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 backyard!
Many New Yorkers think the Adirondacks are too far for a weekend; but the park begins just 215 miles from NYC, easily reached in under four hours. (Or catch the daily flight from JFK to SLK!) From there, we’re heading deeper into the park, along the most beautiful stretch of road imaginable through the Adirondacks High Peaks region, the scenic town of Keene, and finally to the village of Saranac Lake.
Upon arrival in Saranac Lake, visitors find a historic community that blends outdoor adventure with authentic small-town Adirondack vibes. Its tagline, “decidedly different” rings true: it’s far less touristy than its sister city to the east, Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and was built up for the massive tourist influx. By comparison, Saranac Lake feels decidedly laid back, preferring community vibes over touristy ones. Throughout the entire Adirondack region — from Lake George to Lake Placid to Saranac Lake — its villages, lakes and mountains converge with waterways, forest trails, and dirt roads to create a nature lover’s paradise.
Wondering the best time of the year to visit the Adirondacks? The answer is year round! This Upstate destination offers outdoor attractions in all four seasons. Known best as a winter wonderland, in snowy conditions visitors flock to Whiteface for its signature slopes. But summer offers just as much, if not more, adventure, as the lakes, rivers and ponds thaw and snowmelt transforms the landscapes into lush greenery. Spring through fall, hiking, paddling, and swimming opportunities are as bountiful as the vast landscapes in the Adirondacks.
Check out our guides below for the best places to hike and get outdoors – plus where to stay, eat and drink during your stay in Saranac Lake.
Where to Stay in Saranac Lake: White Pine Camp
The Hermit’s Hut at White Pine Camp is tucked away from most of the other cabins.
There’s no shortage of lodging in the area, from modern hotels to Airbnbs to glamping, plus a few Adirondack Great Camps. Those unfamiliar with the term Great Camp might be misled by its name — an Adirondack “camp” actually refers to what wealthy people in the early 1900’s used as their summer homes. The luxurious-meets-rustic cabins and cottages give visitors an authentic Adirondack experience that isn’t possible with other types of lodging.
The finest example in this region is White Pine Camp, located in Paul Smiths NY, with perfectly rustic and cozy lodging overlooking Osgood Pond. Thirteen distinctive cabins and cottages feature soaring roof lines, hand-built Adirondack style furniture, stone fireplaces or wood stoves, and breathtaking views. Trails through the property are perfect for leisurely strolls, while swimming, fishing, and boating on Osgood Pond lets guests take in the serenity of the Adirondacks from the water.
Shared facilities include a Great Room, with WiFi; a Japanese Tea House on a tiny island accessed by a 300-foot wooden bridge; plentiful swimming & fishing access on the lake; hand-set bowling alley and pool room; a boat house with kayaks, canoes and rowboats for guest use; and many outdoor decks, fire pits and patios.
At the end of a 300 foot boardwalk across Osgood Pond sits a tiny island with a tea house – which just happens to be the perfect spot to have a drink and watch sunset. Great Pine Camp, Adirondacks.
While wandering its grounds, White Pine Camp’s history can be felt throughout. The camp was originally commissioned by the wealthy White family in 1907, whose money came from New York City banking. Through the years, it passed through many hands, including President Coolidge, and even served as the Summer White House for the President and his family. (Rumor has it that the President spent more time fishing than his executive duties during his time here!)
This authentic Adirondack experience is truly one of a kind; plus, pricing is great, especially given all the property amenities. We booked the Hermit’s Hut, named for the privacy it affords, tucked away from the other cabins. Both the cozy, king-size bedroom and living room have stunning, almost sculptural fireplaces; a galley kitchen connects the two spaces. A bathroom located off the kitchen completes the hut, with a lovely clawfoot soaking tub and shower. Rooms range from $165-435 nightly – better yet, make a true vacation of it with their discounted weekly rates.
What to Do: Hiking & Exploring in the Saranac Lake Region
A beautiful boardwalk trail leads through fern forest at the Paul Smiths VIC.
The Adirondacks are home to the Adirondack 46ers, a club of die-hard hikers that have summited all 46 peaks above 4,600 feet in the region. Thankfully, one does not need to climb 4,600 feet to take in the majesty of the Adirondacks.
For starters, White Pine Camp has a little trail system that’s perfect for walking the dog, or stretching your legs while exploring without leaving this magical property. Once you’re ready for more, head over to Paul Smiths College Visitors Interpretive Center (aka Paul Smiths VIC), less than 10 minutes from Great Pine Camp. Here, visitors can explore 25 miles of interconnected trails, traversing through many ecosystems in a very short span.
For a quick jaunt, take the Barnum Brook to Boreal Life Trails, with impossibly scenic overlooks, and boardwalks that lead hikers through marshlands. Other possibilities are endless; download their trail map, or check in with the desk at the VIC for trail recommendations.
