Like many riders, my favorite motorcycle-touring season is the fall. Mother Nature explodes with bountiful colors, scented breezes, vibrant blue skies and dramatic clouds floating across the heavens. That’s why my friends, Joe and Lynn Loverchio, and I chose the beginning of October to explore the borderlands of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
The back roads of this tri-state region offer riders the opportunity to cruise throughout the colors of the fall, from its green beginning stages to its bursting peak, all in one multiday tour. You can ride from forest to farmland, alongside lakes and rivers, spot eagles and hawks and take in breathtaking panoramic views.
We started our trip from Oakland, New Jersey. Joe and Lynn were two-up on Joe’s 1,731cc Victory Vision Tour. Because of its futuristic design, they named it the “Starship Enterprise.” I was riding my 1,600cc Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad; both are perfect bikes for touring. Climbing into the Ramapo Mountains on sinuous Skyline Drive, our machines ate up the road.
As we descended into Ringwood, we caught glimpses of the mountains rolling westward toward the borderlands like ocean waves moving across the horizon. Riding alongside the reservoirs and then onto the East Shore Road of Greenwood Lake into New York, we climbed 17A to the mountaintop. The Bellvale Farms Creamery sits just below the summit and offers great views along with its delicious ice cream. From there, we sailed down the mountain into Warwick.
One advantage of this tour is the ability to take any number of back roads and still get the full flavor of the area’s consistent beauty, weaving back and forth across the borders of three states. From Warwick, New York, Routes 1A and 1 lead into the black dirt region of Pine Island. This former swampland is now some of the most productive farmland in the East. From Pine Island, we took Liberty Corners Road to Oil City Road, passing through the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses 1,500 acres of protected forested wetlands and is home to the Great Blue Heron, as well as hawk, river otter, bear, fox and coyote.
On State Route 284, we blasted south into Sussex, New Jersey, where State Route 23 serpentines to 16,091-acre High Point State Park. High Point’s 360-degree panoramic views of the Pocono, Catskill and Kittatinny mountains from the base of its 220-foot limestone obelisk are impressive. Plunging into the heavens like a spear, the monument’s 291 steps will take the ambitious to the top.
I asked Joe and Lynn if they were up for the climb; they just laughed. Instead, we mounted our bikes and snaked down the mountain. Entering Port Jervis, we crossed the border again, rolling north on State Route 97, a designated Scenic Byway. The famous Hawk’s Nest section is carved into a mountainside hundreds of feet above the river. Making its curvaceous way north, Route 97 parallels the Delaware River, which is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and forms the border of New York and Pennsylvania. Nothing compares to riding next to a free-flowing river, caressed by the sun and embraced by the invigorating pine-scented fall air.
Needing body fuel, we entered Pennsylvania on what was once the Delaware Aqueduct (now the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge) and had lunch at the Lackawaxen Inn, which overlooks the river. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bald eagle soaring over the water. Just down the road is the Zane Grey Museum (house), where the famed author of Riders of the Purple Sage lived for many years.
After lunch, we headed to the Ten Mile River turnoff, which leads to a canoe launching area on the Delaware River and the Tusten Mountain Trail, a good hike if you have the time. Our destination was the Tusten Stone Arch Bridge that was constructed in 1875. The bridge is a peaceful spot to experience Mother Nature in all her magnificent glory. While Joe and Lynn did a walkabout, I watched the water flow. It brought to mind some Bob Dylan lyrics:
I gazed down in the river’s mirror
And watched its winding strum.
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum.
“OK, Ken,” Joe called, snapping me from my reverie, “let’s get mechanized!”
Mounting our machines, we made our way on the dirt road alongside Ten Mile River to State Route 97. At Narrowsburg, we rolled into Pennsylvania again, riding along the western shore of the Delaware River on rustic State Routes 1017/1004 to Damascus. On a previous trip, I had spotted an eagle nesting there. Although State Route 97 is a two-lane scenic road, you can blast over it quite quickly, whereas these roads require a slower pace. With their old houses, farms and country churches, you feel like you have been transported to an earlier America.
