Adirondack Day Trip

On the Road to Paradise

On the Road to Paradise

It’s actually pretty hard to do a day trip to the Adirondack Park, the largest protected area in America as big as the Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined. It’s also the largest National Historic Landmark in the country, yet much of the land within the Adirondack Park is privately owned including small towns, hamlets and islands.  This impressive land mass—totally void of a real city—is in the middle of nowhere.  But it is within driving distance of some 80 million people, so don’t expect to be completely alone in the woods.  Although that can easily happen, too.

Lake Placid, the town (and, of course, lake) that to me represents the heart of the Adirondacks, is a two-hour drive from Albany and Montreal and a five-hour drive from New York City and Boston.  (Although it’s only thirty minutes from I-87, also known as The Northway, if you forego the most scenic route.) The Park contains the Adirondack mountain range, some of the oldest mountains in America, verdant and thickly forested and best typified by a blue-green body of crystal clear water at their base.  The High Peaks, the most formidable mountains of the Adirondacks, are located near Lake Placid which is largely why this resort town became such a hub for athleticism and outdoor activities.  I find the history, culture and arts and crafts of the region to be immensely rich here as well, so that’s usually where I focus most of my attention whenever I venture into this part of the Adirondack Park.

I was stationed for a while at my parents’ summer home on Lake George, a thirty-two mile-long slice of spring-fed, glacier melt that borders the Adirondack Park to the southeast.  And even from there, a day trip into the heart of the Adirondacks represented some doing.  But my mom was always up for an adventure, a more than willing driver that loves to see new sites and revisit old ones.  So I only had to don my tour director’s cap and off we went.  It was a momentous occasion of sorts since my dad was joining us and as we commented halfway through the day, it was indeed the first time the three of us embarked upon a road trip together.  (In fact my love for places of tradition and charm grew out of jaunts to Vermont country stores and such with my mother when I was a young girl.  Dad was usually off working then and unavailable to join in our fun.)We drove the Northway a couple of exits up from Lake George and got off the highway to pick up Route 28 at Warrensburg, a sleepy little town peppered with antique stores.  I remembered when I bought a whole set of wicker porch furniture from one of the dealers for a song.

“This is where they have the world’s largest garage sale,” my mom piped up.  “It takes place every year in the fall.”  And then she recounted her one adventure here in her usual entertaining manner.   “They all come down from the mountains,” she explained.  “You’ve never seen such a conglomeration of people and baby carriages.  And they’re carting and selling everything from old washboards to fine collectibles.  It takes in the whole town.”

“I’d love to attend some time,” I said, imagining the whole richly regional scene.  “There’s Oscar’s,” I hollered as we passed a nationally-recognized smokehouse established here in 1946.

I saw a sign for The Grist Mill, also in Warrensburg, and asked my mom if that picturesque old mill on the Schroon River was still a fine restaurant.  She said it was and I softly smiled to myself with the realization that my mom was still very much on top of her game, she was in many respects my source for up-to-the-minute information on just about everything.

The drive became increasingly scenic from here to North Creek as we wended our way along the most wild section of the Hudson River.  It wasn’t quite late August, yet patches of leaves were already surrendering their summer green for more autumnal hues of orange and red.

Dad napped a bit in the back seat while mom and I cruised along chatting and reminiscing, pointing out places of interest to each other as they came into view.

“Oh there’s a sign for Garnet Hill Lodge,” I exclaimed, just outside of North Creek.  “That’s a wonderful place, a rustic recreation center on top of a mountain.  The panorama there is really spectacular.  I remember I once cross country skied up there.”  

My mom, of course, had been there.  I wasn’t telling her anything new.

Big old yellow school busses passed, casual coaches transformed to accommodate rafters.  We even saw a bunch of whitewater thrill seekers lined up along the river.

“The lakes and waterways are full with rain,” I said.  “No wonder they’re still running the river.  It’s been such a wet summer.”

