A unique combination of mountains, forests, lakes and rivers, the Adirondack Park is a land of superlatives. At 6 million acres, the park is larger than Vermont, 2 times larger than Yellowstone National Park and has more shoreline than the state of New Hampshire. Created by New York state in 1882, this patchwork of public and private lands includes 2,000 miles of trails, 3,000 lakes and ponds, 2,500 miles of navigable waterways and 46 mountains higher than 4,000 feet.
The 10 million annual visitors to the largest wilderness park in the contiguous states also can enjoy the celebrated sports venue at the Olympic Village of Lake Placid, fine dining and accommodations, exceptional regional cultural institutions, and enough recreational opportunities to make any stay, winter or summer, a special one.
The Adirondack Museum ((518) 352-7311; adkmuseum.org) on Route 30 in Blue Mountain Lake has presented a comprehensive view of the region’s historical, geological and cultural makeup since it opened in 1927. The 22-building campus includes a renown collection of wooden boats—mostly canoes and the unique Adirondack guideboat—as well as a collection of fine arts and a full schedule of workshops, symposia, demonstrations and interactive events throughout the summer. Special events this year include Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters and Let’s Eat: Adirondack Food Traditions, and the continuing exhibitions of paintings by A.F. Tait and the photographs of Hobart Vosburg Roberts.
Farther up Route 30 in Tupper Lake, The Wild Center ((518) 359-7000; wildcenter.org), now in its seventh year, offers a concentrated review of the area’s natural history by combining a zoo, aquarium and natural science center in its 31-acre site on the Raquette River. This spectacular rustic edifice includes a high-tech panoramic theater and a 2-acre pond that laps up against the main building and a schedule of interactive events, activities and presentations designed to educate visitors on the regional flora and fauna. This summer’s activities will include the new films Return of the Wild and Return of the Marten, a performance by the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, a schedule of field trips and much more.
Two smaller but no less vibrant facilities, the family-friendly Visitor Interpretive Centers at Newcomb and Paul Smiths, have survived after being abandoned by the state a year ago due to budget cuts. Now managed by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), the Adirondack Interpretive Center, 5922 Route 28, Newcomb ((518) 582-2000; esf.edu/aic), offers lectures, courses, workshops and field trips for the public’s edification. The Visitor Interpretation Center at routes 30 and 86 in Paul Smiths ((518) 327-6241; adirondackvic.org), now managed by Paul Smiths College, offers similar programs designed to educate the public on the natural history of the area.
Beginning its second season in a new 28,000-square-foot building, View, formerly the Arts Center of Old Forge, 3272 Route 28, Old Forge (369-6411; viewarts.org), has established itself as the pre-eminent fine arts institution in the mountains. Featuring a full schedule of artistic, theatrical and educational programming, including exhibits, workshops, performances and special events, this certified green facility serves 40,000 visitors annually. The Adirondacks Lakes Center for the Arts, Route 28, Blue Mountain Lake ((518) 752-7715; adirondackarts.org), a smaller yet equally vital facility, offers workshops in the fine arts and live musical and theatrical performances throughout the summer.
For a peek into the Gilded Age of the early 20th century, a visit to Great Camp Sagamore, Sagamore Road, Raquette Lake (354-5311; greatcampsagamore.org), is a must. Designed by iconic great camp architect William West Durant as the wilderness retreat of the Vanderbilt family from 1901 to 1954, this 27-building (all National Historic Landmarks) compound now offers tours and accommodations with workshops, field trips and entertainment. It even includes a one-of-a-kind rustic bowling alley.
