Commentary, Empire Trail, Walking

Inn to inn on the Empire Trail

The Empire Trail passes the Ardsley Acres Hotel Court
The Empire Trail passes the Ardsley Acres Hotel Court

You may have heard of “inn to inn” walks.  It’s like backpacking, but with restaurant meals, beds and showers every night.  I’ve heard about it in Europe, particularly in England.  In California, Tom Courtney and his daughter Emily have published a series of books detailing inn to inn itineraries.

Some inn to inn walks are offered as packages by travel agents, and even include a service where you can pack more than you can carry.  While you’re walking you only carry what you need for the day, and somebody will drive all the rest of your stuff to the next inn.

That’s kind of a cop-out, but at least you do all the walking yourself.  One of the services here in the United States relies on a “morning shuttle” for each leg of the trip.  I’m sorry, if someone’s driving you partway, you’re not hiking inn to inn.  But that’s not as bad as the one that says with a straight face, “you’ll need a car to participate in the included innkeeper-assisted shuttling service for your inn to inn trip.”  Just nope.

Still, it may be a while before my wife and I have the time and money to fly to Europe for a trip like this, and with international travel disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I got to thinking about possible inn to inn walks near our home in New York City.  

Years ago I read Christopher Wren’s Walking to Vermont.  When Wren retired from the New York Times to teach at Dartmouth College in 2003, he decided to walk from his old apartment in Manhattan to his new house in Vermont. He had a great time on the Appalachian Trail and the Long Path in Vermont, but the part of his trip through northern Westchester and Putnam counties was pretty unpleasant, walking between strip malls and speeding cars on Route 22.

Wren’s account didn’t leave me with a lot of hope.  But then the State of New York opened the Empire Trail.  I was skeptical about how usable it would be, but it turns out that over the past few years the New York State Department of Transportation has been actively pouring asphalt, and there’s now a continuous walkable path from Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan to a spot on Route 32 that’s about a mile south of the nearest sidewalk in Kingston.

Some of the trail incorporates existing trails maintained by other entities.  I’ve already spent many hours walking and cycling on the Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail in Rosendale and New Paltz, the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan, and the trails built on the old New York and Putnam Railroad in the Bronx, Westchester and Putnam counties.

Adding up the estimated trip times given on the Empire Trail website, it would take 40-65 hours to walk from the Battery to Kingston.  If we assume eight-hour days, that’s five to eight days’ walking.  You could just do it as day trips, accessing each trailhead by train or bus, and I’ve already done that from the Battery to Elmsford.

Even as I was planning day trips, I remembered that I’d seen hotels and motels from the Putnam Trail.  I thought about inn to inn walks, and realized that you could do at least some of the trail this way.

Look for some more posts from me this summer about inn to inn walks, potential and actual.  And let me know if you take an inn to inn walk in North America!