Champlain Valley’s dirt lanes, scenic views provide many ride options
By Phil Brown
The Champlain Valley is a wonderful region to bike most times of the year but especially in fall when the air is crisp and the leaves are changing.
I was reminded of this when my girlfriend Carol and I took our gravel bikes on a 19-mile ride on country roads that led past farm fields, hills, old barns, woods, and rivers.
We had stayed the night before at the charming Essex Inn in the center of the historic hamlet of Essex on Lake Champlain. Carol had just three hours to kill before driving home.
We found a number of cycling suggestions on the Champlain Bikeways website and settled on a loop that starts and ends in Essex: the Coon Mountain Circuit. We modified the route slightly to increase the mileage on dirt roads, where our gravel bikes excel.
Starting at the inn, we rode south on Lake Shore Road. In just a tenth of a mile, we turned right onto School Street and began pedaling uphill away from the lake. At 1.6 miles, we came to Middle Road and turned left. Fields afforded wide-open views of mountains, both near and far.
We stayed on Middle Road for a little over a mile, enjoying views of Lake Champlain and, on the other side of the lake, the Green Mountains in Vermont. Next we turned right onto Christian Road. Rather than follow the straight and narrow, Christian Road heads west, then south, then west, then south again. With each change in direction came a change in the bucolic scenery.
Christian Road ended at Whallons Bay Road. We turned right and coasted downhill to the tiny settlement of Whallonsburg. Just after passing a grange hall, we crossed the Boquet River and turned left on Route 22.
Route 22 was busier than the sleepy roads we had been riding, but not too busy. After about two miles, we took a sharp left turn onto Merriam Forge Road–a dirt lane that crosses and then parallels the Boquet. We stopped more than once to take in views of the river.
In 1.5 miles, we came to Halds Road. A steel bridge to the right offers more views of the Boquet. However, we turned left and followed this dirt road through shady woods past the trailhead for Coon Mountain. If you have time, take the mile-long trail to the summit for spectacular views of the Champlain Valley.
After 1.7 miles, Halds Road reached Lake Shore Road. Here we turned left, but we opted to deviate from the route described on the Champlain Bikeways website. Rather than follow Lake Shore Road eight miles all the way back to Essex, we followed it only two miles or so before turning left onto Clark Road.
Why modify the route? Clark Road is less busy than Lake Shore Road. It’s also dirt, which is the true medium of gravel bikes. And it affords scenic vistas of fields and rolling hills.
Clark Road led us back to Whallons Bay Road. We turned right and enjoyed a long downhill toward Lake Champlain–another benefit of modifying the route. Upon reaching Lake Shore Road again, we turned left and pedaled two and a half miles back to Essex Inn, taking in views of the lake the whole way.
Carol tracked the route on her Garmin watch. We traveled 19 miles in two and a half hours. We gained a total of 1,000 feet in elevation. That might seem like a lot, but we encountered only one short hill that might be considered steep. Overall, it was a leisurely ride with beautiful and varied scenery. And there are many more like it on the “Adirondack Coast.”
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