Tag Archives: travel in a time of COVID-19

Driveable Adventures: Hiking/Camping in the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ – NY’s Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It doesn’t take long once you arrive at New York’s Letchworth State Park to see why this vast preserve merits its nickname, “Grand Canyon of the East.” One of the most dramatically scenic areas in the eastern United States, the Genesee River roars through a humongous gorge that extends the 17 mile-long expanse of the park, over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 600 feet, surrounded by lush forest.

Ever since I saw a poster of Letchworth State Park while riding the Long Island Railroad, I said, “Where is that!” So when our plan to camp and hike in the Southwest fell apart this year and feeling safe staying within New York State which has so scrupulously monitored and imposed safety conditions to contain the coronavirus, we sought out a comparable adventure driving distance from home: Letchworth is just south of Rochester in western New York in appropriately named Wyoming County.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Our camping trip was made all the more special by staying in the campground within the state park that had only just reopened (private campgrounds, such as Kampgrounds of America, koa.com, are also available in the area) – so we could cook our dinner in the most spectacular settings – dinner with a view and be in prime places for the early light. (I booked our stay mere minutes after the website, reserveamerica.com, reopened reservations.)

During the two full days we were there, we hiked the most scenic, marquee trails: the Gorge Trail (#1), 7.6 miles following along the rim in the southern portion of the 17-mile long park, and the next day, the Highbanks Trail (#20), 4.5 miles along the rim and through forest in the north part of the park. Indeed, these hiking experiences were reminiscent of hiking the Rim Trail along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park, (voted best attraction in New York State in 2017) is a geologic wonder. Its main attractions are three waterfalls (and if you visit in the late afternoon, you may well see rainbows over the Middle Falls) in the southern section. The trails take you to the most popular, scenic overlooks, which people can drive to, so they can be bustling with visitors (when we visited, people seemed to be respectful of wearing masks and keeping distance). This is another reason why camping in the park is such an advantage – the driving tourists tend to arrive at mid-day, so you can get out early and have these spectacular scenes almost to yourself.

If you do the hike early in the morning, do it from north to south. It’s out-and-back, so to avoid doing the 7.6 miles twice (that is, 15 miles), you can leave a second car or a bicycle at the end (as we did).

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The park is huge, about 17 miles long (it takes about 20-30 minutes to drive from the campground to the Upper Falls along the Park Road which is narrow, winding and rolling with dips and rises) to the Upper Falls area. Indeed, the park is so narrow that the hiking trails are just alongside the road, separated in most instances by curtains of trees.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The Gorge Trail, in the south, brings you to the most spectacular views – Upper Falls and Middle Falls in quick succession, then Lower Falls. The real surprise is coming upon Wolf Creek waterfall and a bridge with a painterly scene. Along the way you come upon these stunning stone look-outs at Inspiration Point, Archery Field Overlook, Great Bend Overlook, Tea Table lookout, which also have stone tables and BBQ set-ups.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Highbanks trail in the north section doesn’t have the awesome waterfalls, but is very special in its own way, providing the expansive vistas that evoke awe over just how enormous and winding this gorge is (respect for Mother Nature’s power) and why Letchworth has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Here, the hike brought us into stunning woods where the forest itself makes a painterly canvas.

View from Hogs Back on the Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com
Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

We started at the absolutely stunning overlook at Hogs Back (where we parked our car for the hike), going south about 2.5 miles, then reversing and going north from Hogs Back, you walk along the ridge, sometimes almost hanging over the gorge, until you come to the Mt. Morris Dam Overlook. The treat here comes at the end, at the Mt. Morris Dam Overlook Area, where there is a delightful snack bar serving excellent ice cream.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Two of the trails that I believe was closed during our visit, but definitely recommended is the Footbridge Trail that brings you down to the Lower Falls (#6A), just a half-mile long but rated “moderate” and the Portage Trail (#6).

Footbridge, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Altogether, the park offers 66 miles of trails (almost all rated easy or moderate, and most on the west side of the park). But for hard-core hikers, there is a 22-mile Finger Lakes Trail that runs along the entire eastern section of the park

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

I tried to research in advance to find the best places for sunrise and sunset photos, which of course depends on season and weather. I wasn’t able to get any sunrise or sunset photos, but the late afternoon light proved best at the Upper Falls and Middle Falls (where rainbows seem not uncommon as the sun lowers and sends its rays through the mist).

