dancing Bears, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests also enjoy private access to Mirror Lake with complimentary use of skates, along with admission to Lake Placid’s full-service Nordic Center, Cascade Ski Center, with more than 12 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing (complimentary use of showshoes).  Dogs are welcome, with special canine-friendly treats and amenities. (High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-4411, 800-755-5598, www.highpeaksresort.com

The newest additions are The Lake Placid Inn (opened July 2020) and the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, an eco-luxe independent boutique hotel that opened Nov. 1, 2020.

Whiteface, Lake Placid, 800-462-6236, 518-946-2223; Olympic Center, 518-523-1655; vacation planning assistance at  whitefacenewyork.comlakeplacid.com, whiteface.com.

Gore Mountain

As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.

Gore Mountain is New York State’s largest ski and ride resort with. 439 skiable acres, it spans four mountains, including Gore, Bear Mountain, Burnt Ridge Mountain and Little Gore Mountain, a vertical drop of 2,537 feet from the summit at 3,600 ft,  121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails (longest is 4.4 miles), with 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, all serviced by 14 lifts.

Skiing Gore Mountain, in the Adirondacks © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This season, Gore is unveiling two new lifts: a new quad replaces the High Peaks chair to deliver skiers toGore’s true summit, opening up fresh access to all four peaks and the entire Straight Brook Valley; and the Sunway Chair has been upgraded to a quad. The Cutoff trail in the Northwoods Area has been lengthened and redesigned to become an easier-rated trail. “Pete’s Paradise” now is an additional beginner option. There is also a significant increase in snowmaking capacity.

There is no on-mountain lodging, but there is the delightful Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com/) in nearby North Creek which we enjoyed one Christmas; for a grand, luxurious stay, The Sagamore, in Bolton Landing on Lake George is 45 minutes away (www.thesagamore.com).

Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411, info@goremountain.com,  goremountain.com.

More Winter Adirondack Activities

In addition to skiing and snowboarding at Whiteface in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain in North Creek, there are plenty of other ways to embrace the cold in the Adirondacks: hiking (including five fire tower trails in Hamilton County that travelers can visit and climb even in the winter!), cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, pond hockey, ice skating and ice fishing. 

Winter hike through Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mirror Lake has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on the ice, including skating, cross country skiing, toboggan rides, dog sledding and skating on the Olympic Oval, just as the Olympians did. The Wild Center in Tupper Lake transforms into a winter playground once the snow hits – Winter Wild Walk, a learn-to ice-fish program, snowshoeing, and some other outdoor winter programming and activities. Oak Mountain (about 2 hours from Lake Placid) is a small family-friendly ski resort ideal for avoiding crowds and offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing along with disc golf and free snowshoeing. Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, offers winter tours of frozen waterfalls and spectacular sights, less than an hour from Lake Placid. And at the end of the day, Main Street Lake Placid has plenty of boutique shops and restaurants to welcome visitors in from the cold.

The Adirondack Wayfinder, a new virtual service that showcases the park through thematic road trip itineraries, takes the guesswork out of planning where to go by allowing users to search through a variety of curated itineraries that appeal to different interests, from outdoor recreation, wide-open spaces and family-friendly itineraries to dining, brewery tours, and more. (www.adirondackwayfinder.com)

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Driveable Winter Destinations: Ski New York’s Catskill Mountains

Ski Windham Mountain in the Catskills, NY © Dave E. Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York State is not only home to the most ski areas of any state (50), but also some of the best, which makes them particularly desirable this year when being outdoors – skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing –are some of the most healthful activities you can do, are driving distance accessible, and because you are staying within New York State, you don’t have to quarantine for 14 days on returning.

New York has been intense about COVID-19 protections, and has instituted regulations governing reduced capacity to afford social-distancing, mask-wearing (except for actively skiing or eating), instituting such things as cashless transactions, rules for riding the lifts, and limiting time in lodges and restaurants, and in some instances advance ticketing and reservations. But it also has meant pleasant modifications – more outdoor dining with heat, for example, plus cashless transactions.

