Burlington to Cooperstown: Along the Foliage Trail in 48 Hours - Part II
Okay, so you’ve experienced the autumnal splendor of Burlington, VT. You’ve stuffed yourself with gravy fries and sucked down plenty of Magic Hat and maple syrup, hopefully not at the same time. You’ve taken a stroll in the chill morning with the frosted grass crunching underfoot. It’s already been a trip for a lifetime, but the good news is it’s only half over. Get in the car. You’ve got an amazing drive ahead of you.
Part Two: Burlington to Cooperstown
Yes, I’m suggesting Cooperstown, NY – the “birthplace of Baseball” – in the autumn. Am I mad? Well, I’m mad about baseball, and I know that Cooperstown is, in fact, a great place to be during summer. But I suggest that it’s even better in autumn, after the tourists take their maps home. Besides, Cooperstown is not really a baseball town. General Abner Doubleday did NOT “invent” baseball, and he certainly didn’t invent baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. But that’s an argument for another time.
Take Rt. 7 south out of Burlington for a gasp-inducing scenic drive. To your left: the Green Mountains, Mt. Mansfield and Camels Hump present a show of foliage you won’t believe, and eventually rolling farmland takes over. To your right: Lake Champlain and the mighty Adirondacks, and all the autumn colors you can imagine. It’s an incredible way to say goodbye to Vermont, and hello to the rest of the trip.
Take 7 south to Rt. 4 west, and cross into New York State at Whitehall. You are now at the southern tip of the Adirondacks and cruising through history, health spa and horse-racing country. Fort Ticonderoga, a critical instillation in the French and Indian War, is here, as is spectacular Lake George. Saratoga Springs is the home of the Saratoga Race Course and the famous Saratoga Mineral Springs. You won't have time to experience all that the Capital Saratoga District has to offer this time, of course. But you'll be back.
Keep going down I-87 into Albany. Just outside of the capital, pick up Rt. 20 west, and you will experience the essence of upstate New York farmland. The valleys fall off the road and seem to go on forever, stopped only by the rolling hills and mountains in the distance.
You’ll be driving on 20 for a while, but with the scenery around you, you won’t even notice. And four hours outside of Burlington, you’ll find yourself in Cooperstown.
Cooperstown, NY is a town of less than 2,000 at the southern end of Lake Otsego between the Adirondacks and the Catskills. It’s over twenty miles to the nearest “big” town, Oneonta. It is small and quaint and tranquil, except for the summer months, when it’s swamped by tens of thousands of pilgrims flocking to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Avoid the rush and come during the autumn months, when the town clears out and the room rates drop.
Grab a bite, and then hit the Hall of Fame. Linger and take it all in. This is the Met, the Louvre and the Smithsonian of baseball and it’s an incredible experience.
Start out on the second floor at the Grandstand Theatre and take in the film “The Baseball Experience.” It’s a short vignette, but you may find yourself getting a little verklempt after the first few frames. Stay on the second floor and wander through the history of the game decade by decade. As a born-and-bred New Englander, I despise the Yankees. But I get goose bumps every time I stand in front of the lockers of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Stunning.
The third floor features artifacts from the reigning World Series champs every year
along with a terrific exhibit featuring no-hitter game balls, and caps worn by Nolan Ryan during his unprecedented seven no-hitters. End your visit on the first floor with a walk through the Hall of Fame Plaque Room. Find your favorites and pay homage. It won’t be nearly as reverent and respectful as you’d like with all the kids running around, but it’s still an awe-inspiring experience.
Leave a little bit of time to visit the Fenimore Art Museum. Set on Lake Otsego in a gorgeous 1930’s Georgian mansion, the museum houses an impressive collection of the Hudson Valley School, and prominent visiting exhibitions in addition to artifacts from James Fenimore Cooper. Special two-for-one admission tickets are available, allowing entrance to both the Hall of Fame and the Fenimore, and also three-for-one deals including the Farmer’s Museum.
After the museums, take a walk. By now it will be early evening, and the chill will be setting in as the street lamps slowly come on. Walk down to Waterfront Park and take in the still waters of Lake Otsego.
See Council Rock, where the Iroquois once stood. See the Indian Hunter statue, the ode to James Fenimore Cooper, author of the Deerslayer books (“Last of the Mohicans”, etc.) and son of the town’s namesake.
Walk up Pioneer Street, past the oldest church in Cooperstown
and loop back to Main Street - possibly the most postcard perfect main drag in America.
See the turning leaves and smell the wood smoke. It’s autumn in upstate New York.
In Cooperstown, you would do well to eat where you stay at the Tunnicliff Inn.
It’s diagonally across the street from the Hall of Fame, and chock full of history. The building dates to 1802, and it’s been run as a hotel since 1848. The rooms are clean and appointed with modern touches like refrigerators and flat screen TV’s, and the staff is friendly and attentive. And best of all, because you’re visiting in October off-season rates are the rule. At the height of summer, the Council Rock Executive King Room goes for $195 a night. In October? $145 weekdays, $164 weekends.
Invest that savings in dinner! Roll out of your room and downstairs into The Underground Restaurant & Tavern.
Locally known as The Pit, this unpretentious eatery is a great place to grab a bite and watch a ballgame. It’s a very cozy room, especially when the street door opens and the cool night air floats in. Think of a basement sports bar with a full menu. Preparations are excellent, prices are reasonable and the portions are huge: Get the Chicken Parmesan (a mere $12) and you will definitely have leftovers for breakfast. Wash it down with a Hennepin Ale from Brewery Ommegang. Ommegang, which is located three miles south of Cooperstown and well worth visiting for a tour, is devoted to crafting authentic Belgian style ales, and they are fabulous. Head back upstairs to your room and drift off to a restful sleep.
You’ve been out for just over 48 hours, and in that short time you’ve amassed a scrapbook of images that will last a lifetime. You’ve experienced olde New England and upstate New York, from the many wonderful faces of Burlington to the repose of Cooperstown, a town where one feels a visit from Ted Williams or an Iroquois battle could happen any minute. You’ve seen amazing foliage and indulged in the bounty of autumn in the Northeast.
These hazy, hot and humid July days seem like a long time ago, don’t they?