A scenic bike ride on the Carriage Road in town of Piercefield
By Tom French
Have you ever wanted to take a stagecoach ride along a primitive road in the Adirondacks with a team of horses barreling through the thick woods? Perhaps you’ve admired the collection of carriages and wagons at the Adirondack Experience and imagined bouncing through the ruts of a mountain road with just a buckboard for suspension.
Early visitors to the area endured many discomforts to reach the “hygienic waters” and “health-giving tonic (of) mountain air, freighted with the fragrance of balsam and spruce.” Hoping to experiencing a bit of that history and same bumpy ride as those old stagecoach passengers, I recently biked the Carriage Road in the town of Piercefield, about 10 miles west of Tupper Lake, with my friends Doug Miller, Tim Lennon, and Jay Czajkowski.
Addison Child, a would-be land speculator, opened a hotel near the Massawepie Mire in 1890. Visitors arrived via the Mohawk and Malone, later the New York Central, with a six-mile stagecoach ride from the Childwold Park Station near Conifer. The hotel, originally known as the Childwold Park House before a name change to the Hotel Childwold around 1900, could accommodate up to 250 people (along with another 100 in various “Queen Ann” cottages). Vacationers enjoyed a bowling alley, billiards room, ballfield, golf, live music, hunting and fishing, straw (wagon) rides, children’s carnivals, and the rustic architecture expected of an Adirondack lodge. The hotel closed in 1909, lay dormant for 37 years, and was demolished in 1946. The Boy Scouts acquired the property in 1951.
Start at Massawepie Road
We met in the first public parking area, across from the boat launch. Please note that the public parking lots along the Massawepie Road and entire easement (an agreement between the DEC and Boy Scouts), with the exception of the town roads, are off limits from June 15 to Aug. 31. As you drive through the Boy Scout area, look for the large field on the right where the three-story hotel was located. You’ll also see many signs of the various scouting activities and camping areas.
From the parking area, the Massawepie Road follows a high, narrow esker between Massawepie Lake and Long Pond and then between Massawepie and Horseshoe Pond. Several public parking areas exist along the road for those looking to paddle, fish, or explore in the spring and fall.
The road generally gains elevation over the 1.5 miles to the intersection with the carriage road. Both are seasonal town roads and not restricted by the Boy Scout agreement, though the carriage road is not suitable for cars. Clearly marked as a snowmobile-trail junction, the carriage road dips briefly and then rises through a 200-yard section of recent timber harvesting on the Boy Scout property before entering a mostly wooded route. The road is sandy and rough from logging activity as well as ATVs and dirt bikes.
In less than three-quarters of a mile, you’ll pass a large sign indicating the property line between Boy Scout property and other easement lands. The road continues to climb before a large downhill to Dead Creek. Recent rains had made this section wet and muddy in places, requiring extra effort to grind through. Careful with the puddles – we discovered a couple that were almost two feet deep. Jay was just trying to skirt one when he slipped in. My path was more determined until I was up to my knees. Full stop.
The corridor around Dead Creek is a primitive area featuring a three-mile paddle from Route 3. When we reached the bridge, both Doug and Tim were disappointed they hadn’t brought a telescoping rod so that they might cast a few lures. Though narrow, it is a significant stream, flowing fast with no bottom visible through the murky waters.
Doug had traveled the road before, 10 or more years ago when his son attended the Boy Scout camp. When the kids were off earning merit badges, Doug explored the area with his bike. He remembered the crossing as sketchy – but not anymore. At some point, the bridge has been rehabilitated, though when I reached out to town officials, the DEC, and the Childwold Snowpackers, no one could remember the details.
Swarms of Canadian tiger swallowtails lifted in our path as we crossed the wide flood plain in open sun. The trail returns into the woods and rises gradually until the last 300 yards to the Conifer Road where it gains 80 feet – an especially taxing endeavor for this pushing-60-something crowd. We all ended up walking.
End of the route
In order to truly say you’ve biked the entire distance of the old stagecoach route, continue straight another .6 miles along the Mt. Arab Road to the tracks. Little evidence of the station remains today. The rails are there, part of the Adirondack Railroad, and look to have been rehabilitated recently in preparation for the opening of these northern reaches by the railroad. Track rehabilitation is due to be completed by August and the railroad hopes to run some excursions by late summer and this fall. Train traffic will be light due to the late start in the season. A larger schedule is planned for 2023.
Other trip options
For those wishing for a multi-recreational day, the Arab Mountain Trailhead is only a quarter-mile beyond the tracks. The fire tower and observer’s cabin are a further mile and 750 feet up.
A lovely and easier return trip to the car would be along the railbed of the Grasse River Railroad from Conifer to the intersection with the Massawepie Road. Unfortunately, the first mile is owned by MWF Adirondacks LLC, a client of the Molpus Woodlands Group, and is off limits to the public. Volunteers with the Grass River Rail Trail Initiative have lobbied for access, but no action has been taken.
We did ride into Conifer. Doug was particularly enthusiastic about the 15-mph ride on pavement before returning to the car. Those wishing to explore the carriage road in summer can park at the eastern end or at the DEC kiosk at the corner of the Massawepie Road and Grasse River Railbed, which is not part of the Boy Scout restricted area. Pedal north just over two miles to the intersection with the carriage road.
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Doug Laubach says
Good article…a relatively unexplored area of the ADK’s that you have described…have hiked and biked it before, never knowing where exactly I was at any time…wishing you might expand further on your travels around this area, it tempts me to go back in and bike more of it…my compliments.
Tom French says
Hello Doug — Thanks for reading the article and commenting.
The Grasse River Railbed is accessible from the Massawepie Road to Route 3 near Cranberry Lake. See https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/grasse-river-ride-through-history. Phil Brown also rode south from the rail bed all the way to Horseshoe Lake (https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/gravel-bike-ride-grass).
My friends and I have plans to explore further biking opportunities in the Conifer-Emporium Easement lands in the next couple of months. Stay tuned!!
Chuck Brown says
Great article,Tom. Sure would have liked a few maps and more photos interspersed though. As I’ve aged terribly, and can’t trek about as I was once able to do, your ADK ventures certainly go a very long way in helping to fill that void. Thanks!
Tom French says
Hello Chuck — Thanks for reading the article and your nice comment. I will discuss your suggestion with the editors. I do have other pictures. Perhaps I can post them on Facebook. A map can be found on the DEC website here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/34715.html Click on the Cranberry Lake Complex East map. The Carriage Road is the red line heading southeast from the parking area at the bottom of Massawepie Lake. Although the Carriage Road is not suitable for vehicles, the Massawepie/Town Line Road is a lovely drive all the way to the gate south of the rail bed.
william c hill says
Another nice article- keep up the good work! I’ve visited that trek, it’s a neat change of pace, and the history is a bonus.
Tom French says
Hello William — Thanks for reading the article and your nice comment. Your books have been helpful on several of my Adirondack Adventures.
Susan Smith says
Great article Tom. Thanks for the shout out to the Grasse River Railroad efforts to expand access to trails in the region.
Tom French says
Thanks Susan — Always a pleasure to share the history and promote the recreational opportunities of the Cranberry Lake area and Northwestern Adirondacks.