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Get Outta Town!

Suggested day trips to break out of your weekly routine

by Stephen Leon on September 7, 2012

What are your plans for the weekend? There’s always plenty to do here in the Capital Region, but if you’re beginning to feel like you’re on the same old treadmill of parties and bars, late brunches, trips to the mall and Sunday afternoons slumped in front of the TV, it might be time to break out of the rut—and out of the town you’re stuck in. Weekend getaways to destinations like Boston, New York and Montreal can be wonderful, but if a couple of nights away isn’t in the cards this weekend, you can still get out and recharge the batteries with a good old-fashioned day trip.

What makes a good day trip? That depends, of course, on personal taste; a day trip in the Northeast might involve anything from apple picking to outlet shopping, hiking a nearby mountain to watching a college football game, savoring fine art to strolling around an interesting town. Whether it’s an athletic challenge, a day spent amid the bustle of commerce, or a relaxing picnic in an out-of-the way spot, sometimes it just helps to be somewhere that you usually are not. And all the better if that somewhere has something new for you to discover.

Assuming you have a car or a friend who does, you can always hop in and let the road take you wherever; or you can plan a more specific itinerary. Here are just a few examples of the many interesting destinations that are within striking distance (approximate driving time from downtown Albany in parentheses):

Northern Berkshire County (1 to 1:15 hours)

A trip here is paradise for art lovers: You can’t go wrong with the trifecta of MASS MoCA, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, and the Williams College Museum of Art. The world-renowned Clark is still under construction, but highlights of the exceptional permanent collection are currently on view, and the museum is always free for students with valid ID. The Williams College MOA is always free period, and it is widely considered one of the best college museums in the country. And there’s always something unusual and thought-provoking happening at MASS MoCA over in North Adams. If you go: Either route is exceptionally scenic, so take Route 2 over the steep Taconic Trail on your way, but return the back way on Route 43, and stop for pumpkin picking at Ioka Valley Farm.

Southern Berkshire County (1 hour)

There are so many attractions from Lenox to Great Barrington that it’s hard to cram them all into a short rundown, but here are a few suggestions: For a day of culture in beautiful natural settings, try Chesterwood, the historic home and grounds of sculptor Daniel Chester French; the Berkshire Botanical Garden, a lovely visit anytime but even more interesting on the October weekend of its annual harvest festival; and the Norman Rockwell Museum, home to a large portion of the work of the iconic American painter and illustrator. For small-town strolling, Lenox is small but delightful; smaller-still Stockbridge is anchored by the cozy Red Lion Inn; and Great Barrington packs a lot of shopping and dining options into its modest downtown. On a beautiful fall day, get up early for a morning hike up Monument Mountain, then take a picnic to Tanglewood; the music season will be over, but you’ll have the amazing grounds almost all to yourself.

Union Station in Utica

Utica (1:45 hours)

In the opposite direction from the Berkshires, and less-often thought of as a day-trip destination, Utica has a couple of world-class offerings in the realm of art and architecture. The Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute comes alive this fall with “Shadow of the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt and Its Influence.” And the permanent collection features an impressive array of 19th- and 20th-century American art, notably Thomas Cole’s original four-painting series “The Voyage of Life” (a second set of which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.). And the Italianate-styled Union Station is one of the last grand train stations in the Northeast that did not meet the wrecking ball during the unfortunate “urban renewal” era. And for an added bonus, you can even do this day trip by train.

Woodstock/New Paltz (1 to 1:30 hours)

Both of these towns are fun strolls of the laid-back variety; the ethos of a certain generation still seems to infuse these communities (never more so than when the drum circle spontaneously generates in the central common of Woodstock). Both towns offer a pleasant local-scale shopping experience, with a smattering of eateries (we do suggest New World Home Cooking in Saugerties, the precursor to Ric Orlando’s joint here in Albany). New Paltz has a couple of additional attractions: For history buffs, there’s the town’s founding Huguenot settlement with its tiny cemetery and old stone houses. And for outdoorsy types, New Paltz is something of a mecca for hikers and rock climbers; check out the Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

Northampton (1:40 hours)

If you’ve never been to Massachusetts’ most progressive-minded small city, you’ll want to set aside a whole day for exploring, shopping, dining on any budget, and perhaps taking in a show at the Iron Horse or Pearl Street. Although long the home of Smith College, Northampton was a relatively sleepy place until a revival that began in the ’80s turned it into the blend of upscale and bohemia that it is today. Not surprisingly, you’ll find plenty of locals hunched over their laptops at the coffeehouses and vegetarian restaurants, but you’ll also find inexpensive thrift, secondhand and used book and record stores. For a more scenic (but somewhat longer) ride than the Mass Pike, try Route 9 through Pittsfield over Windsor Mountain.

Bennington/Manchester

Bennington is a pleasant town with an expensive college and a museum noted for its collection of Grandma Moses art; Manchester is best known for its historic Equinox resort and the plentiful outlet shopping. But Vermont just wouldn’t be Vermont without its countryside and covered bridges; Bennington County, in fact, has its own covered-bridge tour (check it out at bennington.com). So before you hit the outlets, map out a route that will give you some old-fashioned country eye candy.