On that first nice Spring day when the snow has melted and you're dying to get out and about, here's a close-by hike or drive only 15 miles away – the Mohawk Towpath Byway.
A National Scenic Byway that extends from Schenectady to Waterford, the Mohawk Towpath runs for 26 miles along the Mohawk River and the 1852 Erie Canal route. It's a fascinating showcase of the history of the area: from Native American times...to the heyday of the Erie Canal...to the waterside communities and their involvement in the Industrial Revolution...and, finally, to the westward expansion of the United States.
The Towpath begins in downtown Schenectady at Erie Boulevard and State Street (Route 5) and ends in Waterford on Route 32. You can find a map here.
The Mohawk River Valley was the only water-level route through the Appalachians and, thus, became a major trade route both for Native Americans and for European traders and explorers. Native Americans traveled along a footpath for centuries that followed the Mohawk River. The current towpath is 26 miles by car; it follows the route of the 1825 Erie Canal between Schenectady and Waterford, when draft animals would tow barges along the canal using a path on either side of the river. The trip took four days.
Eighty-two locks were constructed on the canal. These were necessary because the river travels through a series of rapids and waterfalls. Before the canal, it was sometimes necessary to portage around these obstructions. Canal channel construction took eight years; it was 40 feet wide at the waterline and ran 363 miles from Albany and Buffalo over a 689-foot elevation change. Once completed, the canal contributed to the development of new settlements in western New York.
Canal-side communities used the power generated by the water to build manufacturing plants – Harmony Mill Number 3 in Cohoes was the largest cotton factory in the world. It still stands on North Mohawk Street in Cohoes. The towpath travels through scenic areas revealing 18th and 19th century architecture. Waterford Village is known for its Federal brick buildings and the Crescent-Church Hill Historic District boasts 19th century Greek Revival homes. A kiosk in Freddie's Park in Colonie offers information on historic river crossings in the area.
You can download a brochure with a detailed description of the area, things to do, and interesting sights here. The Crescent Trail in Halfmoon and the old Champlain Canal towpath in Waterford are excellent hiking trails. An audio tour is available for your cell phone at 518-649-9990.
There is also a challenging 36-mile bike path which begins in Colonie Mohawk River Park or the Niskayuna Lions Park as well as a 15 mile loop bike tour between Vischer Ferry and Rexford. Tour/trail guides for all of these experiences are available here.
If you prefer seeing the Mohawk River from the water, you can rent a kayak or canoe at The Boat House on Aqueduct and Balltown Road. In Halfmoon, between the Route 9 bridge and the Northway's Twin Bridges, there are islands for exploring – park at Crescent Park and paddle to the south. Other options are described in the brochure as well.