New York City and Adirondacks are just five hours away from each other but different like day and night. One is best explored by a subway other by boots and boats. As you drive down the winding road, the wilderness stretches out like a dreamscape – scenic mountain valleys hug the crystal-clear lakes and deep lush forests. The never-ending protected park takes over the reins from the city in motion. Open skies replace skyscrapers. I am the lone driver on the spectacular but sleepy highway. The five-hour drive from New York to Adirondacks has drained me but it is no ordinary journey. I’m making a pilgrimage to the Adirondack Park in upstate New York where History has been written several times.
It was here in Adirondacks on the damp night of September 14, 1901, the Vice President Theodore Roosevelt made his legendary night ride from the Adirondack Mountains to the Presidency of the United States of America. The word “vacation” was invented in Adirondacks when the richest and most powerful men in the US started ‘vacating’ their homes in summers to spend time in the clean and soothing environs of Adirondacks. From Emerson, Thoreau, Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, DuPonts to Mark Twain; everyone got gripped by the spell of Adirondacks.
“Forever Wild” Adirondacks is a big daddy of Parks
Historically the most important but least known park in the US. At 6 million acres, it’s larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Everglades national parks combined. The Park is incredibly wild with 2.6 million acres of forest reserve land, 3,000 lakes, and ponds, 30,000 miles of water bodies, 2,000 miles of hiking trails, 46 peaks above 4,000 feet, 55 species of mammals and 218 species of birds.
Unlike other Parks, there is no entrance fee, no gates, just endless natural preserve and the promise of adventure in every part. It remains the only constitutionally protected “Forever Wild” forest in America. And the locals here take full advantage of the wilderness they are gifted with.
The Adirondacks is a living playground for outdoor lovers. We don’t go to Gym, we just hike or ski in our backyard. There’s a 6-inch rule we follow – if it snows more than 6-inch, we can officially take half day off to ski.
says Kim Rielly, Director of Communication, Adirondacks USA
Four Seasons Playground
Adirondacks is a region where you’ll find scenic beauty and friendly folks in all Four seasons – from summer days kayaking on Saranac Lake, hiking 46 peaks ablaze with autumn foliage, cross-country skiing on powdery slopes to fly-fishing in Spring. And no matter what type of adventure you crave, Adirondacks satiates it – from Scenic hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, fly fishing, snowboarding, Olympic training or just strolling through off the beaten paths.
Boot up to hike the 46 High Peaks above 4000 Feet
Usually, if you meet someone for the first time, you invite them for a coffee or a meal. But at Adirondacks, you invite them for a hike. My first meeting with Kim was at Owl’s Head mountain. The hike in the great outdoors rewarded me with pure air, grand scenery and a bird’s view of the region that no photoshopped catalog can match. Hiking or mountain biking is the only acceptable currency here.
Valleys carpeted with multicolored wildflowers in spring or the annual outfit change of autumn foliage is a sight to behold. The view from the 46 high peaks is beyond spectacular. The higher you go better the view. There is no shortage of choice of hiking trails in the Adirondacks. From easy to advance, from an hour to several days.
Paddle up to surf the scenic lakes and rivers
When you have 3000 lakes and ponds, 30,000 miles of rivers, streams, and ponds, you can’t stay away from cruising the crystal-clear waters for hidden scenic views and exceptional wildlife. In Adirondacks, you don’t rent a boat you own it. Boating goes on irrespective of rain or shine. I kayaked recently at Scottsdale so I opted for talking to the friendly locals, shooting the golden hour and enjoying the Mirror Lake views from the classic Adirondack chairs.Walking along the shoreline of the lakes is another way to savour the indescribable rugged beauty of the scenic Lakes.
Whitewater rafting on the Hudson River
I am most excited for my full day adventure on the Hudson River with Adirondac Rafting Company. Starting at 7:30 am from Saranac Lake, I pass through extremely scenic winding road over hills, through small villages, rivers and dozens of lakes. Very rarely I come across an oncoming car. It’s early in the morning, the sun had taken a day off. Occasional showers and gray clouds entertain me throughout my 1.5-hour journey. This is pure joy. Along the way, I drive past several crystal-clear Lakes like Indian Lake, Long Lake, and Tupper Lake. Few have seaplanes parked on them.
