Tag Archives: Rails to Trails Conservancy

Bike Tours Are Most Satisfying Way to Experience World Sustainably; Operators Expand Horizons

Biketours.com bike-and-boat trip among the Greek Islands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Celebrate Trails Day on April 23 follows immediately after Earth Day for a good reason – biking fulfills the best attributes of sustainable, responsible travel while minimizing the adverse impacts of tourism. Biking lets travelers, adventurers, explorers experience places far and near with the least carbon impact of going place to place; taking the slow-road so you can really connect to local communities you would never see otherwise and spending your tourism dollars with the people who need it most; you can stop and get off to interact with people, take a photo, travel at a pace and a perspective – sitting in a saddle without the wall of windows – to really see, focus, smell the roses, and yet have an ever changing view to see, with the excitement and intrigue of new experiences that might be around the next bend.

And then there’s that endorphin thing that happens as you pedal and take in the fresh air that revs the brain and fills you with good feelings. And biking also affords  a way to be in community but socially distanced and in open, uncrowded spaces.

Tour operators are responding to the desire to explore by bicycle with new itineraries, near and far: such as close-to-home (reachable by car) programs that take advantage of New York State’s new 750-mile Empire State Trail (you can ride north-south from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border and west-east from Buffalo to Albany), or for a close-to-home foreign experience, biking in Quebec, as well as to trips to exotic locales – like New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile. Or how about Albania, Bulgaria or Transylvania?

More offerings that combine boat and bike make the trip even more convenient (you only unpack once) and add a special element of plying waterways by a small river boat, canal boat or barge, or go from island to island. And many offer an e-bike option, opening a whole new dimension for exploration on two-wheels, especially for people who are concerned about physical abilities.

Here are examples of what’s being offered:

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ Coast of Maine cyclists enjoy a classic view at Thurston’s Lobster Pound © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Discovery Bicycle Tours has an amazing array of itineraries in the United States (including new itineraries on the NYS Empire Trail), Canada, Europe, Chile, New Zealand and Vietnam. What I love best (I biked with them last summer on the Maine Coast/Acadia national park, and before that Vermont) is that the programs are really geared for a vacation, the guides there to make your experience purely enjoyable. There are all these extras, as well. A new itinerary on New York’s Empire State Trail; an itinerary on the Erie Canal Trail and New York’s scenic lakes, canal path from the Buffalo area with added scenic riding along Lake Ontario to the Finger Lakes on six-day Erie Canal & NY Lakes tour; a new 3-day Hudson Valley Weekend tour (bike car-free paths & quiet roads, dine at the famous Culinary Institute of America and visit a family-owned winery; a gentle six-day Lake Champlain Islands bike tour with beautiful views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks; and a challenging six-day biking/camping Green Mountain Gravel Adventure  on gorgeous Vermont dirt roads and trails and experience famous Vermont craft breweries and swimming holes.

Nearby but exotic: a six-day tour of the Quebec Eastern Townships known for their beauty, their villages and their wineries.

Among Discovery Bicycle’s international itineraries is a new six-day in England, Cotswolds & Stonehenge Bike Tour and a Moselle River Bike & Barge tour. From close to home to far, far away, Discovery is introducing an 11-day New Zealand Trails tour to experience New Zealand’s unmatched scenery, riding car-free rail-trails and quiet bikeways along deep blue lakes amid soaring ice-covered peaks, through rolling grasslands and hidden valleys (Nov., Jan., Feb.)

(Discovery Bicycle, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, discoverybicycletours.com)

The Crazy Horse Monument, just off the Mickelson Trail, is visited on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Badlands Black Hills bike tour in South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs, starting out from its home base in Ohiopyle, PA, has spread throughout the US. We’ve traveled with them on their South Dakota “Badlands & Black Hills” tour and on rides along the Great Allegheny Passage with Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Wilderness Voyageurs’ 4-day Chesapeake Bay Bike Tour takes advantage of the easy elevation gain for a charming journey along the Maryland coastline. Cycle through farms, woodlands and see bald eagles and endangered species in the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve. Enjoy seafood feasts, ferry rides, and century-old architecture.

