No trip through Vermont would be complete without a visit to Ben and Jerry’s place to sample a scoop or two of their world famous ice cream.
We were on our way to explore Vermont’s winter ski capital of Stowe and might have missed our chance were it not for a google map reference to Ben and Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. Curious, we pulled in and found a clever display of tombstones paying tribute to retired flavors; some old favorites and others, well…just old.
Unfortunately, there are no tours at the Waterbury factory at this time but there is outdoor window service where a full menu of flavors and toppings are available for purchase in cup or cone.
From the Wilmington/North Pole KOA Campground that is. Love this oversized campsite about 10 miles northeast of Lake Placid in New York State.
Less than 2 miles down the road a collection of hiking trails known as the Flume Trails branch off above a narrow channel where the Ausable River roars through. We chose the Flume Knob trail, a 3.1 out and back trail with nearly 1,200 feet of elevation gain leading to a 180° view. How hard could it be?
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to quit a trail as badly as I wanted to give up on this one. Impatient with the heat, humidity and swarming bugs, I struggled uphill behind Reg who kept calling back to me, “We’re almost there!” And then, finally we were. The view was every bit as good as promised. I snapped the photo of Reg as he carefully made his way back down off the knob. Fortunately, it wasn’t as scary as it looks.
The following day we debated the pros and cons and finally decided to drive up the Whiteface Mountain Highway. We thought it strange that visitors must pay a hefty fee to drive the scenic highway. It’s a short 5-mile drive that snakes up 2300 feet and offers ”grand vistas of Adirondack Park” and “panoramic views that stretch from Canada to New Hampshire.” Watching the sky, we were skeptical that the weather would allow us such expansive vistas.
From the parking lot at the top, guests can opt for an elevator ride to the summit. We chose to walk by way of what was named the Alpine Nature Trail, an odd name for the walk across a rocky mountain spine. While we were able to enjoy misty views (the bottom left photo shows a bit of Lake Placid, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics) the stretch from Canada to New Hampshire was a no-show. Click here to learn more about the drive up Whiteface Mountain.
The Canadian border stretches invisibly through the St. Lawrence River just off the northern shores of Wellesley Island State Park in New York, our next stop where we had three full days to explore. Our approach to the park was from the south, via Interstate 81, crossing from mainland New York over the U.S. portion of the St. Lawrence and then quickly exiting onto the state park roads.
Rain was predicted for our first day so we took advantage of the dry morning to check out the camping area. There are six different camping loops throughout the park and 431 sites. We leisurely wandered up, down and all around, surprised to see that nearly all were empty. It took us nearly two hours.
The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center sits on a finger of the island and is the hub for multiple color-coded day hikes. We chose the coastal River Trail (green) which wrapped all the way around the point and eventually connected to the East Trail, eventually leading us back to the nature center and the end of a five-mile hike.
The Thousand Island Park community on Wellesley Island was founded in 1875 as a Methodist campground. As the infrastructure developed, the area quickly grew into a summer resort. By the end of the 18th century nearly 600 cottages had been built. In 1982 Thousand Island Park was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I‘m a sucker for big old Victorian houses, so we rode our bikes the five short miles to check out the neighborhood.
Today there are about 40% fewer cottages than there were at the peak, but those that remain surely have stories to tell. Many have been beautifully restored while others await some TLC. Many appeared still closed up, awaiting the short summer season.
We had one more day to explore western New York and, wanting to beat the crowds, Reg got me out of bed at 5:15 a.m. At such an early hour it felt like a long drive for a day trip, but our destination was too close to ignore. We were soon winding our way along two lane roads, driving toward one of America’s iconic landmarks.
We had a beautiful, warm day and Niagara Falls State Park was surprisingly uncrowded. We had no trouble securing tickets for the Maid of the Mist, the boat that would take us to the bottom of the falls. The U.S./Canadian border splits the Niagara River and as we set sail in our American blue waterproof ponchos, we waved to our Canadian neighbors returning to port, decked out in their country’s red plastic ponchos.
It was a wild ride, but definitely the best way to get a feel for the magnitude of the three falls and the power of the water. Not the best photo conditions, but I did my best to snap a few as Reg hung on; one hand gripping the railing and one gripping me!
Due to the mist and spray, Horseshoe Falls (large photo above) is difficult to see from above. I managed to get one shot from below before deciding that my camera had taken on as much water as I dared allow and quickly stuffed it inside my poncho.
Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East, covers over 14,000 beautifully forested acres that stretch roughly 17 miles along the Genesee River gorge in western New York state.
The park campground was not yet open for the season, so we got an early start from our nearby KOA campground and spent one day exploring numerous hiking trails that wove up and down throughout the park.
Scattered among the grounds are 15 descriptive panels and 60 commemorative medallions marking the locations of the projects FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps completed in the 1930s and early 1940s. Some, like the bridge below, still stand today. Others, like the fireplace, have been renovated.
We have one more day to fill and another New York state park to share with you before moving on. Where will that be?
We felt like our two nights at Trough Creek State Park in south central Pennsylvania took us into the wilds. With just an electric hookup, we got a little closer to our camping roots, toting in bottled water for drinking and needing to be mindful of not overfilling our gray- and black-water tanks.
The park had a surprising number of interesting features that we were able to make a day of exploring. Just down the road was the Ice Mine, a curious space between hillside rocks where cold air flows through creating ice and a natural refrigerator effect.