As I reach my destination, I am given a complete rafting gear and detailed instructions by Bob and his team. I enjoy the 15 miles of torrential action and dozens of breath-taking class IV and V rapids. We stop over for an on-river snack break. After which we continue our adventurous raft journey along wooded shores, into gentle eddies surrounded by towering cliffs. This is a must do for anyone fond of adventure.
Classic Adirondack lodging at historic Great Camp
As I spend more time in Adirondack, I get more interested in knowing about the 19th century extravagant gilded age Elite. On a rain-swept day along with Carrie, my trip-organizer-turned-friend, I drive down to get a peek into the wealth and charm of Adirondack Rustic. At the end of a two-mile dirt road, White Pine Camp stand surrounded by water on three sides and towering pine trees on the fourth. Cabins painted green and black blend into the woods and there is an eerie sense of seclusion.
The historic Great Camp is an assertion of rustic yet luxurious retreat, fitting in with nature. The material used are shingle, stone, wood – all found in the park. Recreation has many forms here – grab a canoe, rowboat or kayak from any of the two boathouses and go boating, swim in the crystal-clear waters of Osgood Pond, hike in the Great trails just minutes away or bowl in the vintage bowling alley used by the President himself. Once called the “Summer White House” of President Calvin Coolidge is now open to the public – you can stay here at as low as $95 per night in winters and $155 in summers.
After spending time in Adirondacks, all I can say is – once your boots and boats have got a taste of the life and wildlife of wild east – you’ll always return. That’s the spell “Forever Wild” Adirondacks cast on you.
- Train: Amtrak trains run from New York, Albany, and Montreal to Westport Station
- Car: 5-hour drive from New York City via scenic byways. For car rentals I highly recommend Priceless Rent-a-car. They really live up to their name. Do check my experience with them in my story – The USA Travel: Things You should know before your visit
- Bus: Adirondack Trailways from New York City and other New York State locations
- Flight: Adirondack Regional Airport at Lake Clear and Plattsburgh Airport
Adirondacks has ample stay options from luxury resorts, independent cottages, Bed and Breakfasts to camping in the park. Few places I highly recommend:
- Whiteface Lodge: luxury resort cottages at Lake Placid starting at $548. Read my full review here. It is one of the best places in the whole of Adirondacks to have a luxury experience.
- Harbor Hill Cottages, independent Lakefront cottages at Saranac Lake starting at $255. I absolutely loved staying here. Denise, my host was very warm and took great care of me and her two cute dogs gave the best possible welcome anyone could ever get. I had complete privacy in my fully furnished cottage. It was right on the Saranac Lake, which made me enjoy the glorious sunrise and sunset.
- White Pine Camp, the historic great camp cottages at Paul Smiths starts at $155. It is one place that has got so much character you wouldn’t wanna leave. Even if you stay here for a day, it’s worth it.
10 Must Do Activities in Adirondacks, New York
- Hike or ski on the 46 Adirondack high peaks.
- Kayak the Saranac Lake chain of three lakes. It’s a crime to visit Adirondacks and not paddle.
- Tame the wild rapids of Hudson River with Adirondac Rafting Co.
- Watch the rescued wildlife or volunteer at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge Centre. Wendy and her husband are doing a great job of saving the rescued wildlife single-handedly without any financial support. Any help would make it easier for them.
- Visit the Winters Olympic Museum. Lake Placid is the only place that holds the distinction of holding the Winter Olympic games twice (1932 and 1980). It’s a great nostalgic journey to visit the museum and the facility.
- Stopover at the Wild Center, a natural history museum
- Chase the labyrinth of waterfalls at High Falls Gorge. A well marked easy walk along the stream that gives you gorgeous views of several waterfalls.
- Drive on the scenic byways of Adirondack
- Buy locally made maple syrup and cheese
- Visit micro-breweries, wineries, and distillery
Food & Drinks
- The Breakfast Club at Lake Placid: try their signature bloody marys and mimosas
- Blue Moon Cafe at Saranac Lake: try their seasonal specials
- Adirondack Growl and Grub at Long Lake for Draft beer and Fresh Deli. Ally and her husband are passionate travelers who moved to Adirondacks because of their love for nature and adventure.
- The Cottage Cafe at Mirror Lake Inn for spectacular Lake view and delicious food
- Bitters and Bones at Saranac Lake for local brews and chili maple wings. They have probably the best staff in the area. Your food can finish but not your conversations with them.
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Thanks a lot, Adirondacks USA for hosting me. As always, the views are mine and based on my personal experiences. The pictures used are either mine or provided by Adirondacks USA.
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