Created by the New York state Legislature in 1882 as the largest in the contiguous 48 states, the park includes 2,000 miles of hiking trails, 2,500 miles of navigable lakes and rivers, 3,000 lakes and ponds, 46 mountains higher than 4,000 feet, the Olympic village of Lake Placid, theme parks, fine dining and accommodations, and two exceptional museums.
The Visitor Interpretive Centers at Newcomb and Paul Smiths, closed by New York state in January due to budget constraints, are alive and well under new ownership. The Newcomb facility (5922 Route 28N, Newcomb, (518) 582-2000; www.esf.edu/aic) is now run by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and has been renamed the Adirondack Interpretive Center. The Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths is now managed by Paul Smiths College (routes 30 and 86, Paul Smiths, (518) 327-3000; www.adirondackparkinstitute.org or www.paulsmiths.edu). Serving thousands of visitors annually, these family-friendly facilities retain their missions of educating the public on the ecology and conservation of the Adirondacks and offer a variety of interactive programs, workshops and outdoor activities including hiking and canoeing.
Often thought of as the finest regional museum in the country, the Adirondack Museum ((518) 352-7311; www.adkmuseum.org), on Route 30 in Blue Mountain Lake, is dedicated to preserving the historic record of the region and advancing understanding of the area. Originally opened in 1957, this one-of-a-kind, 22-building campus features exhibits on every aspect of Adirondack life as well as special events, workshops, demonstrations, symposia and interactive events. The museum’s display of wooden boats is world renown, as is the fine arts collection. Special exhibitions include The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait, an Adirondack artist, and Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart Vosburg Roberts.
Further north in the village of Tupper Lake, The Wild Center ((518) 359-7000; www.wildcenter.org), a regional natural history museum, occupies a 31-acre site on the Raquette River. It’s in its sixth year of offering a singular understanding of the natural environment of the Adirondacks. This combination zoo, aquarium, science and nature center offers interpretive and interactive exhibits and activities on the flora and fauna of the region, and includes a high-tech theater and a 2½-acre pond that abuts the modern-rustic main building. Special events for 2011 include interpretive hikes on Whiteface Mountain (June 18, July 30) and a slate of nature films in the panoramic Flammer Theater.
Another staple of the Adirondack experience, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (369-6290; www.adirondackrr.com), offers service and tours from Utica to Carter Station north of Old Forge and from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake with a goal of completing the restoration of the entire line. A relic of 19th-century America, the line was built by industrialist William Seward Webb and schedules a variety of scenic excursions from the headquarters at Thendara, including rail and boat trips, canoe and bicycle journeys, and many forms of entertainment. Since service was resumed in 1992, the line now serves more than 600,000 passengers a year.
Fine arts and culture thrive in the mountains, as well. The Arts Center of Old Forge, (soon to be known as View) on Route 28 (369-6411; www.artscenteroldforge.org) will attract 40,000 visitors to its new, certified-green 28,000-square-foot building, scheduled for a gala opening weekend July 7-10. With its performance hall and expanded exhibition galleries, it is designed to promote artistic, theatrical, educational, ecological and civic programming. A smaller but equally vibrant facility, the Adirondacks Lakes Center for the Arts on Route 28 in Blue Mountain Lake ((877) 752-7715; www.adirondackarts.org) also presents theater, music, dance and film throughout the summer season as well as classes and workshops in a variety of disciplines.
The historic Great Camp Sagamore (354-5311; www.greatcampsagamore.org), a 27-building complex near Raquette Lake, offers a compelling peek into the Adirondacks’ gilded age of the 19th century. Once the summer home of the Vanderbilts, the Swiss chalet-style camp, which includes a woodsy bowling alley, was designed by William West Durant in 1897 and is now a historic restoration, offering lodging, tours and many special activities for all ages.
