The recent purchase by New York state of 69,000 acres of Adirondack lands formerly owned by the paper company Finch Pruyn and by the Nature Conservancy, together with the 89,000 acres purchased in 2010, marks the single largest addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in more than a century. In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this year the purchase of the 20,728-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, an area in the central Adirondacks that will be reserved for non-motorized recreation.
Along with last year’s $2 million allocation to improve state campgrounds and other recent purchases, these developments certify the continuing effort by the New York state government to preserve and protect the Adirondacks, the largest wild park in the contiguous 48 states.
For Central New Yorkers, proximity to the Adirondacks offers an unparalleled wealth of recreational and cultural opportunities. Larger than the state of Vermont, this vast wilderness, a little more than half of which is private land, 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 at Lake Placid, theme parks, fine dining and accommodations, and some of the finest regional museums in the world.
Created by the New York State Legislature in 1882, the Adirondack Park (Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smokey would fit within the official boundary, the Blue Line) serves as home for 100,000 permanent residents while attracting nearly 10 million visitors each year. All of this is just a two- to four-hour drive from Syracuse.
Any comprehensive understanding of the Adirondacks begins at the Adirondack Museum, Route 30, Blue Mountain Lake ((518) 352-7311; adkmuseum.org). Widely regarded as the finest regional museum in the nation since its inception in 1957, this unique campus facility features 22 exhibit spaces with concentrations 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 renowned, as is the fine arts collection.
The Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, Tupper Lake ((518)359-7500; wildcenter.org) is a regional natural history museum which opened in 2006. It occupies an 81-acre site on the Raquette River, and offers a unique understanding of the natural environment of the Adirondacks. This combination zoo, aquarium, science and nature center offers interpretative and interactive exhibits and activities on the flora and fauna of the region, and includes a high-tech theater and a 2.5-acre pond that abuts the unique modernly rustic main building. The Wild Walk, an elevated walkway built at treetop level, offers a perspective seldom seen by humans. Special events and exhibits are scheduled throughout the season.
Two Visitors Interpretative Centers also serve to introduce the public to the nature of the mountain environment through workshops, exhibits and backcountry excursions. The 2,885-acre facility in Paul Smiths, Route 30 near Saranac Lake ((515) 327-8241; adirondackvic.org), hosts interpretative canoe paddles on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and many other events throughout the summer season, as well as 25 miles of trails and a 150-seat theater. The smaller center in Newcomb, Route 28N ((518) 582-2000, esf.edu/aic), includes a mile-long forested peninsula on Rich Lake and a 6,000-square-foot multipurpose main building used for exhibits, lectures and demonstrations. A hike up nearby Mount Goodnow off Route 28N offers a panoramic view of the area. Both centers host a full schedule of seasonal activities for park visitors of all ages.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad ((888) 819-2291; adirondackrr.org), a 19th-century line built by industrialist William Seward Webb, offers service and tours from Utica and Thendara to Carter Station north of Old Forge and from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. The railroad is currently leading the effort to prevent New York state from converting the last 34 miles of track to Lake Placid to a trail. Scenic excursions from the headquarters at Thendara come in many varieties, including rail and boat trips, canoe and bicycle journeys, and many forms of entertainment, including a “beer and wine” train. With resumption of service that began in 1992, the line now serves more than 600,000 passengers a year.
The arts also thrive in the mountains. View, formerly the Arts Center of Old Forge, on Route 28 (601-9728; viewarts.org), attracts more than 45,000 visitors each year and features a 28,000-square-foot building opened in 2011. The state-of-the-art Gould Hall performance auditorium caters to artistic, theatrical, musical, educational, ecological and civic programming.
The Adirondacks Lakes Center for the Arts, Route 28, Blue Mountain Lake ((518) 352-7715, (877) 752-7715; adirondackarts.org), presents live theater, music, dance and film throughout the summer season as well as classes and workshops in a variety of disciplines.
In Raquette Lake, Great Camp Sagamore (354-5311; greatcampsagamore.org), the rustic Swiss chalet-style summer home of the Vanderbilts designed by William West Durant in 1897, is now a historic restoration, and offers lodging, tours and many special activities for all ages. With 27 buildings including a rustic bowling alley, this complex offers a compelling peek into the Adirondacks gilded age.
Two villages at opposite ends of the Adirondack Park offer special amenities to the woodland visitor. Old Forge 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 Enchanted Forest Water Safari theme park (watersafari.com, oldforgeny.com).
Two more hours up the road, the village of Lake Placid hosted two 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. For information, visit orda.org or lakeplacid.com.
