For most car-less New Yorkers, the prospect of an easy getaway is limited to where the Metro North or Long Island Railroads can take you. And while a trip to Hudson or Montauk can hit the spot, sometimes a little more adventure is necessary to scratch the itch.
Enter the Adirondack Train, an under-the-radar and surprisingly cheap option for any New Yorker looking to satisfy their wanderlust. Surprisingly convenient and very affordable (only $70), Amtrak can get you from Penn Station all the way to Montreal – a beautiful city in another country with a foreign language. It almost feels like cheating. Yes, it takes 11 hours, but here at Quaker Marine we have always believed in the journey being just as important as the destination.
With that in mind, we boarded the Adirondack Train on a beautiful Saturday morning, bags full of snacks, books, and decks of cards, excited to spend the day watching all of New York and Vermont go by our window. The car started quite full when it first pulled out of Penn Station, but quickly we realized with relief that most of our fellow passengers were going to get off before we even left New York (disembarking in Poughkeepsie, Saratoga Springs, and Albany). We would be able to enjoy a nearly empty car for the entire second half of the journey. But in the meantime, we escaped the crowded seating area and took refuge in the Café Car.
We stayed in the Café Car for nearly all 11 hours of the voyage. With more comfortable seats, easier conversation, and large windows, we had no reason to ever go back to our rows of seats. The conversation quickly became the best part of the trip, as we learned that in addition to being a vacation for us, the Adirondack train from NYC to Montreal is a treat for the conductors and engineers as well, who do the trip once every few months as an opportunity for overtime pay and a respite from their usual route. The result is loose and easygoing Amtrak employees eager to chat with passengers and enjoy the trip as well. A special thanks to our new friend Eric, who after a few hours of chatting revealed fascinating info on the inner workings of the train that we promised not to share.
For the best possible experience, we recommend sitting on the left side of the train for the first section of the trip, for pristine views of the Hudson River. And then when the train stops briefly in Albany, make the short trek over to the right side of the train, where Lake Champlain will accompany you for several delightful hours. An added expert tip: when the train stops for 15 minutes in Albany, be sure to get off and stretch your legs. If you stroll up to the front of the platform, you can watch as they swap the electric engine out for a steam engine (as the types of rails that the train can use change at this point in the journey)
The next time the train stops is in Westport, where again the conductor will inform you that you have a luxurious fifteen minutes to stretch your legs. This time you will be treated to a pastoral scene, complete with flora and a quaint rural train station. At this point in the trip, only our fellow Montreal-bound passengers remained on the train. The atmosphere became quite friendly, as everyone who exited the train chatted about travel plans and took photos for each other. We even helped out one young conductor on her own first-time trip to Montreal, who wanted a picture in front of the old train station to send to a fiancé.
The Café Car now closed, we spent the rest of the trip reading, dozing, and filling out our customs forms for our upcoming arrival on Canadian soil. After a brief visit from the border patrol (lightning fast compared to the custom process at most airports, and all without leaving our seats!) we pulled into Montreal right at sunset, and a couple hours before the time table had estimated we would be. To our very pleasant surprise, it was the quickest ten hours we’d ever spent. The hours spent reading, playing cards, chatting with strangers, and gazing out the window had all melted together.
So, for any New Yorker with wanderlust and a budget, we cannot recommend this idyllic train ride enough. Affordable, enjoyable, and right in your backyard. We won’t tell you what to do in Montreal once you get there (there are plenty of travel guides to help you on that front) but we can give some words of advice on how best to enjoy the journey there.