But with the great demand for New York skiing, Scott Brandi, president of the NY Ski Areas Association recommends “Know before you go.” Check the sites in advance to check conditions and availability and book lift tickets and rental equipment in advance – for example, most holidays and weekends as well as season passes are sold out for ORDA areas but there may be availability for midweek visits (ISkiNY.com).

In just a few hours, downstate New Yorkers can be on the slopes in the Catskill Mountains, where three of the state’s most popular ski resorts are located:

Windham Mountain

Windham Mountain Resort, which began as a private club and preserves much of that same feeling, is a year-round destination in the Great Northern Catskills of Greene County, NY, less than three hours north of New York City, and now is part of Alterra Mountain’s IKON Pass program, which means passholders get priority in reservations during this period of on-mountain capacity restrictions.

Windham offers 1,600 vertical feet from a summit of 3,100 feet. Its 54 trails and six terrain parks provide 285 skiable acres, accessed by 12 lifts including a new high speed six-passenger detachable lift and two high-speed quads. Windham also offers night skiing on six trails (45 acres). In the last 3 years, the resort has spent $12 million to improve the guest experience and offers beginner packages, lodging, dining options, an Adventure Park, and full-service Alpine Spa.

Ski Windham Mountain in the Catskills, NY © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the improvements this season:

  • Lift capacity out of the base area continues to increase at Windham. C Lift, a fixed grip triple chair serving beginner and intermediate terrain on the lower half of the West Peak has been upgraded with the relocation of the high speed quad.
  • A portion of Wildcat, a trail in the Wilderness Bowl area added in 2015, has been widened.
  • Improved snowmaking and grooming
  • new European-inspired “Umbrella Bar” with room for 125 guests in enclosed, heated comfort is the centerpiece of a reenergized patio area.
  • A new a ski and snowboard simulator that offers guests the chance to ski or ride downhill race venues from around the world virtually while supporting the Adaptive Sports Foundation. This building will also house a new equipment valet and quick tune up station.
  • An upgraded booking system with new software that will allow guests to bundle lodging stays with lift tickets, lessons and rentals in one easy transaction.
  • An expanded Guest Services department and on-site call center.

Accommodations are plentiful in the area: Windham has renovated rooms at The Winwood Inna quaint lodging property in the village of Windham owned and operated by the mountain. The restaurant, Tavern 23, has also been “renovated and reinvented” and features classic American comfort food.

New: Whisper Creek condominiums, high-end ski-in/ski-out lodging located steps away from Whisper Run on Windham Mountain. Building amenities include heated pool and hot tubs, club room and fitness center, ski locker-room with boot dryers and heated parking. Units comfortably accommodate 8 – 10 people and are perfect for extended family gatherings, wedding parties and special events. Whisper Creek is a short stroll away from the Alpine Spa and the Windham Mountain base lodge and within walking distance of the Mountain Bike Park and Scenic Skyride in the summer.  (518-734-3000)

Also, the historic Thompson House, literally around the corner, where we enjoyed our stay, has the charm of an inn with amenities of a resort (The Thompson House, 19 Route 296, Windham NY 12496, 518-734-4510, info@ThompsonHouse, www.ThompsonHouse.com).

Windham Mountain, 19 Resort Drive, Windham, NY 12496, 800-754-9463; to check conditions, call the Snow Report Hoteline 800-729-4766, info@windhammountain.comwindhammountain.com.

Hunter Mountain

Now part of Vail Resorts, Hunter Mountain, a legendary New York State ski resort and the closest major full-service resort to New York City, is also part of the EPIC pass, and among the COVID-19 precautions and protocols that limit capacity on the mountain, EPIC Pass holders get priority in making reservations.

Four separate mountain faces encompass a wide variety of terrain which caters to skiers and riders of all ability levels.

Fairlawn Inn bed-and-breakfast, Hunter, NY, the Catskills (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hunter rises from 1600 ft base to 3200 summit, a 1600-ft vertical drop, 320 skiable acres (expanded from 240), 67 runs (up from 59; 25% beginner, 30% intermediate, 30% advanced and 15% expert) ) serviced by 13 lifts (increased from 12). It offers 4 gladed areas, 4 terrain parks.

