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Area offers nearby getaways
Where to go when you don't have whole day
By ALAN WECHSLER, Staff writer
First published: Thursday, February 5, 2004


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, ill-equipped hiker.

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 right.)

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 cliff.

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 out.

And if you happen to run into me on one of these half-day hikes ... um, I wasn't feeling well.