Wilderness Voyageurs is also featuring a specially designed five-day Type 1 Diabetes Ride on the Great Allegheny Passage (July 24)., biking, hiking, visiting Fallingwater, with Dr. Jody Stanislaw, a naturopathic doctor and a Type 1 diabetic, who will be guiding each day with tips on the balance between insulin, exercise, and diet. It’s an ever-changing equation and if you’re tired of the sugar roller coaster, this is an exceptional opportunity. Ride together with fellow type 1s and Dr. Jody. 

Other Wilderness Voyageurs biketours include Katy Rail Trail: Iowa Trestle Tour; Idaho Coeur D’Alene The Hiawatha; New Mexico Hub & Spoke; Colorful Colorado; Seneca Lake Backroads and Brews.

(Wilderness Voyageurs,103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com)

Predjama Castle, improbably built into a crevasse halfway up a 123-meter cliff-face, and connecting to a cave system, visited by our BikeTours.com group on the Slovenia tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BikeTours.com, specializing in European biking adventures (guided, self-guided and bike/boat tours), has listed its top destinations for 2022: The Greek Islands (which I did); Czech Republic; Croatia; Transylvania, Romania; Salzburg, Austria; Umbria, Italy; Scotland; Dolomites, Italy; Southern France and Albania (which I did). I’ve also taken their self-guided Venice-Croatia trip and their guided Slovenia biketour and for our first self-guided bike tour, the Danube Bike Trail (ideal for families and first-timers).

“If you’re itching to get back in the saddle with a European bike tour but want to explore destinations heavy on beauty and light on people for most or all of your tour,” Jim Johnson, president of BikeTours.com, suggests Bulgaria, Slovenia (which I did – biggest surprises were visits to Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave), Apulia (Puglia), Transylvania, and Connemara (Ireland).

But this year, recognizing that some may still be more comfortable traveling closer to home, is offering new tours from its sister company, Bike the South. One of them is “Tennessee Hills and Stills,” focusing on the state’s whiskey producing tradition.

Check the really user-friendly site: Biketours.com, info@biketours.com, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907.

Butterfield & Robinson, long known as a luxury tour company, has introduced a series of departures geared to families with young adults (late teens and up), who will relish this opportunity to share an experience before their YA flies the coop. Among the itineraries: Switzerland E-Bike, Alsace E-Bike, Tuscany biking, Berlin to Prague Active, Mallorca E-Biking, Prague to Vienna; Alentejo, Portugal; Catalonia; the Camino do Santiago Biking,

Perhaps most intriguing: Cambodia & Vietnam: in Cambodia, see the spectacular ancient Khmer temples at Angkor, comprising one of the most jaw-dropping temple complexes in the world; then head to Vietnam and experience the buzz of Ho Chi Minh City and the serene landscapes of Can Tho; delve deep with three nights in Hoi An and wrap up in the Imperial City of Hue.

 (Butterfield & Robinson, travel@butterfield.com, 866-551-9090, butterfield.com)

More biking tours are incorporating camping options. TrekTravel is going a step further, with a new partnership with AutoCamp (autocamp.com) to provide (get this) Airstream suites (those famous RVs) for two brand new itineraries; Palm Springs & Joshua Tree, and California Wine Country.

Among TrekTravel’s most popular itineraries this year: Prague to Vienna, New Mexico (cycle on the historic streets of Santa Fe, within the expansive pine forests, and beneath high desert mesas and Badland formations).

The itinerary I’ve been eying: Portugal, featuring the Alentejo wine region, a majestic countryside of wheat, olive trees, vineyards, and the seat of the world’s cork production where you see the cork tree groves and Roman temples in towns like Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

TrekTravel is also continuing to offer private trips for 10 or more guests (Top 5 destinations: California Wine Country, Ashville to Brevard, Puglia, San Juan Islands, and Tuscany).

(TrekTravel, 866-719-2427, Trektravl.com)

Duvine Cycling & Adventure Co. is another high-end active travel company with trips that combine wine and gastronomy in such lavish places as France (Ride Through France’s Most Fabled Terroirs) and Italy. Duvine’s newest itinerary is Bike and Boat in Amalfi: The Amalfi Coast has dazzled travelers for decades, but there’s another side of this destination that’s rarely seen. Our two new tours hold the key to the Cilento Coast, Italy’s best-kept secret. Whether by bike or private yacht, you’ll wend up the Amalfi Coast with views stretching back to Calabria, climb to towns memorialized by Hemingway, and hike Positano’s Path of the Gods to vertiginous vineyards.