Hunter also has a 1000-ft long tubing hill, one of the longest in NY, with its own Magic Carpet surface lift.

In response to COVID-19, Hunter has “reimagined” the resort experience, consistent with the policies and programs across the Vail Resorts brand.

Skiers are encouraged to use their own vehicles as their personal base lodge, since capacity is restricted. Transactions will be cashless; face coverings required at all times except when actively eating (EpicMix app makes it easier to manage Time to Dine). On-mountain restaurants are open but not bars. The equipment rental process has been streamlined, with seamless online booking, complimentary delivery service (so you skip the rental shop altogether).

On-mountain accommodations include The Kaatskill Mountain Club at Hunter Mountain (condos) and Liftside and Pinnacle condos in the village. There are many nearby bnbs, inns, lodges.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Fairlawn Inn, just a quarter-mile away from Hunter’s entrance. The historic, Victorian inn has been restored with modern amenities while keeping the charm and character of the original property. It is operating now with strict COVID-19 safety protocols. (7872 Main St (Hwy 23A), Hunter NY 12442, 518-263-5025, fairlawninn.com).

Hunter Mountain, Hunter, NY, 800-486-8376, huinfo@vailresorts.com, www.huntermtn.com

Belleayre Mountain

About three-hours drive from New York City, Belleayre Mountain is the nearest of three ski areas owned and operated by New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority, and included on ORDA’s pass programs. The ski area has been dramatically improved, turned into a four-season mountain destination. Among the improvements, the first gondola in the Catskills.

Catskill Thunder Gondola at Belleayre.

What I love best about Belleayre is its natural separation of beginners (from the mid-mountain to the base, with long beginner trails) and more advanced skiers. It affords a 1404 ft vertical drop from a 3429 ft summit, 51 runs on 175 skiable acres (longest is 2.2 miles; 22% beginner, 58% intermediate, 10% advanced, 10% expert), serviced by 8 lifts. Intermediates will enjoy Deer Run, which meanders through a beautiful part of the mountain. The ski resort also features five glades, one terrain park, one progression park and one X-course. Cross-country skiers can enjoy 9.2 kilometers of ungroomed, unpatrolled trails.

There is no on-mountain lodging, but quaint inns and lodges nearby in Fleischmann’s, Pine Hill, Big Indian, Phoenicia, Shandaken and Margaretville (see www.belleayre.com/plan-your-visit/lodging/)

(Belleayre, Highmount, NY 12441, 800-942-6904, 845-254,5600, www.belleayre.com).

See:  

A BLUEBIRD DAY OF SPRING SKIING AT WINDHAM MOUNTAIN

3-DAY FALL GETAWAY IN THE CATSKILLS: FAIRLAWN INN IS SUPERB HUB FOR EXPLORING THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Surging Demand, Limited Capacity Encourages Skiers to Discover New York’s Lesser Known Areas (There are 50)

Family enjoys expanded outdoor dining at Greek Peak. The strong desire for outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, coupled with capacity restrictions, is encouraging visitors to discover more of New York State’s 50 ski areas. Areas have found innovative, pleasurable ways to adapt to the state’s COVID-19 requirements (photo provided by Greek Peak).

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing in the brisk fresh air of greater outdoors will be salvation to get through this dark winter of isolation. Fortunately, New York State, with 50 ski areas (more than any other state), is gearing up, putting in the protocols to keep everyone safe and healthy, doing what will be the safest and healthiest way to be active this winter. Just being outdoors will be a tonic for body and soul.

