A 6-million-acre playground (with some 3,000 lakes) for wilderness junkies.
By Aimee Hirsch
THE VIBE: The Adirondacks have been a stomping ground for many groups: Gilded Age robber barons, Olympians, outdoorsmen and vacationers. And, as the largest protected area in the contiguous United States, the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park (2.6 million acres of which are owned by New York State) has plenty of space to go around. Swathed across it all is breathtaking scenery—mountains touching water touching pristine forest. And, thanks to strict environmental protection laws, the Adirondacks are still largely wild, all the better for a genuinely tranquil escape or outdoor adventure.
In the late 1800s, when socialites traveled to the Adirondacks by train and steamboat, William West Durant, the son of a railroad tycoon, had a vision to turn the region into a vacation destination for the rich. It’s a good thing he failed. If he hadn’t, Adirondack Park might not be the preserved wilderness sanctuary that it is today. It’s not entirely wilderness, of course. There are pockets of civilization, like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Schroon Lake, which together offer plenty of accommodations and dining options for tourists while serving as access points to the mountains for hiking and biking.
The center of tourism is Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. (The Miracle on Ice game against the Soviet Union happened here.) Lake Placid draws people in with its charming downtown and countless recreational activities, and it’s part of the High Peaks region, so it’s an ideal base for a hiker who strives to be a “46er”—someone who has climbed all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks (4,000+ feet). During the Gilded Age, magnates like Vanderbilt and JP Morgan retreated to Raquette Lake in Hamilton County. Channel the Old-World grandeur by hopping on a dinner cruise run by Raquette Lake Navigation Company, or visit Great Camp Sagamore, the Vanderbilts’ wilderness estate and the prototype for Adirondack-style architecture.
(Photograph above is of Great Camp Sagamore, which was purchased by Alfred G. Vanderbilt in 1901)
77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, N.Y.
(518) 523-2544; www.mirrorlakeinn.com
packages begin at $245/night
If you want luxury during your Adirondack escape, the Mirror Lake Inn has you covered. Travel + Leisure named it to its 2015 list of the world’s top 500 hotels, and for good reason: The 131-room resort is steps away from Lake Placid’s downtown and picturesque Mirror Lake. The inn’s rooms offer lake views, and if you can drag yourself away from the vista, the resort has two pools, complimentary boats and a private beach. Otherwise, take time to relax at the award-winning spa or indulge at one of three on-site dining options. (One, The View, is Lake Placid’s only four-diamond restaurant—and, according to the wait staff, there’s a proposal every night.)
1 Hedges Road, Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.
(518) 352-7325; www.thehedges.com
rates begin at $245/night
The Hedges is an exercise in tranquility—old wooden, historical lodges (this site has been a vacation spot for more than 100 years) scattered across 12.5 acres along the shore of Blue Mountain Lake in the central portion of the Adirondacks. Spend your days lounging by the lake or out on the water in one of the resort’s kayaks or canoes. Breakfast and dinner are included with your stay, and the meals don’t disappoint. (Order the buttery grits at breakfast.) For couples, The Hedges has rooms in a few adults-only lodges. For a more private experience, or if you are going with the family, stand-alone one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom cabins are available. It’s a friendly place filled with familiar faces—many guests come back every year, unable to resist the resort’s charm.
1051 Rte. 9, Schroon Lake, N.Y.
(518) 743-1665; www.theadirondackinn.com
rates begin at $109/night
Renovated in 2014, the Adirondack Inn combines the best of outdoorsy charm and modern amenities. Rooms are dressed up in Adirondack-style decor, so you won’t forget you’re in the mountains, but a flat-screen TV and updated bathroom are welcome conveniences. What the Adirondack Inn is about is location. Stay here to be within walking distance to Schroon Lake’s beaches and downtown. Plus, Schroon Lake is just off I-87, 30 minutes north of Lake George.
(Photograph above captures Mirror Lake, just south of Lake Placid. There should be no question as to how it got its name.)
The best time to view fall foliage is late September through early October. Take a drive on Route 30 between Speculator and Indian Lake for some of the most spectacular views in the region.
Blue Mountain Boat Livery offers daily historical boat tours where you can learn about the region while you appreciate the views. Or go for a ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s Fall Foliage Train, which runs between Sept. 12 and Oct. 11.