(duvine.com, 888-396-5383)

B’spoke Cycling Holidays, based in London, are geared for the harder-core, but for more leisurely cycling, look to their sister brand Cycling for Softies which offers luxury cycling tours in Europe’s famous wine regions.

BSpoke Tours, Unit 3, Walton Lodge Laundry, 374 Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8PL, info@bspoketours.com, bspoketours.com.

I’m headed to Europe for Boat Bike Tours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam tour. A leading European operator of boat-and-bike tours which more or less founded the concept 40 years ago, the company offers 70 itineraries in Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Danube Countries, Austria and Serbia. Germany, Greece, Hungary, France, Italy, and Slovakia incorporating their fleet of 50 ships, from barges and sailing ships to motor yachts. (More when I return.) You can live chat on their website, boatbiketours.com, +31 20 72 35 400

Celebrate Trails Day

Riding over the Rosendale Trestle on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, near New Paltz. Now part of New York’s 750-mile Empire State Trail, the trail has been improved largely with the advocacy of such groups as Parks & Trail NY and the Rails to Trails Conservancy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnar.com

Hosted on the fourth Saturday of April, Celebrate Trails Day (formerly Opening Day for Trails) is an annual spring celebration of America’s trails. Started by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 2013, the celebration encourages people across the country to get outside and enjoy the nation’s exceptional trails and trail systems. There are featured events throughout the country, and if you let RTC know you will #CelebrateTrails, you can win prizes (railstotrails.org/celebratetrails).

“Trails make getting outdoors and around by foot, bike and wheelchair more accessible for everyone. These essential outdoor spaces give us the space to swap car trips for bike trips, reducing emissions and helping the environment; bring  powerful economic opportunity to communities big, small and in between; and deliver health and happiness for so many people. This year, in a time when trails are more in demand than ever, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating these special places. Let’s get out and make more trail moments!” the organization states.

Rails to Trails advocates for creation of multi-purpose trails using strong arguments of health and quality-of-life for locals, economic opportunities for communities along the route, and climate benefits of non-carbon-emitting transportation. Since 1992, RTC has advocated for more than $15.6 billion in funds to support more than 54,000 trail and active transportation projects. The Trails Transform America campaign has this message for Congress: Trail networks are as fundamental to America’s transportation systems as roads and rail lines and deserve robust federal investment. Explore trail network projects that are bringing transformative benefits to communities nationwide.

The most ambitious of projects is The Great American Rail-Trail which, once completed, would enable riders to cross the entire nation on linked rail trails. Stretching more than 3,700 miles between Washington DC and Washington State, through 12 states, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route. 

The RTC site is also a great place to find trails near and far and download the TrailLink app, https://www.traillink.com/mobile-apps/

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20037, 866-202-9788, www.railstotrails.org

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© 2022 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 Empire State Trail Comes Together: Biking the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in Hudson Valley

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, Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ambitious New York Empire State Trail is taking shape, linking and connecting and improving existing trails for a 750-mile network that will enable bikers, hikers, recreational users go from New York City to the Canadian border, and from Buffalo to Albany. And it seems like it is on track for completion by the end of the year, when it would become the longest multi-use state trail in the nation.

We headed out to one of the trails, Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, newly incorporated in the Empire State Trail, with signage and improvements (new trestles, bridges, widened paths, improved drainage), from New Paltz, which itself is a hub for some marvelous multi-use trails that collectively form the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail (www.ny.gov/empire-state-trail/routes-empire-state-trail).

It was pure delight. The linear trail through forests, beside and over creeks, passed dramatic rock formations, is 22 miles long (so 44 miles, out and back). Because of time limitations (and the fact the trail has some closures north of the Rosendale Trestle, midweek, for improvements that are expected to be completed in October, check the site), we only went seven miles north of the parking lot at Sojourner Truth Park in New Paltz, but can’t wait to return to do the rest, another 7 miles north to Kingston, and 7 miles south to Gardiner. The northern half of the trail, from New Paltz to Kingston, has been incorporated into the Empire State Trail, with new signs and improvements.