ISkiNY.com (Ski Areas of New York) is a sort of one-stop online place to learn about the various mountain resorts and ski areas and overall New York State policies to address (and contain) COVID-19. All areas are under capacity constraints (50% of their busiest day last season) and visitors must follow rules for wearing masks (an actual mask, not a gaiter) at all times except when actively skiing or eating. Most require or strongly recommend purchasing tickets online in advance (and are selling out because of limits) – even season pass holders, who have priority, may be required to make advance reservations. Also, areas are limiting time that can be spent indoors in the lodges (recommending using your own vehicle as a kind of base lodge), and with limited après-ski opportunities, are promoting day-trips to ski areas within driving distance. Fortunately, with 50 areas throughout the state, just about everyone lives within 2 ½ hours of a ski area and staying in-state means that New Yorkers won’t have to quarantine after returning from a long-haul ski trip. (See more at ISkiNY.com).

Because of reduced capacity and super-charged demand the best known, most popular full-service resorts like Whiteface (Lake Placid), Gore Mountain, Belleayre, Hunter (now part of Vail, on the Epic pass) and Windham (part of IKON pass), may well be at capacity especially for the holidays and weekends. So this will certainly be the season to explore some new ski destinations – areas, often that have been operating for decades, that are wildly popular with locals.  

And with this incredible blizzard that dumped a huge base of snow, just about everywhere in the state has great conditions, in time for opening day.

All but the three ski resorts that are owned by New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (Whiteface, Gore, Belleayre) and Hunter (now owned by Vail Resorts) are independently owned, many going back decades, and offer their own particular personality, character and sense of community. Most are ski areas, not full-service resorts, but that may be just the ticket this year, for a quick day’s getaway on the slopes, no need to hang around for après-ski.

All have made accommodations to keep as much outside as possible – ticketing (many are cashless, and require advance reservations), setting up outside warmers, limiting time inside for dining, encouraging people to use their own vehicles as their base lodge. But all of the areas have made marvelous accommodations and innovations to bring more activities outdoors, continue to offer ski school, snow tubing, added firepits and grab n’go food, to preserve the spirit and joy of schussing down the slopes.

“While our number one goal is to run a safe operation this season, it is also our goal to ensure that our guests do not incur any additional stress or inconvenience when they visit West Mountain”, said Spencer Montgomery, Co-Owner and Managing Member of West Mountain in Queensbury.

“Sure, things will be a little different operationally this year, but our staff is here to provide an enjoyable and stress-free environment. People have already been through so much this year; skiing and riding is a chance to simply enjoy being outdoors with friends and family.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming our guests this winter to enjoy the outdoors”, said Sara Montgomery, General Manager of West Mountain. “With so many families at home doing virtual learning this year, getting on the mountain and getting exercise will be a much-needed activity and escape!”

“Know before you go,” Scott Brandi, President Ski Areas of New York, recommends. Check ahead for conditions and availability.

Here are just a few of the ski resorts and areas to explore:

Greek Peak

Greek Peak’s night skiing. The resort has a 6,000 sq. ft. deck off its Trax Pub & Grill for outdoor dining (photo by Drew Broderick, Greek Peak)

The Greek Peak Ski Resort is a full-service, four-season resort and the largest ski area in Central New York. It has a 952 ft. vertical drop from a 2100 ft summit. It’s varied terrain (220 skiable acres) offers 56 runs (35% beginner, 29% intermediate, 27% advanced, 9% double-black diamond, 4 terrain parks and half pipe), serviced by six chair lifts and two carpet lifts; the longest run is 1.5 miles, plus night skiing.  There’s also 8 km of Nordic terrain (natural, so depends on conditions) and snowshoeing.

The Adventure Center has a mountain coaster, guided zipline tours even in winter (by reservation), snowtubing (10-12 lanes).

Located in the Finger Lakes, Greek Peak offers an Adirondack-style lodge, Hope Lake Lodge (151 rooms, sleeping 4-10 people) as well as log home (sleeps 14, across from slopes), outdoor heated pool,  indoor water park with wave pool (water slides and hot tubs are currently closed under COVID-19 regulations).

Open, all year, Greek Peak is already compliant with COVID-19 restrictions and made the adaptations.

Dining inside is limited to 50% capacity. Children’s programs are exclusively outside (no nursery); there are new family lessons

“We are already seeing new people, who want to get outside and want to learn to ski,” says Drew Broderick, VP of sales & marketing.

