Saturday, July 30, 2011

Making Tracks with the Saratoga & North Creek RR

In preparation for a visit to the Albany, NY area, I visited the website of the Mohawk & Hudson Cycling Club (, my old bike club, to see what group rides they had scheduled. I noticed an announcement that the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad was allowing bicycles on board at no extra charge. I visited the S&NCRR website ( and it seemed that the schedule could fit nicely into our itinerary. My wife and I were planning to bring our tandem with us anyway, so we decided to check out the train and, if they could accommodate such a long bike, we'd board The Hudson Explorer at Saratoga Springs at 10 am, ride it to the terminus at North Creek, and then ride the tandem back to our car in Saratoga.

The 1885 Hadley Parabolic Bridge as seen from the train
Arriving at the station a little after 9 am, we were told that they could indeed fit our 90” tandem on board, so we bought our tickets and boarded. The dome car had been sold out, but there were lots of seats available in the air conditioned double-decker car. After a somewhat slow start on the way out of Saratoga, the train sped up to around 30 mph, which was slow enough to allow us to see the scenery, but fast enough to avoid the feeling of poking along that you can get on some excursion trains. Since the rails wind through the southern Adirondacks, one can expect a lot of trees close to the tracks, but we found that the pine forest was easy to see into and there were lots of places with great views across the Hudson River. The first half of the trip was on welded, continuous rail and thus quite smooth, but even after the rails reverted to the older, bolted style, the ride never got rough. Personally, I prefer the “clickety clack” of the old-style rails. Obviously, the S&NCRR folks have put a lot of effort into rebuilding this once-abandoned rail bed. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful—the conductor even spent time talking with us during the ride and letting us know where the best places to snap some photos would be.

The restored North Creek RR station was built in 1874
The 1874 North Creek station is one of the oldest surviving rural train stations in the US. It has historical significance in that it was where, in 1901, Vice President Teddy Roosevelt got the news of President William McKinley's assassination. The station is nicely restored and includes a museum and an extensive gift shop for those seeking souvenirs (

After watching the conductor manually work the switch as the engine moved to the south end of the train, we headed into tiny North Creek. We stopped at Cafe Sarah's for some tasty sandwiches and then rode out of town. We had planned to follow a suggested return route that we had downloaded from the MHCC's website, but found that River Rd. was a dirt road. Unpaved Adirondack roads tend to be sandy, and the surface was sketchy enough under our 28mm tires that we decided to head out of town on NY Rte. 28, instead. Riders on wider tires, such as those typically found on hybrids or mountain bikes, should be fine with River Rd. Rte. 28 was lightly trafficked and had a nice shoulder that was up to 4' wide in places. Most of the shoulder looked fairly new, though it did deteriorate in places.

The first five miles out of North Creek is a series of short, easy climbs. From that point on, the route is more downhill than up, with about a 600' difference in elevation between the start and end. The highest elevation is around 1,300', and there are a few climbs, but the steepest ones are quite short and could easily be walked by those who prefer to save their efforts. We found it quite an easy ride on the tandem, averaging a bit over 17 mph, overall. Our highest speed on the descents was over 45 mph, but we like to go fast.

The S&NCRR Merganser on its return trip to North Creek
Once we left Rte. 28, turning onto the Glen Athol Rd, we found ourselves on a really nice, narrow, paved road with almost no motor vehicle traffic. We got an extra treat when we arrived at a crossing just as the Merganser, another train that the S&NCRR runs between North Creek and Thurman Station, was approaching. We had just enough time to fish out the camera and catch a shot of the train going by. The road surface got better and better as we approached Stony Creek, with fresh asphalt all the way to Hadley. We crossed the historic 1885 Hadley Parabolic Bridge, which is the only remaining example of this type of construction ( This bridge is clearly visible from the railroad bridge, so be sure to look for it out the windows on the east side of the train.

Shortly after crossing the Hadley bridge, the route joins NY Rte. 9N. This road can get busy at times, and the shoulder, which is wide in most places, is not the smoothest for bicycle traffic. We had no difficulties, but when we do this ride again, we will leave 9N in Corinth and take side roads back to Saratoga. There are a number of nice routes that you can take on either the east or west sides of 9N, though it appears that the least hilly options are to the east.

If there's a caboose, I'm going to get a photo
The conductor told us that we were the first cyclists to bring our bikes on board the new train. We had a great time and highly recommend this as a day trip. If the 60-mile ride back seems too far, you could take the train to North Creek with your bike and cycle local roads for several hours, returning on the 3:45 pm run to Saratoga, or you could disembark at any of several intermediary whistle-stops, taking a shorter route back to the Saratoga station. For example, the ride back from Thurman Station would be an easy 40 miles. The cost of a ticket is as little as $13 ($19 round-trip), and discounted senior and child rates are available. The actual cycling time for us was around 3 ½ hours. There are morning and evening trains in both directions, making a variety of riding options available. We highly recommend this trip and are confident that, like us, you'll be left thinking about when you can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity again.

For a recommended return route, see
A Picasa album of photos is available at