The Erie Canal. It’s the second-longest canal in the world, running over 360 miles through the state of New York from the Niagara River near Buffalo to the Hudson River in Albany. Construction began in 1817 as a way to transport goods from the East Coast to sections of the Midwest in the still-developing United States. Built in the days before heavy construction equipment, the canal was completed in eight years, at a cost of around $7 million dollars (over $110 million in today’s money). Although surpassed as a major cargo route by the railroad first, and later by highway trucking, the Erie Canal continues to operate to this day for both the transport of cargo and recreational boating (via
Over a long weekend in early July, my wife and I headed back once again to Adirondack State Park in northern New York. We spent time with family, ate great food, took in the beautiful scenery of the mountains, stayed at a historic hotel, and spent some time with the local wildlife. In the middle of our stay, however, we left the mountains and took a cruise to learn about the history of the Erie Canal.
To the Adirondacks, Once Again
Our journey would take us yet again into the mountains of the Adirondacks, before we headed south to spend a day in the city of Herkimer, located about 90 minutes west of Albany.
On a beautiful (if hot!) July morning, we set off for the Adirondacks, encountering mercifully little traffic.
After several hours of driving, we decided to stop and stretch our legs at the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center along the New York Thruway. Not your typical rest stop, this one was hiding a cool secret…
West of Albany, the New York Thruway follows the curves of the Mohawk River. The structure that looks like a bridge is actually one of several dams that, along with accompanying locks, enables ships to traverse the varying heights of the river.
Although we didn’t realize it at the time, our brief stop sowed the seeds for an adventure later in the weekend. After stretching our legs and walking beside the canal, we resumed our journey northward.
After three hundred miles of driving, we arrived at our destination. This view never gets old! The Woods Inn
We drove up to the Adirondacks for a family gathering (a highlight of which was meeting my wife’s 6-month old nephew for the first time), but rather than all crowding into my wife’s relative’s home, we instead got a room at The Woods Inn, located on the shore of Fourth Lake in the town of Inlet.
Built in 1894, The Woods Inn has been standing beside Fourth Lake for over one hundred years! Although it closed for a period of time in the 1980s and fell into disrepair, new owners restored it to its former glory in the early 2000s (via The Woods Inn).
One of the most arresting rooms in the hotel – the Great Room – remains largely the same as it did in 1894.
Our room just screamed “You’re in the Adirondacks!” I loved it!
And the view from our room wasn’t too shabby. A guy could get accustomed to this!
Every morning, we’d amble to the shore to take in this scene. Not a bad way to start our day!
Near The Woods Inn is this ruined stone foundation, slowly sinking back into the forest. No one I spoke with had any ideas what it was. As I’m becoming a bit of an abandoned building hound, I went in search of answers…
At a local bookshop, I had a chance encounter with Charles E. Herr, author of The Fulton Chain, a history of the settlement and development of this section of the Adirondacks. Charles told me that the ruined stone foundation was once a small acetylene plant, which produced the gas that was used to light the Woods Inn. The plant exploded in 1905, taking the manager of the hotel with it in the blast. The Woods Inn switched over to electric light shortly afterward, but the foundation remains a crumbling testament to the accident. Fascinating, if grim, stuff!
The Woods Inn dock wasn’t a bad place to spend the evening hours, either! Once one of fourteen hotels located in Inlet, The Woods Inn now stands as the sole remaining example of the heyday of Adirondack tourism. While it may lack some modern amenities (for instance, there is no elevator, although the hotel is accessible to the first floor), it more than makes up for it with its history and beauty. We give it two Open Road Ahead thumbs up! The Erie Canal
Inspired by our visit to the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center, and eager to learn more about the Erie Canal, my wife booked us tickets with Erie Canal Cruises, which offers boat tours of the canal. In this map of Herkimer, you can see the Erie Canal running parallel to the Mohawk River.
Before heading to the cruise, we stopped by Myers Park, a beautifully maintained public space in Herkimer, to enjoy a picnic lunch.
The centerpiece of Myers Park is this statue of General Nicholas Herkimer. The son of German immigrants, Herkimer served in the American Revolution. During a battle against British forces, his horse was shot out from under him, and Herkimer took a bullet in the leg. He directed the battle while sitting, wounded, beneath a tree, before eventually being evacuated by his men. He later died of his injuries, ten days after his initial injury. This statue was erected in his honor in 1907. Both the town of Herkimer and Herkimer County are named after this local son (via Wikipedia).
After lunch, we headed to the Herkimer waterfront to board our cruise. These buildings, now serving as a gift shop, a restaurant, and the canal cruise office, were once storage buildings for goods moving along the Erie Canal.