They’ve added food and beverage service outside, “fresh tracks” which is a ski  in/out grab n go, adding menu items to the waffle shack and may add food carts.

Since being acquired in 2015 by John and Christine Meier, the resort has made more than $1.5 million improvements including adding a high-speed detachable quad, new groomers, snowmaking (78 guns added this year), the “Big Bear Activity Zone” at Cascades Indoor Waterpark, a 41,000 sq. ft. park with 500 ft. of slides, wavepool and hot tubs, open year round.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort, 2000 NYS Rte 392, Cortland, NY 13045, 800-955-2754, greekpeak.net

Plattekill Mountain

Privately owned and operated by the Vajtay family, Plattekill Mountain in the northwestern Catskills, with 38 trails and terrain, offers “authentic mountain experience.” Powder Magazine (Dec. 2018), described Plattekill as “The Alta of the Catskills.” It offers wide variety for skiers and snowboarders: 38 runs ranging from 2-mile long beginner cruisers to steep double black diamonds with 1100’ vertical from its 3500 ft. high summit, accessed by 4 lifts (20% easier, 40% intermediate, 20% black, 20% double black), a “natural terrain park” nestled in the woods between the Lower Face and Shredded Mozzarella trails.  “Big mountain terrain, small mountain charm.”

New this season: widening, clearing beginner and intermediate trails; installation of new snowmaking pump to improve snowmaking; new wireless technology; new “Platty Shack” with outdoor deck for quick grab and go items; new ‘order online’ option in cafeteria; new online shopping for tickets and rentals eliminating lines at rental shop.

Plattekill Mountain, 469 Plattekill Road, Roxbury, NY 12474, 607-326-3500, info@plattekill.com, plattekill.com

Catamount Mountain Resort

Catamount Mountain Resort is a four-season resort straddling the NY/Massachusetts border just about 2 hours from NYC. “With its sister resort, Berkshire East, Catamount is one fun mountain with some of the best steeps in southern New England and some of the best beginner and intermediate terrain.” Catamount has undergone a stunning transformation since the summer of 2018: new lift, new lodge, hundreds of new snow guns, four snow making ponds, miles of pipe, and countless other upgrades which make Catamount one of the best small ski areas on the East coast. 

It has a 1,000 ft vertical from the 2000 ft summit, 38 runs on 133 skiable acres (40% beginner, 35% intermediate, 15% advanced, 10% expert); longest run is 2 miles, and intermediates get to ski 1.25 miles from summit to base on turnpike Upper and Lower Sidewinder; for advanced, the double black Catapult is the steepest trail in the Berkshires and  its Upper/Lower Glade to Off Stage provides a half-mile of moguls; night skiing on 15 trails (more than 4 miles worth)

Catamount also boasts North America’s longest zip line, one of the largest aerial adventure parks on the East Coast. 

Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Catamount, Hillsdale, NY, 518-325-3200, info@catamountski.com, https://catamountski.com/

West Mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, conveniently accessed just off I-87,  West Mountain towers over Glens Falls in Albany’s backyard, and with night skiing, is popular with people getting in a few runs after work.

Family-owned and operated, West Mountain continues to evolve to meet the needs of families as well as skiing and riding loyalists and year-round outdoor enthusiasts.

West Mountain offers a 1010 vertical drop from the 1470 ft. summit, 31 trails on 124 skiable acres (36% beginner, 55% intermediate, 9% advanced, one terrain park), accessed by four lifts, with night skiing on 105 acres. Also a tubing park with 10 lanes of tubing for all ages and abilities. 6-packs are for sale now that provide 6 tubing tickets, lift tickets or aerial treetop adventure tickets for the price of 5.  

The mountain staff has been focused on creating new, safe and innovative operations and programs to run this season including: a new Freestyle Development Program; a new Alpine Racing Academy for U12+ athletes; Learn to Ski and Snowboard packages for youth and adult first-time beginners. During non-holiday periods, West Mountain will offer popular ticket promotions such as Monday and Tuesday 4-hour ticket specials and breakfast or lunch plus lift ticket specials.