Biking the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shortly after the Wallkill Valley branch of the New York Railroad closed in the 1980s, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust purchased the12-mile stretch of the corridor between New Paltz, south to Gardiner, leading to the opening of the first stretch of trail in 1993. Today, the trail stretches a total of 24 miles and runs along its namesake river from Gardiner to Kingston.  In 2009, the northern section was purchased, extending the linear park 11.5 miles north from Rosendale through Ulster to Kingston, incorporating the dramatic Rosendale trestle, a 940-foot bridge across the Rondout Creek that provides one of the most thrilling parts of the ride. This portion of the trail, from New Paltz to Kingston, has been designated as part of the statewide Empire State Trail, which, when complete next year, will stretch 750 miles, running from New York City to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo. (info at Wallkillvalleylt.org,  845-255-2761).

The sights are marvelous, and the trail very pleasant.

We find our way from the New York Thruway to the Sojourner Truth Park along the river (where you can rent kayaks),  park the car and set off, north.

We soon come to a repurposed train station, now the Rail Trail Cafe, right on the trail.

About a mile north of the village, the trail crosses the Wallkill River on the Springtown Truss Bridge, featured in the movie “A Quiet Place” with magnificent views.  

Biking over the Springtown Truss Bridge over the Wallkill River, featured in the movie “A Quiet Place” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trail passes besides orchards, organic farms, lakes, streams and the Wallkill River.

 In Rosendale, the most memorable feature of the trail can be found, the Rosendale Trestle. This 940-foot-long continuous truss bridge carries the trail 150-feet high over the Readout Creek, and spans both route 213 and the former Delaware and Hudson Canal.

Gorgeous scenery off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride a little further north beyond the Rosendale Trestle, and come to the Binnewater Historic District where local quarries produced Rosendale cement. (I subsequently learn The Rosendale Cement Works near Limewater employed 5,000 workers and produced 4,000,000 barrels of cement a year at the peak of its activity at the turn of the century. Rosendale cement was used in the Brooklyn Bridge, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Treasury Building, as well as in many other structures around the country. The decline of the cementworks in this area is what accounts for the rail line being abandoned, and subsequently repurposed for the recreational trail. You can still see mines used to extract the cement,)

Interesting rock formations on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in the Binnewater Historic District where local quarries produced Rosendale cement © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here, though, we see magnificent rock formations – what looks like a cave from which it feels as if air conditioning were flowing and we sit on a boulder to have a snack before turning back.

 Notes about the trail say that were we able to continue biking north, we would come to great views of Third Lake, Fourth Lake, and Fifth Lake before passing under Interstate 87 alongside Hickory Bush Road. The northernmost stretch of the trail runs through a scenic forested area before reaching its terminus at a parking area off of New York State Route 32 just south of Kingston. However, the City of Kingston and Ulster County are exploring options for extending the trail into the city. Meanwhile, the Empire State Trail is adding roadway enhancements to run the trail along roadways into the city, where it can connect with other projects currently underway, including the Kingston Point Rail Trail and the Ulster County Midtown Linear Park which runs out towards the O&W Rail Trail.

Riding back, we come to the Café in the Woods, set up for musical performances, where you can purchase food from what looks like a gypsy caravan, and an outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning stove.

Here is where we see Happy Trails Bike Rental (917-443-3600; call in advance) set up right on the trail, (you should call in advance to make sure he’s around). (There are a couple of bike rental shops in the area).

Café in the Woods on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s late afternoon by the time we ride back south to the Sojourner Truth Park, but if we had time, we would have wanted to complete the trail the further 7 miles to Gardiner.

The southern end of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is at Denniston Road in the Ulster County town of Gardiner. True to the corridor’s original use as a rail line, the trail is generally flat. However, especially at this southern end, the trail is unpaved and best suited in the summer for hikers or for bicycles with wider tires.  (www.traillink.com/trail-itinerary/wallkill-valley-rail-trail)

New Paltz Hub for Trails

New Paltz has become a regional hub for trails, with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail running as the spine through the village. To the east, carrying the Empire State Trail up from New York City, is the Hudson Valley Rail Trail (which I have done in the past and found fantastic). This trail connects with the Walkway Over The Hudson’s western end in Highland – which has become one of New York State’s most popular attractions –  and as a part of the Empire State Trail’s investment, was recently extended from its previous terminus in the town of Lloyd all the way through to New Paltz where it connects with the Wallkill. Running west from New Paltz, a newly opened River-to-Ridge Trail  amidst the magnificent scenery of the Shawangunk Mountains.

