Let’s talk about a different type of training. Were you aware that National Geographic Traveler magazine rated Amtrak’s Adirondack Line as “one of the 10 most beautiful train trips in the world?" Yes, I am talking about a rail line, and the shout-out was in the year 2000, but no worries, the scenery hasn’t changed. I have ridden the Adirondack Line from one end to the other, and I can also tell you the most beautiful section of that trip is along the Adirondack Coast, where the rails run right along the edge of Lake Champlain. In my opinion, you won’t find more incredible scenic vistas anywhere else.
It was shortly after hearing about this “top 10 rating” that I specifically had to see for myself, or at least see a portion of it. Leaving a car at the Ticonderoga station (FTC), I rode north with a friend and hopped aboard the train at Rouses Point, right at the border of Canada. It was a fascinating experience. I won't say that the scenery was great initially, but once we got south of Plattsburgh and began riding the western shoreline of Lake Champlain — with the tracks practically touching the water — it became breathtaking.
I was traveling with a National Park Service Trails & Rails program interpreter. That program is still available on Saturdays and Sundays on this Adirondack line, but only between Westport and Saratoga Springs. The T&R interpreter pointed out key features and told me, as well as other interested passengers, some of the vast history that occurred right at the sites we were seeing.
Of course, I had seen this piece of geography before numerous times — most often from the ground on a road or highway, but also from boats on the water and above from small aircraft — but I had never ridden the train through this area before. Everything I saw was familiar, yet different somehow. Though I certainly recognized elements and areas of the surrounding landscape passing by, I had never seen them from this particular angle or perspective. It expanded my perception and appreciation of our natural beauty here in the Lake Champlain Region. I highly recommend you make this train journey — at least from Port Kent south to Ticonderoga — if for no other reason than to take in the views.
Amtrak’s Adirondack Line runs between Gare Centrale at Montreal ( MTR) and Penn Station in New York City (NYP). If you can connect to either of these hubs, you can experience the Adirondack Line. Train number 68 travels south and number 69 travels north. To travel from one end to the other takes about 11 hours, but you can connect at numerous station locations along the route. Hop off at one (or all) of the four station sites in the Lake Champlain Region to experience our great communities and visit top attractions.
Let me give you some insight and ideas.
Port Kent (PRK)
The Port Kent station is only a little over 3 miles from the oldest natural attraction in the U.S., Ausable Chasm. Call the Chasm when you arrive and they will pick you up in their shuttle. Spend an entire day or more exploring this “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks.” There are so many activities to choose from, like tours, tubing, rafting, rappelling, rock climbing, disc golf, and mountain biking. You can plan on staying at the nearby Ausable Chasm Campground, which has eight camping cabins plus their RV and tent sites. Be sure to reserve early, particularly if you want a cabin.
For another excursion, walk onto Lake Champlain Transportation Company’s Port Kent to Burlington, Vermont ferry (right at the train station and under $10 one way). You can explore some shops and eateries along the Burlington waterfront when you dock. The city environment will be a strong contrast to the natural beauty of Ausable Chasm. This ferry ride is about one-hour long and travels 10 miles across Lake Champlain. It is seasonal, however, and operates only between June 16 and September 5 this year.
A little over a half-an-hour train ride south from Port Kent is the Westport station (WSP). This historic train station is also home to the Depot Theatre (aka: Broadway North) which has hosted plays, musicals, and special events since 1979. Be sure to check their schedule and plan on attending a totally first-rate performance. Directly across the tracks from the station, mere steps away, is the Westport Hotel and Tavern.
You do not need to leave this immediate vicinity, but you will want to do a little exploring. Across the road from the hotel are the Essex County Fairgrounds. This annual county fair, filled with activity and entertainment, will be held August 10-14 this year. Other events, shows, and festivals are also held here throughout the season. Coordinate your visit to attend one of interest. The hotel is also a site on the Westport Walking Tour. Step onto the tour from the hotel for a stroll about town to learn of its history and architecture.
At the top of the hill from the marina is Ballard Park, with its phenomenal view of Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Soundwaves concerts, featuring nationally and internationally famous musicians, are held here on Thursday evenings during July and August.
Port Henry (POH)
A short distance south of Westport is the Port Henry train station. From the north it arrives in Port Henry at around 3 p.m. The entire village of Port Henry sits on a bluff overlooking the lake and Champlain Bridge, and offering incredible views. Two campgrounds are near the station, Bulwagga Bay Campground and Champ Beach Park, if you are toting camping gear. Both campgrounds have beaches. Bulwagga Bay offers paddle boat rentals, and adjacent to Champ Beach is a fishing pier.
The village offers a choice of restaurants, a wine and spirits shop, and a market. Don’t miss Foote’s Port Henry Diner, a historic, converted railroad dining car, which is a very popular breakfast and lunch spot. Adirondack Cab Company — (518) 585-2222 — can get you around if desired.
Edgemont B&B is only about 1.2 miles from the station, though it's an uphill trek. With prior arrangements, they will pick you up at the station. This is a cycle-friendly B&B and offers many amenities for those traveling light. You can have your bike shipped there and waiting for you, and they will even provide cycling route maps that can be uploaded to your cell phone.
Amtrak’s stop at Ticonderoga is only steps from the entrance to Fort Ticonderoga, where the Rail to Wheels program continues through the summer of 2016. Fort Ticonderoga guests arriving at the Ticonderoga station in July and August will receive free shuttle transportation from the Amtrak station to Fort Ticonderoga and to the Best Western Ticonderoga Inn and Suites.
Advance reservations are required. Contact the Fort at (518) 585-2821 or visit their website. Funding for this program is provided in part by a generous grant from Walmart Foundation.
You can spend days at Fort Ticonderoga learning the history of our country, participating in the tours and programs, watching the demonstrations, visiting the King’s Garden, hiking the Battlefield Trail, and getting out on the water either aboard the Carillon for a tour, or paddling yourself from a rented canoe. Dine at the America’s Fort Café to enjoy some of the fresh produce from the King’s Garden. Paddle up the LaChute River into downtown Ticonderoga to expand your visit with shopping, dining, and more historical site visits. For further adventures, the Adirondack Cab Company offers transportation around the area too.
Start planning your “train-ing” adventure now. It’s fun to be behind the whistle and rock to the rhythm of the rails. Call 1 (800) USA-RAIL to reserve a ticket today!