Referring to lakes here was like talking about mountain passes in the Rockies:  There was an abundance of them and each one possessed its own particularities.  A surprisingly large number of canoe-carrying cars zipped by us, reminding me of this great proliferation of lakes, streams and rivers that so distinguishes the Adirondack Park.  Mom and I called out the names of the various bodies of water we passed:  Indian Lake, Schroon Lake, Loon Lake, Tupper Lake and Fish Creek Ponds, names as familiar to us as those of childhood friends.

I remembered that my mom used to camp at Fish Creek with my grandparents year after year when she was young.  “Now is that a lake or a series of ponds?” I asked.

“A bunch of little lakes,” my mom replied.  “If we had more time, I’d like to drive in there.”

In writing this, I regret that we didn’t take the time to explore her old stomping grounds, her storehouse of memories.

Entering the World of Adirondack Life

Entering the World of Adirondack Life

After about an hour and a half of driving from Lake George Village, we entered the tiny village of Blue Mountain Lake.  Here we were making our pilgrimage to the Adirondack Museum, the epicenter of history, art, culture and crafts of Adirondack life.  This was my third visit here in as many decades, and each time it was more magnificent than the previous.  Dad decided to sit out on the bench and read the papers while mom toured the gift shop (she’s the real shopper!) and I set off to scout out some of my favorite exhibits.

I almost darted directly to their rustic furniture collection, the largest public assemblage of rustic furniture in North America.  Instead I opted for the building that housed a fleet of classic Adirondack boats.  Truly some of the finest examples of craftsmanship in America, these freshwater vessels were built for both work and play. They once again reminded me of the importance of the vast network of lakes and rivers throughout the Adirondack Mountains and how people have been using these waterways for ages, both for transportation and recreation.  I’ve read there are thousands of lakes in the Adirondacks which is why it takes an expert guide to know even a fraction of them.

The Quintessential Adirondack Tool: The Guideboat

The Quintessential Adirondack Tool: The Guideboat

The informed visitor realizes that the Adirondack guideboat is as identifiable with the Adirondack way of life as the Adirondack chair.  (The guideboat, a sort of rowboat/

canoe, is carefully constructed so that a guide can carry it on his shoulders during the frequent portages required when traveling from one body of water to another over land, distances that often amount to a few miles or more!  The Adirondack chair was designed with a straight back and seat set at a slant so that the chair would be comfortable as well as adaptable to mountain inclines.  The wide armrest serves to provide a suitable resting place for a tall glass of lemonade.)  Next I trotted off to the Lake View Deck where you can enjoy a wide-angle view of Blue Mountain Lake, one of the most spectacular postcard shots of the Adirondacks.

One of America's Best Views: Looking Out Onto Blue Mountain Lake

One of America’s Best Views: Looking Out Onto Blue Mountain Lake

I knew my lightning tour had to draw to an end since we were on a rather tight schedule.  I had only scratched the surface of this largely open-air museum made up of more than twenty indoor and outdoor exhibits.  But before I left, I wanted to take a look at their paintings from the Hudson River School, extraordinary oils of Adirondack scenes that I remembered standing in front of near mesmerized when I was a young girl.  They were no where to be found.  My heart sank until I learned that they had been temporarily stored until January 2009 when they would be showcased again.  An exhibit of museum-quality rustic artistry had taken their place which included a lot of history of the Great Camps, the grandiose family retreats built here by some of America’s wealthiest people toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Gilded Age for much of the country, especially the Adirondacks.  Careful not to linger too long, I ran off to find my mom where she was just wrapping things up in the gift shop.  I was glad that I didn’t have time to shop since I could tell this outpost boasted many alluring Adirondack-inspired goods from coffee table books to fleeces.

