The Complete Guide to New York's Empire State Trail

Erie Canalway on Empire State Trail

Courtesy of Empire State Trail

On the last day of 2020, New York State announced the completion of the 750-mile-long Empire State Trail. The trail is now the longest multi-use state trail in the country and runs from New York City through the Hudson and Champlain Valleys up to the Canadian border and from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal. Seventy-five percent of the pathway is made up of off-road trails ideal for biking, hiking, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The plan was launched in 2017 by Governor Andrew Cuomo and connects 20 regional trails to create a continuous statewide route that is fully signed. Entities across the state undertook 58 distinct projects to complete the trail, with more than 180 miles of new off-road trail that was created and 400 miles of previously disconnected, off-road trails linked. Installing new signs, trailheads, safety measures, bike racks, restrooms, and benches were just a few of the improvements made. And while parts of the trial have been open for some time, 2021 marked the first year the trail was fully completed and connected. Here’s everything you need to know about the new statewide trail.

Empire State Trail Camillus-Syracuse

Courtesy of Empire State Trail

The Empire State Trail Route

The Empire State Trail is divided into three sections: the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail, the Champlain Valley Trail, and the Erie Canalway Trail. A comprehensive map on the website details the three major trails and their connections, detailing which paths are on- or off-road. The Hudson Valley Greenway starts at the bottom of Manhattan and goes up north through the Hudson Valley via Poughkeepsie, New Paltz, Kingston, and Hudson to Albany. From Albany, you can either continue north on the largely off-road Champlain Valley through Peebles Island State Park, Comstock, Plattsburgh to Rouses Point, on the Canadian border, a short distance away from Montreal, or you can go west on the Erie Canalway. That trail takes you through Western New York and above the Finger Lakes via Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester, ending in Buffalo, by the Canadian border closer to Toronto. Each segment on the map is clickable, giving you details about its length, condition, terrain, public services, whether dogs are allowed, and any highlights.

Things to Do on the Empire State Trail

The trail is open all year long, which means there are activities for every season. While biking and hiking are probably the most popular options, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding are other recreational activities available on certain portions. Picnicking, barbecuing, camping and other overnight lodging, and breweries, wineries, distilleries, farms, and restaurants are also abundant. And because the trail traverses so much of the state, there are also hundreds of state parks and cultural and historic attractions to experience, including places like the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, Buffalo Canalside, Boscobel House & Gardens, Walkway Over the Hudson, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Olana State Historic Site, to name just a few.

Walkway Over the Hudson

Courtesy of Empire State Trail

The Best Segments of the Empire State Trail

Albany-Hudson Electric Trail

This brand-new 36-mile segment of the Hudson River Valley Greenway trail goes from Rensselaer to the charming city of Hudson via the villages of Kinderhook, Greenbush, and Nassau and had an influx of $45 million to ready it for the Empire State Trail. It follows the historic route of an electric trolley that operated from 1900 to 1929 and passes through woods, streams, lakes, wetlands, farmlands, small hamlets, and residential areas. Most of it is paved or stone-dusted off-road rail-trail; however, there are several short on-road sections where trail users share the road with vehicle traffic.

Maybrook Trailway

Metro-North Railroad constructed this new 23-mile rail-trail on its inactive Beacon Line corridor between the hamlet of Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County and Brewster in Putnam County. The Beacon Line originally opened as a rail line in 1892 and served as a link between New York and southern New England. The Walkway Over the Hudson Park, now a pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River, was once part of the rail line. Today, the trail winds through dense woods, farm fields, ponds, and wetlands, and one section ends at a trailhead parking area in Hopewell Junction, where there is a railroad depot museum and public restrooms. Most of the trail is paved off-road meant for hikers and bikers exclusively.

Mohawk Hudson Hike Bike Trail

Stretching between the capital city and Peebles Island State Park, this 10-mile section offers spectacular views of the Hudson River. The route starts at the Corning Preserve in downtown Albany, heading north for about four miles on the Mohawk Hudson Bike Hike Trail. The middle section is on-road, and the final two-mile section returns to an off-road trail until it reaches Peebles Island State Park, a 190-acre park where the Mohawk and Hudson rivers meet.

Champlain Canalway Between Fort Edward and Fort Ann

The New York State Canal Corporation constructed multiple sections for the Empire State Trail, including this one between Fort Edward to the historic village of Fort Ann. The $14.3 million investment created a 12-mile paved off-road trail that goes between the historic and modern Champlain Canals, passing by canal locks, woods, wetlands, farmlands, and scenic vistas.

Erie Canalway Trail

This 20-mile section in Western New York is mostly an off-road stone-dust path built on the historic 19th-century Erie Canal's towpath. Hikers and bikers will pass through woodlands, farmlands, local parks, and small communities along the trail. Water has been restored in the eastern section of the canal in Camillus, where you can see recreational boats, an Erie Canal museum, and the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct. Camping is available at Riverforest Park Campground & Marina in Weedsport.

Tips for Planning an Empire State Trail Trip

  • While the Empire State Trail is fully connected, it’s important to check out the portion of the trail you’d like to explore and make sure it’s appropriate for what you’d like to do. For example, many portions of the trail are on-road, meaning the trail is shared with cars. They’re usually not appropriate for walkers, and even though there are separate bike lanes, these portions are most appropriate for cyclists who are comfortable biking on the road with cars.
  • It’s also necessary to investigate public services available on your route, like restrooms, parking, and food, if you anticipate needing those amenities.
  • Of course, like any outdoor excursion, make sure you’re prepared with enough water and food, have proper clothing and shoes for the weather, and have any specific gear you might need.
  • Check the map for area attractions you might also want to check out along the way and enjoy exploring this great New York State experience!