Motorcycling on the Adirondack slow roads.
Riding along Cedar River Road, deep in the Adirondacks, I spooked a blue heron. He took off, rose to ten feet, spread his wings and began to sail. I blipped my throttle and coasted to match his pace. He rose and fell, following the undulations and gentle curves of the road, never rising higher. I matched his speed – not faster or slower – and for moment flew with this beautiful bird.
I wouldn’t have had this experience if I had been ripping along at 70 mph. Don’t get me wrong – I like to ride with some “gusto” -- but that was not the purpose of this trip. My wife and I set out to find the slow roads in the Adirondacks: the roads where you ride at 35 and see more by travelling less.
The northern Adirondacks are known to have great fast paced, paved roads: ideal for covering ground through the mountain landscape. Living in Vermont and being only an hour east of the Adirondacks, I’ve grown to know and love many of these roads.
We chose Schroon Lake as our basecamp for this mission. Schroon is a town of 1,600 residents in eastern NY State, just west of Crown Point and Northwest of Lake George. The nine-mile long lake is surrounded by woods, camps and cottages. On the west shore is US-9 and the Town of Schroon Lake.
Coming from Vermont, we crossed Lake Champlain by the Crown Point bridge on VT-17, then travelled south on NY-22. Our original plan was to ride County-road 2, past Penfield Pond, but because it was raining and we were fighting darkness, we chose to ride to Ticonderoga then west on NY-74.
NY-74 begins fast and straight, but then twists in magnificent ways as it kinks through Eagle Lake and then Paradox Lake. Riding late on a Friday afternoon in August, I was surprised by how little traffic was heading west with us.
The next morning we set out on our mission to ride the Moose River Plains road (more on this later). Looking to get into the dirt early, we headed south and took a right off US-9 onto Horseshoe Pond Road, a seasonal road that runs to CR-24.
It started off nice enough, as the pavement slowly gave way to gravel. The road then narrowed and revealed a rougher, rocky side, like a Vermont class four road. Navigating the road on a dual-sport with knobbies was not difficult, but a larger bike with street oriented tires may have found the road challenging.
At the end of Horseshoe Pond Road, we turned left onto CR-24 and then make a quick left onto CR-34, Trout Pond Road. Trout Pond Road is a typical Adirondack county road with smooth fast pavement, tight technical curves and plenty of fun. The more I know about the Adirondacks, more I’ve learned to look for the blue and gold signs that mark county roads, as they’re a sure sign of fun. Trout Pond Road is a country road that will not disappoint.
After Trout Pond Road, we ride Route 28, along the Hudson River west to Cedar River road. Cedar River road twists and turns, rising and falling with gentle swells as it turns from pavement to dirt. This is exactly the type of road we’re looking for: relaxed and easy, surrounded by woods. We stop to take a photo. When we return, a park ranger rolled up. I was ready for what came next.
“Where are you folks headed?” she asks.
“We’re planning on riding the Moose River Plains Road through to Inlet,” I explain.
The ranger tells us that she’ll have to ticket us if we proceed.
I explained that I had thoroughly researched the road and had even contacted NY’s DEC to learn the regulations. She told me that DEC was incorrect: the road is open to all types of motor vehicles – cars, pickup trucks, station wagons, mini-vans, SUV’s, campers – everything except for motorcycles.
The Moose River Plains Road runs approximately 28 miles, from end of Cedar River Road through to Inlet NY on NY-28, through the Moose River Plains Wild Forest. MRP offers hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding and primitive camping in roadside camp sites. The camp sites have privies, fireplaces and tent pads. Camping is free. None of this is available if you ride a motorcycle.
The history of how Moose River Plains became off-limits to motorcycles is murky. The ranger tells us how Hells Angels terrorize the park in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The only recourse was to make the area off-limits to motorcycles. Apparently, the prospect of getting a ticket was sufficient to scare them off.
After getting turned around on the Cedar River Road, we headed west on NY-28 to Raquette Lake to ride the Uncas Road.