We set off looking for a place to have a picnic since by now we felt famished.  We drove a short distance to Long Lake where we spotted an available bench that faced out onto this long (not surprisingly!) and very narrow lake.  I sat in the middle of my mother and father like a trusted guidebook wedged in between two cherished bookends on a shelf.  I didn’t know much about this fairly remote and deliciously unspoiled part of the North Country, so we just sat and snacked and took in the scene.  And what a scene it was!  All of us were highly entertained by the constant comings and goings of the seaplanes that taxied off and landed before us.  Scenic flights and boat tours, too, appeared to be big business on this sliver of a lake which I imagined held many nooks and crannies of great interest.  It was a perfect day for flying, boating, swimming (the adjacent public beach bubbled with activity) or just gazing out upon the water.  The whirring and gurgling of the planes and boats, mixed with the cries from the kids on the beach and the birds overhead, created quite the memorable Adirondack soundtrack.  Our Kodak moment was further enhanced by the savory picnic my mom had packed which included cheese, chips, supersatta, olives, hard boiled eggs, crudités and grapes.

I left my parents on the bench and scurried off to check out the scenic flights and boat tours.  At $40. per person for a twenty-minute fly over and $30. for an hour and a half boat cruise, I found it all to be quite affordable.  I turned around to admire the Adirondack Hotel across the street and sensed from its old and sturdy exterior that it was the sort of authentic place at which I would like to stay.  I toyed with the idea of taking a quick tour around, but I didn’t want my parents to grow too weary too soon of my investigating.  It’s always nice to save something for next time in any event.

We continued along the scenic byway passing signs such as Trail’s End Bar or High Peaks 26 miles that conjured up images of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts testing their meddle in these rugged mountains renowned for their quiet beauty but also for their highly changeable weather, swollen population of bugs and an occasional rattlesnake.

George's Cottage at Sagamore Great Camp

George’s Cottage at Great Camp Sagamore

When we passed a sign for Raquette Lake, mom reminded me about the Sagamore, the Adirondack Great Camp built for the Vanderbilts, which is now a National Historic Landmark open for tours.  “You can also take a wonderful boat ride on the lake,” she added.

She had done both; I had not.

Our own little Adirondack trail spliced through Tupper Lake, then edged its way around Saranac Lake, one of the coldest places in the country in the winter.

“This is where a lot of the elite have homes,” my mom explained.  “Jane Pauley, Gary Trudeau…”

My mom continued with her many tidbits and tales, much of which she regularly gathered from watching a lot of morning television and reading the papers.  I loved it when she served as my tour guide.  Dad remained silent throughout most of this, mainly since he was either napping or didn’t hear us.  Or perhaps he just wanted to tune out our jabbering.

Mirror Lake Inn Entrance

Mirror Lake Inn Entrance

We pulled into Lake Placid, all three of us eager for a good cup of coffee.  Our tour was scenic, yet long.  I suggested we go directly to the Mirror Lake Inn, a grand old lodge, rendered even more elegant with the addition of today’s most sought after amenities.  It happened to be teatime here and we were invited to stay for a refreshment since I was meeting with someone from the hotel for a little tour.  My parents stowed themselves away within the inn’s handsome library while I took in the highlights of this renowned place of lodging.

I was particularly enamored with the lakefront comprised of a big, beautiful old boathouse, a sandy beach, an ample line up of Adirondack chairs and lounge chairs and an assortment of boats—from kayaks to canoes—that would be the envy of any Adirondack vacationer.  You could sit here and stare out onto the lake for hours.  This lake, which is actually Mirror Lake, is especially pristine since no motor boats are allowed.  (Mirror Lake is the lake you see from the town of Lake Placid; Lake Placid, the lake, is just a short distance away.)  I poked into The Cottage, a great-looking pub perched at the water’s edge.  The deck looked especially inviting on this bright, sunny day but I also learned that it’s open a fair amount year round, thanks to space heaters.

The Cottage at Mirror Lake Inn

The Cottage at Mirror Lake Inn

The caffeine perked all three of us up enough to stroll down the main street of Lake Placid—just a short distance from the Inn—to browse in a few shops.  I was thrilled to see that the Adirondack Museum had a satellite store here, which for me, was the highlight of all that I took in on the street.  Some sales were going on in the many outdoor stores, but I refrained since they were mostly featuring the sort of clothing and gear I can find back home in the Rockies.

