So you want to go on one last ride before the weather turns into a gorgeous, if completely motorcycle unfriendly, winter wonderland. Maybe you’re looking at your New Year’s Resolutions 2018 list and there is a dearth of checkmarks next to “Take the Scenic Route. Maybe you just had a kid and are looking to cash in on the in-laws visiting. Maybe you popped into NYC to complete the Home Alone 2: Lost In New York shooting locations tour. Maybe you’re planning on “Going out for cigarettes” like my dad did even though it’s the age of the vape pen, brah!
But, and this seems like a major hurdle, you’re stuck in NYC. It’s such a big city, but there’s nothing to look at except people and pigeons, and piss. Don’t fret, my friend! You have great motorcycle routes near New York. Scenic driving routes, scenic riding routes, there’s scenery all over super close by! We can show you 6 majestic motorcycle trips, some of the best scenic drives in the USA, available within two hours of the city. So bring that motorcycle insurance up to date, illuminate those motorcycle lights, and rev that sweet engine and let’s take a look six scenic rides for motorcycles that you can hit within two hours of NYC.
1. Hudson Valley -- West Bank (US Route-9W, NYC to Albany) -- 160 miles/3-4 hours
This stretch is one of the most scenic drives in America. Because of this, you have three or four viable routes to take in the scenery, meaning you can go up and back again twice and take in different views on each leg!
For the first approach, start at the border of New Jersey and New York in Palisades Interstate Park. You can take 9W North all the way up to Albany and not have a dull moment. It parallels the Hudson River for the most part and will take you through or right past eight beautiful state parks before you’re halfway done. Piermont and Nyack both have great little spots to get some food, and Haverstraw a little ways north does as well. Great way to start off a trip. It’s far easier to list the parks than to give individual rundowns, but there’s not a bad option in the bunch and all will offer some great scenery for your ride.
2. Hudson Valley -- East Bank (9/9D, NYC to Albany) -- 165 miles/3-4 hours
Many say the east side of the Hudson is more scenic. It hugs the river for longer stretches, passes through some historic sites, and even gets you to some museums if you’re into that sort of thing. Just outside of the city you’ll hit Sleepy Hollow and the Rockefeller Estate and then the Rockefeller State Park, one of the state’s premiere attractions.
Continuing along the water you can get up to Peekskill and Blue Mountain Reservation, a great place for hiking if you want to stretch your legs. On the road to Beacon you’ll pass Constitution Island and also Boscobel House and Gardens get to Hudson Highlands and the world famous Breakneck Ridge. Billed as one of the best hikes in the country, Breakneck is a medium difficulty but has absolutely brilliant views of the river, mountains, and everything in between. If you’re a hiker, you’ll want to stop here.
As you ride through Poughkeepsie you can take a break to cross the Hudson on foot to visit Fanny Reese State Park and just a bit farther north you can visit FDR’s house and the presidential library and museum there. The museum fun doesn’t end there, because the Vanderbilt Mansion and historic site is just up the road.
There are a few more historic sites and Mills Norrie/Mills Memorial State Parks, and some nice, smaller towns to grab some food or fuel. One such town is Rhinebeck, a historic and cultural slice of heaven just ten minutes north of Mills Norrie. They have something for everyone to do if you’re keen on stopping for a show or the county fair, but they also have Ferncliff Forest, a popular (and free) nature preserve for camping, hiking, fishing, etc. Farther north around Hudson you’ll hit Greenport Conservation area, which has nice hiking and walking trails and a beautiful overlook. And Schodack Island State Park is a nice spot to see more nature, or go fishing or camping.
3. Hudson Valley -- West (287/87/etc)
So you’re sick of the Hudson river but you still want a decent ride? Hudson Valley’s next option back on the west side is heading up 87, with a few detours. You’ll take 287 out of the city and ride along the southern and western sides of Harriman, with the option to take Long Meadow road for a piece to ride straight up the guts of Sterling Forest State Park and the New York Renaissance Faire is held right next door at Tuxedo Park, August through October so if you love turkey legs and period dress, plan your trip around early fall.
Hop back onto 87 and you’ll reach Schunnemunk Mountain State Park (say that ten times fast). You can get to Stewart State Forest too by taking a left at the airport. Watch some planes while you’re at it. That doesn’t hurt anyone. More scenic views all the way up to Ashokan Reservoir and Bluestone Wild Forest, which is another great place to camp and fish. Close to Woodstock too, if you want to camp and Phish. Ayyyye. (That’s a terrible and inaccurate joke, since Phish didn’t play “Woodstock” and since the arena, Bethel Woods Amphitheater, is several miles southwest. But we saw an opportunity and took it.)
Speaking of, since this is is the scenic route anyway, you should hang that left at 28 to the reservoir and continue in that direction because that’s where all the wilderness is. A hug swath of forests here, and several dozen options with regards to direction and area to see. If you’re in a meandering hurry, 28 to 214 will let you see a nice chunk of the woods and take you back to 87 to continue your trek up to Albany.
4. Hudson Valley -- East (Taconic State Parkway, NYC to Albany)
Let’s start at the Bronx Zoo for this one because giraffes are cool and why the hell not? You can take Bronx River Parkway to Sprain Brook Parkway which take you through a few smaller parks as you get out of the city. As you go through Graham HIlls and Rockefeller State Parks Sprain Brook turns into Taconic State Parkway and you can ride that all the way up to Albany too. Doing so will get you loads of sights and sites.
