Montreal to New York City by train: Amtrak’s Adirondack route

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013. Filed under: Art Legendary Landscapes New York State

All aboard in Montreal, just a few hours late.

When I arranged to meet my friend writer Judy Colbert in Atlantic City just over a week ago, I thought I’d swing by Manhattan first. A two-day jaunt turned into a week’s adventure when I realized October was the perfect time to cross something off my bucket list: Amtrak’s Adirondack, one of the most scenic rail trips in the world.

Amtrak’s Adirondack is one of the world’s most scenic rail trips.

Amtrak train 68, the Adirondack, leaves Montreal each morning, travelling through the Adirondack Mountains and Hudson Valley, arriving at New York’s Penn Station at around 8:30 p.m., a journey of about ten hours.  The Adirondacks were once the playground of wealthy New York families like the Vanderbilts, who built their luxurious Great Camp Sagamore there. I looked forward to seeing some serious fall foliage, maybe a bald eagle, and a glimpse of the landscape that inspired painters of the Hudson River School.

Dried autumn cornfields just south of Montreal.

Many of the trees we passed were Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), which fluttered like handfuls of gold coins tossed in the air.

There was good and bad news waiting for me at Montreal’s Gare Centrale.  A couple of cappuccinos helped me get past the news that a departure delay of several hours meant we would pass the last half of the trip in darkness. On the upside, the weather was glorious. When All Aboard was finally called, I scrambled for a seat (they’re unassigned) and snagged one by a window on the side of the train that faced east and Lake Champlain.  Here are some postcards from a remarkable day.

Across the border and into upstate New York.

The Adirondack meanders along the western shore of Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain is on the train’s east side, rocks to the west.

Adirondack Park covers over 6 million acres and is dotted with cabins and fishing camps.

Adirondacks scenery.

The Amtrak Adirondack was excellent value for the experience; I paid about $72 U.S. one way.  I would definitely take this route again, in different seasons, and at least once in the the reverse direction to take advantage of daylight at the NYC/Hudson Valley end. Amtrak’s Maple Leaf route would be another way to travel direct between New York and Toronto. The Maple Leaf train travels the same route through the Hudson Valley before veering west towards Buffalo and Toronto. Both of these Amtrak routes cross an international border and use track owned by multiple companies. Delays are inevitable and late arrivals should be factored into your plans.

Passing through a rocky cut.

View from the Dome Car, Amtrak Adirondack Train

Adirondacks view from the Dome Car.

It’s said that Hudson Valley writer Washington Irving had no need to imagine spooky settings for tales like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But I found a cold moon reflected in inky forest swamp not half as creepy as New York’s Penn Station after midnight. Carrying snacks, both Canadian and U.S. currency, and above all a hotel reservation guaranteed for late arrival, proved essential for my comfort and security.

The sun began to go down somewhere north of Saratoga, New York.

Sundown in the Adirondacks, still halfway to go!

Reflections of a city girl spooked by mile after mile of track unspooling in dark forests.

Great American Stations is a fascinating website that offers a window on the history and glamour of the Golden Age of rail travel. It’s an Amtrak project aimed at promoting the discovery, restoration and economic development of America’s train stations.

Prefer to travel by surface?  A recent article in the New York Times talks about new sites that help you search for a bus or train.

I’d love to explore more of upstate New York. Here are some inspiring links:

New York By Rail magazine

Visit Adirondacks

Hudson Valley Tourism

So was that it for my Hudson Valley dreams? Not quite. In New York, I headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s magnificent American Wing and sat for an hour among the romantic landscapes of the Hudson River School. Then I completely circumnavigated Manhattan by boat. Bursting out of the calm Harlem River onto the mighty Hudson has to be one of the biggest thrills of my life! but that’s another post.

LakeGeorge, painting 1869 by John Frederick Kensett1000

Lake George (1869), Adirondacks, oil painting by John Frederick Kensett in the collection of the Met Museum, New York.

Lake George Detail by Kensett

Detail of Lake George (1869), by John Frederick Kensett. Painting in the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

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