Dad just bobbed along throughout all this, a most agreeable travel companion that I hoped would join my mother and me on future excursions.

We all brightened considerably back at Mirror Lake Inn where we had decided to have an early dinner.  The three of us greatly appreciated the understated elegance of this fine resort.  We settled in to a corner table next to a large bank of windows in their award-winning restaurant, The View.  Here we relaxed from the busyness of the day, feeling tremendously soothed by the tranquil views of the lake laid out before us.

Sunset on Mirror Lake

Sunset on Mirror Lake

“I think you need to get out on the water when you visit the Adirondacks,” I commented to my parents.  “Whether you take a ride in a big boat or in a canoe, that’s such a huge part of the Adirondack experience.”

My parents concurred and I could tell they were thinking about all the cruises we took in our boat back on Lake George.

“Sitting here, admiring this scene is pretty special, too,” my dad added.  “Particularly in front of such a delicious meal.”

He was quite right about that and there’s no doubt the dining was first class.

“I just wish I could check in for a few days and have lots of fun exploring the area,” I said somewhat sad and frustrated about having to leave so soon.  “I’d like to dig deep into some of the shops on the outskirts of town, attend one of the special antiques shows and maybe even take a little paddle on the lake.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” my mom replied with both a wink and a smile.  “Maybe next time.”

Lake Placid is a two-hour drive from Albany and Montreal and a five-hour drive from New York City and Boston.  The closest major airports are in Albany and Montreal.

Warrensburg Garage Sale, 518-623-2161 (Chamber of Commerce), www.warrensburgchamber.com and www.warrensburggaragesale.com; the sale typically takes place the first weekend of October.

Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House, 800-627-3431, www.oscarssmokedmeats.com

The Grist Mill, Warrensburg, 518-623-8005, www.menumart.com/gristmill

Garnet Hill Lodge, North River, 518-251-2444 and 800-497-4207, www.garnet-hill.com

Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, 518-352-7311, www.adirondackmuseum.org; note that the museum also conducts many tours and educational programs.  Their Rustic Furniture Sale, Fabric and Arts Festival and Antiques Show and Sale—all held at the museum in September—are of particular interest.

Helms Aero, Long Lake, 518-624-3931 and 518-624-3561; they offer scenic flights as well as fishing and hunting day trips and charters.

Long Lake Boat Tours, Long Lake, 518-624-LAKE

Adirondack Hotel, Long Lake, 518-624-4700, www.adirondackhotel.com

Great Camp Sagamore, Raquette Lake, 315-354-5311, www.sagamore.org

W.W. Durant boat tour, Racquette Lake, 315-354-5532, www.raquettelakenavigation.com

Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, Lake Placid, 518-523-2544, www.mirrorlakeinn.com; The Cottage is part of Mirror Lake Inn and is open to the public along with the Inn’s other restaurants and spa.

Adirondack Museum on Main, 75 Main Street, Lake Placid, 518-523-9074

 

More Tours and Visits

Adirondack Canoeing Vacation Planners, outfitters in three different locations including Saranac Lake and St.Lake, 888-775-2925, www.canoeoutfitters.com; they offer rentals and sales of all kinds of Adk small pleasure craft and gear as well as a variety of touring services.

Raquette River Outfitters, Tupper Lake, 518-359-3228, www.raquetteriveroutfitters.com; reputable place for rentals and purchase of canoes, kayaks and camping gear.


More Shopping

Blue Mountain Designs, in the village of Blue Mountain Lake, 518-352-7361

Adirondack Decorative Arts and Crafts, 2512 Main Street, Lake Placid, 518-523-4545; three floors of Adk arts and crafts are showcased here.

Twigs, 121 Cascade Road, Lake Placid, 518-523-5361; located about a mile out of town, this store features antiques, regional crafts and artwork.

 
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