West Mountain has introduced new programs this year including freestyle skiing (photo by FreesrideMedia for West Mountain)

The resort has been open throughout COVID-19 pandemic offering safe, outdoor and socially distanced activities. For this season, there are additional outdoor eating and seating areas, warming tents, grab-n-go food and beverage windows, additional outdoor restrooms and controlled capacity at the two separate base-lodge areas (Main Base Lodge and Northwest Base Lodge).

West Mountain, 59 West Mountain Road, Queensbury, NY 12804, 518.636.3699, WestMountain.com

Mount Peter

Mount Peter, set in picturesque Warwick Valley, is the oldest operating ski area in New York State, and one of only a few remaining family-operated ski areas in America. For more than 80 years, Mount Peter has been a wintertime destination for skiing or snowboarding on 14 expertly groomed trails, 600-foot tubing run (separate Little Tikes tubing for kids under 42”), and night skiing.

Booking online is highly recommended.

Mount Peter, 51 Old Mt. Peter Road, Warwick, NY 10990T: (845) 986-4940, info@mtpeter.com, mtpeter.com

Bristol Mountain

Bristol Mountain, in Canandaigua, opened for their 56th season of operation. Located in the Western Finger Lakes Region, it offers 38 trails on 138 acres of skiable terrain and a 1200’ vertical drop from a 2200 ft. summit, accessed by six lifts including two high-speed quads. The terrain accommodates all ages and ability levels with 32% reserved for beginner, 50% intermediate and 18% advanced, including 97% lighted for night skiing terrain and 97% snowmaking coverage; the longest run is 2 miles.

Bristol Mountain has a top notch learning center, as well as two terrain parks that cater to all ability levels and 3 km of Nordic trails.

Bristol Mountain’s North Star Village Townhouses offer affordable ski-in/ski-out lodging with built in deals with their Ski & Stay programs.

Located in the Western Finger Lakes Region, Bristol Mountain offers 38 trails on 138 acres of skiable terrain and a 1200’ vertical drop from a 2200 ft. summit, accessed by six lifts including two high-speed quads (photo provided by Bristol Mountain)

Capacity at the mountain will be monitored and limited on busy days or when the mountain has limited terrain (i.e. early season). Reservations will be required for card products and lift ticket sales but currently will not be required for season pass products that allow direct- to-lift access (picture passes).

Lodge capacity will be limited this winter. Guests are asked to limit their time in the lodges to 15-30 minutes to warm up and use the restrooms. The mountain requests that guests arrive prepared and use their vehicle as their base lodge.                                                     

Bristol Mountain, 5662 Route 64, Canandaigua, NY 14424, 585-374-6000, fun@bristolmt.com, bristolmt.com.

Thunder Ridge Ski Area

Thunder Ridge Ski Area, located in Patterson, NY, may be the closest and easiest ski areas to reach from NYC, just 60 minutes drive from and accessible on Metro North (shuttle from Patterson train station). Thunder Ridge offers 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its 22 trails on 100 acres (40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% advanced, the longest run is 0.4 miles). A gentle mountain, it has a 500 ft drop from the summit at 1270 ft. Night skiing.

Thunder Ridge, 12563 Patterson, NY, 845-878-4100, thunderridge@cyburban.com. https://thunderridgeski.com/

Holiday Valley

Holiday Valley, Ellicottville, NY (50 miles south of Buffalo) is Western New York’s largest year ‘round resort featuring 60 slopes and trails and features a mountain coaster (photo provided by Holiday Valley).

Holiday Valley, Ellicottville, NY (50 miles south of Buffalo) is Western New York’s largest year ‘round resort featuring 60 slopes and trails, 13 lifts, 3 base lodges, slope side lodging and dining, conference facilities, a tree top aerial adventure park and a mountain coaster, and 18 hole golf course. 