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Instead of eating at the campsite (not that scenic, but very pleasant for sleeping and breakfast), we kept our food in the cooler and equipment in the car and each evening would pick out a different setting – dining on tables with slate tabletops apparently taken from these very cliffs. David would haul out his Coleman stove and tiny propane tank, his culinary tools, cutting board, and perform his culinary magic. We dined at the appropriately named Tea Table the first evening, Wolf Creek the second evening, which proved our favorite, with a virtually private view of a sweet waterfall, that we discovered on our hike. We were going to have our third night’s dinner overlooking the Upper Falls, but realized this is the most popular part of the park, and since a priority was to avoid possible exposure to lingering COVID germs, we decided to return to Wolf Creek which we again had all to ourselves.

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Each evening we returned to the campsite and David and Laini made a fire (s’mores for dessert!). The peace of this place, with tall trees opening to a blanket of stars, and fireflies darting about as if they were Superflies! or shooting stars, was perfect and priceless.

Highbanks Campground, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth, which was voted USA Today’s Reader Choice for Best State Park in the nation in 2015, is well maintained, especially during this heightened COVID-19 health emergency. The campground restroom facility was very clean, and all the restrooms (they indicate which are open), require masks and social distancing.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Our plan for this trip was to be completely self-sufficient so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting water or food, not knowing if places would be open to buy supplies and wanting to cut down our interactions as much as possible. We took enough supplies for our three days, though we did discover that by the time of our trip, this region of New York had achieved Phase 4 reopening, so places were open though with significant limitations, including the Highbanks Camp Stores. (Concessions also were at the Dam Overlook Cafe and Highbanks Pool Snack Bar on the North end; Letchworth Gift shop, Lower Falls, upper Falls Snack Bar.)

(Indeed, for the foreseeable future, travel will involve more planning and forethought, checking ahead what will be open and under what conditions; as a general rule, some places are requiring advance reservations or timed-ticketing.)

Mount Morris Dam, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com
 

The Highbanks campground is wonderful – six miles from the entrance, and several more miles to get to the actual camping loops for tents and RVs. There are also cabins. Several areas accommodate pets.

There are also a few cottages and lodges available within the park. For a family vacation rental experience, the Maplewood Lodge, located at the entrance to the Highbanks Camping Area, sleeps up to eight and has a furnished kitchen, living room with working fireplace, TV and DVD/BluRay player and formal dining room.

Camping was one of the attractions for us to come to Letchworth at this time (so many are choosing camping and RVing and even AirBnBs over commercial hotels), but the park also offers the charming Glen Iris Inn, scenically set right above the Middle Falls.

Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

An inn since 1914, the historic Glen Iris Inn was formerly the country estate of William Pryor Letchworth. Completely restored, the inn offers accommodations and is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner (banquet and catering services are available for special events). We see people dining on the lovely veranda, as well as in an enormous tent set up on the lawn to further accommodate those preferring to dine al fresco.

Addressing this historic moment, rooms are sanitized with an electrostatic cleaning machine and sealed for the guest’s arrival; capacity in Caroline’s Dining Room is limited to 50%. In addition to rooms in the Inn, the Glen Iris also offers some cottages (585-493-2622, glenirisinn.com).

Just across from the inn is the small stone William Pryor Letchworth Museum which tells the fascinating story of Letchworth Park, paying tribute to William P. Letchworth who preserved the land and its heritage by donating it to the state. The museum tells the history of the Genesee Valley, the canal, and of the Seneca who lived on these lands. Letchworth’s personal collection of artifacts from local Native American tribes is on view.

The museum also relates the compelling story of Mary Jemison, “The White Woman of the Genesee,”  born on a ship from Europe in 1743 and kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania in 1758 by Shawnee, then sold to the Seneca who adopted her into the tribe, becoming Dehgewanus. (Trail #2 is named the Mary Jemison Trail, the creek is named De-ge-wa-nus Creek and there is a statue of her, erected by Letchworth not long after her remains were brought back from a reservation and reburied on his estate, that Letchworth dedicated to her memory in 1910; read her remarkable story: http://www.letchworthparkhistory.com/jem.html)

We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the museum during our visit, but is one of the top items on our list for our return.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

We also did not get a chance to explore the Humphrey Nature Center which in normal times, offers year-round environmental education programming and interactive exhibits highlighting the geology, wildlife, and ecology of the park.

Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park offers many recreational facilities and activities that were just beginning to reopen at the time of our visit – including nature, history and performing arts programs, guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series. The enormous Highbanks Recreation area has a pool. And since our visit, the park opened a new $2 million outdoor Lower Falls Recreation Center offering table games, badminton and pickle ball courts, bocce and shuffleboard, as well as a fitness loop.

Highbanks Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

The project also involved restoration of a historic bathhouse that is used as the base for the whitewater rafting concessionaire, Adventure Calls Outfitters (https://adventure-calls.com/). Letchworth also offers  kayaking, there is even hot air ballooning (https://balloonsoverletchworth.com/). 

