At six million acres large, the Adirondack Mountains are the largest protected natural area in the lower 48 states. The park is bigger than the Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined—and it’s right in our back yard! Many New Yorkers think the Adirondacks are too far for a weekend; but at 215 miles from NYC, you can reach the park in under four hours. (To compare, some of the Catskills locations we highlight are the same.)
Many people associate the Adirondacks with skiing and pine forest–and they’re partially right. But beyond its world class skiing, it’s actually a very diverse park, boasting 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 12 unique regions. If you’re looking for a place to begin, let your interests be your compass in exploring the park. Into water sports? Check out Lake George or the Lake Saranac region, where the canoeing and kayaking is boundless. Looking for great hiking and skiing? Head to the High Peaks area, where the scenery is comprised of many of the 46 peaks above 4,000 feet. Wine lover? Look no further than the Adirondack Coast with six wineries; it’s also home to four breweries. On the hunt for some one-of-a-kind antiques or rustic goods? Consider Keene, where there’s fantastic shopping, cafes, and views to boot. The list goes on and on.
Sadly, you wouldn’t be the first person to write off the Adirondacks if six-million acres sounds too overwhelming. So we teamed up with Visit Adirondacks to create an accessible, cool and totally unique experience for New Yorkers who may be visiting for their first time… or tenth. Whether you’re visiting for the weekend, or planning an epic autumn roadtrip, we’ve got you covered.
First Stop: Arrival in Lake George, and the Ultimate Glamping Experience
After a long drive up Interstate 87, the exit into Lake George is such a payoff. On the short ride into town on Route 9, you’ll begin to notice all the Adirondack-style buildings, both commercial and residential. A great first stop for souvenirs (or just for photos) is the Frontier Town Gift Shop. Its namesake is an homage to the western-themed amusement park that once inhabited the same road; now it’s an overgrown, defunct park. The gift shop itself is full of Adirondack novelties and knick knacks you never knew you needed. Neighboring shop Leather Outlet is pretty cool as well, who owns the giant teepee in the shared parking lot. Other must-sees on the ride into town include the retro storybook-themed Magic Forest theme park, with the world’s tallest Santa and Uncle Sam statue in the parking lot; and the kooky Goony Golf mini-golf course, complete with a dinosaur, a pirate ship, and a castle.
• WHERE TO STAY AROUND LAKE GEORGE: If you’re looking to stay in the area, there’s a ton of hotels and motels on Lake George’s main strip–but if you’re in the Adirondacks, chances are you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path.
Season permitting, the ultimate glamping experience at Posh Primitive is the perfect way to take in the outdoors, combining the best parts about camping with the amenities of staying in a hotel. Each of their four campsites have huge canvas tents that sit atop a wood platform, which is furnished with a real bed, chairs, rugs, and enough Pendleton blankets to keep you snug as a bug during the coldest nights. Start of your morning and begin your evenings in the rec room, where meals are prepared for guests whenever they’re ready. Much of the food comes straight from their garden; other ingredients are local and organic wherever possible. With only four sites, the exclusive accommodations sell out fast; affordable rates ($198 a night for the 2017 season) include two meals per day, fire wood, and the best nights sleep you’ll ever have in the outdoors. Hosts John and Rachael can help plan your days, or spend the day with in-house outdoor guide John (aka Johnny Old School Guide Service) who’s available for interpretive hikes, paddle excursions, and back country fly-fishing trips. They’re booked for the rest of the 2016 season, but are taking reservations for the 2017 season, which begins Memorial Day weekend.
In the same area, we sent contributor Ethan Covey to The Brampton, a log cabin rental that sleeps up to 20 guests. The 3000 square foot, 6-bedroom property includes enticing amenities like a screen-porch-enclosed hot tub, dual fireplaces, and large kitchen. Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate its proximity to Lake George, Gore Mountain and the Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course. Check out contributor Check out our story about it here. For even more lodging options in the Lake George region, check out Visit Adirondack’s list.
• DINING & DRINKING AROUND LAKE GEORGE: With 300+ dining options in Lake George, there’s an overwhelming amount of restaurants, cafes, and even a brewery right in town. For breakfast, whether you’re carbing up for a hike, or just feeling indulgent, check out Flapjack Pete’s for a hearty meal. They’re famous for pancakes, but the menu has a wide variety of breakfast staples, sure to leave you with leftovers. The log cabin exterior is a foreshadowing for the interior decor: taxidermy, hunting and outdoor relics, and rustic wood everything. For lunch or dinner, thirty miles from Lake George–but very close to Posh Primitive–is Sticks & Stones, whose decor is classic Adirondack rustic wares, a huge fireplace, and wooden booths held up by bear carvings. We loved their yummy wood-fired pizza and selection of craft beer.
Speaking of craft beer, just down the road from Sticks & Stones is Paradox Brewery, making some of the regions most delicious craft beer. Their outdoor seating, paired with live music, is the perfect way to kill an afternoon. Also within close range of Lake George is the Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery, who makes hand crafted, high quality spirits using local grains and fruits. The distillery offers tours and tastings, and has a small shop where visitors can buy classic spirits like vodka and gin, or their maple and apple moonshines.
• WHAT TO DO IN LAKE GEORGE: Lake George is very outdoor-centric, with endless possibilities around its massive 21-mile glittering lake. But whether you choose fishing, biking, hiking, or kayaking–just don’t miss our favorite destination: a scenic drive up Prospect Mountain on the Veterans Memorial Highway. The whole excursion takes a couple hours, where visitors can drive up the mountain, stopping at multiple spots to take in the incredible views of Lake George and the Adirondacks. The real payoff is at the top, where visitors park in a lot then hike or take the shuttle up to the summit. The views at the top are incredible, and there’s a few grills spattered about for picnics. Be sure to bring cash for admission! For a comprehensive list of other outdoor stuff to do, check out Visit Adirondacks website; we couldn’t possibly list them all here!
