Just past Old Forge off Route 28 a mountain top with a revealing panorama awaits. Clearly marked by Adirondack Park Agency signs, the trail up Bald Mountain begins on Rondax Road and culminates on a rocky top with a fire tower and a stunning view of the Fulton Chain of Lakes and the mountains stretching out beyond.
A modest climb by Adirondack standards, Bald Mountain nonetheless gives an indelible impression of the vastness of the Adirondack Park. This wilderness reserve is large enough to hold Yellowstone, Glacier and Smokey Mountain Parks as well as the Grand Canyon within the park’s border, the Blue Line. A unique combination of mountains, lakes and rivers, the Adirondacks are a patchwork of public and private lands with 2,000 miles of trails, 2,500 miles of navigable lakes and rivers, 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 46 mountains higher than 4,000 feet.
But there is much more to the Adirondack experience than you can see from Bald Mountain. In fact, the largest wilderness reserve in the contiguous 48 states also offers venerable cultural institutions, fine dining, two theme parks, museums, historic sites, accommodations from the primitive to the opulent, and wilderness that provides nearly endless opportunities for hiking, camping, canoeing and kayaking. Although the permanent population of the Adirondacks hovers around 130,000, tourism — the park’s primary economy — accounts for nearly 10 million visitors annually.
For Central New Yorkers, the Adirondack experience usually starts in Old Forge (oldforgeny.com), a 2 ó-hour drive from Syracuse. In addition to myriad dining and accommodation options, visitors can ride the chair lift at McCauley Mountain ((315) 369-3225) for a great view of the area or try the water slides at Water Safari (watersafari.com).
Another 100 miles up the road, the village of Lake Placid (lakeplacid.com), host to the Olympics in 1932 and 1980, offers four-star accommodations and dining, tours of the Olympic facilities, including the imposing ski jump towers, and the Olympic Museum, where you can watch a continuously looped replay of the “Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 U.S. victory over the Soviet Olympic hockey team, as exciting today as it was then. Try a bobsled run or a trip up nearby Whiteface Mountain on the Cloudsplitter Gondola (whiteface. com, orda.org). Information on hiking in the nearby High Peaks area can be obtained from the Adirondack Mountain Club (adk.org).
Three unique cultural/historical institutions provide a broad understanding of the Adirondacks’ history, natural history and artistic life. View (viewarts.org), formerly the Old Forge Art Center, attracts 45,000 visitors a year to its 28,000-square-foot facility, open since 2011 on Route 28 in Old Forge. The arts (painting, photography, sculpture) thrive here, as well as live drama and music in Gould Hall, the state-of-the-art performance center. View also features educational classes and workshops throughout the year.
The Adirondacks Lakes Center for the Arts ((518) 352-7715, (877) 752-7715, adirondackarts. org), on Route 28 in Blue Mountain Lake, a smaller but equally vibrant facility, presents live theater, music, dance and film throughout the summer season as well as classes and workshops in a variety of disciplines.
The Wild Center ((518) 359-7800, wildcenter. org), the natural history museum on 45 Museum Drive in Tupper Lake, occupies a 115-acre site on the Raquette River. Open since 2006, this special combination of zoo, aquarium, science and nature center is dedicated to the further understanding of the park’s ecology, flora and fauna and includes educational programs, interactive exhibits, and live performances in the high-tech Flammer Theater. Outside a 2 ó-acre pond laps up against the modern yet rustic 54,000-squarefoot main building. And overhead is the Wild Walk, the elevated stroll at treetop level that offers a unique view of the forest canopy.
Blue Mountain Lake, the tiny hamlet at the intersection of Routes 28 and 30 in the central Adirondacks, hosts what is considered to be the finest regional museum in the United States: the Adirondack Experience ((518) 352-7311, adkx. org).