A half-dozen trails allow biking (I wouldn’t recommend biking on the main Park Road), and there is horseback riding as well.

Middle Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

Letchworth State Park is open year-round – the fall colors look spectacular, as do the winter scenes when there is cross-country skiing on most of the trails, snowmobiling on four trails, and snow tubing. Winterized cabins are available.

To book a spot in the state campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/.

Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427 (there are several entrances, but Mt. Morris Entrance is closest to the highway; check out the wonderful antique shops in Mount Morris); 585-493-3600, letchworthpark.com.

Letchworth State Park, New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarnandnear.com

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails and boat launches, which were visited by a record 77 million people in 2019. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on these sites, call 518-474-0456 or visit parks.ny.gov.

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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

See America: Cruise the Erie Canal across New York State by Self-Skippered Canalboat

Erie Canal Adventures rents Lockmaster canalboats that let you cruise fancy free on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you want to see how America came to be, travel along the Erie Canal. A marvel of engineering when it was opened in 1825, the canal, which spans 353-miles from Albany to Buffalo, creating a water highway for commerce from the Midwest through New York City to the rest of the world, remains a dazzling achievement. But it was also the artery and an engine for invention, innovation, economic development, and ultimately social and political movements. Bike along the Erie Canalway (now virtually uninterrupted and part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail; there are several bike tour companies that offer inn-to-inn bike trips), but to really get the sense of it, float along the canal, tying up at the small towns and major cities that the canal birthed, and see unfold before you all the major social and economic movements that made America: immigration, labor, abolition and civil rights, women’s rights.

A few years ago, I had that opportunity, and in this time when people are shunning cruising because of the coronavirus pandemic but embracing RVs, renting your own self-skippered, specially-designed Lockmaster canal boat offers the best of those worlds. Founded decades ago as Mid-Lakes Navigation by Peter Wiles who designed the Lockmaster canalboats and was a significant force in repurposing the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use, the company, Erie Canal Adventures, is now in the hands of Brian Kennan, and . And even though you are still in New York State, the sights and experiences are as interesting and exciting as sailing the canals of Europe.

The company has made accommodations for COVID-19 – sanitizing the compartments so that there is a tape over them until the passengers arrive; instead of cooking utensils and “hard goods” being kept on the boat, they are taken off after each trip, sanitized and provided to guests in a sanitized tote when they arrive.

The orientation is still done on the water – the guide wears mask and gloves – to take you through one of the canal locks (thrilling), but the orientation that would have been done in the cabin is now offered by video.

Bikes are still provided but they are taken off the boat after each cruise, sanitized and replaced for each trip.

This part of New York State is already in Phase 4 – meaning that there is indoor and outdoor dining (with social distancing), many of the museums and attractions have reopened like the George Eastman Museum and the Strong Museum (with limits on capacity). In the various canal towns, you won’t have any trouble finding groceries or restaurants. And New York State has been successful containing the spread of illness and turning from the worst infection rate to the lowest in the country, because New Yorkers have scrupulously adhered to using masks and social distancing. (Now, to prevent any reemergence, the state is imposing a 14-day quarantine on visitors from states where COVID-19 rates are surging.)

Cruising the Erie Canal in a Lockmaster canal boat, as cyclists ride the towpath (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

I am at the helm of a 41-foot canal boat, a boat so enchanting and lovely, it turns heads and evokes waves, smiles, and snapped photos as it chugs pleasantly along at a top speed of 6 mph.

From this vantage point, I can appreciate this marvel of engineering, of grit and ingenuity the Erie Canal was, the vital role it played in the United States’ emergence as an Industrial giant in the 19th century and a dominant economic power in the 20th century.

There is no place in the United States like the Erie Canal, and no experience like having your own self-skippered canal boat – our floating home for the week – and a bicycle with which to explore the towns that were literally birthed by the canal. And to a New York City kid, seeing this bucolic countryside is a revelation. (“This is New Yawk!”)

It is extraordinary and thrilling to travel on the 363-mile long Erie Canal that slices through New York State and played such a vital part in the nation’s history, especially as we go through locks that are filled for us, and under bridges that must be lifted for us to pass.

Most of all, it lets us explore and appreciate the extraordinary innovation and ingenuity that developed because of the Erie Canal, the villages and towns, the factories and businesses that developed, and how the canal turned New York City into a global financial capital, and united the East with the West, how it funneled thousands of immigrants who populated the Midwest.

This is a true adventure. One where there are new discoveries, new insights, new perspectives formed with every new encounter. The Erie Canal birthed these places and now we see how they are being reborn, revitalized.