At Damascus, we plunged into Pennsylvania’s hinterlands riding the rollercoaster of State Route 371 through farmland to State Route 374, where we followed signs to the Stone Bridge Inn and Restaurant, our destination for the evening. The Inn is nestled on a hilltop with 200 acres of meadow and forest. The buildings resemble a small European village, and its quaint rooms are clean and comfortable. With a tavern and restaurant on the premises, it makes for a perfect place to stay. An indoor heated pool and horseback riding are available for guests as well.
After checking in, Lynn took a hike, Joe watched some football and I enjoyed the pool, which I had all to myself. Following a delicious meal, we walked to the meadow in the dark “to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free” (Dylan) and wax all philosophical about life.
In the morning, another beautiful day beckoned us to do more riding. Heading east on Route 374 to State Route 171 north and then northeast on State Route 370, we cruised toward New York through Pennsylvania’s lush farmland. At Hancock, State Route 67 climbs into western Catskill country. Almost any road you choose to explore in this area rewards you with great riding opportunities and views. Just north of Hancock, we spotted some “country art”—a row of old toilet bowls lined a field and a decrepit boat was christened the SS Minnow (from Gilligan’s Island).
Descending the mountain, the blue sparkling waters of the Cannonsville Reservoir shimmered in the sun. Taking State Route 10 to State Route 27, we explored the shoreline to Trout Creek and onto State Route 23 to Sidney Center (both mere specks of towns) and into Unadilla, which is Iroquois for “meeting place.” Sitting peacefully on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Unadilla has the look and feel of a 19th century town. Just across the river (State Route 357), Joe and Lynn stopped so we could watch horses running in a farmer’s field.
At Treadwell (State Route 14), we ate lunch at Barlow’s General Store, which has been open since 1841. The food was good but the service required some patience. While waiting for our order, Lynn and I enjoyed music performed by a local group practicing in the store.
After lunch, we traveled scenic Route 14 to Delhi, a college town, and then to the quaint village of Andes, where State Route 1 leads to the Pepacton Reservoir. A longer, alternative ride on State Route 18 from Delhi to State Route 5 is equally impressive. It climbs into the mountains, where a panorama of forest, farmland and mountains unfold before your eyes like a giant quilt. At Bovina Center, head to State Route 28 to Andes.
Crossing the bridge over the Pepacton Reservoir, we turned left and followed the sign for Little Pond Campground into the Dry Brook Ridge Wild Forest area. This rough road made me long for the surefootedness of a flesh-and-blood steed rather than my steel one. Nevertheless, I felt invigorated by this backwoods challenge and was rewarded with many fine views, especially the peak foliage enveloping Big Pond.
At Little Pond Campground the road improved and, for the most part, we were able to parallel the famous Beaverkill River (known for its trout fishing opportunities) through the Catskill back country to the Beaverkill Covered Bridge. Built in 1865, it is still in use today. There’s parking, swimming and picnicking by the bridge, and the campground is a short ride beyond it. Continuing our ride alongside the river to State Route 206, we headed south to Roscoe, our day’s final destination. In the morning, we would weave our way through Sullivan County’s back roads to Port Jervis and home.
While riding alongside the sparkling Beaverkill River, I knew Joe, Lynn and I were all thinking the same thing: what a great motorcycle tour this had been. We savored fall foliage, farms, rivers, animals, country towns and best of all, we explored a diversity of fantastic roads. I was already contemplating our next trip through the colorful borderlands of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
Kenneth W. Dahse was inspired by Zane Grey to write his own Western novel, The Hell Riders, which can be ordered through any bookstore or online.
(This article The Boarderlands: A Colorful Cruise Through the Northeast was published in the March 2015 issue of Rider magazine.)