Tell me where to hike in the northeast US!
August 18, 2010 9:09 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are planning a week's vacation, focused on hiking, in mid- to late October. We are trying to figure out where in the Adirondacks, Vermont, etc. we should go.

We are two women in our late 20s, living in Ottawa, and we're hoping to have a relaxing vacation to celebrate our anniversary and just to have some time away after a busy summer with no vacation. We want to go somewhere that is within, say, a 5 hour drive so that we're not spending the whole vacation on the road.

Ideally, we would like to stay in a cottage or cabin because I'm vegetarian and my partner is vegan, which makes eating out very difficult unless we're in large cities.

The hiking is the most important part. We are in good shape, and have done some pretty long, arduous hikes, but I wouldn't say that we are experienced hikers. We have gear, but our main problem is that neither of us really knows how to read a topo map with a compass, so we rely on detailed hiking books when we hike (along with common sense and a fairly good combined sense of direction). So, all that to say that we are looking for somewhere that we can do good day hikes that are fairly challenging but are not so difficult to navigate that we'll spend the whole day lost in the woods.

Other criteria/questions:
-It would be really nice to stay in one place the whole time, and then just drive out for hikes, so an area conducive to that would be ideal. However, we would consider splitting our time between two places, if that made sense.
-We are planning on going either the week of October 18th or October 25th - are we pushing it, weather-wise? We've hiked around here that time of year and it's usually beautiful, but we're not in the mountains.
-I'd say our max per night would be $150, but ideally less.
-While hiking and then relaxing are going to be our main activities, it would be nice to have some other cool stuff to see - for instance, I was considering the Burlington, VT area because the town seems like a nice place to spend some time, as well. Access to at least a grocery store would be helpful. Are there other areas like this?
-queer-friendly would be nice. It doesn't need to be an explicitly queer place, but not homophobic is a necessity for a relaxing vacation.

Bonus: Can you recommend some great hikes near any of these places?

Thanks for any input! Neither of us has hiked in any of these areas before, so we're really excited to figure out where is the best place to go - the internet is too overwhelming, even when I just focus on the Adirondacks.
posted by sabotagerabbit to Travel & Transportation around South Burlington, VT (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think Vermont would be your best bet. From Ottawa, cross the boarder at Cornwall and work your way to Plattsburg (I can give you a detailed route if you memail me, as I take it every summer from Boston to Ottawa) and take the Plattsburg/S. Hero ferry across the Lake Champlaign, then work your way down to Burlington and beyond. It's about 3-4 hours from Ottawa.

I don't have any specific hikes for you, though if you're into rugged Vermont is the place. Mt. Mansfield is the highest point in VT and it offers a nice ridge walk along the top. Look into hikes along the Long Trail as well.

From there, you could always do day trips over to the White Mountains in NH, which also offers you plenty of options.

October is leaf peeping season, so you might have trouble booking rooms, but VT would definitely be my choice.

Weather-wise I don't think you can get any better for hiking in that area. Expect some cool days and nights. Bring rain/wind gear and some fleece layers. That's a bit early for significant snow in the area. Bring a headlamp or flashlight, as the sun will set early and with the rugged hiking you never know when you'll be coming out after dark.

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2010

You might want to check out Ithaca, NY, although it is not in the Adirondacks... It fulfills your hiking and eating needs (home to the Moosewood, after all -- we just went there for the first time in May, and I am puzzled about the bad reviews -- it is not a fancy restaurant, but the food is sublime).

Ithaca is a 'complete' city (has real-sized grocery stores, plenty of lodging) due to the large college student population, but it's also very rural once you get anywhere away from the center.

You can definitely be hiking there in October, although it's not unheard of to have a bit ofsnow now and then at this time of year. I grew up in Syracuse, and later lived in Ithaca for a year, and found its climate to be remarkably milder than Syracuse's crazy snow winters, even though it is not that far away.

As for your request to avoid homophobes, you shouldn't have too much problem with that, especially right in Ithaca. Outlying towns can be a bit less open-minded, but people generally just keep to themselves when they think something is 'weird'.

Sorry, Ican't give you ideas on lodging-- I'm not up on places to stay, but I do know that you might find the odd weekend that is more expensive or harder to get a room, based on the academic schedule. If you see one date that is out of yourprice range, be sure to try the same place for a week later...

Hope this helps -- feel free to MeMail if you have more ?'s on Ithaca...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:38 AM on August 18, 2010

I'm going to respectfully disagree with bondcliff about the weather/prime leaf peeping season, at least in the Adirondacks :) I actually think late September/early October is prime time for leaves in there, and that you should anticipate snow in the mountains. You might even encounter it throughout the Adirondack Park.

I'd stay in or around Lake Placid, perhaps in Wilmington so you beat some of the tourist prices. You'll find vegan/veg friendly dining options, and will be able to take lots of day trips to places outside of the area, including other Adirondack towns, Burlington VT, even Montreal if you wish. Saranac Lake is a lovely Adirondack town with great hiking nearby and good veg dining options too.

All that said, the Burlington area is great too.
posted by particular at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2010

I can't speak for the 'dacks (I'm sure someone here can), but I can help with Vermont a bit.

First of all, the state's quite queer, vegetarian, and vegan friendly. I don't usually eat meat in restaurants and I eat out here about once a week. I'm in the Champlain Valley, about 30 minutes south of Burlington.

I think you're ok weather-wise, although you'll miss the foliage in all but the lowest, southernmost areas. The Champlain Valley will still have some color but everything else will have dropped its leaves. I'd expect temperatures in the 50s (F) and maybe low 60s with some gray skies. Remember that you lose 5-10 degrees F for every thousand feet of elevation, so it will be cool at altitude. We typically have some snow by mid-late October but nothing serious.