Going through one of the locks on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Setting off on our first morning, I have rarely felt that exhilarating sense of being so fancy free – to not have a set itinerary or schedule or even know where I am going or what I will see, but to have the power and ability just go where your curiosity leads. It is a marvelous.

We had trepidation about navigating the boat – a 41-foot long houseboat, like a floating RV – docking and most intriguingly going through the locks along the canal. But when we arrive, we get a two-hour orientation – every aspect about operating the boat, plugging in to electricity and water; how to turn on the engine, the stove, the shower, flush the toilet; how to recharge the batteries by running the engine in neutral; how to operate the radio and the correct protocol when contacting bridge and lock operators to “request passage”.

We are taken on a “shake-down” cruise that includes going back and forth through a lock. We are provided with a chart book and a handy sheet that lets you approximate how many hours between ports (important to keep track of the hours the lift operator is available).

Key advice: “Don’t approach anything faster than you would care to hit it.” The steel-hulled boat is powered by a 50 horsepower diesel engine; its top speed is 6 mph, and it weighs 11 tons “so you can’t get into trouble,” we are told.

The canal boat is outfitted with just about everything you might need – from ponchos to potholders to paper towels. There is even a grill and BBQ tools and canisters of propane. There are safety devices, a tool kit, even a sewing kit.

Our boat, the Canadice, is 41 feet long and can sleep 4 people (one double bed and two bunk beds in the galley; a well designed galley kitchen with small refrigerator and freezer; a shower; a table and sitting area in the bow), suitable for a family; the largest Lockmaster can accommodate 6 adults.

Within moments, the thrill of what this is all about floods over me: This is a real adventure, where have to do everything yourself, not have it done for you, make decisions.

Going through a lock on the Erie Canal: the lock tenders are extremely helpful (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we sail along, I reflect on how lovely this boat is: the gorgeous knotty pine wood detailing; the varnished wood seats and a railing that makes for a back rest as you hold the tiller, brass and varnished wood. The cabin is beautiful knotty pine. It has a canvas canopy over the helm and even on a hot day, the breezes as we travel are delightful. The bow has screens with plastic and canvas that zip and snap easily so we can close everything up in the event of rain and a table that can even be moved inside.

The design for the Lockmaster came from Peter Wiles, Sr., who was a key architect of the transition of the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use. He had a small tour boat business on Skaneateles Lake and went to England to see the self-skippered canal boats that operated on the Thames, and brought back the concept for boats that he would design and build here.

Wiles took the charm and the traditional design but adapted the boat to the Erie Canal, with a wider (roomier) beam, mostly flat bottomed and do not have a keel (the Erie Canal is only about 12-feet deep and is actually filled and drained each season). He founded the MidLakes Navigation company which, when we visit, is run by his children, Sarah and Peter Wiles (the company has since been acquired and renamed Erie Canal Adventures).

Fairport

We soon get the hang of piloting the boat, and after a couple of hours sailing, we come to Fairport, a most charming town, with shops and restaurants right along the canal. It is a picture-perfect model of revitalization.

Fairport did not exist before construction of the Erie Canal dried up a swamp and produced a “fair port” for travelers. “Commerce thrived as entrepreneurs turned ideas into products,” says one of the best guides to this portion of the canal, “100 Must See Miles”

Henry Deland’s mansion is now the Green Lantern Inn, Fairport, one of the canaltowns on the Erie Canal (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.ccm

One of these entrepreneurs was Henry Deland who had the idea to produce baking soda from wood ash. The building right on the canal and next to the bridge where there is now a delightful Towpath Cafe was where Deland manufactured his baking soda which was transported by canal to international markets.

Just up Main Street, on the south side of the canal, I find the Deland Mansion, built in 1876. After Deland made his fortune in Fairport, he bought land and founded Deland, Florida in 1876, which he thought to build into a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most from upstate New York; he lost his fortune in an orange freeze in 1885.

The mansion is magnificent: Second Empire style with tower, porches, fireplaces, it was one of the grandest private residences in western New York. After several private owners, including the Clark Family, the Deland Mansion opened as the Green Lantern Inn sometime after 1928, and served as a restaurant, speakeasy, rooming house, banquet hall.

The mansion is across from the First Baptist Church, which was built at same time as Deland built his mansion.

Each of the canal towns we visit has done a superb job of using historical markers and photos to illustrate the “then and now.” As we follow them, it is like a story that unfolds.

At Fairport, there is a marker that shows how Old South Main Street “yields to urban renewal: Commercial block changes from necessities to niceties.”

