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Motorcyle Leaf Peeping in the Gorgeous Adirondacks

Updated 09.01.2017
Although winter is quickly approaching, there is still plenty of time to for some amazing late-season leaf-peeping adventures. The northeast is a great place to find some incredibly picturesque fall landscape and traveling on motorcycle can be a great way to add flexibility to your travels. Guest writer and motorcyle enthusiast, Laura Knight from Motor Manner, is here with a detailed itinerary for motorcycle leaf peeping your way through Vermont and the Adirondacks.

Adirondack travel

If you hurry, there’s still time to see the beautiful Adirondack foliage.

There is nothing like autumn in the North-Eastern part of the United States – one of the most beautiful places in the world. People come from miles around to experience the iconic scenery. The mountainsides become a sea of color; a patchwork quilt of brilliant reds, vibrant oranges, and shimmering golds blanketing the region.

While the herds of fall tourists, affectionately called “leaf peepers,” make up the majority of the tours, even us locals love to take a weekend trip to view the leaves at their peak.

That is exactly what I did last weekend. I planned a trip to view the vibrant displays of fall color characteristic of the North East. It is an unmatched experience – especially when you travel by motorcycle.

Preparing for your own trip:

I don’t have to tell you how important preparation is for a smooth weekend ride. Weather, location, and road conditions all play a role. A foray into the Adirondacks is no different.

First, I determined my destination. I already knew my trip would begin in Vermont with upstate New York as my destination. The Adirondack State Park is ideal for seeing the untamed beauty of the North Eastern United State. It is 200 acres of preserved wilderness which makes for a great, uninterrupted ride. Therefore, I decided to spend as much time riding through the park as possible.

Next, I planned for weather. Fall in the Adirondacks can be chilly. The morning is downright cold. You’ll need pants, leathers, and hearty wool socks under your motorcycle boots. It’ll warm up during mid-day but by 3pm it gets brisk again.

I also recommend having your rain gear ready. Storms come and go in the Adirondacks – so much so that not all of them make the forecast. Be on the safe side and ride ready.

motorcycle leaf peeping

October is the perfect month for a leaf peeping adventure, especially in this part of the country.

Then I watched the peak leaf predictions. Mid-October is the peak of fall foliage in the Adirondack Park so I decided on Columbus Day weekend. Thankfully the weather cooperated that weekend and the forecast predicted a dry ride.

Finally, I outlined my route and decided on the following:
– Start on Route 2 in Vermont through the Champlain Islands
– Ride the ferry across Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh, New York
– Once in NY, follow Route 9 south towards Keeseville
– Take 9 to 9N
– Follow 9N to 86
– Stay on 86 through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake
– Turn onto Country Route 60
– Then take Route 3, which brings you back to Plattsburgh
– Finally use the ferry and Route 2 to complete the loop

The trip route was chosen for its scenic views, back roads, good speeds, and interesting turns. It is the ultimate motorcycle journey filled with the perfect mix of speed and maneuverability – plus it is typically free of the farm-equipment ever-present in the general area.

Route 2 Starting Point:

Imagine getting started early Saturday morning. The crisp fall air is chilly. A group of us gather at a Park and Ride lot in Milton, Vermont located north of Burlington. I chose this starting point because it was a central meeting place.

It doesn’t take us long to get on the road. We take Route 2 north through the Champlain Islands. There are not too many cars out at that point in the morning so it makes for easy riding.

Road trip through vermont

The Vermont Sandbar is a great place to stretch your legs.

Not long into our ride we come to the Sandbar whose scenic views are breathtaking. The sandbar is a long causeway connecting the Champlain Islands to the mainland. It is surrounded by water on either side. Needless to say, it is a favorite stopping place for travelers and offers a pull-off area on either side of the road.

Vermont road trip

This area is also a wonderful place to watch the sunrise.

From this notable point, the roads twist and turn through the quaint Champlain Islands filled with summer homes, general stores, and a handful of locals. Route 2 may be a “main road” but most of the time it feels like a forgotten back road perfect for cruising.

After driving through South Hero, the speed drops to 35mph and the road descends towards a flashing yellow traffic light. This is the cue to turn left onto ferry road. This intersection is also the home to Wally’s Bagels, a tiny Bagel shop known for its delicious breakfast sandwiches made with locally sourced, fresh ingredients. Stop and grab a Dirty Jersey or AppleFest for your upcoming ferry ride.

Taking the Ferry:

The ferry is a short distance from the Route 2 and ferry Road intersection. Taking the ferry adds a unique element to the trip by offering a scenic ride through the middle of Lake Champlain. Seeing Vermont and New York from the lake is a completely different vantage point and offers views not available in other forms of transport. Have your camera ready!

While the ferry is a relaxing addition to the itinerary, it is a new experience to many. So here are a few tips to keep in mind when taking the ferry:

1) It costs money to take the ferry and they only take cash. That said, they do have an ATM for the unprepared passenger.

2) Timing is key. The Grand Isle-Plattsburgh Ferry runs every 15 minutes during rush hour and every 30 minutes during off times.

3) Be sure to be on your bike with the brake applied when the ferry is about to dock. Landings are not always smooth. Assuming the weather is clear and the lake is calm, a rocky landing shouldn’t be an issue.

4) Motorcycles are typically the first ones on and off the ferry, so be prepared to go as soon as the plank is secured. Just watch the ferry workers for your cue to go.