Biking the new River to Ridge Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the next weekend, we return to bike the River-to-Ridge Trail (www.openspaceinstitute.org/places/river-to-ridge-trail) which was created by the Open Space Institute in partnership with Mohonk Preserve (www.mohonkpreserve.org) with support of the Butler Conservation Fund and only opened in 2018. This is a surprisingly hilly, gravel trail, about six miles long, that runs from the Wallkill River up through newly protected lands adjacent to fields, to 90 miles of carriage road trails on the grounds of the Mohonk PreserveMohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

Developed and managed by the Open Space Institute, the trail is a scenic and recreational off-road loop. It meanders through farm fields and over gently rolling hills, connecting New Paltz directly to the Shawangunk Ridge and 90 miles of recreational carriage roads and trails at the Mohonk Preserve and the Minnewaska State Park Preserve (https://parks.ny.gov/parks/127); the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail; and the Empire State Trail.

Just off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and up the road from the River to Ridge Trail is Coppersea Distillery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s a bike rental set-up right by the parking lot on Springtown Road. Just up from the parking lot, on Springtown Road, we found you can visit Coppersea Distilling, where you can go for whiskey tasting, which turns out to be a stone’s throw from where we had biked the Wallkill Valley trail (239 Springtown Road, New Paltz, 845-444-1044, coppersea.com).

We also go for cider tasting, fruit picking, and have pizza, prepared in a wood-burning stove, enjoyed at an outdoor table (with strict COVID-19 protocols), rounding out a sensational day.

Empire State Trail

About 400 miles of the Empire State Trail network had already existed – the absolutely fantastic Erie Canalway, 326 miles from Buffalo to Albany (which we have done on the annual 8-day, 400-mile Parks & Trails NY Cycle the Erie supported biking/camping trip, ptny.org), during which you see unfurled before you 400-years of American history. Improvements to connect the Canalway have also been made.

Most notable is the work done to connect the trails on the north-south routes, from New York City (where you can ride the fabulous Hudson River Park), all the way up to Canada. This involved some 60 different construction projects, all engaging local stakeholders.

When the full 750 miles of continuous route is finished, The Empire State Trail will be the longest multi-use state trail in the nation. (see https://www.ny.gov/programs/empire-state-trail)

When the New York Empire State Trail is completed, it will be possible to bike from Hudson River Park in Manhattan, up to the Canada border © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The sections include:

Hudson Valley Greenway Trail

The Hudson River Valley Greenway segments start in New York City and run north to the Capital District:

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

  • Hudson River Park
  • On-Road connection from Upper Manhattan to Van Cortlandt Park
  • South County Trailway
  • North County Trailway
  • Putnam Trailway
  • Beacon Rail Trail
  • Dutchess Rail Trail
  • Walkway Over the Hudson

UPPER HUDSON VALLEY

  • Hudson Valley Rail Trail
  • Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
  • Kingston Point Rail Trail and Promenade
  • On-Road North of Kingston to the City of Hudson
  • Albany-Hudson Electric Trail (AHET Trail)
  • Corning Preserve Trail
  • Mohawk Hudson Bike Hike Trail

Champlain Valley Trail

The Empire State Trail within the Champlain Valley goes from the Capital District to Whitehall, Wherever feasible, it is off-road along Champlain Canal towpaths. The 120- mile section from Whitehall to the Canada border at Rouses Point is on-road route primarily intended for bicyclists.

CHAMPLAIN VALLEY 

  • Champlain Canalway Trail
  • On-Road from Mechanicville to Stillwater
  • Path through Hudson Crossing Park
  • On-Road to Fort Edward
  • Champlain Canalway Trail
  • On-Road from Fort Ann to Plattsburgh
  • Terry Gordon Bike Path
  • Saranac River Trail
  • On-Road from Plattsburgh to Rouses Point / Canadian Border

Erie Canalway Trail

The Empire State Trail within the Erie Canalway include proposed new trail sections and link Buffalo to the Capital District.

