On our way from Vermont to Maine we naturally drove through New Hampshire. The drive through the White Mountain National Forest was spectacular, and at nightfall we had reached our destination. We were going to stay in North Conway for two nights to do some much-needed hiking. After we had checked in, we drove downtown and had a nice burger.

North Conway, NH

The hotel we were staying in was a short drive from Main Street on a quiet road winding itself through the forest. It was run by a lovely couple who turned out to be of French origin. In the main house of the hotel they had a breakfast room and on our first morning we really appreciated the fact that they had their own understanding of a proper breakfast.

Mount Kearsarge North, North Conway, NH

Conveniently enough, our hotel was in walking distance from some of the trail heads. Our host had recommended a particular route which we didn’t think twice about taking. From the hotel we walked for a few minutes until we entered the Merriman State Forest and embarked on the trail up Mount Kearsarge North (996m elevation). When we started, it was still overcast and downright foggy, yet I was sweating profusely after the first few steep inclines. I was so out of shape that I took off my shirt and hiked topless for the next hour.

Mount Kearsarge North, North Conway, NHMount Kearsarge North, North Conway, NH

On the way up Kearsarge North we encountered very few people. At some point the fog started to break up, either because it was dissipating or because we had reached a certain elevation. Shortly after that, we reached the barren summit of Kearsarge North. The most prominent feature there is the white wooden fire-lookout tower, anchored to the rock and open to hikers. Again, we were the only people on the summit so we took our time and went up the tower to add a line to the trail log. We then had lunch and marvelled at the fact that were being encircled by clouds from the valleys all around Kearsarge North.

Mount Kearsarge North, North Conway, NH

Our way down was long but uneventful. At one point we met a fellow hiker and stopped to talk to him about the trail. He told us that he loved hiking (no surprise there) and that he in fact just completed through-hiking the whole Appalachian Trail (3500km) about a month earlier.

After we got back to the hotel, we went downtown to do some shopping and strolling along Main Street. We had dinner in the same place as the night before and then retired as we’d be heading out towards Maine the next morning.

Mount Kearsarge North, North Conway, NHNorth Conway, NH

After just two short days of Canada (sniff) we were back in the US. We had entered via New York and on our way back we crossed almost directly into Vermont. Although I had been to New England twice already, Vermont was the only state we somehow always missed. I had seen enough photos of the Vermont countryside to know that it has an endless supply of of breathtaking post-card vistas. On top of that, we were going in at the height of the Indian Summer so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this state.

Burlington, VT

Crossing the border was already a little adventurous. We took the TCH into Quebec and then at some point started heading south for the border. The details are a little mushy at this point, but there were a lot of small roads through the Quebecois farming countryside. At one point we had to stop at a gas station to ask for directions. The combination of my rusty European French talking to back-country Canadian French made the inquiry somewhat demanding. When we found the border crossing it was literally just a small hut with a gate and two very friendly troopers. After they had laughed at our outdated maps and our lack of direction at this point, they pointed us towards Vermont which was just a short drive through some corn fields.

Burlington, VT

The next few hours we drove through the rolling hills Vermont and across it’s river islands. In the town of “Hero” we stopped for some lunch. The only place in sight was “Hero’s Welcome”, a white wooden family-run general store on the edge of the bay. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a general store which had pretty much everything you’d need on a daily basis: Fresh, canned, refrigerated food, all sorts of kitchen and household supplies, and a lot of stuff which didn’t fit into any particular category. Part of the general store was also the local Post Office and a gas pump. Our lunch there was yummy, we had a homemade wrap with sweet cranberry sauce and some coffee to keep us going. The rest of the day was a lot of driving through lush countryside until we reached Burlington, our first night’s stay.

Burlington, VTVermont

Burlington is the biggest city of Vermont and home to the University of Vermont. It was also named the healthiest city in the United States in 2008, despite the many delicacies to be found in Vermont. We strolled through the small city-center of Burlington for a while and went down to the harbour. It’s hard to get a read of the city even of this size, but the people and the city itself had a very relaxed vibe to it. At dusk we located a nice little restaurant where we had stone-oven Pizza and some Ben and Jerry’s icecream afterwards.

The next day took us East, ultimately towards New Hampshire. This being Vermont, we obviously had to stop at a small road-side shop called the “Vermont Maple Outlet” to get said substance in its purest form. We also got a hearty taste of other Vermont specialties: Cheddar cheese, beer, chocolate and fudge. Heading on, the highlight of the trip was the Smuggler’s Notch pass. As we went up the mountain, fog set in, the roads narrowed down and the drop next to it became ever more menacing. At the final bend we were really going slow, yet almost missed the peak of the pass had it not been for people stopping in front of us. As we got out of the car there wasn’t a sound to be heard, either natural or from other vehicles. The mountain was covered in fog and the bright yellow foliage added that special something to the eerie atmosphere.

Smuggler's Notch, VT
VermontSmuggler's Notch, VT

Coming down into the valley again, we next came upon Duxbury where we had a brief stop at the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters. Ultimately we decided against a factory tour and instead kept on driving to make better use of the daylight. In the city of Stowe we had a short stroll through the city center and looked at the historical train station. Further stops along the way were at a cemetery next to the road, because the foliage there was simply breathtaking, and at a covered bridge (another Vermont icon). A short while later, we entered the state capital, Montpelier, which is the smallest state capital in the US with roughly eight-thousand people living there. The downtown area is accordingly small and so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. At nightfall we had already reached our hotel in North Conway, NH. While we only had two short days in Vermont, we got a good idea of what makes this state special: It’s laid-back atmosphere, the remoteness and the stunning countryside which encompasses some of the very essence of New England, or at least what I imagine it to be when thinking of it.

