Horse Country in Dutchess County
Excellent riding not far from the Big Apple.
The good news about riding out from New York City is that it takes surprisingly little time to get to some nice roads. (The bad news is, at some point, you have to get back into the city, and the less said about that, the better.) On a recent August morning, I opted for a run-up to Dutchess County, which is about 80 miles north of New York City and home to rolling hills, horse farms and some really excellent motorcycle roads. The longest way I know to get there starts with detouring west to New Jersey in order to start the ride off properly with coffee and maybe a pastry at The 9W Market.
As I crossed over the George Washington Bridge, a peek to the south revealed the City of Dreams draped in fog, so I pulled off at the Rockefeller Lookout to soak in the view. The 9W Market is a just a mile or so off Exit 4 of the Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP) and is always worth a stop for good food, good coffee and often a chance encounter with good friends.
From The 9W Market you have the option of continuing north on slower two-lane State Route 9W to SR 202, or backtrack to the PIP. Though it can get congested, and those of us who have ridden it a thousand times might take it for granted, the PIP is a pretty ride. It’s two lanes each direction, winding through woodland, with plenty of gentle curves and some old stone bridges that reverberate exhaust pipes quite nicely. The miles fly by and soon enough I hit the Bear Mountain Bridge (aka Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge).
In addition to having some of the most finicky EZ Pass readers in all of New York State, the Bear Mountain Bridge carries not just cars and motorcycles, but also the Appalachian Trail. Over the bridge, I made a left on State Route 9D, which rolls north through some lovely, historic towns along the Hudson River. If you can resist the temptation to keep going north up to Cold Spring or Beacon, hang a right on County Route 11, Snake Hill Road. If you’re lucky and there isn’t a car in front of you, you can enjoy a spirited ride through a golf course and up to U.S. Route 9, Albany Post Road. It’s a short stretch but it will put a smile on your face.
Make a left on Albany Post Road and enjoy a more trafficked but still pretty ride — there are a couple of lazy S-curves that might have been designed by a rider — and drop down to the light at the intersection of State Route 301. Make a right there, fingers crossed you get to the turn before a car does. Route 301 is a rider’s road — lots of curves but nothing too technical so it’s an easy, fun ride, swinging around as you flash through a forested area and even parallel a pretty stream for a bit. 301 has two nice turns up a hill into Clarence Fahnestock State Park where the speed limit rises to 55 mph, and you may well be tempted to pull over alongside Canopus Lake just to enjoy the view.
The road roughens up for a mile after the lake, so put your weight down on the pegs, then you’ll hit the intersection of 301 and the Taconic State Parkway. Like the PIP, the Taconic is underappreciated. It’s two narrow lanes in each direction, with plenty of accidents but beautiful views and few straights, and if you ride smartly you can usually find a place in between clumps of cars where you can breathe a little easier.
Just a few miles up the Taconic and you have your choice of roads that go east into Dutchess County—try State Routes 9, 82 or U.S Route 44. This day I opted for 82, which is a lovely little ride through farm country. Route 82 crosses SR 343 just outside of Millbrook, one corner taken up by an eerily decrepit cluster of buildings dating to 1890. Keep on 82 into Millbrook, one of the most affluent towns in the state, and grab lunch at one of the handful of restaurants that line the quaint main street. My favorite is the Millbrook Diner.
After lunch it’s time to do a loop. There are dozens of horse farms in the area and they make for extremely scenic riding. The roads are generally without a shoulder, and the combination of blind curves and the occasional slow-moving horse trailer (or actual horse) means its heads-up riding, which is to say absolutely terrific. Leaving Millbrook, I made a right on U.S Route 44, then a left on 83 at the Amenia Steakhouse. There are some jaw-dropping homes set back from the road and hundreds of acres of horse farms. There’s the occasional field of cows, of course, and if you’re lucky, you might see those sheep that look like cotton balls on sticks. Make a right on 44 into Amenia proper, then go right at the light to follow 44 up the hill to a lovely horseshoe curve and a scenic lookout.
There are plenty of roads to explore in the area, but if you’re ready to head home, 44 will take you back to the Taconic. Between the roads and the scenery, Millbrook is a compelling riding destination and, if you’re coming up from the city, you can make a nice 250-300 mile day of it — roughly the same number of smiles just about guaranteed.