The beauty of the canal boat is that you can organize the day around what you want to do – whether it is to just hang out in a town – perhaps visit a museum. Our main purpose is to position us to bike the towpath. And so we tie up the Canadice at Fairport, take down our bikes from the roof, and head out about 7 miles to the next major town, Pittsford, along the canal bikeway. It is one of the prettier rides, with lovely homes on the canal.

The Great Embankment, Erie Canal, New York (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just before Pittsford, we cross over a mile-long section called “The Great Embankment.” This is the highest canal embankment, actually built over the Irondequoit Creek which rushes through a tunnel under the canal.

In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. The canal has been rebuilt three times since it originally opened in 1823. The original canal was a mere four-feet deep and 40-feet wide; three times it was enlarged, made deeper (first 7 feet deep and 70-feet wide, then 12-feet deep and 120-feet wide), and in many cases, moved entirely to make a better route as boats became motorized.

This is our first introduction to the engineering of the Erie Canal. I really hadn’t even thought of the canal as having a false bottom, that the canal is actually drained (around November 1), and refilled (around May 1) each season.

The Great Embankment is a revelation, but we will find even more dramatic examples of engineering, as we explore by bike and boat.

We return to Fairport, and prepare to get underway again – actually boating back to Pittsford.

It’s just passed 6 pm when we leave Fairport.

But to leave Fairport, you have to go under a lift bridge, and Fairport’s is very distinctive: it is constructed with no right angles.

Bridge at Fairport (no right angles) lifts for us to sail under, on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Kaaen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are 16 lift bridges on the Erie Canal, all of them in the west, and the eastern-most one is here at Fairport. The bridges are delights to look at – they have ornate towers and it is wonderful to watch how they work.

We have been instructed on the etiquette of using the radio to ask the lock tender to lift a bridge or open a lock. Some are covered by operators handling multiple bridges, so you might be told to standby and wait for the operator to get back to the bridge. (take note of the hours of operation – westward from Macedon toward Buffalo, the locks are open 7 am to 10 pm; eastward to Lake Oneida in Syracuse (the boats do not go all the way to Albany), the lifts operate 7 am to 7 pm).

Pittsford

We tie up for the night at Port of Pittsford Park, right below the Main Street Bridge (there is no charge but some of the ports along the canal charge up to $15 to overnight).

We stroll the charming streets (and there are some gorgeous residential streets as well), and see what an affluent community Pittsford is. Old money and new money poured in over the last 15 years to revitalize the downtown area.

Pittsford was settled in 1789 by Revolutionary War veterans, but it was the Erie Canal that first brought prosperity to the town, because it facilitated transport to market of tons of heavy gravel from the nearby hills.

We see stunning Victorian-era buildings – the Phoenix Hotel, built in 1812 in the Federalist style, 1812 to serve the Erie Canal and Turnpike trade, restored 1967 as an office building across from the Town Hall, dated 1890. There is also the Canal Lamp Inn, a stunning Victorian, right beside the canal bridge. (Self-guided walk through Pittsford, villageofpittsford.org).

Just minutes after we finish our picnic dinner of pizza and get inside our boat and close the hatches, it starts to pour. We are cozy inside. We hear the patter of rain as we watch a DVD on our computer.

Cruising in a canalboat on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The star attraction – and the major character – in this travel epic is the Erie Canal, itself. The historic markers we come upon are like chapters in the story, and as our trip unfolds, our appreciation of what the canal was, what it represented, and the impact it had, grows.

All 11 Lockmasters in Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario.

Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.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

Where to Go to Reclaim Summer Vacation from COVID’s Grip

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating out of Woodstock, Vermont, is promoting private and small-group tours through uncrowded rural areas, within driving distance of Northeast’s major metros this summer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Memorial Day typically is the start of the summer vacation season. But this Memorial Day and this summer season is anything but typical. Still, because of the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and explore uncrowded areas, summer may be the best time over the next many months to escape neighborhood boundaries and travel. Face it, some destinations, some travel experiences are better suited than others in this time of coronavirus pandemic, and travelers need to have confidence that travel providers, authorities and communities have taken all precautions to provide a safe, healthy environment where they are traveling.

Travelers, too, bear responsibility to not become infected or inadvertently carry infection to other places: wearing masks, washing hands frequently with soap, socially distancing, and self-quarantining when not feeling well. Some localities even have 14-day quarantine periods imposed on any visitor (check), and some communities may be less than welcoming to tourists from areas known to have had high infection rates. New Yorkers, for example, may be welcomed with less than open arms, but the good news is that New York has made it exceptionally easy to get tested, so travelers can move about with a sense of confidence (recognizing that a test only reflects that moment in time).