Raquette Lake is the largest natural lake in the Adirondacks with 99 miles of shoreline. Eighty percent of the shoreline is now protected wilderness. The Lake is known as home of the Adirondack Great Camps style of architecture, started by William West Durant.
The Great Camps where private retreats for the wealthy. Built during the 19th century, the camps were designed around natural materials to blend with the surroundings. Camp Sagamore on NY-28 is a Great Camp compound open to the public for tours during the summer months.
The Uncas Road (a.k.a. Browns Tract Rd) is a 9 mile long, mostly dirt road that runs from Raquette Lake to Inlet, running through woods, dotted with hunting camps. At the north end, there is a campground on the 146 acre Brown Tract Pond. The campground provides campsites with picnic tables and fireplaces, showers, and flush toilets. If the Moose River Plain Road ever opens to motorcycles, combine the Uncas road with Moose River Plains to make long, mostly dirt road loop.
After a long day of riding, we were hungry for good food. Mr. P’s Mountain Smokehouse, Artisan Barbecue & Craft Cookery on Schroon Lake’s main street serves brisket, fried catfish filets, and pork ribs with sides of bleu cheese cole slaw, hazelnut green beans, mustard & dill potato salad and honeyed corn bread. Mr P’s was exactly what we needed.
Sunday morning is the perfect time for a lake shore ride. The barely paved Adirondack Rd runs through a tall pine forest along Schroon Lake’s eastern shore, to the small town of Adirondack. From there, we headed past the remote Beaver Pond and then to Palisades Road on the north shore of Brant Lake. Palisades Road twists on a narrow strip of smooth pavement between the Lake on one side and shore side camps on the other. We finished our lake side loop with Bean Road – a seasonal dirt road – which brings us to East Schroon River road: a smooth piece of pavement running past the southern end of Schroon Lake. Our next stop was Tahawus, a ghost town northeast of Newcomb, NY.
The road to Tahawas, CR-25, is long and straight, smooth and beautiful – an attraction in its own right. The view from the upper portion of the road – just past the turn off for the trails and the ghost town makes it worthwhile.
Tahawas was built to mine and smelt iron ore during the 1800’s. Ore was harvest from the Upper Works from 1827 to 1857 and smelt in a 2500 degree blast finance, operated on the site from 1854 to 1856. Impurities in the ore made processing difficult and the operation closed down in 1857.
The Preston Ponds hunting and fishing club (operating under a variety of names) leased the land from 1876 until 1989. Several of their buildings remain on the site.
In 2003 the Open Space Institute purchased the land, including the headwaters of the Hudson River. The OSI installed railings and interpretive panels around the blast furnace, preserving and generally civilized the site.
Today, the ghost town sits at the end of the road, just outside a parking lot for the High Peaks hiking trails. The trails are heavily used and traffic through the middle of the site detracts from the “ghost town” appeal.
From Tahawus, we headed back to Vermont on the 19 mile long Blue Ridge Rd. Blue Ridge runs from NY-28 in Newcomb to US-9 in North Hudson. NY. Blue Ridge starts with a series of 50 mph kinks that will make you smile and then opens into a fast flowing run east. When you pass the abandon theme park Frontier Town – a modern ghost town – the road is nearing its end. Take a left and head north 3 tenths of a mile, then take a right onto Johnson Pond Rd.
Johnson Pond road begins as a narrow paved road, snaking its way into the woods, climbing steadily as it goes. As the road levels at the top, it turns to gravel and then dirt, becoming a seasonal road. The road runs through deep woods and a beautiful swamp. It emerges from the dark at Johnson Pond and then merges onto Old Funance Road and then Hogback Road. In total, the dirt section is about 9 miles long and was one of the prettiest stretches of a beautiful ride.
Most of the good Adirondack dual sport riding is now shuttered behind locked gates, leaving our quest for the Adirondack Slow Ride somewhat unsuccessful. Still, I’d rate our trip Grade-A. The Adirondacks are filled with interesting stretches of narrow twisty pavement. When you can combine these narrow slices with fast, smooth county and state roads, you’ll find a mix to keep you amused for a weekend or a lifetime.