Everyone has either heard of, or been to New York City and for some that maybe the only interaction with the ‘Empire State’. In June I travelled to New York to prove there is life outside of New York City and here is what I found.
New York State
I arrived into Syracuse Airport and navigated my rental car on the opposite side of the road, preferring the charm of rural back roads and smaller towns as opposed to faceless motorways. My first destination was Oswego County located on the south-eastern shore of Lake Ontario. I checked into the Best Western Captain’s Quarters set beside the river. I wouldn’t say it was the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in but I have certainly stayed in worse. This charming city has a relaxed feel and easy road system to navigate which paved the way to Fort Ontario. Erected by the British to protect the east end of Lake Ontario, the fort is perfect for sunset views over the lake and of the lake and isolated lighthouse. The Fort also offered protection and housed 982 Jewish refugees during World War II, who were later offered citizenship in 1946.
With pristine lake shoreline, the obvious past time is fishing so I ventured out early from Oswego East Side Marina in search of the illusive salmon. Troy Creasy from www.highadventurefishing.com was captain and having grown up in Oswego knew the lake like the back of his hand. With lures cast in the darkened depths, we relaxed in this stunning wilderness area as the sun bounced off the water. Although the salmon were ultimately the winners of the day, a 5kg and 10kg brown trout who were not so lucky! Top tip: If you’re looking for the best tasting grub but don’t want to break the bank, don’t pass by Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In. Eat outside by the lake but be careful of the seagulls who tend to prefer their meals battered!
1000 Islands – Alexandria Bay
Despite the name there are actually 1,864 islands which constitute the archipelago, straddling the America/Canada border in the St Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. My first impressions were instantly of sheer awe. I checked into the Riveredge Resort – a stunning resort with dotted island views, many of which are available for private purchase and accessible only by boat. Setting out on foot in Wellesley Island State Park, I hit the forest trails which I can honestly say are breath-taking. Gaps in the trees revealed watery views with either tree-soaked islands or beautiful homes exercising every inch of their limited space. The park has a host of campsites and if camping/kayaking is your thing, then make sure this is on your list!
The following day I took the boat across to Heart Island to visit Boldt Castle – a magnificent six-story building intended as a gift to Louise Kehrer Boldt from her husband. Unfortunately she died before the project was completed and all work ceased. For 73 years the castle remained empty with the exception of vandals who destroyed ornate plaster and woodwork. In 1977 the castle was purchased for US$1 by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority with the understanding all revenues would be reinvested into the restoration of the castle. The grounds, gardens and restorations are beautiful, but what I really liked about this castle was that it’s a work in progress. The top floor is totally unrestored and offers a glimpse back in time with 73 years of graffiti and vandalism. I recommend visiting this castle as well as having dinner at Bella’s – a friendly bistro situated on the St. Lawrence River in downtown Clayton.
The drive to the Adirondack’s is nothing short of spectacular and on the way I fulfilled a dream of mine, to see the Amish still travelling by horse and cart. Despite the drive being dampened by a dusting of rain the scenery is immense. I arrived to the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort which backs onto Mirror Lake and spent the afternoon exploring this charming town and making use of the free kayaks available from the resort. Never have I stayed in a hotel room with an open fire place and being a novelty for me, cooked up a roaring fire as I sat on the balcony and watched as the mist rolled across the glass-like watery surface. Could this be perfection? I think so!
Up early I met with Karen Delaney who owns High Peak Cyclery with her husband – both veterans of all things adventurous. Her husband is about to clock up his 20 Ironman which I think is astounding. We started the day with a beautiful hike in the Heart Lake, Adirondack Loj area of the High Peaks Region, carefully scaling the wet boulders and snaking trails, eventually leading us to a scenic vista which can only be described as indescribable. A sea of lush green unfolded before us, cascading throughout the valley. Thankfully being the month of June, the hike was free from mosquitos.
Next we took to the lake with kayaks, skirting the grassy shoreline surrounded by forest views and private homes. Because the area is filled with so many incredible lakes, you’ll find some of the finest kayaking which you can rent through High Peaks Cyclery. Worth noting they also offer comfortable accommodation which won’t break the budget. We finished the day on two wheels with some off-road mountain biking, tracing the forest trails, jumping fallen trees and building up a sweat.
Once again the drive to Elk Lake Lodge was stunning and being off the main tourist trail, offers the visitor a chance to discover a very different side of New York State. Tree-lined back roads weaved over and around mountainous terrain with ample vantage stops to pull over, take a break and just admire the views. My advice is take a packed lunch so you can stop wherever the mood takes you.
The last section of the journey is on a dirt path surrounded by dense forest, which narrows until reaching the end, and there I found Elk Lake Lodge . For the record, I have never stayed somewhere I didn’t want to leave as much. The lodge is literally in the wilderness, right on the lake with smaller private lodges dotted around. Complete with open fireplace and balcony to relax and enjoy a glass of wine, it is the perfect way to wind down or ramp it up with free use of the kayaks. Being a private lake it is possible to get away from everyone and be surrounded by nothing but a wonderful silence, fresh air and should the urge take you, a spot of skinny-dipping.
One of the charming aspects of the lodge is all meals are included, plus they have built a wooden viewing platform over the lake to watch the sky fill with golden red and pink hues for sunset.
New York City
From North Hudson I made my way to Albany and took the Amtrak train to New York City. I stayed at the YMCA by Central Park. I wouldn’t say this was my top choice but NYC is expensive and I figured if I wasn’t going to spend a fortune, I was never going to get value for money. I spent the afternoon wandering around the CBD and Central Park – photographing the architecture.
As I was flying to Alaska the following day late afternoon I was left wondering how to fill my free day. New York City was a shock after experiencing the rural charm of New York State and initially found the sheer number of people overwhelming. However, being one of the largest global gateways for travellers, New York wasn’t ready to be outshone by the state so it weaved its magic wand and delivered one of the largest (and first in the world for the record) gay pride festivals in the world. The streets were filled with colour, music, dancing and smiling faces making it a wonderful way to depart the city.
I left with a new found appreciation of New York – a state so happy to share its innermost secrets and hidden treasures – proving without a doubt there is life outside of New York City!