Vermont

The last time we were on the East Coast of the United States and Canada we had done a route through most of New England, some of Quebec and Ontaria. The most direct route took us from Quebec City through Montreal and finally over Toronto and Niagara Falls back into New York. Back then we decided against the detour of driving up all the way to Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada by the way ;)

Ottawa, ON

This time we had an invitation by a friend of ours who’s currently living in Ottawa, so we just had to incorporate it into our roundtrip. We left the Adirondack Part and quickly came up to the border crossing into Canada at Cornwall, with the usual amount of awkward questioning and some waiting. Soon we were back in the land of Tim Horton’s and helpful people. This is not just a figure of speech, we actually stopped at the very first Tim Horton’s we came across and listened to the people cheerfully chatting in the seat next to us. The rest of the drive towards Ottawa was uneventful, taking us up to the Trans-Canada Highway (“follow the only road”) straight into Ottawa.

Our friend was still out skydiving so we had some time to kill and walked along the Rideau River with the sun slowly setting. The next day Katrin and I explored the city of Ottawa, which is something that can very comfortably be done on foot. We saw the locks at the Rideau Canal and went up to Parliament Hill. The queue in front of the Centre Block building was manageable so we lined up and were in in no time. There was no guided tour but we were free to explore the building ourself and even go up Peace Tower in an elevator. The observation deck provides good view over the city centre, the River and the surrounding countryside which is very flat. Before we left we snuck into a session of parliament where I had to surrender my camera in order to get in.

Ottawa, ONOttawa, ON
Ottawa, ONOttawa, ON

The rest of the day was spent wandering the city, first downtown and then near the canal. This being the capital there are a number of federal buildings as well as embassies. We even had time to do a little shopping. Interestingly enough, Ottawa is just across the river from the city of Gatineau which is in Quebec. While bi-lingual signs are omnipresent in Canada, I had never really discovered bilingual areas in Canada except for some areas of Montreal. In Ottawa I noticed that the work crews scaffolding buildings or paving roads were either francophone or spoke English, but they did not seem to be associated in any way. A very interesting experience, especially considering that french-speaking Gatineau is only a short walk across the bridge.

Ottawa, ON

For dinner we met up with our friends and went downtown. On the way there we stopped at Nepean Point which gives a spectacular view of the Canal locks and Parliament Hill. After that we found a nice place to eat in the Byward Market district which packs a number of bars and restaurants of all colors. We retired a little earlier as the next day would already take us back across the border into the US.

Our next stop after Washington would be a little bit further north. In fact we had to drive a whopping 800km to get there, and since we didn’t want to lose any time, we did so in a single day. Our detour via Washington had uprooted our original schedule, but we were trying to catch up with our second destination after New York City: The Adirondack Mountains in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York. During our 2008 trip to the East Coast this was one of the highlights of our tour and we were determined to spend some time in the park again.

Lake Placid, NY

We had booked the hotel for the night one day in advance as we usually do on these sort of trips. We only ever book our first night before we fly. For the rest of the journey we pick a city and a hotel every night, just one day in advance. This way we can shuffle our schedule as we go along and extend or shorten stays. For the Adirondacks we had booked a motel in Lake Placid (New York), site of two Winter Olypmics. After spending most of the day on the road, we arrived in Lake Placid way after nightfall and immediately noticed the crisp and clear mountain air. What a difference to Washington indeed.

The next morning we went looking for breakfast in downtown Lake Placid, which is basically just one strip of road with restaurants, bars and shops all catering to year-round tourist. We found a really cute coffee place that still had a spot on the porch, which is where the photo above was taken.

Obviously we had come the Adirondack Mountains to do some much-needed hiking after a week of city sightseeing. We knew that there were some good hiking routes nearby, close to where some of the Olympic sites outside of city were situated (Ski Jumping etc.). The 20-minute drive to the trail head took us through the absolutely gorgeous countryside around Lake Placid. It may be hard to grasp, but this was apparently the absolute best week to watch the Indian Summer as we had been told. And true enough, on our way to the trail we saw cars on the shoulder every few hundred meters with the drivers getting out and taking pictures of the fall foliage. Amazing!

Lake Placid, NY
Lake Placid, NYLake Placid, NY
Lake Placid, NY

After a few miles we left the plains and forest on a small gravel road, already alive with hikers and cars parked on the side of the road. We decided to park there as well only to discover that it was another kilometer to the trail head and that there were hundreds of cars park along the road. Hard to believe, but all of these people had come there just to hike! There was no hidden amusement park, no souvenir huts and no rides, just plain and exhausting hiking routes. We even had to get in line to sign into the trail log which we had tried to skip until a ranger explicitly asked everyone passing by to sign in. Rush hour!

Fortunately the parking lot was the start to many different trails and after a few minutes we had lost sight of nearly everyone. We kept alongside an older lady for quite a while who was out hiking with her kids and grandkids. She told us that going Upstate New York and hiking was a regular family tradition. That day she was hiking the easier 7-mile round-trip trail up to Phelps Mountain (the one we were hiking as well) because she had sprained her ankle the day before and the rest of her family was doing a more demanding trail that day.

Saranac Lake, NY

The rest of the trail took up past a wooden dam (Marcy Dam) which was almost destroyed by hurricane Irene and all the way up Phelps Mountain. The fall foliage along the way was simply breathtaking. I didn’t take that many photos but the hike took us the better part of the day. Back at the parking lot the sun was already setting. The next morning we left Lake Placid headed north, but before we were outside of the Park boundaries we stopped a few times to take pictures of the beautiful scenery. This last (and prettiest) shot was taken in Saranac Lake, New York.