Two villages at opposite ends of the Adirondack Park anchor the interests of the woodland visitor. Old Forge ((877) 653-3674; www.oldforgeny.com) on Route 28, about two hours from Syracuse, offers easy access to the wilderness with everything from backwoods paddling and hiking adventures to fine dining, entertainment, art, summer ski lift service at McCauley Mountain (369-3225), and the family-friendly Enchanted Forest/Water Safari (369-6145; www.watersafari.com).
Two more hours up the road, the village of Lake Placid (www.lakeplacid.com or www.orda.org) has hosted two winter Olympics (1932 and 1980) and now offers four-star accommodations, tours of the Olympic facilities, including the ski jump towers and bobsled run, and access to the surrounding high peaks wilderness. And while it’s easily the most touristy spot in the mountains, it’s worthy of a visit, or two, or three.
The websites www.adirondack.net and www.myadirondacks.com are also good sources of information.
With 6 million acres inside the Blue Line, the Adirondacks are a camper’s dream. For car campers, New York state operates 42 sites within the Blue Line, with daily fees from $16 to $25. Reservations can be made at (800) 456-CAMP or www.newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Comprehensive information about these wonderful car camping sites is available at the state Department of Environmental Conservation website at www.dec.ny.gov.
For backcountry hikers, camping is generally permitted on state land. In some areas bear-proof food canisters are required, and camping is prohibited above 4,000 feet, due to fragile alpine flora. The DEC site has more information, and the Adirondack Mountain Club ((518) 523-3441; www.adk.org) offers maps, gear and lots of specific advice on everything from necessary equipment to trail conditions.
The Adirondacks’ unique combination of mountains, lakes and rivers offers canoeing and kayaking opportunities found nowhere else. Beginning in Old Forge, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (www.northernforestcanoetrail.org) includes the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Blue Mountain, Tupper and Saranac lakes as well as several rivers. Canoe reserves (no motors) including the St. Regis Ponds Area, Lake Lila, Lowes Lake and others offer primitive camping for those willing to get themselves there. The Adirondack Mountain Club canoe guides, available on line, are recommended, while Quiet Water Canoe Guide New York (Appalachian Mountain Club), available at Amazon.com, details virtually all the paddling options in the state. Professional outfitters, including St. Regis Canoe Outfitters ((888) 775-2925; www.canoeoutfitters.com), or Raquette River Outfitters ((518) 359-3228; www.raquetteriveroutfitters.com), 1754 Route 30, Tupper Lake, can provide everything necessary for a wilderness experience.
In Old Forge, Mountain Man Outdoor Supply Co. (369-6672; www.mountainmanoutdoors.com) both rents and sells boats and equipment. For personal attention from certified kayaking instructors, Frisky Otter Tours in Inlet (357-6820; www.friskyottertours.com) offers paddling instruction and guided canoe and kayak excursions with certification in adaptive paddling for beginners and people with disabilities. And Placid Waters Kayaking in Old Forge (723-9709; www.placidwaterskayaking.com) specializes in small group instruction, guided tours in the back country and lessons on stand-up paddleboards, the latest wrinkle in self-propelled watercraft.
The “great warpath” of the 18th century saw military conflict along the eastern rim of the Adirondacks from Albany to Montreal during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Fort William Henry ((518) 668-5471; www.fwhmuseum.com), built in 1755 by Sir William Johnson, the British and their Mohawk allies at the foot of Lake George, was cannonaded into submission two years later by the Marquis de Montcalm and his French army. The museum there offers special events and a peek into area history.
Guarding the strategic southern tip of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga ((518) 528-2821; www.fortticonderoga.org) served in both wars and now offers tours and re-enactments of those conflicts. Their new art exhibit, The Art of War, will run through Oct. 20 and include paintings from Thomas Cole and many others.
The Saratoga Battlefield ((518) 664-9821; www.nps.gov/sara), south of Lake George, commemorates the pivotal fight of the American Revolution, where Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold (then a patriot) and the colonials defeated Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and his British Army to turn the tide of the war in 1777. The site now offers tours, re-enactments and other special events throughout the summer. b