From an eastern Canadian perspective, the Adirondacks, nestled in the north-easter corner of upper New York state, offer an easy option for a weekend loop and are easily accessible from Kingston, Ontario all the way to Montreal, Quebec.
The trouble is, being a New York Forest Preserve, the roads crossing these mountains are few and far between and not designed with the Canadian moto tourist in mind. With a 1200GS long termer gagging for a tour and a pal in Montreal gagging for a ride, I headed west through New England with the quest to find the perfect longitudinal route that took in the best that the region had to offer in the process.
I hit the Adirondacks from the east. The best entry that I’ve found is to come in just under Lake Champlain and cross at the Chimney Point bridge that is not only free, but perfectly placed to dump you out close to the town of Ticonderoga — somewhat shy of things to do save for one biggie, Fort Ticonderoga (Iroquois for “the junction of two waterways”) .
For those who don’t know your 18th century North American history (I suspect the majority), the fort was constructed by a Canadian-born French engineer in the 1750s — originally known as Fort Carillon — during the Seven Years War when France still had aspirations of controlling the continent.
Its star shape layout and location overlooking the narrows and rapids at the south end of Lake Champlain made it the perfect spot for a fort, controlling all the traffic heading north on the Hudson. However, there was one problem – it was not the tallest spot. Nearby hills were higher and overlooked the fort, an oversight that was to spell trouble for the occupants.
Of course, its location and Brie-munching inhabitants did not sit well with the British, who tried to take the fort in 1758 with a force of 16,000 troops versus the 4,000 French inside. Despite overwhelming numbers, they delayed their attack for a few days and allowed the French to bolster their defences.
This oversight by the British meant that they were repelled, but being the stubborn bastards they are, they returned the following year with a cunning plan. Distracted by other campaigns, the French had only left a token force of 400 men so the Brits merely occupied the higher ground overlooking the fort until the occupants ran out of Brie and fled (after blowing up anything of use in the process).
Brie was replaced by a strong Stilton for the next 16 years and then the War of Independence broke out. Thinking its military importance was long gone, the British had a garrison of less than 50 men at the fort, who were quickly defeated in a surprise attack by local rebel militias and processed cheese now ruled the battlements. The fort itself was not the real prize, its cannons and other armaments were; they were quickly taken on a long winter trek to Boston where they succeeded in ending the British siege of the city.
The fort changed hands a couple more times but was eventually abandoned by the British in 1781 letting it fall into ruin, eventually being restored by private owners in the 20th century. It now operates as a not-for-profit museum and education center, along with a restaurant with a selection of cheeses.
Our Anglo-Canuck assault on Fort Ticonderoga was a wet affair, but it kept the tourists at bay. If you’ve ever been to Fort York, Louisburg or any other historical site where there are people in period costume doing period things, then you’ll be familiar with Fort Ticonderoga’s set up. It’s a great way to help you get a vibe for how it may have been, all with the bonus of not being run through with a bayonet by a drunken Frenchman.
Staff give long unscripted talks about the history of the place as well as reenact the craftsmanship of the time and fire off the occasional musket, much to the glee of visitors. There’s also an extensive museum of armaments of the era, costumes and paintings, as well hikes, gardens, boat cruises and special events.
I’m aware this is starting to sound a little like a sales speech for the place, but they genuinely do a good job of telling the fort’s story and all without falling into the temptation of going for the Disney tat. Even the toy swords in the shop are made from wood and leather and reasonably priced to boot (my girls now have one each). Honestly, it’s well worth a stopover if you happen to be close by.
TRACY TO TUPPER
This area of the Adirondacks boasts some of the region’s best riding (though it has to be said that it is best when it’s not raining) and you can explore some great roads up the side of Lake Champlain or south around Lake George, home of the Americade motorcycle rally. But my mission was to find the perfect longitudinal route and this meant revisiting a lovely piece of asphalt called the Tracy Road.
The Tracy road starts just outside the town of Moriah Center, which, like many of upstate New York’s towns had obviously seen better days, with its grand central buildings, now looking a little forlorn and longing for prosperity to grace its streets once more. There is a chunk of urban zone to navigate through to get to Tracey , but once you get there it’s 15 km of flowing, uninhabited bliss. Similar to the Tail of the Dragon but with more flow and no idiots.
The bliss ends at Interstate 87, but you avoid this slab of pain by going under it and continuing into the Adirondacks on the 73, which, although larger and more-traveled than Tracy, takes you up and through some positively lovely Adirondack valleys. My favourite section is found just west of the town of Keene, where the road climbs high enough to feel the temperature drop and rewards the rider at the top to a great view of Lake Cascade, replete with exposed rock cliffs like something straight out of the Last of the Mohicans (which is also set around the origins of Fort Ticonderoga).
The joy of the 73 ends at Lake Placid, famous for being a centre of abolitionists, hosting the Winter Olympics (twice), and looking a little like a town transplanted directly from the European Alps. It’s got a funky vibe, and it’s a worthy stopover, but it’s also a busy place and if this description doesn’t tickle your fancy, then keep your eyes peeled for Hwy 35 that bypasses the town altogether.
Not far from Lake Placid is the town of Saranac Lake, which lacks some of the funkyness but is more honest and has a wide main street with lots of food and coffee options.
Unfortunately it’s where you also start to get more traffic and I opted to try going north on the 86/186 to join the 30, a section of road that sucked the fun out of me, only to slap you in the face with it again once you join the 30 and roller coaster down toward Tupper Lake. A safer option is Hwy 3 out of Saranac Lake. It doesn’t have the fun of the 30 but it doesn’t break the spell like the 86/186 did either.
If Lake Placid is the funky town where the tourists go and Saranac Lake is the pretty but overlooked sister, then Tupper Lake is the homely, calloused member of the family. Where for the past day you’ve been in the pretty hills of the Adirondacks, Tupper Lake is oddly industrial in nature. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s little to stop for either.
From here, the 30 drops south and skips from Tupper Lake (the body of water, not the town of bodies) over to Long Lake in what can be described as a scenic stretch, but without the majestic hills of the eastern Adirondacks.
Somewhat predictably, Long Lake is rather long and quite narrow, with the town dominated by the boastfully named Adirondack Hotel, built in the 1850s.
It’s a rather grand hotel situated right on the shore of the lake and the edge of the road and as seems to be the fate of most grand buildings in the area, burnt to the ground and was rebuilt in 1900. I did stay there once in a previous life so can’t vouch for it now, but did enjoy my night there.
This puts us at about the halfway point of the Adirondack leg of our tour and where I’ll end this section of the trip. Next week it’s onto some of the best attractions in the western Adirondacks – The Adirondack museum, Great Sagamore Camp and, of course, the Raquette Lake boat cruise.
Here’s the route. To see it in Google Maps where you can download it as a KMZ file and convert that for your GPS, click here.
The following organizations assisted us to come up with the route, things to see and/or places to stay but they did not purchase the editorial. In order to make a trip possible, we often rely on others to make it come to fruition. At all times we draw our own conclusions on what we have experienced and relay that on to our readers in the article.