We left the Accord in the parking lot and switched to a different form of transportation for the day – this pontoon cruise boat. Is there a Honda tie-in to this cruise? You bet there is. Check out which manufacturer made the boat’s engines!
After all passengers were aboard, and the captain introduced himself and reviewed safety procedures, we were off!
We began by passing beneath this imposing structure: a “guard gate.” It is designed to close in the event of an emergency (such as a flood) so sections of the canal can be isolated, and is also used during winter to protect against freezing (via eriecanalway.org).
As we cruised down the canal, we passed Fort Herkimer Church, the second oldest church in New York. The captain shared with us that the church served as both a place of worship, as well as a fortress during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. It was even once equipped with cannons in its windows and bell tower (via Mohawk Valley History). On a side note, readers of this blog might remember our trip to the oldest church in New York: the Old Dutch Church, which we stopped by when we visited Sleepy Hollow last year.
The Mohawk River in this section has a significant elevation change, which would be impassable for most forms of boat traffic. The solution is one of the numerous locks along the Erie Canal, a safe way to raise or lower boats so they can continue on their journey.
Once our boat was tied up along the side of the canal, water began to drain through a system over a hundred years old. In eight minutes, over 3.5 million gallons of water would be shifted out of the lock, lowering us so we could continue on our journey. Lock 18 is one of the few locks that retains all of the original equipment from when it was first constructed.
The engineering behind these locks is impressive for its simplicity. The valves that control the flow of water are actually early 20th-century flatbed railroad cars that move up and down along vertical train tracks. These canals handle traffic ranging in size from a cargo ship or cruise ship, all the way down to a single kayak.
As we proceeded down the canal, we passed some locals enjoying a swim.
Even if you’re not a nerd like me who enjoys the science and history of the canal, the cruise is worth taking for the views alone.
We headed back toward Herkimer and entered Lock 18 to be raised back up to the higher elevation of the river. Sensing our concern about the amount of water streaming through the lock doors, the captain calmly shared that this is normal – these are just small leaks through the seals. I don’t know about you, but I kept having images in my head of the water gushing through like something from a disaster movie.
That’s quite the leak! However, the captain was completely correct – there was no drama to fear, and no Hollywood-style disaster unfolded. In eight minutes, we were back to the higher elevation, and continued on our way.
Nearing the end of our canal journey, we had a better view of the Guard Gate we passed beneath at the start of our trip. After a 90 minute ride, we were back at the dock and heading to the car. The boat cruise was a lot of fun, and the captain did a masterful job of sharing with us the history of the canal. If you’re in the Herkimer area of upstate New York, I would definitely recommend taking a trip with Erie Canal Cruises!
On the way back to the Adirondacks, we took a slight detour. Instead of the New York Thruway, we opted to take New York 28, a curvy, two-lane, 55 mph road. It was an absolute blast to drive.
We made a quick stop in the town of Newport to check out the Stone Arch Bridge. Built in 1853, this bridge crosses the West Canada Creek, one of the tributaries of the Mohawk River. Given recent rainfalls, the roaring waters were surging beneath the bridge.
Knowing we would be in the area, my father-in-law had a suggestion for cool stop in Newport: the Yale-Cady Octagon House. Built in 1849, this was the site of the start of the Yale Lock company, which had its first factory on the grounds. It was here that Linus Yale Jr. invented the cylinder lock (via Wikipedia).
Linus Yale was a relative of Elihu Yale, the wealthy merchant for whom Yale University is named, so of course, as a Harvard grad, I subjected my poor wife to Yale jokes the entire way home. “Yale University: they make good locks.” “How do you make Yale University look better at night? Turn out the lights.” “What’s the difference between a Harvard student and a Yale student? They both got into Yale.” I’ll be here all week, folks. Try the chicken.
We arrived back in the Adirondacks with a fog hanging over the mountains and temperatures in the 60s. Not quite swimming-in-the-lake weather, but the view was still spectacular! Cathedral Pines
Our relative recommended that we check out Cathedral Pines, a short hike through a section of Moose River Plains Wild Forest. The trail has old growth pines that pre-date the settlement of the Adirondacks.
Of course, nothing in the Adirondacks is as easy as it seems. Cathedral Pines is billed as a short, easy hike… except you have a bit of a climb at the beginning. I would not recommend it for people with mobility issues.
We quickly came across the pines. This photo does not do them justice. It would take three adults, arms fully extended, to be able to wrap around this trunk.
The view upward was mesmerzing, although I actually lost my balance leaning back to take this photo (shout-out to my wife for keeping me from tumbling down a hill).