The Old Forge area offers more tactile entertainment as well. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, Route 28, Thendara (369-6290; adirondackrr.com), built by financier and industrialist William Seward Webb, offers tours and service from Utica to Carter Station north of Old Forge and from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. Since returning to service in 1992, the line has provided scenic excursions from the headquarters in Thendara, including canoe and bike trips, special holiday events, beer- and wine-tasting trips and entertainment. The plan is to eventually restore the remainder of the line so its full length can be used, as it was during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
Other area recreational options in the Old Forge area include the summer chairlift service at nearby McCauley Mountain, 300 McCauley Road, Old Forge (369-3225; mccauleyny.com), and the waterslides at Enchanted Forest Water Safari, Route 28 (369-6145; watersafari.com).
For wilderness travelers, Mountainman Outdoors, 2855 Route 28, Old Forge (369-6772; mountaimanoutdoors.com), rents and sells canoes, kayaks and other equipment. For personalized attention Placid Waters Kayaking, 218 Route 28, Old Forge (723-9709; placidwaterskayaking.com), provides certified instructions in kayaking and stand-up paddle boards, and kayak trips, some including an overnight at an Adirondack lodge.
In nearby Inlet, Frisky Otter Tours (357-3444; friskyottertours.com) provides certified kayak instruction, rentals, sales and guided tours with shuttle service, as well as adaptive paddling lessons for beginners and people with disabilities.
Old Forge (oldforgeny.com), the nearest significant Adirondack village to Syracuse, also offers fine dining options, regional shopping opportunities and a seasonal events calendar.
The Olympic village of Lake Placid (lakeplacid.com or whiteface.com), a two-hour drive from Old Forge, is the most popular visitor destination inside the Blue Line, what locals call the park border. Having played host to the Olympic winter games twice (1932 and 1980), the village now offers five-star accommodations and restaurants, including two brewpubs, The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company, 2442 Main St., and the Lake Placid Pub, 813 Mirror Lake Drive. Main Street also offers a diverse array of shops catering to the tourist trade, including everything from nostalgic seasonal Americana made in China to the handmade arts and crafts from regional artisans.
You can also raise your blood pressure by taking the elevator to the top of the ski jump towers or a ride down the bobsled run at the ever-popular Olympic facilities. For hikers the nearby High Peaks area provides access to the park’s most challenging trails and the most spectacular views.
The real appeal of the wilderness, however, is the wilderness itself. For campers the opportunities are nearly endless. Car campers can choose from 42 state campsites within the Blue Line. These facilities are second to none and are popular places, so reservations are recommended at (800) 456-CAMP or reserveamerica.com or dec.ny.gov. Daily fees range from $16 to $25.
Back country camping is generally allowed on state land except above 4,000 feet due to fragile alpine flora, and bear-proof food canisters are required in some areas. See the DEC website for more information. The Adirondack Mountain Club ((518) 523-3441; adk.org) also offers maps, gear and advice on the important aspects of back country travel.
Take note that, due to insect infestation, transporting firewood more than 50 miles is prohibited.
Canoeists and kayakers can choose from some of the best paddling options on the continent. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (northernforestcanoetrail.org) begins in Old Forge and stretches to northern Maine. Non-motorized reserves including the St. Regis Ponds Canoe Area, Lake Lila, Lowes Lake and others offer the essence of the wilderness experience for those willing to work their way in.
Quiet Water New York (Appalachian Mountain Club; outdoors.org) chronicles virtually all the paddling options in the state, or try the Adirondack Mountain Club canoe guides. Professional outfitters, like St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, 73 Dorsey St., Saranac Lake ((518) 891-1838; canoeoutfitters.com), Raquette River Outfitters, 1754 Route 30, Tupper Lake ((518) 359-3228; raquetteriveroutfitters.com) or Adirondacks Lakes and Trails Outfitters, 541 Lake Flower Ave., Saranac Lake ((800) 491-0414; adirondackoutfitters.com), can provide everything you need for that wilderness experience.
Long before it became a tourist thoroughfare, the eastern rim of the Adirondacks, a.k.a. the Great Warpath, was strategic real estate where the French, English, American colonials and Native Americans struggled for dominion in the 18th century. Fort Ticonderoga, originally Fort Carillon ((518) 528-2821; fortticonderoga.org), built by the French from 1755 to 1757 on the southern tip of Lake Champlain, figured significantly in both the French and Indian War and later in the American Revolution. The reconstructed edifice now offers tours, re-enactments of both conflicts, workshops, scholastic activities and a new display of historic weapons.
