Please note: This blog was originally posted in 2015 and this ride is no longer available, however we can happily direct you to cool paddling, awesome biking, and scenic hiking in the region! Check out our outdoor activities to learn more!
If you like to ride a bike, are up for trying something new, and enjoy a morning or afternoon communing with nature, then Railbikes might just be for you! Railbikes are the Adirondack’s hottest activity – human-powered two- or four-person railbikes – that allow you to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area with the rails of an unused train track to guide you. This is the only place in North America you can try this activity!
The ride takes place on the six miles of unused train tracks of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear. This stretch hasn’t been used since 1980, so it’s an expanse of wilderness that few people get to see. The Rail Explorers Tours have been operating since July 3, but tickets are only on sale through Columbus Day Weekend, so I would suggest making reservations soon. You definitely won’t want to miss this!
The day I decided to try the ride in early September was probably the last really warm day of the summer – 85 degrees! - and I enjoyed my trip down to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid with the windows open and a view of leaves that were just beginning to turn for fall. (This will be my first fall in the Adirondacks, and I’m waiting patiently for the leaves to change colors because I have heard how beautiful it is, although I am not looking forward to the cold weather just yet!) It was the perfect day for an outdoor activity, and I was excited to see what the Railbikes were all about.
When we arrived at the train station in Saranac Lake, we had already made reservations for the afternoon ride from Lake Clear back to Saranac Lake, so after checking in at the ticket office, we enjoyed a ride down to Lake Clear on the complimentary shuttle with our tour guide.
The ride before the ride
During the drive, our tour guide explained the history of Saranac Lake, how it was founded as a town because of a physician, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who came to the area to treat his own tuberculosis, and its connection to the Trudeau Institute, an independent medical research institute founded by Dr. Trudeau and still in existence today. Besides a little history of the town, he explained that by driving us down to Lake Clear to start, we’d end up back at our cars at Saranac Lake, rather than parking at Lake Clear and having to return there when we were through. The tours run either from the train station at Saranac Lake to Charlie’s Inn at Lake Clear, or reversed from Lake Clear to Saranac Lake. The rides are suitable for all ages, but we chose the Lake Clear to Saranac Lake route because it is supposed to be a little easier (less uphill). I would recommend this for people with younger kids, the elderly, or anyone who just wants an easier ride, but from what I could tell, the route from Saranac Lake to Lake Clear didn’t seem like it would be much more difficult.
Railbikes are not at all like regular bikes, so we needed a little training on the use of the bike before we started our ride. The bikes look almost like metal go-carts; you sit in them like a recumbent bike with the pedals out in front of you. My boyfriend and I had reserved a two-person bike, so our seats were side-by-side, but the four-person bikes have two rows of seats, two-by-two. The railbikes weigh more than 650 pounds, and stopping them takes some practice! It’s sort of like stopping a car; you need to slow down a little before you need to stop!
Once we had our training, I couldn’t wait to get started! Our time slot was packed, so there were about 36 people on the tour with us. They stagger the start of each group, though, so you are pretty much riding on your own unless you are with other riders on another bike.
From the minute we started, I realized the ride was going to be one of the best things I’ve done since I moved to the Adirondacks in June! The scenery along the trip was beautiful; a peaceful journey through the woods with mountain and lake views as we powered our railbike along the tracks. The smell of balsam, cedar and pine filled our nostrils, and the cool air of the wooded landscape make the temperature feel cooler than it actually was. First we passed some water along the way, which we found out was McCauley Pond. We slowed down a little so I had the chance to take a picture.
The hardest part of the ride was getting going again when you stopped or slowed down, but the railbike was surprisingly easy to pedal. And you can go pretty fast! My snapchat app can record how fast you are going, so at one point when we were really going fast, I took a picture to see how fast we were going-15.4 miles per hour! Thank goodness for the basket between the seats, where we could keep our belongings so they didn’t scatter while we pedaled. You can't pedal in reverse, so you need to make sure everything stays in the basket. Complimentary water bottles are provided, which is a good thing because I was working up a sweat!
We stopped halfway along the trail for a little scenery and water break. We stopped at a little meadow, which was one on of my favorite parts because this is where we saw the most color. The colors were awesome: red, orange, green and yellow grass.
We passed some more water, and this time it was Lake Colby. It was gorgeous and no one was around us, so we stopped to take in the fantastic view. The water was so calm, and if we had time I would probably have jumped in, it looked so inviting on such a warm day!
At one point along the trail, we saw something off to the side, so we slowed down to see what it might be. I thought it was a tree stump, until it moved and my boyfriend realized it was a black bear! Before I had time to get nervous, he quickly ran away, because he must not have liked the sound of the bikes on the rails. Unfortunately, I was so stunned I was slow in getting my phone out to take a photo, and missed it.
By the time we reached Saranac Lake, I was sad that the trip was over. Between the beautiful scenery, relaxing ride and bear-sighting, it was an awesome day! If you are ending in Lake Clear, perhaps opt for dinning or refreshments at Charlie’s Inn, also offering rooms and a campground.
The journey takes about an hour and a half , and you definitely need reservations in order to ride. Tours hold about 150 people per day, with four time options: 9:00 am, 11:30 am, 2:00 pm or 4:30 pm. It costs $50 for two people and $100 for four, and it was worth every penny! You can make reservations online. It is quick and easy!
What's your ADK ride?