Holiday Valley is in compliance with New York State’s COVID restrictions on operating the ski terrain and indoor services. Masks are required at all times except when skiing down the slope or while seated to eat or drink. Reduced capacity in the lodges and eating areas, as well as spacing in the lift lines and on the chairlifts will allow for proper social distancing. Advanced purchase of lift tickets online is encouraged, especially on holidays and busy weekends. Cleaning and sanitizing practices have been stepped up in the lodges, in the food service areas and in the restrooms. Guests are encouraged to limit their time spent indoors.

Holiday Valley, 6557 Holiday Valley Road, Route 219, Ellicottville, NY 14731, 716-699-2345, www.holidayvalley.com

Holimont Ski Area

Holimont, nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, is a private ski area with member families from the United States and Canada. Non-members may use the facilities on non-holiday weekdays, and new members are welcome. It offers a 700 ft. drop from 2260 ft. summit, 55 trails on 135 skiable acres (25% beginner, 31% intermediate, 44% advanced, ), 3 terrain parks, longest run is 1.5 miles,  (100% snowmaking)

Holimont, Ellicottville NY 14731, 716-699-2320, info@holimont.com, holimont.com

Hunt Hollow Ski Club

Located near Naples, New York (near Rochester), Hunt Hollow Ski Club offers 400 acres of accessible winter recreation space. With an 825-foot vertical drop from a 2030 ft. summit, it offers 19 trails over 400 skiable acres (32% beginner, 21% intermediate, 37% advanced, 11% expert), accessed by a triple-chair, double-chair, T-bar and a surface lift service (100% snowmaking). There is night skiing. Also, 2.5 miles of Nordic trails and a terrain park.

Hunt Hollow Ski Club, 7532 County Road 36, Naples NY 14512, 585-374-5428, info@hunthollow.com, hunthollow.com.

An excellent source: https://www.onthesnow.com/new-york/ski-resorts.html.

For more information, contact ISkiNY.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Catching the Peak Fall Foliage in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains

Stunning rock formations atop Chimney Mountain in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, made all the more spectacular by fall foliage colors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin and Dave E. Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We literally raced up to catch the peak fall foliage colors in the dramatic, spectacular setting of New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

There are so many different hiking trails, we wanted to make the best choices for a one-day adventure. Researching potential hikes, I found The Adirondack Experience, which lists hikes in categories, one of which is “best summit views” and excellent descriptions (also alltrails.com gives precise maps, elevations). That wasn’t enough for me to pin down, so I called Adirondack Experience, to get the low-down on the trails to high peaks. They also offer a fall foliage report, as does New York State (www.iloveny.com).

We set up an itinerary that would allow us to do two hikes to summits affording 360-degree views, in one sensational day:

View of the Adirondack Mountains at peak fall foliage from the summit of Chimney Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chimney Mountain: The extraordinary appeal here are the geologic formations at the top, a maze of caves and crevices, after an invigorating mile-long climb (entirely uphill), before you get to the true summit, a smoothed, mostly flat boulder, reached via a quarter-mile long herd path. “Chimney Mountain has unique features due to a large proportion of soft, sedimentary Grenville layers that have made passageways, cliffs, boulders, and caves. View the large geologic depression that was formed when the Western Rift separated from the Eastern Rift.” The hike, three-miles round trip (in/out), is a 870-foot ascent to 2721-foot elevation. Plan on 3 hours (bring water, face mask, and take into account that it gets dark in the woods before the sunset). (Big Brook Road, Indian Lake, NY, 12842, 518-548-3076, info@adirondackexperience.com, www.adirondackexperience.com/hiking/chimney-mountain).

View from the summit of Chimney Mountain at peak fall foliage. © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We came down and had ourselves a picnic lunch before setting out for our afternoon hike, about 30 minutes further drive, at Castle Rock, above Blue Mountain Lake. By the time we arrived, the drizzle which started just as we got back into the car turned into an actual rain when we were on the trail. But no matter, we were determined to forge on. This trail is a 3.2 mile long loop with a steady rise, but more gradual than Chimney Mountain – that is, until the last one-tenth mile that involves a scramble up over and between boulders, made more challenging (and therefore satisfying), by the slippery leaves (young kids would have no problem). But so worth it (and really satisfying to have accomplished it)! The rock formations here at the top are absolutely fabulous. Amazingly, just as we got to the summit – another relatively flat boulder – the rain turned to drizzle and then stopped altogether, allowing the sun to poke through, making the wet rock surface glisten. The views of Blue Mountain Lake, with its several tiny islands, and Blue Mountain, with other mountain peaks in the near and far distance, are stunning.