Also notable: check the VIC event schedule when planning a trip in case something like a Wild Edibles Walk is of interest. Our edibles walk with Pat Banker was fascinating, where in a 2 hour session, she pointed out dozens of plants, explaining how they could be used for food, medicine or both. As she told us, “A weed is just a plant you haven’t figured out a use for yet.” Let Pat Baker be an inspiration to plant ladies and aspiring naturalists everywhere!
Left: the fire tower atop St. Regis. Right: find your way on 25 miles of interconnected trails at Paul Smiths VIC.
Those up for a pretty significant adventure should check out the St. Regis Fire Tower, clocking in at about 6 miles (~3 to the top, then back.) Rangers once used this to spot and communicate wildfires; now its primary use is for hikers, who after climbing the mountain, are able to go up inside the fire tower for unparalleled 360º views of the Adirondack Park.
Somewhere in the middle of these hikes, Baker Mountain offers an excellent sunset spot overlooking Moody Pond. This smaller peak overlooks many of the region’s major mountains, and it’s one mile to the summit means way less commitment. Baker Mountain is also a great place to begin ticking off hikes to become a Saranac 6er: a not-as-die-hard club of hikers who have completed all six hikes in this local group of trails. Becoming a Saranac 6er means you have ~40 less hikes to tick off than it would take to become an Adirondack 46er… with similar-but-different bragging rights.
No matter what hike you pick, afterward, reward yourself at Donnelly’s Ice Cream. This historical ice cream stand connected to a dairy farm has been churning out delicious treats since 1963, with a single ice cream flavor offered daily. (“You pick the size, we pick the flavor” is their tagline.) Be on the lookout for the local favorite flavor, lemon.
A Must: Adirondack “Paddling” In & Around Saranac Lake, NY
Spend a day on the water for the most memorable way to experience the Adirondacks; rentals are available at Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters.
With endless rivers, ponds, and lakes – many of them interconnected – paddling is considered by many as the best way to take in the Adirondacks. To do so, rent from Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters whose fleet of rental canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards (aka SUP) is located right in town on Lake Flower.
Both guided and self-guided tours are available; paddlers can opt to have Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters drop the boats directly into Lake Flower, have them shuttled to another location, or loaded up to transport them yourself. (For reference, we took a guided tour that shuttled us to the Second Boat Launch, paddling into Lower Saranac Lake, with a lunch stop on Bluff Island; and can’t recommend this 2-3 hour tour enough!)
Where to Eat & Drink in Saranac Lake
Have a “Hot Sara” at the Hotel Saranac – its signature drink, named for a time when the hotel’s neon sign spelled “HOT SARA” after being hit by lightning.
If you’re staying at White Pine Camp, note that its remote location means guests are ~20 minutes from town; best to plan your meals, especially breakfast, in advance. Before checking in, stock up on provisions in town at Nori’s Village Market – with organic fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and more. Nori’s also has an excellent to-go fridge, with sandwiches that are perfect for a picnic on the Saranac Lake Riverwalk, or to pack away for a hike.
For breakfast and lunch, Blue Moon Cafe on Main Street is a local favorite. Six different types of coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner, are served in this diner-meets-cafe atmosphere. Also on Main Street, Origin Coffee Co. offers a more city-style coffee-and-breakfast menu, with paninis (including a vegan sausage panini that’s delicious), biscuits, specialty toasts and more.
For lunch or dinner, Campfire Adirondack Grill & Bar offers fun, campy cuisine and is located on the lower level of the revamped Hotel Saranac. The menu offers mostly game meats and fish – think rabbit, duck, bass, and trout — cooked on a wood-burning grill, as well as foraged produce like wild leeks, mushrooms, and cranberries. Grab a Hot Sara from the bar — a cocktail named for a time when Hotel Saranac’s iconic neon sign spelled HOT SARA after being struck by lightning – while you figure out your game plan for dinner. Another notable option in town is Bitters & Bones – your Upstate take on a city cocktail bar, serving up a variety of flatbreads, burgers and other yummy plates.
Speaking of cocktail bars and drinking, there’s a number of breweries in the area, including Blue Line Brewery, Hex & Hop, and Ray Brook Brewhouse. (There’s also Big Slide Brewery and Great Adirondack Brewing in nearby Lake Placid.) Eager to try some of the local beers, we stopped to sample a pint at Hex & Hop, whose name comes from the bees kept on-site – specifically, in the tasting room! Stand in awe of the busy bees while sampling their beers and meads. The unique brewery also has a farm co-op space designed to incubate the local farming community; so you can enjoy their libations and feel good about supporting a great, local cause too. Cheers!