WESTERN ERIE CANALWAY TRAIL

  • Buffalo Connection
  • Pendleton Connection
  • On-Road connection in Lyons
  • Shared Use Path from Lyons to Clyde
  • On-Road connection in Clyde
  • Shared Use Path from Clyde over Erie Canal
  • On-Road connection to Savannah
  • Savannah shared use path
  • On-Road connection to Port Byron trailhead
  • Honeywell Trail to Loop the Lake Trail
  • Onondaga Creekwalk 
  • On-Road Water Street Connection in Syracuse
  • Erie Boulevard

EASTERN ERIE CANALWAY TRAIL

  • Old Erie Canal State Park
  • Rome Connection
  • Utica – Schuyler
  • Ft. Herkimer Church – Lock 18
  • Lock 18 – Little Falls
  • Schuyler – Ilion
  • Ilion – Mohawk
  • Pattersonville Trail
  • Rotterdam Junction Connection

More information from Parks & Trails NY (ptny.org). (Next Cycle the Erie scheduled July 11-18, 2021).

Also, Rails to Trails Conservancy (railstotrails.org), Great American Rail-Trail, which would link up 3,700-miles of multi-use trails from Washington DC on the east coast to Washington State on the west coast (www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/vision).

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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 Adventures: Bike Tours Are Ideal Vacation Choice This Season

Biking the history-rich, scenic Delaware & Lehigh Trail (the D&L). Pocono Biking has a four-day, 142 mile guided inn-to-inn tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tours offer one of the best vacation alternatives in these times when people want to be outdoors in open spaces, and enjoy stunning landscapes, discover heritage and history and have that opportunity for shared experiences that travel uniquely provide. There is still time this season to take advantage of guided, self-guided and private bike tours from companies including Pocono Biking, Wilderness Voyageurs and Discovery Bicycle Tours.

Pocono Biking has space on departures this season on a supported four-day bike tour that takes you 142 miles of the Delaware & Lehigh rail trail, also known as D&L Trail.

I did this ride, anchored by the charming town of Jim Thorpe and the famous historic landmark at Washington Crossing, on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, though with camping instead of inn-to-inn along this scenic and history-rich trail (railstotrails.org). The RTC trip also was operated by Pocono Biking, a powerhouse outdoors- adventure company in the area well known for its rafting adventures on the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Valley.

The trip, traveling through 57,600 acres (90 miles) of state park, is designed so you get to enjoy three of Pennsylvania’s award winning quaint small towns: Jim Thorpe, Bethlehem and New Hope. Essentially, we follow the route of Anthracite Coal, from mine to market, which thrust America into the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we see the geography, the resources, and the technological innovations that made this possible, and how they affected the society, the culture, and the economy of the fledgling nation. The trail, part of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, is so historically significant that it is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

Buttermilk Falls, along the Delaware-Lehigh Trail, is a highlight of Day One’s ride through Lehigh Gorge State Park © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 1 – 36 miles: The adventure starts in the wilderness of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, riding passed waterfalls and spotting wildlife (deer!), taking advantage of the newly connected D&L Rail Trail into the charming town of Jim Thorpe.  The first night is spent amid mountains in the Inn of Jim Thorpe, circa 1849.

A poster of Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe hangs in the Jim Thorpe Inn, in the town that was renamed for him © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jim Thorpe – an odd name for a town – was established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain. But it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, the Olympic hero Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough.  But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge, rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial.

The town played a key role in the emergence of the United States as an Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (you can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.

Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, PA © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A major attraction here is the Packer Mansion, which I was lucky enough to visit on my trip. Asa Packer’s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-for-those-with-grit-and-a-good-idea American Dream: Born poor in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father.  But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.  

He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Packer purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad).  By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State. 

He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving as a Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and even challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.

The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk in 1861 and, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, on January 23, 1878, held a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later.

Biking the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This quaint village is a hub for many marvelous attractions including the Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (the eerie dungeon where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum, plus wineries and distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting.

Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org.