Indeed, instead of shutting down tourism altogether – punishing local economies that depend on tourism – places that impose a 14-day quarantine might instead take a result of a test that either affirms the traveler is not carrying COVID-19 infection or has the antibodies to indicate they have already had the infection; some might even set up their own testing stations at the “border” – the toll booths on the highway or the airports – where a tourist can immediately be tested and stay over a night, rather than 14 days, for the result – much as nations require proof of vaccines. Such measures would also inspire confidence in other travelers that they won’t become exposed.

Very possibly, the most difficult part of organizing a summer vacation will be access in light of limits on capacity. For this reason, going through an experienced, well-respected tour company which can provide services with the heightened attention to wellness, has permits and accommodations, will be key.

Here are some suggestions for your summer vacation:

Austin Adventures Responds to Renewed Interest With Custom, Small-Group Programs

Austin Adventures is seeing an uptick in requests as national parks reopen.

Austin Adventures is “definitely seeing an uptick in domestic travel requests as the national parks of the west express their opening plans,” says Dan Austin, founder and CEO of the travel company. “Many want exclusive departures. We have a new program to accommodate these requests. We are using private cabins and estates and providing full service guided adventures using these properties as a base camp.

“Guides will pick up guests at the airport and provide full services by day, tucking the guests into their private retreats by night. All vans and equipment are sanitized daily per CDC guidelines and following the lead set by airline carriers. Strict social distancing guidelines will be followed in all public areas. Guest will enjoy getting out on the trails and into the backcountry away from crowds. Activities like rafting and horseback riding will all be done in a private group setting.” 

Austin is setting up scheduled small group departures, adding an extra vehicle – two vans for 12 guests – to keep group size small even while transporting guests.

Planning is made a bit more complicated because the various national parks are opening with different timelines and new regulations, each set by the individual park superintendent all based on what’s best for their park and guests, Austin says.

Austin Adventures is designing private and small-group tours ideal for families.

“Yellowstone is our top seller and while there will be limited accommodations in the park opening and lots of new COVID rules, we will be back running tours June 14.” A key advantage is that Austin is fully permitted and capable of following the strict COVID-19 guidelines.

The company also expects to operate in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, and Bryce and Zion in Utah, as well as Alaska.

“All starting a bit later but running in some capacity   A couple of casualties of COVID is our Canadian Rockies adventure – because of strict quarantine rules [still not allowing nonessential travel from the United States across its border] and our Glacier National Park trip because of the uncertainty as to when and how it will open. Hotel openings are key and often alternates must be found outside the parks.”

Austin Adventures, Billings, Montana, 800-575-1540, 405-655-4591, www.austinadventures.com.

Western River Expeditions Draws on 60 Years Experience to Devise Protocols to Keep Families Adventuring this Summer

Where in the world – and how – will families vacation this summer?

“Given months of pandemic-driven lock-down orders, what will be attractive will be vacations that embrace fresh air and the healing powers of nature that can work wonders on family spirits and recovery,” says Western River Expeditions.
 
The company is drawing on its nearly 60 years operating top-quality river rafting vacations for individuals, families and friends to address pandemic-related challenges. Here are some of many steps the company is taking to counter COVID-19 fears. 

  • Screening Employees: Every day before work, each employee must pass both a temperature and pulse oximeter screen, and then answer a detailed questionnaire.
  • Screening Guests at Check-in: Guests exhibiting temperatures of 100.4 or higher will not be allowed to travel with Western River Expeditions at the time they planned; instead, they will receive an “Adventure Credit” which allows the guest and any members of the group who were currently living at the same physical address during any of the 7 days prior to the trip to use the full paid value of their trip as a credit for a future trip at a later date.
  • Screening while on Multi-Day Trips: All trip participants and guides will have a daily temperature and pulse oximeter checks and fill out a daily review of symptoms questionnaire. 

New protocols have been put in place should someone experience COVID-19 symptoms during a trip. In such case, steps will be taken to protect other guests from exposure during the remainder of that trip. There also will be protocols for toilet facilities, hand washing stations and social distancing (when feasible) as well as reduced number of guests per raft.
 
The company will also implement specific guidelines that address everything from life-jacket use and sanitation, to meal prep and service, use of shuttle vans, number of people per shuttle vehicle, sanitation of rafts, dry bags, cots, sleeping bags and all associated equipment. For more details on Western River Expeditions’ specific protocols see www.westernriver.com/covid-19
 

Western River Expeditions plans to offer its famed rafting adventures this summer with special protocols.

Western River Expeditions is expecting to operate late spring and summer 2020 trips, subject to the easing of government-mandated closures. Three trips in particular are ideal for families:

  • Desolation Canyon, a five-day trip through breathtaking Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon on the Green River in central Utah. Trips are scheduled to depart June 7 through Aug. 12 with a minimum age of five years old (see www.westernriver.com/desolation-canyon
  • Southwest Sampler, a four-day adventure that includes an off-road Hummer Safari, Arches National Park tour and overnight rafting trip as well as a stay at Moab’s Marriott SpringHill Suites. Departures are scheduled May 26 through Aug. 26. If National Park closures affect the operation of the Arches National Park tour, guests will explore another stunning location in Moab (see  https://www.westernriver.com/moab-utah-vacation-sampler)
  • Grand Canyon, the three-day option still has some limited space on certain dates from June 21st through September. Conveniently departing and returning to Las Vegas, NV, this 100-mile journey is suitable for families with kids as young as nine (see https://www.westernriver.com/grand-canyon-river-trip
Western River Expeditions is recommending three family tours this summer.

Other adventures from Western River Expeditions include:

Utah’s Cataract Canyon Classic 4 Day: These should operate June 2 through August 25. This spectacular 4-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. A flight returns guests to Moab over Canyonlands.

Cataract Canyon Express 2 Day: This faster-paced 2-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. Large whitewater rapids are a big part of this adventure!

Upper Grand Canyon 6 or 7 Day: Trips starting June 14 and later are currently scheduled to operate. Select trips June through September have limited availability. The upper 188 miles of the Grand Canyon offer some of the largest whitewater rapids in North America and a plethora of side canyon attractions. 

Lower Grand Canyon 4 Day with Bar Ten Ranch: All 4 day departures from June 21sthrough September are expected to operate; limited space is available on select departures in 2020.

Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. From March through October, the company guides more people down rivers in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the one of largest licensed outfitters in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its Moab Adventure Center division (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).
 
Western River Expeditions, Salt Lake City, UT,  866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com.

Luxury Active Vacations from Butterfield & Robinson

Butterfield & Robinson Experience Designers have been diligently researching, collaborating with long-trusted partners to offer programs with increased safety measures, mindful activities and more flexible booking policies.

The result is a curated selection of experiences in remote locations—from rustic-chic cabins to island-perched hotels—that, when combined with wide-open spaces, create the perfect setting to start exploring again.

The luxury active vacations company is focusing on private groups of family and friends who are looking for exclusive experiences at remote high end properties or luxury camping. The price point is around $700-1000 per person, per day. The options range from guided biking and walking experiences to lodge- based single stay experiences. For example:

Venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches like Wyoming’s Brush Creek and The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Or head to Colorado and settle into a cottage at Dunton Hot Springs, where you can gallop on horseback through the San Juan Mountains and let your stress melt away in a natural outdoor pool.

Butterfield and Robinson makes it possible to venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches this summer.

In California’s wine country, innovative winemaking techniques fuse with fresh, farm-to-table food. Pair with properties like the sophisticated SingleThread or the dreamy Auberge du Soleil.

In the rust-colored desert expanses of Utah, choose how you interact with the landscape, whether it’s a stay at the sleek and restorative Amangiri resort or a private houseboat charter (complete with a private chef!) on Lake Powell. Elevate the experience with luxury camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a secluded moment in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Say aloha to paradisiacal beaches, active volcanoes and sky-high waterfalls for some adventure further afield in Hawaii. Check in at the Mauna Lani on the Kohala coast and fill your days with water sports, epic hikes or a round of golf before kicking back in the evening with Mai Tais.

Butterfield & Robinson, Toronto, Ontario, 866-551-9090, http://butterfield.com/

Discovery Bicycle Tours: Yes You Can Bike This Summer

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating from Woodstock, Vermont, is resuming operations in destinations that have reopened for outdoor adventures, with important new health precautions in place. The company is also highlighting its small-group active vacations and can customize private tours (https://discoverybicycletours.com/private-tours)

The trips are organized to bike through rural places where you can leave the crowds behind and bike freely, and with fewer inn transfers.

“Our small tours are carefully crafted to provide personal choices for your comfort. You have options to dine with a small group, outside or in your own room. Each inn and restaurant on tour has new protocols to comply with local health rules,” writes Chief Customer Officer Thistle Cone, who recently bought the bike tour company with Scott Cone.

“Our leaders are adding extra cleanings of vans and bikes and will provide more social distancing for van transfers. Bring a comfy mask — and we will have extras.”

Idyllic country scenes greet Discovery Bicycle Tours cyclists just outside Woodstock, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the July and August six-day tour offerings now booking:

Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways: July 26-31, Aug. 9-14
Lake Champlain Islands: Aug. 16-21, Aug. 30-Sept. 4
Coast of Maine: July 19-24, Aug. 16-21, Aug. 23-28
Idaho Trails: July 5-10, Aug. 22-27
Great Allegheny Passage: Aug. 30-Sept. 4

“Looking for an East Coast getaway that’s a short drive from the major metro areas? Stay tuned to our website for more Vermont tours to be added soon … most in August through October.” 

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Woodstock, Vermont, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, discoverybicycletours.com.

New Jersey’s Beach Mecca The Wildwoods Reopens

The Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement & Development Authority (GWTIDA) has been tirelessly working with the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, Wildwood Business Improvement District (WBID), the Wildwood Special Improvement District (WSID), the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce and area businesses to set up initiatives such as enhanced sanitizing protocols, as well as expanding seating in restaurants out onto the sidewalks and adjacent parking lots for al fresco dining, enhanced sanitizing and spacing on amusement rides and all surfaces, social distancing procedures in ride queue lines, sanitizing of rental bikes, boats, jet skis, kayaks and of course promoting the wide spacious beaches where visitors can stretch out and relax with plenty of room to practice social distancing. 

“We are pleased to report that the Wildwoods are open for business for the 2020 summer season,” said Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA) Executive Director/CFO John Siciliano. “Health and safety is a top priority for the Wildwoods, and every precaution is being taken to assure that all who visit feel safe and comfortable,” he added.

The famous beaches of The Wildwoods, New Jersey are reopened this summer.

North Wildwood and Wildwood beaches and boardwalk has reopened to limited activity; the cities’ parks and bike paths are reopened and Wildwood Crest beaches, parks, bike paths, and sport courts for non-group play are open. In addition, hotels, motels and short-term rental properties are scheduled to begin reopening in Wildwood and North Wildwood on May 26 and Wildwood Crest properties will reopen on June 1.

Short-term rental properties, like all aspects of reopening the Wildwoods for the summer, will take measures to meet social distancing guidelines by initially opening at 60 percent capacity. Increased sanitizing and cleaning protocols, especially in high-touch areas, will be encouraged to ensure an optimal visitor experience. Additional measures may include having later check-in times to allow additional time for guest room preparation and enhanced sanitizing.

The Wildwoods offer 11,000 room accommodations – including 8,000 hotel and motel rooms, and 3,000 vacation rentals. The mid-century themed hotels/motels throughout the five-mile island developed during the era of burgeoning automotive travel of the 1950s – which is making a comeback in this New Normal.

 “The designs and architectural features pay tribute to the post-war pop culture. Their architecture continues to memorialize the bold spirit of a newly restless society, while motel names conjure up tropical paradises and other exotic destinations.”

Visitors must adhere to the social distancing guidelines set forth by Governor Phil Murphy; all activities are subject to the orders of the Governor.

Walking, running, fishing and sunbathing are welcomed on the beaches. Physical activities such as biking, walking and running may take place on the boardwalk. Boardwalk establishments offering takeout-only food, will also be open for business. Municipal parks and playgrounds will be open; however, playground equipment will remain closed. Everyone is encouraged to use best practices for social distancing, including wearing masks while enjoying the beach and boardwalk. Sitting and gathering in groups is prohibited.

The Wildwoods’ five-miles of free white-sand beaches serve as the ideal location for visitors to clear their minds and enjoy the calming benefits of ‘Beach Therapy’. The beaches offer an award-winning and spacious stretch of sand to relax, recharge, and reunite with friends and family. In addition to being the perfect place for relaxation, the beach gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to exercise freely and spend quality time with family.

Another way to recharge, get physical exercise and enjoy the beautiful summer air – all while keeping a safe distance from fellow visitors – is taking part in the Wildwoods’ ‘bikeability’. Take in the breathtaking views of the Wildwoods, starting at the far southern end of the island along the Dunes Bike Path in Wildwood Crest, up onto the Wildwoods’ 2.5-mile Boardwalk, and through North Wildwood’s Muhlbury Bike Path to the North Wildwood Sea Wall – a scenic, leisurely 12-mile round trip route. You can also ride bikes-only lanes through downtowns and around the entire island.  

Golf courses can be found all across Cape May County – from Cape May National to the south to Shore Gate Golf Club to the north – and offer a variety of playing levels from beginner to scratch golfer.

Known as the ‘two miles of smiles,’ the iconic Wildwoods Boardwalk is pure sensory overload with three amusement piers with 100 rides and attractions, carnival-style games, flashing arcades, shops and irresistible food. The Wildwoods food & beverage establishments are doing their part in abiding to safe distancing guidelines by offering curbside pick-up, delivery, and al fresco dining options.

For additional information about The Wildwoods, New Jersey, call 800-992-9732 or visit www.WildwoodsNJ.com

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