Echo Lake State Park starts the festivities. It’s about a mile walk around the outside, and you can bbq or picnic or use the restroom if it’s too cold for the beach. Taconic takes you right through FDR State Park and Donald J. Trump Park, which was once meant as a home for a golf course, but was later donated. It’s unfortunately not as nice as it sounds, but on your bike from a distance it’s great. Fahnestock State Park is next, a great place for camping and swimming (or cross-country skiing depending on the time of year). You can even hop on the Appalachian Trail here if you’re up to it!
So many more parks line Taconic on your way north. James Baird is another state park, and Taconic-Hereford multiple use area is another just a little further north. Filled with trees like hemlocks and pines, people come here to hike, bring their dogs for a shady stroll, etc. It’s one of the largest state forests in the area so it does get busy, but if you’re just riding by it sure is nice to look at! It’s basically neighbors with Innisfree Garden, which is an Asian-style public garden with a lake and waterfall and flowers, designed after Japanese and Chinese style gardens. A nice little place to pop in and see to give your suddle a rest. If you bail on Taconic State Parkway you can head east to Taconic State Park. It’s silly the two don’t converge, but we’re no civil engineers, we just ride motorcycles. Taconic SP straddles the Mass/NY border, so if you’re one of those Nick Sparks girls that wants to be in two places at once, there’s your chance. If you take 22 north a ways you’ll hit another cluster of state parks and if you take it even further you’ll get to Cherry Plain State Park. It has a nice big pond, pavilions for lunch, and a bunch of wildlife to watch like birds and deer.
5. Harriman State Park and Hawk’s Nest (Harriman, 97 to Arctic China State Forest) -- 180 miles/3-4 hours
Before heading out to Hawk’s Nest, take the time to ride around Harriman State Park. There are lakes and ponds and trees for days, as well as some historic spots. About 40 miles east of Harriman State Park is Port Jervis, right on the crosshairs of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. For two hours, 100 miles or so up to Arctic China State Forest you’ll see breathtaking views across the majestic Delaware River. You get a rock face on one side and the other is overlooking the the Delaware, so you’ll have a brilliant landscape the whole time. The road hugs the river (and the state line) for nearly the entire way up to the forest, which is an amalgamation of several state parks. There’s Arctic Lake for swimming and/or fishing (it’s pretty cold), there are campgrounds and hiking trails, even a golf course. So strap those clubs down and head on up!
6. Belt Parkway (Brooklyn Through Queens) -- 20 miles/1-2 hours
This is definitely a different sort of scenic route. Not all of us are cut out for country living, and not all of us are cut out for country driving either. A trip through the valley or woods is not our cup of tea. Some of us feel like climate change can’t come soon enough because plants make us a sick and concrete jungles are the only real jungles we know and care about. The first five options are way too scenic, way too much greenery and vegetation for a city guy! To those people we say, this is your jam. If you don’t like a long day on the bike, the Belt Parkway is your speed. Plenty of places to get off the bike, stretch your legs, and have some fun for a spell. The Belt Parkway Promenade in Brooklyn has everything. Bike paths, pedestrians, the NYC ferry. Even a free rest stop to pull over and catch a breather. You’ll see Manhattan (super famous, btw), the Statue of Liberty (also a pretty popular thing to look at), and New York harbor. You can also see Staten Island and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. If you mother-fathers love bridges, the Belt Parkway is definitely going to be at least an average trip for you!
Along the route there’s plenty more to see. After Shore Road Park is John Paul Jones Park (aka Cannonball Park), in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. There’s a World War I monument, complete with a huge cannon. Fort Hamilton is right next door and houses the Harbor Defense Museum. For a different kind of park you can hit Adventurer’s Park, which is like the Brooklyn Mini-Me equivalent of Coney Island. You can go on some traditional amusement park rides, or rent jet skis to have the motorcycle-on-water ride you always wanted and ride all the way out to the Statue of Liberty. Marine Park offers another break from the asphalt. You can see some wildlife or rent a paddle board or canoe. Just an aside, don’t feed the ducks bread or junk food unless you’re a duck serial killer. If you want to make a duck friend, pick up some grapes from Cherry Hill Grocery on your way. It’s 24 hours and has free parking and good food. And we’re serious about the grapes. Ducks love grapes. Also, Gerritsen Beach is right off of Marine Park and they have pubs and whatnot close by and a public bar at Tamaqua Marina there so you can quench your thirst.
There are obviously plenty of things to do along this route too, though depending on when you’re deciding to launch this journey you might be frozen to your bike. Plumb Beach, for example, is on an island and only available from the Parkway so you know it’s good. Then there’s Floyd Bennett field which really is a cornucopia of activities to tempt you from the saddle. Bird-watching for you hippie folk, campgrounds if you’re looking to stay overnight, antique planes for perusing, and a sports complex with basically any sport a reasonable person would want to play and a few other sports as well. Like pickleball, which is an atrocious bastardization of tennis and ping pong and we refuse to even try it. More options include horseback riding, plane watching like my buddy Dale, and New York City’s best bird-watching spot at Jamaica Bay. If you continue north through Queens you can take in the suburbs before heading back into the city.