View from the summit of Castle Rock with the Adirondacks at peak fall foliage, rocks glistening with rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The summit is about at the half-way mark of the loop. At about the 1.5 mile mark, there is a sign that directs you to the summit, only a little disconcerting to realize you have another half-mile to go.  It’s 1.8 miles up on the less steep part of the trail, 1.4 miles on the other side, which goes past fabulous rock formations. (So glad we opted to do the full loop, instead of returning on the 1.8 mile side to avoid a steeper descent, but it actually wasn’t bad at all, even with the slippery leaves. I’ve cultivated a technique of hanging on to trees and branches to swing down, or climb down, or sit down and dangle my feet, and I really value my hiking poles.)

Tackling the scramble to the Castle Rock summit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is one of the most popular hikes in the area, so people are advised to get here early to get parking at the trailhead (Maple Lodge Road, Blue Mountain Lake). Also, on all of these hikes, wear a face mask and respect social-distancing when people are passing.

The Adirondack Fall Foliage Meter (www.adirondacksusa.com/fall) provides up-to-the-minute fall foliage reports on where the leaves are prettiest and most colorful.  

More sources: Adirondacks Regional Tourism, visitadirondacks.com; Hamilton County Tourism, adirondackexperience.com, 800-648-5239.

Hiking up to Chimney Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since the Adirondacks are about a five-hour drive from the downstate metro area, people are flocking to Lake George and the surrounding area for accommodations which has maintained very strong occupancy. There are also any number of cabins, lodges, Airbnb’s to choose from, many with exquisite views along one of the many, many scenic lakes. At the trailhead to Chimney Mountain, in fact, there are rustic cabins.

High Peaks Resort in the heart of Lake Placid offers three different lodging experiences overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondack Mountains: The Resort, a traditional hotel with 105 guest rooms and suites (newly renovated earlier this year); the modern retro-vibe Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection with 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the shores of Mirror Lake. Take a break from studying or work with a dip in the indoor or outdoor pool, paddling Mirror Lake, hiking, biking, golfing. Dogs are welcome, with special canine-friendly treats and amenities. Save up to 30 percent with the Best Dates, Best Rates package, with rates from $125 per night (www.highpeaksresort.com).

Coming down from the summit at Castle Rock (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Foliage in the Catskills: Find vibrant fall colors on a hike along the Hannacroix Creek Preserve (www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/hannacroix-creek-preserve-hcp) in New Baltimore—featuring 113 acres of trails and scenic vistas—or explore the RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary (https://www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/ramshorn-livingston-sanctuary) in Catskill, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and plant life along more than three miles of trails. For exhilaration on your quest for foliage, try mountain biking along the Tannersville-Hathaway Trail System (https://www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/tannersville-hathaway-trail-system)  in Tannersville—suitable for beginners and experienced riders alike. To get the latest update on colors in the region, check out the Catskills’ fall foliage meter (www.greatnortherncatskills.com/catskills-fall-foliage).  

Connect with nature while camping at Purling Waters (www.greatnortherncatskills.com/camping/purling-waters), a fully-equipped campsite accommodating up to 6 campers, located along the banks Shinglekill Creek. For a historic stay, try Tumblin’ Falls House (www.greatnortherncatskills.com/resorts-lodging/tumblin-falls-house). The house, offering 5 guest rooms in an 1890s Dutch Victorian perched on a cliff overlooking Shinglekill Falls, has a tree level spa overlooking falls, natural pools, garden and trails.

To keep tabs on the progress of fall foliage in New York State, www.iloveny.com/things-to-do/fall/foliage-report.

See more information on where to go, what to do in New York, www.iloveny.com, 800-CALL- NYS, info@iloveny.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures