The Wonders of the Empire State Trail

| June 24, 2024

By Peter Aronson

As summer begins, we are continuing to plug the wonders of New York State for weekend getaways or close-to-home eco-friendly vacation options.

This week we focus on the Empire State Trail, the 750-mile sideways-shaped T that runs across the entire state, from Buffalo to Albany, via the Erie Canalway Trail, from New York City to Albany, via the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail, and from Albany north to the Canadian border, via the Champlain Valley Trail

Announced in 2017, this ambitious project was completed in 2020 and is billed as the nation’s longest multi-use trail. It connects rail trails, bike trails, and walking paths – urban, suburban and rural – throughout the state into one long connecting path, a mix of off-road stone and dirt paths, off-road asphalt paths and roadways where bikers share a road with vehicles. It traverses New York’s major cities, small towns, rural and farm communities, the Hudson River, the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks.  

New York State is making it easy to learn about the path, so that you can find a section that is best for you.

For starters, you can visit the Empire State Trails’ detailed and highly interactive website and view the map and sections that interest you. The trail is broken down into three main segments (NYC to Albany, Albany to Buffalo and Albany to Canada), which is then divided  into 60 trail subsections, detailing the scenery, the length, the type of path and who and what the path is suitable for.

For example, the website says this about the Bronx to Westchester South County Trail, a dog-friendly path:

“This 13-mile Empire State Trail section is an off-road paved trail, dedicated to bicyclists and hikers only. The section begins on the west side of Van Cortlandt Park at the intersection of Broadway and West 242nd Street (accessible by NYC subway and on-street parking). From there, the trail runs northeast through the park, following the former Putnam rail line north into Westchester, where the route then follows the South County Trail. Despite passing through densely populated areas, the rail-trail is surprisingly park-like and quiet, buffered from adjacent development and the Saw Mill River Parkway by dense woods. The north end of this trail section is in Elmsford, at Route 119. Multiple trail parking areas exist along the route, including VE Macy Park, a county park with ample parking and public restrooms.”

Another example is the route from Plattsburgh to the Canadian border:

“The 110-mile portion of the Empire State Trail through the Champlain Valley, from Whitehall to Canada, is an on-road bicycle [only] route. The 27-mile section from Plattsburgh to Rouses Point follows State Routes 9 and 11, providing sweeping views of the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain, and rural Clinton County. It is appropriate for experienced, long-distance bicyclists comfortable riding on roadway shoulders, next to vehicle traffic. This section is not recommended for casual bicycle riders or hikers. Bicyclists continuing further north into Canada must pass through a formal U.S. border crossing, located 1-mile north of Rouses Point. Trail users can access local services in Plattsburgh and the hamlets of Chazy, Champlain, and Rouses Point (there are few services between the hamlets).” 

For any of the 60 trail segments detailed, which encompasses the entire 750-mile path, you can download a turn-by-turn guide for that section.

As a broad overview, the Buffalo to Albany path travels through or near Rochester, Syracuse and Utica. The path from Albany north to Canada passes through Saratoga Springs, Plattsburgh to Rouses Point, at the border. The trail from NYC to Albany starts at the Castle Clinton National Monument in lower Manhattan, then traverses the Manhattan Greenway along the Hudson River into the Bronx, then north into Westchester County, passing through Yonkers, Ossining, Yorktown Heights, through Mahopac, Poughkeepsie, then crossing the Hudson River and continuing north through New Paltz and Kingston, then re-crossing the Hudson, passing Poets Walk Park, then Bard College, Tivoli, Nassau and East Greenbush, before hitting Albany.  

If you want to order a free printed map of the entire path, you can go to the About The Trail section and scroll down. 

The website also has a helpful FAQ section. For example, the site says there is a “diverse variety of overnight accommodations” and has identified hundreds within five miles of the trail, to be located here. To find public and private campgrounds, visit the Camping page. Via the Trip Planning page, you can get info about Amtrak and Metro North Railroad service to many trail locations. GPS info for all trail routes is available by clicking here.

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