TRAVEL 2023 – There’s plenty of history and myth attached to the Cohoes Falls, and trying to discern what is fact and what is fiction requires plenty of research.
For historians, that’s a fun way to spend your time, but if you have a family and you’re looking for a day trip sure to please everyone no matter their age, then visiting the site itself is a great idea. It will not disappoint, and it certainly won’t impact the family budget. It’s centrally located in the Capital Region — you won’t have to use up much gas reaching your destination — and once you get there it’s free.
Sometimes referred to as the Great Cohoes Falls, it is one of many wonderful places available to Capital Region residents for a spur-of-the-moment trip at very little cost. And while it may top some lists, it’s only by the slightest of margins. The view offered at Thacher Park is just as entertaining, and if it’s peace and serenity you want — along with a view — the Auriesville Shrine out west in the Mohawk Valley is another great excursion.
While those three top my list — they are fascinating and inexpensive ways to spend some time — there are other special places also well within an hour’s drive of Schenectady. Here’s a quick rundown of my top 10 day trips in the region.
Great Cohoes Falls
According to Native American oral tradition, the Cohoes Falls is where a prophet known as the Great Peacemaker performed a feat of supernatural strength when he plunged over the falls into the water below and survived. This convinced the Mohawk Indians to form the Iroquois Confederacy.
There are other numerous stories about the falls — many true and many legend — and visitors can learn more about the site and get a good look at the falls from either Overlook Park or Falls View Park.
It’s not Niagara Falls but it is impressive. And while beautiful, for generations of new Americans it was something of a nuisance, making travel westward extremely difficult. Henry Hudson was hoping to head up the North River — before the name change — and then turn left on the Mohawk River and find the Northwest Passage. That couldn’t happen because of the falls, and it took two centuries before New Yorkers built the Erie Canal and accelerated westward expansion.
John Boyd Thacher Park
Created more than 100 million years ago, the Helderberg Escarpment arguably offers the best view in the Capital Region, looking to the northeast out over what was Lake Albany.
First-time visitors are often surprised at just how spectacular the view is, but that’s only part of the attraction of Thacher Park, named after John Boyd Thacher, a town of Ballston native, Williams College graduate and former mayor of Albany.
The Indian Ladder Trail and the Tory Caves provide lessons in geology and history, and there’s also plenty of picnic tables, a public swimming pool and a wonderful visitor center. While the power and majesty of the Cohoes Falls puts it No. 1 on this list, Thacher Park does really have more to do for families and requires much more than an hour or two to fully appreciate all it offers.
Officially named the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, it offers a great look at the Mohawk Valley in one of the most peaceful settings you’ll ever encounter.
A great place to meditate, it’s where Father Isaac Jogues and two other French missionaries were killed by Indians early in the 17th century, and it’s also the birthplace of the Catholic saint, Kateri Tekakwitha.
It has a large visitor center and a small museum on the grounds, but the place is dominated by the Coliseum, a 6,000-seat arena that, when built in 1930, was the largest venue in upstate New York. A short hiking trail into a wooded area is also available, but the grounds themselves are so spacious that if there’s not a special event going on there is plenty of room for long and peaceful walks.
The Coliseum has 72 single doors leading into it with the names of benefactors who helped build the structure. Included in those names are Bob and Delores Hope, the comedian/actor and his wife, who made quite a few trips to the site during the 1950s and ’60s.
Saratoga National Historical Park and Battlefield
Of course there are a handful of places within Saratoga County itself that qualify for anyone’s list of enticing day trips — the horses, Saratoga Spa State Park, Yaddo, etc. — but for me, there’s something mystical about the battlefield.
It’s got a great visitor center and a wonderful hike in the Wilkinson Trail, but the best way to take in the battlefield is to hop on your bike and get out on the tour road. The Neilson House is my favorite stop, but there are plenty of wonderful views and interesting history along the way. And with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution heading our way, there will be plenty of special events scheduled to help us fully appreciate and better understand our fascinating history.
Empire State Plaza
Well, this one can get a little expensive, but whatever you decide to do — the New York State Museum, The Egg, the Corning Tower or the State Capitol with the Hall of Governors and Million Dollar Staircase — the visit is well worth it.
Central Park, Schenectady
There are hiking trails, an award-winning rose garden, the best tennis facility in upstate New York and plenty of playgrounds, picnic tables, baseball fields and basketball courts.
An outdoor oasis at the eastern edge of the city, we have Central Park today because more than 100 years ago men like George Lunn and Charles Steinmetz decided to create such a place, realizing just how valuable an asset it would be for the community.
Historic Stockade District
For lovers of history and architecture, just walking around Schenectady’s Stockade District is a wonderful way to kill a few hours.
There are plenty of early 19th-century homes — and some even older — that make the place so special, and there’s also three churches — First Reformed, St. George’s Episcopal and First Presbyterian — adding to the charming landscape. And while you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Schenectady County Historical Society and Arthur’s Market.
This natural treasure in western Schenectady County is a fault in the earth’s surface approximately 1,000 feet deep and a mile long. Created roughly 450 million years ago by the same plate shifting that formed the Appalachian Mountain Range, the fault actually extends from the Helderbergs in Albany County to the southern Adirondacks.
It was a wonderful classroom for archaeologists, and for historians of the 17th century the stories of the Mohawk-Mahican battle of 1669 and the escape of Catholic Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha through Wolf Hollow to Canada are fascinating.
Owned and operated by the Schenectady County Historical Society, the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction rests on the south bank of the Mohawk River and gives visitors an accurate look at life on an 18th-century farm in upstate New York.
There’s a Dutch barn with animals roaming the grounds and a modern visitor center on the site, along with the Mabee farmhouse, built in the early 18th century. For generations it was the westernmost outpost on the New York frontier.
Find a Broadway show you like and go to Proctors in Schenectady, and also enjoy all the wonderful history the place has to offer. Along with the interesting historical exhibits in the arcade and a small museum upstairs, when you walk into the 1926 vaudeville theater itself you can sense the spirit of George M. Cohan, George Burns and Jack Benny, and dozens of other big names who performed there nearly a century ago. And for those who don’t want to go to a big Broadway show, there are historic tours offered from time to time. For information, visit proctors.org
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