Fort William Henry ((518) 668-5471; fwhmuseum.org), built by the English on the southern end of Lake George in 1755, stood for two years before being cannonaded into submission by the French General Montcalm, also offers tours, special events and educational activities. And the Saratoga Battlefield ((518) 664-9821; nps.gov/sara), a pivotal point in the American Revolution where the Americans under generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold defeated the British army under General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne in what many historians consider the most important battle in history, includes tours, re-enactments, and scholastic and other educational activities. a
Calendar of Events
June 9. Black Fly Challenge. A rite of spring-summer, the 17th annual 40-mile mountain and cyclocross bike race takes place on the bone-rattling dirt roads of the Moose River Plains from Inlet to Indian Lake. blackflychallenge.com.
June 13. Ranger-Guided Evening Bike Tours. Five-mile bike tours of the Saratoga Battlefield, Schuylerville, 6-8 p.m., with seven other dates throughout the summer. Free. Reservations and helmets required. Bring your own bike. (518) 664-9821; nps.gov/sara.
June 29. I Love BBQ and Music Festival. Music, barbecue, kids’ events. $6. Olympic Speed Skating Oval, 2634 Main St., Lake Placid. lakeplacid.com.
June 29-July 1. Black Fly Amateur Beer Making Camp. Learning, laughing and libations at Great Camp Sagamore, Sagamore Road, Raquette Lake. 354-5311; greatcampsagamore.org.
July 4-Aug. 29. Loomis Gang Train Robbery. Historically inaccurate but entertaining drama by the Mystery Company. Departures at 10 a.m., 12:30 and 3 p.m. Wednesdays. Adirondack Scenic Railroad, Route 28, Thendara. 369-6290; adirondackrr.com.
July 2-22. Defiance and Independence. Replay of British General Burgoyne’s 1777 capture of Fort Ticonderoga by 350 re-enactors. Fort Ticonderoga. (518) 585-2851; fortticonderoga.org.
July 22. Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon. Full-length qualifier for Ironman Hawaii (Kona), the oldest such competition in North America, features a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run. Lake Placid; lakeplacid.com; ironman.com.
July 26. Brubeck Brothers Quartet. 8 p.m. Live jazz concert by Dave’s sons. View Art Center, 3272 Route 28, Old Forge. 369-6411; viewarts.org.
July 27. Reel Paddling Film Fest. The best canoe and kayaking films from around the world, shown in the panoramic Flammer Theater. The Wild Center, Tupper Lake. (518) 359-7000; wildcenter.org.
Aug. 17- Sept 14. Art Exhibit. Paintings by Sandra Hildrith and Nancy Brossard, all done outdoors at the Visitor Interpretive Center, routes 30 and 86, Paul Smiths. (518) 327-6241; adirondackvic.org.
Aug. 18. House Tour by Boat. 10 a.m. Tour of selected waterfront homes on the Fulton Chain. Reservations required. $65. View Art Center, 3272 Route 28, Old Forge. 369-6411; viewarts.org.
Aug. 26. Old Forge Triathlon. A new event this year (in which the Syracuse New Times’ own editor-in-chief, Molly English, will compete) features a 1,000-meter swim, 22-mile bike and 4-mile run through the lakes and mountains around Old Forge. atcendurance.com.
Sept.7-9. 90-Mile Canoe Classic Race. Old Forge to Saranac Lake endurance test. Entry deadline: July 25. $150 per participant. A rite of summer-fall. (518) 891-2744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sept. 8-9. Rustic Furniture Fair. Everything you need made of branches and twigs. Adirondack Museum. Route 30. Blue Mountain Lake. (518) 352-7311; adkmuseum.org.