Route 9 to Keeseville:

Once off the ferry, I recommend heading towards Plattsburgh and hopping onto Route 9 towards Keeseville. Route 9 will afford you the opportunity to see natural wonders worth stopping for all year-round.

The first stop we made was AuSable Chasm located along 9. It is known for its waterfalls, rapids, and gorges. There is an entire operation surrounding these natural wonders.

Tip: If you undertake this trip, I encourage you to pull over and view a number of these spectacular views – be it in a free or paid captivity.

9N:

When we got back on the road, we took Route 9 until it crossed Route 9N around Keeseville.

We rode through hillsides aflame with color. The fiery oranges, shimmering golds, mellow yellows, blood reds, rusts, tans, and leathers are intermingled with the emerald evergreens holding fast. A gust of wind causes a maple tree to let go of a flurry of yellow leaves, raining down around us like snow. They drift gracefully, floating in slow motion. Time seems to stand still until I speed through the mirage. One of the leaves lands on my chest firmly pressed there by the forward momentum of the bike. I ride with it there as we twist and turn our way along the roads until a straight away where I can safely remove it.

We continued to wind our way through the countryside looking at the fields and mountains. I marveled at the stark contrast between the bare, flaxen fields and the backdrop of dazzling fall foliage.

86:

We followed Route 9N into Jay and then turned onto 86. We headed north towards Lake Placid. This is the back way into town. Much further along the road, we passed Whiteface Mountain and the Olympic Ski Jump used in the 1980 Winter Olympics. While we were able to see the Ski jump from the road, I advise that you to take a small detour to take a closer look.

The optional detour takes you to the base of the Olympic Ski Jump. (A caveat: the detour involves a dirt road so you can’t mind getting your bike a little dirty.) It is a worthwhile stop, interesting history lesson, and an optimal photo-op – one of which your family and friends will certainly be jealous.

If you don’t take the optional detour, that is OK. You’ll still see the ski jump from the road.

Lake Placid:

From this point in the journey, we continued on route 86 into Lake Placid, New York. Lake Placid is a bit of a tourist trap but is worth riding through to see the scenery.

We stopped at a little coffee shop to warm up. A New Leaf is family owned and a much better price than the Starbucks down the road. Plus, it’s next to a large parking lot, perfect for leaving the bikes while exploring downtown on foot.

After the brief stop in Lake Placid we were back on road again, and taking advantage of the scenery on route 86.

86 to Saranac Lake:

It should be noted that at this point in our ride, we were getting hungry and we decided to look for a suitable lunch place. Right before the village of Saranac Lake there is a great BBQ joint called Tail of the Pup. You can’t miss it. Takes up at least a hundred yards of road frontage. With its easy-to-spot location and ample parking, we were able to park with ease.

This outdoor restaurant is a favorite with locals for lunch or dinner. You get to sit outside at picnic tables and enjoy the vibrant fall foliage as you eat mouth-watering BBQ. They even have propane heaters for when the fall days get a bit chilly.

Saranac Lake:

After a hearty meal, we rode a short distance into Saranac Lake. Saranac Lake is a village of around 5,000 and is home to a variety of downtown shops, a blossoming art scene, and many outdoor recreation options. It is also known for its Winter Carnival, thrown every February. During the fall, it is the perfect stop for leaf peepers looking to extend their stay in the area.

If you want to make this an overnight trip, I recommend staying overnight in a hotel near Saranac Lake. It will be the best bang for your buck; plus, there are a few motorcycle-friendly hotels. The Best Western, for example, is located about 1-2 miles from downtown. It even occasionally has special packages geared towards leaf peepers. There are also a number of campgrounds in the area if that is more your style. We opted for a third option and stayed with friends right outside Saranac Lake.

If you’d rather continue on and make it one epic day trip, keep on 86 out of Saranac Lake to heads towards your dessert destination: Donnelly’s.

Donnelly’s is by far the best ice cream in the Adirondacks. It is super creamy, handmade ice cream available seasonally. Their flavors rotate so you never know what you’ll find – though I can guarantee the options will be tasty and potentially addicting. Case and point: The Pistachio is delicious and worthy of a yearly trip to the area.

From Donnelly’s continue on Route 86 towards Paul Smiths. Then take County Route 60 past Rainbow Lake.

County Route 60:

County Route 60 is amazing for foliage views. The bright oranges, luminous yellows, and crimson reds pop against the sky. When I travel by motorcycle, I always notice my surroundings in a way I don’t when traveling by a car or bus.

Adirondack travel

Beautiful lake side foliage on Rainbow Lake.

For instance, as I passed Rainbow Lake I could feel the temperature drop slightly. The nuance in temperature and the increased humidity penetrated my jacket and I felt in my bones. The mossy, early smell added to the lake sensation and it flooded my nostrils as I zoomed around the curve. It was like I was merging with my surroundings.

After an epic, winding journey through the brightly colored wilderness, County Route 60 intersects with Route 3. This marks the beginning of the end.

Concluding the journey:

I take 3 back into Plattsburgh. From there I make my way to the ferry dock and travel back to Vermont leaving the crisp fall air and blinding shades of color behind me.

While this adventure might be over, the next one is already being plotted. I can’t wait to see where my tires will take me next.

Have you ever been motorcycle leaf peeping in this area? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.

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