Burlington would make a great home base. It's within an hour or so of several great hikes and offers much more diversity of non-hiking experiences than other places in Vermont or the North Country. The most popular/best big hikes in the area are Camel's Hump (about 30 minute drive) and Mt. Abraham (closer to an hour), both of which get above treeline and feature some really nice forests and alpine areas. Mt. Mansfield is taller but has a lot of development on it. Still, it's fun to explore. That's also within an hour. Also within an hour are some shorter hikes with great views, like Stowe Pinnacle (great 360 views of the main ridge of the Greens and the Worcester Range) and Snake Mountain (quite short, with some of the best views in the state of the Valley, Lake Champlain, and the 'dacks).

Places like Stowe/Waterbury and the Mad River Valley also provide easy access to these mountains and have amenities like good restaurants and (passable) grocery stores. I find these places a little commercial because they are ski towns, but some of them are quieter. Warren, Jeffersonville, Lincoln, Ripton, and Huntington are all mountain towns with at least one bed and breakfast that are quite nice, are reasonably close to civilization, and aren't as touristy as Stowe.

A nice compromise might be a larger town that's close-ish to Burlington and also the mountains. Bristol and Middlebury would both make excellent bases for exploring the mountains, have lots of lodging and dining options, and are within an hour of Burlington.

Not sure about cottage/cabin rentals. Seems like those are mostly concentrated on lakes around here. Here's one on Lake Iroquois (15 minutes from Burlington, 30 minutes from good hiking) for $650 a week. I'm sure there are others- feel free to memail me if you find one and have questions about the location, etc.

The Day Hiker's Guide to Vermont would probably be the only resource you'd need to get to any of these places.

Have fun!
posted by GodricVT at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at the White Mountains in New Hampshire? AMC has a series of huts and lodges there, and they sound like really fun places to stay. (I'm vegan too, and I realize they talk about non-vegan food in this article, but imagine that they can accommodate, though I haven't asked.)
posted by jardinier at 9:47 AM on August 18, 2010

Burlington and the Lake Placid/Wilmington area are both good IMO. Though heavy snow that time of year is pretty rare, I'd be ready for anything from a dusting to ankle-depth, especially if you go higher up.
posted by Opposite George at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you! These are all great recommendations, and I'm going to check them all out. I'm sort of leaning towards the Burlington area, but it will depend a bit on what we can find in the way of accommodations.

Please keep 'em coming if you have more suggestions!
posted by sabotagerabbit at 10:39 AM on August 18, 2010

Yikes. This happens to be an area in which I've got a bit of expertise.

First of all, I would say that late-ish October may be pushing it a bit for the Adirondacks weather-wise. At the very least, the leaves are going to pretty much be gone. If you're going to be hiking, be prepared for highly variable weather conditions along the hike. It can be 70 degrees on a mountain's summit, but 15 minutes or so of hiking later you're facing a boulder covered with a sheet of ice somewhere along the trail that doesn't get a lot of sun. That said, I've gone on a few very good hikes up there in October.

This book is your best bet for a guidebook in these parts. The trails in the Adirondacks are EXTREMELY well-marked, and you get good signage with distances at trail junctions up there.

As for accomodations, my family has had very, very good luck with Wakanda, and the owners, Noel and Susan, are very awesome people who are well-connected up there. It's a bit north of where most of the good hiking is, though. We also stayed in cabins that are now owned by Sherwood Forest, which is located between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

As far as hikes go, these are all awesome.

Very short (1-2 miles) - Baker, Owl's Head

Short with awesome views (5-7 miles) - Hurricane (use the north trail), Ampersand, Cascade, Nooonmark, Giant (though the elevation gain is pretty brutal).

Longer ones (10 + miles) - Gothics, Algonquin/Wright/Iroquois, Dix.

If you can find a way to do it, the Rocky Peak Ridge trail is in a class of its own, though it's a point-to-point hike, which means you'll need two cars, a ride, or the willingness to drop your car off and bike ten miles to to the trailhead (which I did). This hike is 11 miles long, with I think over 5000 feet of ascent work, mostly over open ledges. Amazing views the whole way, but physically very challenging.
posted by alphanerd at 10:49 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

The White Mountains in New Hampshire are the place to be for fall leaves, and for hiking of all kinds (they're so well known for that that you should get your ducks in a row as to places to stay soon). There are lots of places within an hour out of the North Conway area. Some of my favorites are in the longer/more strenuous category (Mt. Washington via Huntington/Tuckerman Ravine, Franconia Ridge/ The Presidential Traverse and Mt. Chocorua), but there also a lot of other hikes closer in that are smaller and less exhausting (Arethusa Falls via. Frankenstein, Doublehead, Green hill).

Check in with the Appalachian Mountain Club for resources; there are about 10 billion good guidebooks for the area.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:13 PM on August 18, 2010

Nthing AMC's White Mountains in NH. My kids and I day hike and stay at the Highland Lodge, which is relatively new and very luxurious. Great food; the people who run it are super and there's a fully stocked LL Bean room where you can outfit yourself for free with anything you need. They have private rooms if you don't want to bunk with strangers, private bathrooms and a huge stone fireplace with overstuffed sofas. It's a great place.

If you're into the hut to hut experience, they have hike routes where you spend the day on the trail and end up at a new hut nightly. I've heard good things about that as well.
posted by dzaz at 3:56 AM on August 19, 2010

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