Day 2 – 37 miles:  After a night exploring the shops, museums and restaurants in Jim Thorpe and breakfast at the Inn, cycle beside the locks and canals along the Lehigh River to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Along the way you pass the Lehigh Gap Nature Center with its protected land. There are stunning views of the Blue Mountain and Appalachian Trail. Bethlehem, circa 1741, an old Moravian settlement, has cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and history around every bend.  Spend the night in the Hotel Bethlehem where Presidents and dignitaries have stayed.

Biking the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again on the trail. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)

Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s. 

Historic Freemansburg, on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, which, when I visited, was manned by interpreters in period dress. I wonder whether the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.

Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)

Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.

Bethlehem, PA: A shuttered steel mill looks like abstract sculpture © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 3 – 47 miles: After breakfast, the group departs Bethlehem and cycles south following the path of 19th century aqueducts to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Visit the only operating mule drawn canal boat east of the Mississippi. Tour the National Canal Museum and pass through quaint river villages, until arriving in New Hope. New Hope offers bustling nightlife and cultural attractions such as the Bucks County Playhouse.

Two mules pull the Josiah White II canal boat at the National Canal Museum in Hugh Moore Park © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. Here you see remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, which plies a two-mile section of the canal that has been restored. The National Canal Museum, with hands-on exhibits highlighting 19th century canal life and technology, normally is open from June until October. (https://canals.org/)

Day 4 – 22 miles:  On day four, after breakfast at the Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast, ride along the canal trail to Washington Crossing where George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776.  You also cross the Delaware to the D&R Canal State Park and head north to Bull’s Island where the ride ends with lunch before being shuttled back to your car. 

Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, PA 18977, 215-493-4076, www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org.

A bike tour, whether guided or self-guided, is an ideal vacation choice this season © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Available dates at this writing include Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 (up to 14 guests per trip, with 2 guides; the minimum age is 13; e-bike rentals are available, but the trail is easy/moderate crushed gravel trail). The cost is $995 ($225 single supplement); $90 to rent a bike, and includes the overnight accommodations, professional bike guides; sag wagon; basic bike repair (replacement bike if needed to complete the ride); rest stops with snacks and water; breakfast on three days; lunch on two days; luggage transportation to each accommodation; morning trail briefings and transportation back to your car by 4pm on the final day.

If you would rather DIY, Pocono Biking also offers daily rates and shuttle service, Big Day Out & Big Night Out (Multisport Adventures), two-day trips, and Pocono Whitewater Rafting on the Lehigh River.

Pocono Biking, 7 Hazard Square, Jim Thorpe, PA, 570-325-8430, PoconoBiking.com.

Other bike tours available this season:

Wilderness Voyageurs, operating out of Ohiopyle, PA, is offering New York Erie Canal Bike Tour (4-days,Sept. 21); Great Allegheny Passage Bike Tour (4-days, Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5), Easy Rider GAP Bike Tour (3-days,  Sept. 9).

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail, operated by Wilderness Voyageurs © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other upcoming tours: Michigan Islands, Trails & Dunes Bike Tour  (8/30); Cycle Colorful Colorado Bike Tour (9/13); Katy Trail Missouri Bike Tour (9/27, 10/18) and
Kentucky Bike & Bourbon Bike Tour (10/19).

“Bike touring lends itself to a vacationing style that uniquely fits these times: small groups and big open spaces! Although we understand that traveling at this moment is not for everyone and is a personal decision, our goal is to minimize the risks where possible and make traveling as comfortable as possible.”

Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com

Discovery Tours is inviting biking enthusiasts to design their own tour: “Pick any of our U.S. locations — or suggest a new one — and we’ll customize an incredible biking vacation just for you.”

Groups of 8 or more get one tour free (or spread the savings across the group). Special pricing is available for groups of 4 or fewer.

Biking with Discovery Tours in Woodstock, Vermont © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The company, based in Woodstock, Vt., has already run private tours this summer on the Mickelson Trail and Black Hills in South Dakota, in Maine and in New York’s Finger Lakes.

For details, contact Scott (scott@DiscoveryBicycleTours.com), info@discoverybicycletours.com, 800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com.

Find more trails through Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, Washington, DC 20037, 866-202-9788, railstotrails.org, TrailLink.com.

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