The Adirondack Mountains are an absolutely magical place. Ever since early Romantic writers discovered the beauty of the lakes and mountains in this corner of Upstate New York, it's been a popular destination for retreats back into nature. The park itself encompasses about 6 million acres, but the state owns less than half of it. The rest is privately owned and is made up of resorts, towns (or, as they call them, "hamlets"), farms, a bit of forestry, and a tiny amount of industrial development. It's sort of an experiment in conservation, balancing all of this in a place that the government determined "shall be forever kept as wild forest lands." Explore the quaint Upstate villages, mountain beauty, and wild forest lands for yourself and enjoy the Adirondacks as they were meant to be seen.
With 6 million acres to explore, it can be hard to decide where to start. You can always make your home base one of the lakes, like Lake George, or Lake Champlain, if you're one for outdoor adventure. Or, if you'd rather soak up some culture on your trip, stay in a town like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh, or Old Forge. Experience as much beauty as you can on a scenic drive such as the Lake to Locks Passage down Lake Champlain. The foliage is amazing in the fall, spring and summer provide endless opportunities for fun on the lakes and trails, and winter brings awesome skiing and lots of excitement at Lake Placid, a former Winter Olympics site. Basically, you can't go wrong with a trip here.
Old Forge is a hamlet of about 750 people, and it's an utterly charming little settlement. Just because it's small doesn't mean there's nothing to do there, though! It's home to Five Corners Cafe, a restaurant that serves up fresh, modern dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. It's a great place to get a few small dishes (think housemade ricotta studded with acorn squash, asiago risotto with truffle honey, braised short ribs atop homemade pasta, that kind of thing) and a bottle of wine to share, and have a relaxing evening.
For an intriguing look into the culture and history of the park, check out the Adirondack Museum. It has displays and artifacts all about things like the logging industry in the forests, historic boats for transportation and leisure, the log cabin camps and resorts that once dotted the mountains, the style of furniture inspired by the region, and more. Learn what people in the 19th century did for fun, see works of art depicting the Adirondacks, explore historic log buildings, and enjoy the peaceful setting, near Blue Mountain and Blue Mountain Lake.
The Wild Center is a totally unique interactive outdoor experience. It has its signature Wild Walk, which is a boardwalk that's elevated among the treetops and offers a bird's eye view of the rolling forests. Along the way, you'll find interactive displays that entertain and educate kids and adults alike about the natural surroundings. Giant bird's nests, webs, bridges, tree tunnels, and more keep the walk exciting and fun. The rest of the Wild Center houses more displays, films, and even live animals to meet. They offer guided canoe tours and other fun events on their 81 acres of lush property as well.
The Saranac Laboratory Museum explores a lesser-known side to the Adirondacks... the fact that many asylums, sanatoriums, and hospitals opened here, especially ones treating tuberculosis patients. The fresh mountain air and bucolic setting made the region a good place for those suffering from the chronic and often deadly lung infection. This museum is the former home of the first lab that specifically researched TB. It was founded by a doctor, Edward Livingston Trudeau, who suffered from the disease and was inspired by the 1882 revelation that it was caused by a known bacteria. This lab was built in the 1890s, and was used for studies until the doctors moved to the Trudeau Institute in the 1960s, which is still in operation today. The old lab has been painstakingly restored and filled with artifacts all about the history of the disease... and how a cure was eventually discovered!
For a more casual dining experience, grab a fresh sandwich and a pack of craft beers from the Lakeview Deli near Saranac Lake and have a relaxing picnic. The homemade bread, sides and desserts add an extra special touch. This is a local favorite, so don't be afraid to ask anyone in here for suggestions on what else to see in the town of Saranac Lake; it's a bigger town in the park and has plenty to see and do. Or just cross the street to Flower Lake and enjoy the setting!
High Falls Gorge is a privately owned 22-acre park, and the crown jewels of this Adirondack beauty are the four waterfalls cascading into the gorge. There are a few trails, including some glass walkways built onto the cliff that take you past the falls and some other cool natural features, fire pits surrounded by comfy Adirondack chairs, a historic mine, plus a little cafe and gift shop. The waterfall walk is an easy, half-mile loop and the nature walk through the lovely Climax Forest is a mile-long loop, so you can tackle both in a day, and then unwind with a snack afterwards.
