Not waiting for the calendar to remind them about the official end of summer, hummingbirds disappear on Labor Day. On the western horizon the sun, approaching the autumnal equinox, sets appreciably farther to the south. The days are noticeably shorter. Students return to the classroom. Nights in the mountains chill off, summer camps in the woods and on the water sit empty, crowds thin, bugs disappear, leaves mutate into the brilliant shades of autumn.
In the Adirondacks, New York’s 6 million-acre wilderness, the passions of summer give way to the introspections and nostalgia of the change of seasons. With a population of 100,000 permanent residents, the mountain economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the stimulus provided by the estimated 10 million annual visitors. And while some of summer’s attractions have decamped for the year, autumn in the mountains offers its own enticements.
Camping in the wilderness is one of the Adirondacks’ most popular options, and the New York State Parks are second to none in providing the car-camping experience. Although many of the 42 sites within the Blue Line (park boundary) close on Labor Day, several easily accessible sites, including Nick’s Lake, Eighth Lake, Lake Durant and Indian Lake Campgrounds, remain open through Oct. 8. Site availability and reservations can be accessed at reserveamerica.com.
The Old Forge area, just a two-hour drive from Syracuse, offers recreational options throughout the year. Get a bird’s-eye view of the mountains and fall foliage by taking a $6 chair lift ride at McCauley Mountain, open Wednesdays through Sundays until Columbus Day. Call (315) 369-3225/6983 or visit oldforgeny.com. Or take the one-mile hike up nearby Bald Mountain for another great panorama, located on Rondaxe Road off Route 28 north of Old Forge.
In nearby Raquette Lake, the Great Camp Sagamore, the 1890s-era 27-building complex built by William West Durant, offers autumnal options for visitors, with seasonal programs and accommodations. Check in and enjoy what the Gilded Agers thought of as roughing it by calling (315) 354-5311 or visit greatcampsagamore.org.
The Raquette Lake Navigation Company operates the W.W. Durant, the double-decker tour boat with a schedule of dining and sightseeing excursions running through October. Call (315) 354-5532 or visit raquettelakenavigation.com.
The institutions that define and preserve the cultural, historical and natural character of the Adirondacks don’t close on Labor Day, either. In Old Forge, View (formerly the Arts Center of Old Forge) schedules exhibitions, workshops and performances throughout the year. The annual National Exhibition of American Watercolors ends Oct. 8, while the ceramic artist-in-residence and the private lessons programs both run through the end of the year. Call (315) 601-9728 or visit viewarts.org.
Farther up the road on Route 30 in Blue Mountain Lake, the Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum) has received high praise for its current exhibitions including Life in the Adirondacks, as well as its permanent collections of art and watercraft. A visit to this venerated 121-acre campus is its own reward. Open through Oct. 8, details are available at (518) 352-7311 or theadkx.org.
Just across the road on Route 30, find the trailhead to Blue Mountain, a strenuous 2-mile climb with a life-altering view of the surrounding mountains, including the high peaks to the Northeast on top.
Farther still up Route 30 in Tupper Lake, the natural history museum, zoo and educational complex known as the Wild Center remains open through the year except for the month of April. This unique rustic-modern facility abuts the Raquette River and offers a plethora of special events and activities, including canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, workshops and performances. Its “Wild Walk,” an elevated walkway above the tree tops, provides a unique perspective you haven’t had yet. At one end of this aerie you will find an eagle’s nest, yet another perch from which to ogle the multi-chromatic display below. This facility and the Adirondack Experience stand well against any similar institutions in the country.
There is also still plenty of time to launch your canoe or kayak in the Adirondacks’ 2,500 miles of navigable waterways. Old Forge Pond sits at the base of the Fulton Chain of Lakes and provides a starting point for a good paddle toward 4th Lake and Inlet and beyond.
Autumn also provides quieter waters, with many of the motorized craft retired for the season. For a tranquil river paddle, check in at Mountainman Outdoor Supply on Route 28 in Old Forge, where you can rent a canoe or kayak (or bring your own) for transportation up the Moose River and a scenic paddle/float back. Rates are $28 to $46, depending on equipment and length of the trip. Call (315) 369-6670 or visit mountainmanoutdoors.com.
At the end of any of this, refreshment surely awaits. In Old Forge on Route 28, Slickers is a friendly local tavern that welcomes any and all with a cozy ambience, notable pub menu, craft beer and, at times, live music. Call (315) 369-3002 or visit slickerstavern.com. For tasty Italian fare, Billy’s (behind Walt’s Diner) is intimate, casual and reasonably priced. Call (315) 369-2001 or visit billysrestaurantoldforge.com. And for breakfast, lunch, a great sandwich and good java, it’s Ozzie’s Coffee Bar, (315) 369-6246.
Autumn appears early in the North Country, due to the latitude and elevation, and spring shows up late for the same reasons, leaving a long winter in between. Enjoying the autumnal splendor of the Adirondack mountains is temporal and fleeting. The time is now.