It's 11 on a Sunday morning.
You've just rolled out of bed after a late night out. And all of
a sudden you look out the window -- it's beautiful out.
If only you hadn't squandered the morning, you could be in
the Adirondacks for a day in the backcountry or in Vermont for a
day of skiing. But you had to sleep late, and now it's too late.
Or is it?
Actually, there's plenty of great hiking and cross-country
skiing destinations close to home, suitable for a half-day's
outing. The following are a few suggestions for places to visit
when you only have a few hours on a short winter's day.
For starters, you don't even have to leave the city. Albany's
Pine Bush offers a great network of trails for snowshoeing or
cross-country skiing. The network is accessed through several
portals, mostly on or near Route 155.
Also close to home is the Plotterskill Preserve in Rotterdam.
Located off Mariaville Road (Route 159), its austere entrance is
deceptive. This tiny plot of land contains some of the most
rugged canyons. Contained here is some of the Capital Region's
tallest waterfalls (ice climbing, anyone?) and deepest gorges.
But tread carefully -- this is a precipitous place, so in
slippery conditions it's not for children or the inexperienced,
Further afield is John Boyd Thacher State Park, most famous
for its sweeping views of the Capital Region. Across the road
from the view is some wonderful cross-country skiing trails when
conditions are right (and there's snow up there a lot longer
than there is down here). The back of the park even leads to a
section of the Long Trail, a hiking route that crosses New York
south to north, which will take you up and over a steep hill
with great exposure.
About an hour to the west of the Capital Region, Vromans Nose
is a short but stimulating hike off Route 30 in Schoharie
County. The escarpment, rising above the hills of New York's
rugged farm country, is only a mile from the road, which means
it might take longer to drive here than to hike it. But hey,
it's a Sunday afternoon in February, what else do you have to
do? Take Interstate 88 to Route 30 south. The trail starts at
the intersection of Route 145. (You'll see the cliffs on your
Mountain climbers who head to the High Peaks of the
Adirondacks week after week miss a high peak only an hour from
Albany. Mount Greylock, at 3,505 feet, is the highest point in
Massachusetts -- and only an hour away near North Adams, Mass.
There are numerous routes to the summit, some good for hiking,
some good for cross-country skiing and one steep ski trail
that's used by telemark skiers on a powder day. You'll need a
guidebook, as trailheads aren't well-marked and too complicated
to describe here.
Even closer than Greylock is Petersburg Pass, located at the
crest of the Taconic Ridge on Route 2, at the New
York-Massachusetts border. You can't miss the parking lot at the
top of the hill. You can go south, an interesting option for
skilled cross-country skiers, as the trail is more of a jeep
road. But northbound is the real trail. Start at the
billboard-style map that shows a selection of trails, and then
take your pick. Be careful at trail junctions, as many side
trails lead down from the ridge and a long walk from your car.
The northwestern Catskills also make a good afternoon
destination. If you're looking for a short outing, get off at
the Catskill exit of the Thruway and find your way through town
and onto Route 23A. This thrilling road takes you up through a
winding gorge studded with ice. As the road reaches the lip of
the ravine, park on your left at a large pulloff and walk back
down (mind the traffic) to a waterfall at a hairpin turn.
That brings you to a short trail to the base of the famous
Kaaterskill Falls. Follow it carefully to the double waterfall,
which includes a 175-foot upper falls and an 85-foot lower
falls. You'll probably see a giant ice cone at the base, and
perhaps the entire falls will be one giant icicle. It's
different every year, but one thing stays the same -- you will
risk your life if you attempt to climb the steep, icy walls
surrounding the water.
Further on, you'll find the trail to Indian Head, a rugged
loop that can be done in under 5 hours. You'll want a guidebook
for this trail, which is located a few miles from Tannersville.
You'll also want snowshoes or crampons and a ski pole for
balance, as it is quite steep.
If you're looking for an easy walk (or cross-country ski in
good snow conditions), check out Platt Cove Road. The road,
which goes from Saugerties to Tannersville, is one of the
state's few paved roads that is closed in the wintertime. It's
closed because it follows a cliff that rises above the rugged
Devil's Kitchen. As you walk, look down and you'll see the paths
of cars that met their demise through a very steep plummet off a
And then there's the Adirondacks. While most mountains in
that huge range are too far away for an afternoon's adventure,
there are a few great peaks surprisingly close. Around Lake
George, Buck Mountain, located on the lake's southeast side, is
steep but offers a grand view. Right in Lake George Village,
Prospect Mountain has a closed toll road that can be skied up.
Hadley Mountain, located near the village of the same name in
northern Saratoga County, is an easy snowshoe to one of the best
fire tower peaks in the Southern Adirondacks. Some folks even
bring sleds to ride down the trail.
Now, far be it for me to suggest that you should sleep in on
a sunny weekend. But even if you find yourself facing the tail
end of morning anytime soon, you still have no excuse not to get
And if you happen to run into me on one of these half-day
hikes ... um, I wasn't feeling well.