Cathedral Pines was a really cool stop – I’d love to come back in the winter time and photograph this area when it’s covered in snow. I’ll add that to my Adirondack “to-do” list! The Wildlife
While I did not see much in the way of wildlife, the few sightings I had were fantastic. This mallard, and her ducklings, had decided to make our relative’s lakefront into their temporary home.
I had gone down to the lake early one morning, and spotted the mother attempting to rest while her ducklings flitted around her. I imagined the conversation went something like this: “Mom! Are you up? Mom? How about now? Let’s go mom! C’mon! Let’s go!” That poor mom.
Despite numerous trips to the Adirondacks, I have never been able to photograph a loon in the wild… until this weekend. The common loon, a relative of the duck and the goose, is typically found in the colder, northern reaches of the United States, as well as Canada. They are best known for their distinctive call, a haunting sound, frequently heard at night.
I had my zoom lens trained on the loon, when it began to flap its wings. This is my favorite photo of the entire trip!
If you have never heard a loon in the wild, it is a memorable experience. I discovered this video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in which a professor describes the loon call and plays some examples. It’s a short video, but if you’re pressed for time, fast forward to the 0:31 mark to hear the actual call.
What Adirondack trip is complete without food photos? We enjoyed a terrific breakfast at the Tamarack Cafe in Inlet.
Tamarack Sap is the cafe’s own hot sauce, made on site. It’s quite tasty – a little mild for me, but my taste tends toward the spicy. On eggs, though, it provides nice added flavor.
And the Tamarack Sap went very well on my breakfast sandwich. Special commendation for the home fries – they were crispy and flavorful, without being dry. Excellent! Walt’s Diner
We also had breakfast at Walt’s Diner in Old Forge. Walt’s has been an Adirondacks institution for a quarter of a century.
The food was excellent – my ham omelette and toast was a great way to start the day. The only issue for me was that outdoor seating was unavailable, and so I had an indoor meal for one of the first times since the pandemic began. Science and statistics tell me that I am vaccinated, and I am in a state with a high vaccination percentage, so I knew I was safe. However, I’ll admit to feeling a bit squeamish at eating indoors. When we arrived, the restaurant was empty, but by the time we left, it was starting to fill up. I’m not sure if I would have stayed if the restaurant had been full when we first arrived. Nothing against Walt’s, which did a great job of ensuring proper ventilation throughout the restaurant – I think this would have been my reaction anywhere. The Toboggan
Takeout from The Toboggan Inn is always a good option in the Adirondacks! We had a smaller gathering one night at our relative’s house, and I took the opportunity to sample the cheeseburger – absolutely delicious! My wife enjoyed the broiled haddock with a baked potato. Both were terrific! Eagle Bay Donut Shop
When in the Adirondacks, it’s a requirement that you start your day with some fresh donuts from The Donut Shop of Eagle Bay! Blue Line Coffee House
And what better way to wash down those donuts than with a latte from the Blue Line Coffee House? Kayuta Drive-In
No trip to the Adirondacks is complete without ice cream from Kayuta Drive-In, serving the Remsen area since the 1960s.
That will be one vanilla shake for me, please! Summer has officially begun! Odds and Ends
On one of our last nights in the Adirondacks, I went down to Fourth Lake to take some sunset photos. Unfortunately, the sun decided not to cooperate, so instead, I pulled my drone out of my bag and had some fun taking some aerial footage. I wanted to share the results here:
Before heading home, I stopped by Quiver Pond in Old Forge for my Accord’s obligatory “glamour” shot.
On a rainy morning, we set off for home. I’m sure there is some kind of psychological principle as to why the drive to the Adirondacks goes by in the blink of an eye, while the drive home always feels like it takes forever. Regardless, I’m not a fan of leaving the Adirondacks!
On the way home, my Accord passed yet another milestone: 176,000 is now in the books! Despite the age and mileage, my car doesn’t feel old. I think that’s what I find so fascinating about high mileage Hondas: just how boring (in a good way) they are. Get behind the wheel of my car, and it feel like a vehicle with 50,000 miles, not 176,000. Needless to say, I continue to be thrilled with this vehicle. Onward! Wrapping Up
Each time I travel to the Adirondacks, I am amazed at all the new discoveries that we make, the new destination to visit, as well as old favorites to explore again and again. The primary purpose for our trips is to visit with a dear relative, but each time we go up, we manage to unearth new discoveries. The history of the Erie Canal is fascinating, and can be explored when you’re passing through upstate New York on the way to the Adirondacks, on the way back, or simply as a trip on its own! Cathedral Pines is well worth a visit if you’re driving through the Fulton Chain of Lakes region. And as I have said before, if you have never been to the Adirondacks, make sure you add it to your list of places to visit in this nation!
Thanks, as always, for coming along on this journey along this mountainous open road ahead!
‘Til next time.