Balanced Rock remains perched at the edge of a cliff above Great Trough Creek, seemingly defying gravity. Called an ”erosion remnant,” it has refused to fall, creating corny photo opportunities for some.
Our next two-night stop was in northern Pennsylvania at Leonard Harrison State Park, known as The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Another small park accessed by way of two-lane roads passing through tiny roadside communities, we once again felt somewhat isolated.
We spent the morning safely hiking the Turkey Path which, despite the numerous warnings of a steep, dangerous trail, was a little muddy but not too scary. We had hoped that we could get down to Pine Creek, but after descending a set of 70 stairs and almost there, we were met with a closed sign.
We’ve always felt a little spoiled by our Oregon state camping options, but we were throughly impressed with Pennsylvania state parks. We’ll soon be checking into a New York state park and are curious to see how it stacks up. I’ll let you know in a few days!
Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails through Virginia’s spectacular mountain scenery. We reserved four nights just outside the park in Luray at Spacious Skies RV Park, excited about three full days to explore the park.
Our first day found us back on a section of the Appalachian Trail. We were curious to see the overnight shelters distance hikers frequent, so we chose a 6-mile out and back trail called Mary’s Rock and Birds Nest 3 Shelter.
It was a rocky, uphill path to Mary’s Rock but the view was worth the climb. We continued on until we reached the shelter known as Birds Nest 3. While it was pretty rustic, it would certainly provide welcome relief to weary hikers eager to escape bad weather. At one end was a large fireplace while a raised sleeping platform stretched across the back. Tucked away at a discrete distance was another treat…an outhouse. I didn’t peek inside assuming it was likely pretty rustic, but figured it would offer a bit of hard-to-come-by privacy after miles of wilderness.
That night the temperatures dropped and the rains began. Hard rains…relentless rains. Perhaps day two was a good time to drive a part of 105-mile Skyline Drive that winds along the spine of the park.
It was obviously not a day for sightseeing, so we went back to our trailer and got the laundry done. The rain and cold continued into the next day. Our Shenandoah National Park visit was a bit of a bust, and we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beautiful campsite we had, but we did have one great hike and a good laugh about our “drive through the park.”
The most historic home in America lies on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia. For nearly 45 years Mount Vernon was home to George Washington, our country’s first president, and his wife Martha.
The estate has been privately owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1858. It is open for all to enjoy 365 days a year. Your admission gains you access to the gardens, farm and a number of outbuildings. The interior home tour is an additional cost, but the grounds surrounding it are free for all to explore.
It took a tremendous amount of manpower (not to mention womanpower) to keep the plantation running and profitable both inside and out. As was the practice of the times, Washington depended on a workforce of enslaved men and women to tend to the day-to-day operations of the garden, crop, fishing, farm and household chores. The days were long.
George Washington died at Mount Vernon in 1799. Martha passed away a little over 2 years later. Their remains lie side-by-side in the Mount Vernon the family tomb.
Until 1699, Jamestown was the colonial capital of a newly established Virginia. When the statehouse was lost to fire the decision was made to move the government to the nearby community of Middle Plantation. Quickly renamed Williamsburg, it remained the hub for the Commonwealth of Virginia until 1780 when the government once again moved, this time to the current capital city of Richmond.
Today, a number of original and reconstructed buildings line the streets of Colonial Williamsburg where visitors can wander and learn about life in a newly emerging America. Costumed ”residents” stroll the walkways while artisans demonstrate the various skills that kept the settlement safe and secure.
The earlier Jamestown Settlement takes visitors back to the year 1607 when 104 men and boys arrived in three boats from England, establishing the first permanent English settlement in North America. James Fort was soon built to provide protection but did little to prevent disease and starvation of early settlers. It wasn’t until 1619 that about 90 women were recruited and shipped over to become wives, begin families and to establish a permanent colony.
Heading back to the future, we drove the self-guided tour of Yorktown Battlefield, the site of the last American Revolutionary War battle. Easy to follow signs lead drivers through points of interest for both the American and French allies as well as areas occupied by the ill-fated British troops.
The town of Williamsburg is located in Eastern Virginia and no visit to this region would be complete without stops at these three famed American locales. America’s Historic Triangle is situated between the York River and the James River and connected by the Colonial Parkway, a beautiful 23-mile drive beneath a canopy of trees. Spend a day…or spend a week like we did!
The idea of converting miles of unused railroad lines into safe and scenic hiking/biking trails was pure genius. We rode a few last year as we traveled across country and back, enjoying the smooth paths free from traffic and cross streets. This year, again with trailer in tow, we hit the road in search of new trails to ride.
It’s always fun to ride toward an exciting destination, so Reg and I drove to High Bridge Trail State Park to catch the rail trail in the town of Farmville, Virginia, close to the midpoint of the 31-mile stretch, thus assuring us (me) that we (I) wouldn’t poop out before reaching the spectacular centerpiece of the trail.
More than 2,400 feet long and 125 feet above the Appomattox River, the High Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the longest recreational bridge in Virginia. The original bridge opened in 1854, was rebuilt in 1914 and saw the last train cross in 2005. In 2012 the renovated bridge opened to the public, 147 years after the Battle of High Bridge.
Not only was the bridge a thrill to ride across, but it provided us a lunch stop with a pretty good view.