Keene Valley: Unparalleled Scenery, and Rustic Small-Town Charm
The drive from Lake George to Keene can be done one of two ways: a straight shot up I-87, or the longer, scenic route with a stop at the Adirondack Museum. Located in Blue Lake, the museum’s 121 acre campus tells the story of the Adirondacks and its people. Pop into the carefully preserved and rebuilt cabins, barns and camps for a glimpse into Adirondack life, or check out the event schedule for festivals and exhibits. From there, the drive to Keene through the scenic byway in the High Peaks region is incredibly scenic. And though our time in Keene was short, it’s probably the most likely place we’ll revisit. The tiny downtown area is about a half-mile long, but the shops and restaurants that line it really stand out. Check out Visit Adirondacks for more ideas of what to see, do, and where to stay in Keene.
• WHERE TO STAY IN KEENE: If we ever make it back to Keene, The Dartbrook Lodge is high on our to-do list. The rustic but luxurious accommodations date back to the 1800’s when the region became world renowned for its natural beauty. Each cottage and suite have individual porches and entrances, and are designed and furnished in “Great Camp” tradition by local artists.
• DINING & DRINKING IN KEENE: One of the best meals we had during our entire trip was at the small ADK Cafe. We loved both the decor and the food, whose menu was super-vegeratian friendly and used tons of ingredients from local farms. For a quicker meal, their sister store, the ADK Market, has take-out meals including your basic sandwiches and soups but is also a great spot to pick up some gourmet groceries. Also check out Brew Castle, a shop with a selection of 100+ craft beers, as well as sparkling and hard ciders from all over the world.
• WHAT TO DO AROUND KEENE: For the short time we were there, we really enjoyed shopping at all the boutiques on Keene’s main strip. We felt like kids in a candy store inside Dartbrook Rustic Goods and Big Crow Trading, both of whom offer a wide selection of Adirondack decor, both new and vintage. Offerings include everything from cozy wool blankets, to serious taxidermy (think bears–lots of bears!), porcupine lampshades, to hand crafted furniture and an apothecary. They’re both fantastic shops with a huge range in price points, so chances are you won’t leave empty handed. Vintage clothier Adirondack Attic is another must-see in town, a great source for the elusive perfect-fitting buffalo plaid jacket or cool vintage dress.
Lake Placid: Explore the Site of the 1932 & 1980 Olympics, Stay in a Modern Adirondack Hotel
The drive from Keene to Lake Placid is a scenic one, with lots of pull-off points to take in the massive mountains, waterfalls, steams and rivers. The village itself is astonishingly modern, probably because it’s the most well-known Adirondack town, thanks to hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Not surprisingly, there are many Olympic-themed activities in Lake Placid, from the Olympic Ski Jump Complex, to the Bobsled and Luge Complex, to an actual Olympic Museum.
• WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE PLACID: Lake Placid gets a steady stream of tourists all year long, and consequently has a multitude of hotels, b&bs and vacation rentals available. For us, it was love at first sight for the Lake House at High Peaks Resort. Each of their 44 hotel rooms come with a patio or balcony overlooking the beautiful Mirror Lake and the nearby mountains. The rooms are a modern interpretation of Adirondack style, combining natural wood details with modern art, and with big windows resulting in an airy, light-filled space. In the lobby, Pendleton blankets are draped over cozy couches, creating a perfect nook to enjoy a drink from the bar. The hotel also boasts an indoor hot tub and pool, in a space with huge windows that share the same spectacular views that all the rooms do. Across the street, sister hotel High Peaks Resort has additional pools—though we can’t imagine wanting to make the commute. Either way, a stay at either hotel will grant access to the lakefront patio across the street, which has yet another (outdoor) pool and paddleboats on the lake for guest use.
• DINING & DRINKING IN LAKE PLACID: For breakfast, check out Farmhouse Cafe, who offers plenty of hearty options and daily flapjack specials. It’s a bit off Lake Placid’s main drag too—so parking isn’t its usual headache. For lunch, comfort food lovers can indulge at the Redneck Bistro, serving up BBQ, burgers, fried chicken and the like. The interior is filled with “redneck” decor like taxidermy; food is served on paper plates. For dinner, check out farm-to-table hotspot Liquids & Solids. The restaurant is housed in a big barn-like structure, and the space doubles as a take-out window for butchery Kreature stocked with local meats. Inside the restaurant, the menu covers a wide range of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options—not to mention, the best cocktails and craft beer selection in town. Last, beer lovers should check out Big Slide Brewery, who also has a brewpub serving up inventive tavern fare and brick-oven pizza.
• WHAT TO DO IN LAKE PLACID: Just outside of Lake Placid is New York’s fourth-highest peak, Whiteface Mountain. The massive 4,867 foot mountain is a popular skiing spot–it’s the steepest drop in the East–but tourists also flock here to sightsee. Similar to Lake George’s Prospect Mountain, Whiteface has a Veterans Memorial Highway where visitors can drive to the top, then hike or ride to the summit. Once at the top, there views are unparalleled; on a clear day, you can see straight to Vermont and Canada.
Speaking of Whiteface, the ski mountain is a big part of the Olympic history in Lake Placid. Whiteface Mountain sells different packages granting access to all the Olympic sites–including the Olympic Ski Jump Complex, a Bobsled and Luge Complex, the Olympic Museum, and more–for $35. You’ll also get outdoorsy-themed perks on experiences offered throughout the venues, like 20% off bike rentals or extreme tubing. So strap on your adventure shoes and get planning!