With 6 million acres (9,000 square miles) to choose from, the Adirondacks are a camper’s dream. For car campers, New York state operates 42 sites within the Blue Line, with daily fees from $18 to $25. Reservations–always a good idea–can be made at (800) 456-CAMP or newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Comprehensive information about these wonderful car camping sites is available at nysparks.com and 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 website has more information, and the Adirondack Mountain Club offers maps, gear and lots of specific advice on everything from necessary equipment to trail conditions. Visit adk.org or call (518) 668-4447, or contact the ADK lodge at Heart Lake in the High Peaks area ((518) 523-3441).
For canoeists and kayakers, the Adirondacks’ unique combination of mountains, lakes and rivers and more shoreline than Vermont and New Hampshire combined offers opportunities found nowhere else. Beginning in Old Forge, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail includes the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Blue Mountain, Tupper, and the 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 and trail maps, available on line, are recommended, while outfitters, including St. Regis Canoe Outfitters ((888) SR-KAYAK; canoeoutfitters.com) or Raquette River Outfitters (raquetteriveroutfitters.com), can provide everything necessary for a wilderness experience. For personal licensed guide services, try adirondack-adventures.com. In Old Forge, Mountain Man Outdoor Supply Co. (369-6672; mountainmanoutdoors.com) both rents and sells boats and equipment.
For a fast, wet trip down the upper Hudson River in a raft, try the Adirondac (sic) Rafting Co. ((800) 510-RAFT; lakeplacidrafting.com), whitewaterchallengers.com or northcreekrafting.com. And check visitadirondacks.com for a comprehensive listing of these and other wilderness opportunities.
Echoes of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution resound along the eastern edge of the Adirondacks, the 18th century’s “great warpath.” Fort William Henry, 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 Fort William Henry Museum ((518) 668-5471; fwhmuseum.com) offers special events and peeks into area history.
Further north at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga ((518) 528-2821; fortticonderoga.org) served in both wars and now offers tours and re-enactments of those conflicts. The Saratoga Battlefield ((518) 664-9821; nps.gov/sara), south of Lake George, commemorates the pivotal fight of the American Revolution, where Benedict Arnold (then a patriot) and his colonials defeated Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and his British Army to turn the tide of the American Revolution in 1777. The site now offers tours, re-enactments, and other special events throughout the summer.
Calendar of Events
June 15-Labor Day. Canoe the Raquette River. Wild Center, Tupper Lake. ((518) 359-7400; wildcenter.org). Daily educational canoe trips on the Raquette River. Novice level.
June 17-18. Father’s Day Parade and Car Show. Old Forge. (oldforgeny.com).Vintage wheels on display.
July 3-5. I Love BBQ and Music Festival. Lake Placid. (lakeplacid.com).
July 8. Adirondack Swing. View, Route 28. Old Forge. (369-6411; oldforgeny.com). On the second Friday of every month, enjoy swing dancing with a professional instructor, followed by three hours of dancing.
July 23. Made in the Adirondacks Fair. Adirondack Museum. Route 30, Blue Mountain Lake. ((518) 352-7311; adkmuseum.org). Unique products from the mountains.
July 24. Ironman Lake Placid. (lakeplacid.com/ironman-lake-placid). Full-scale triathlon with 3,000 competitors.
July 23-24. Defiance and Independence. Fort Ticonderoga, Route 27, Ticonderoga. ((518) 585-2821; fortticonderoga.org). Commemoration/re-enactment of the 1777 capture of Ticonderoga by the British Army with period re-enactors.
July 31-Aug. 7. Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse. (lakeplacid.com/events). Nothing but net with 150 teams playing 550 games on 11 fields.
Aug. 5-7. Durant Days. Raquette Lake. (354-5532; raquettelakenavigation.com). Enjoy Great Camps Pine Knot and Sagamore tours, live music, a boat parade and more during the 18th annual event. Some fees will be applied.
Aug. 6-Sept. 9. Adirondacks National Exhibition of American Watercolors. View, Route 28, Old Forge. (369-6411; viewarts.org).
Aug. 12-13. American Mountain Men. Adirondack Museum, Route 30, Blue Mountain Lake. ((518) 352-7311; adkmuseum.org). Re-enactments of life in the mountains, circa 1820 to 1840.
Aug. 13. House Tour by Boat. (369-6411). Visit waterfront homes along 4th Lake during this benefit for View of Old Forge. Reservations necessary.
Sept. 9-11. 90-Mile Canoe Classic. ((518) 891-2744; macscanoe.com). Annual marathon canoe stage race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. Entry fee is required.