Another important historical site is the John Brown Farm. John Brown was an interesting figure in history, most known for his failed raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, hoping that it would incite a rebellion that would end slavery. The 1859 attack pre-dated the Civil War by a few short years, but John Brown didn't live to see the institution he hated so violently brought to an end... he was executed for the raid a few months after it took place. His body and the body of one of his sons, Oliver, who died during the raid, were moved here, to his old farm, in 1899. Brown had used this property to lead freed slaves in farming, and in the late 1990s, it was declared a historic site. You can see the peaceful cabin, which has been decorated to look as it might have when he lived there, along with the graves and a memorial.
See the ancient marble rock formations, carved by glaciers and streams over thousands of years at Natural Stone Bridge & Caves Park. Summer and winter tours through the caves, grottos, potholes, and more let you see below the Adirondacks. Tour the cute little museum, dig for gemstones and crystals, explore the historic sawmill, and enjoy a caveman sundae to make an adventure out of an afternoon at the park.
There are tons of great places to stay in the park, from cozy inns to luxe resorts. The Fern Lodge is definitely on the higher end side of the scale. The B&B pays immense attention to detail: from the wine cellar and lodge bar to the hot tub overlooking the lake and the rooms with balconies to the homemade gourmet breakfasts each morning, it's an incredibly relaxing experience. You won't get a more thoroughly classic experience in the mountains than with a stay at a classic lodge like this, and the friendly and warm hosts make the stay all the better.
With so many peaks in the Adirondack Mountains, there are plenty of summit hikes in the park. For avid mountain climbers, there's the famed 46 Club, reserved for those who have summited the 46 peaks that are almost or taller than 4,000 feet.
Prospect Mountain in the Lake George area is a lot more doable for beginners. At only 2,030 feet, it still manages to offer a 100-mile view deep into the Adirondacks, and across the rugged mountain lake. And, if you're in a rush and don't have time to make the two-hour hike up, there's a scenic drive to the top.
Lake George is an exceptionally popular spot for tourists in the Adirondacks, and it's not hard to see why: the lake offers swimming and boating during the summer, there are tons of hikes and trails, and the town itself is the picture of quaint charm. The best spot for fun on the water is Million Dollar Beach. This gem is a state-run beach with a full-time boat launch, a spacious parking lot, and great facilities (including lifeguards.) The blue waves lapping against the sand with the forested mountains in the distance makes for a one-of-a-kind view that you can enjoy while taking a break from enjoying the beach!
Accommodations aren't all swanky resorts and cozy B&Bs... you can also enjoy the rad, old-school experience of staying at a retro motor lodge at Art Devlin's Olympic Motor Inn. Art Devlin was an Olympic ski jumper who was born in a home located where the hotel is today... in fact, his first ski jump was located where the pool is now. After his incredible career on the US ski jump team, he opened the Motor Inn, which has been a popular spot to stay during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.
The Motor Inn has the vintage, lodge-y vibes you want from a retro motel in the mountains, but it's been updated recently and is spotless and features modern amenities. It's just off the town's main strip, so it's quiet, but you're still close enough to walk to a lot of attractions, and it's a great price!
Lake Placid is another popular town to visit, especially during the winter, since they're known for their winter sports. The Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980, and the Olympic Center built to host skating events is still around. There are several rinks for public skating and athletic training (gold medal winners have been known to show up and work on their skills here) and there's also a museum on the first floor dedicated to the history that has been made here. This is where the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 upset of the US men's hockey team over the defending gold medal Soviet team took place, and plenty of records have been broken here.
There's no bad time to visit the Adirondacks. The foliage is amazing in the fall, spring and summer provide endless opportunities for fun on the lakes and trails, and winter brings awesome skiing and lots of excitement at Lake Placid and on mountains at numerous resorts. Basically, you can't go wrong with a trip here!