With all the press recently about a new section of the Zim Smith rail trail opening, Bill and I decided to check it out. In fact, we had never done the old section. Originally a six-mile bike ride, the Zim Smith trail seemed too short to be worth loading the bike on the car and driving up the Northway. Now, with two additional miles, we figured we would give it a chance at 16 miles round trip, beginning in Halfmoon and ending in Ballston Spa.
Finding the trailhead took a bit of research. We chose to begin our ride at Coons Crossing, the southernmost end of the trail and not far from Exit 10. We discovered, after driving by twice, that no signs of any kind mark Coons Crossing. At the junction of Ushers Road and Cary Road, just beyond railroad tracks we saw a road sign denoting a bike crossing. A car parked in a pull-off, the obvious beginning of a trail, and a barricade to motor vehicles made it clear that we had found our trailhead, but what about that blank kiosk?
The beginning older section of the trail is not paved, but the hard-packed gravel on a solid base gave me no trouble on my road bike. Passing next to marshes and the back yards of lovely homes, a few grasses, oaks, and sumacs lent a final flash of autumn color on this gray November-like Saturday.
With temperatures in the 40s, We started off wearing a hat under our helmets, mittens, and a scarf. I remembered what biking was like in chilly weather last Spring, and I wasn't planning to be uncomfortable. We soon warmed up and shed a few layers, even though the trail has only the slightest upgrade from south to north.
The middle section is paved and passes by a few parking locations, including Shenentaha Park where a playground and soccer field showed soggy evidence of recent heavy rains. To my surprise, the level yards and meadows along the trail turned into rugged ravines as we peddled. On the left narrow waterfalls cascaded through layers of sedimentary rock and woods, flowing into pretty creeks below to our right. An overpass for Route 9, another for the Round Lake Bypass, and an underpass for the Northway told us that we were quickly making our way towards our destination.
Continuing past the town of Round Lake, we eventually hit the new two miles of paved trail. While completely smooth and smelling of new tarmac, this is the least scenic part of the trip. (Bill, in the photo, is on the new section before we hit suburban development.) In no time we were in the middle of Curtis Lumber's storage area with the sour aroma of composting wood chips and next to live train tracks.
Advertising its "Halloween Hall," Curtis Lumber's version of Spiderman stood at the corner of route 67 playing an orange air-filled guitar and flagging people into the driveway with surprising enthusiasm. Stewart's, a few feet off the bike path, had three bikes parked nearby.
The trail ends at Oak Street, within a couple tenths of a mile to the intersection of East High Street. We discovered that this, in itself, is not a destination. However, the Village of Ballston Spa is just another six-tenths of a mile away. Lunch at one of the cute restaurants in town is a great option and would add just enough time and mileage to make this a full-day's outing.
We did not need lunch, but had brought a bottle of apple cider with us, so we turned around at Oak Street and headed back. Stopping at Shenentaha Park, we sat on a bench and had our drink. We also stopped at Round Lake on our return, riding our bikes through the charming village. Originally a Methodist Camp, Round Lake has narrow streets of ornate Victorian cottages and the perfectly restored auditorium which features concerts in the summer.
When we reached the unpaved section of trail, we were startled to see an ATV headed toward us. Even though it was traveling at a slow speed, it did not belong. Otherwise, our ride was pleasant and uneventful. We saw almost no one all day except for a few dog walkers and a handful of bikers.
Other trails in the Capital Region, such as those along the Mohawk or Hudson, offer greater scenic beauty, but this is a wonderful new option. We will definitely come back, next time bringing friends and planning lunch at the Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa. Look for my ADK listing of an outing here next April!