Originally known as the Adirondack Museum, this 22-acre campus, founded in 1957, chronicles virtually every aspect of historic and contemporary Adirondack life and schedules workshops, symposia, special events, interactive exhibits and educational programs through the summer and fall seasons. Its art collection and wooden boat exhibit, which features the iconic Adirondack guide boat, are renowned. Located at the trailhead to the lofty Blue Mountain, the ADKX, as it refers to itself, will open the ADKX Boathouse for 2019 and offer self-propelled boat rentals on Minnow Pond, a three-quarter-mile hike from the main campus.
Two smaller venues, the Visitor Information Centers at Paul Smiths and Newcomb, serve the public awareness as well with full seasonal schedules of exhibits, workshops and interactive events. The 2,885-acre facility at Paul Smiths ((518) 327-6241, adirondackvic.org, paulsmiths. edu/vic), on Route 30 near Saranac Lake, hosts interpretative canoe paddles, art and music, children’s activities and many other events throughout the summer season, and features 25 miles of trails and a 150-seat theater.
The smaller center on Route 28N in Newcomb ((518) 582-2000, esf.edu/aic) includes a milelong forested peninsula on Rich Lake and a 6,000-square-foot multipurpose main building used for exhibits, lectures and demonstrations. A hike up nearby Mount Goodnow off Route 28N offers a panoramic view of the area. Both centers host a full schedule of seasonal activities for park visitors of all ages.
Vestiges of the 19th-century “gilded age,” a period of affluence when the 1 percent built “camps” to summer in, remain for our edification. Great Camp Sagamore ((315) 354-5311, greatcampsagamore.org) in Raquette Lake is the American-Adirondack style summer home of the Vanderbilts, designed to mimic a Swiss chalet by William West Durant in 1897. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and offers lodging, tours and many special activities for all ages. With 27 buildings, including a rustic bowling alley, this complex offers a compelling peek into the Adirondacks of yore.
On nearby Raquette Lake, the double-decked W.W. Durant tour boat ((315) 354-5532, raquettelakenavigation.com) offers narrated tours of historic Camp Pine Knot and St. Williams Church, both architect Durant creations, with many dining and entertainment options.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad ((315) 369- 6290, adirondackrr.org), built by industrialist William Seward Webb in 1878, offers service and tours from Utica and Thendara to Carter Station north of Old Forge. New York state, which owns the line, has agreed to repair another 45 miles of track to connect with Tupper Lake. Service on the 34-mile section between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake has been suspended in anticipation of the state’s plan to replace the rails with a multi-use trail. Even though the state has committed to this change, the matter is not yet resolved.
Scenic excursions from the headquarters at Thendara come in many varieties, including rail and boat trips, canoe and bicycle journeys, and many forms of entertainment, including a “Beer and Wine” train. With resumption of service that began in 1992, the line now serves more than 74,000 passengers a year.
With an area larger than Vermont (9,000 square miles) to choose from, the Adirondacks are a camper’s dream. For car campers, New York state operates 42 sites within the Blue Line, with campsite fees from $15 to $36. Reservations are always a good idea; call (800) 456-CAMP or visit newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com. Comprehensive information about these wonderful car camping sites is also available at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov.
For back-country hikers, camping is generally permitted on state land. In some areas bear-proof food canisters are required, and camping is prohibited above 4,000 feet, due to fragile alpine flora. The DEC website has more information, and the Adirondack Mountain Club ((518) 668- 4447, adk.org) offers maps, gear and lots of specific advice on everything from necessary equipment to trail conditions. Or try the ADK lodge at Heart Lake in the High Peaks area ((518) 523-3441).
For canoeists and kayakers, the Adirondacks’ unique combination of mountains, lakes and rivers, and more shoreline than Vermont and New Hampshire combined, offers opportunities found nowhere else. Canoe reserves (no motors), including the St. Regis Ponds Area, Lake Lila, Lowes Lake and others, offer primitive camping for those willing to get themselves there. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s canoe guides and trail maps, available online, are recommended. And outfitters, including St. Regis Canoe Outfitters ((518) 891-1838, canoeoutfitters.com) or Raquette River Outfitters ((518) 359-3228, raquetteriveroutfitters.com) can provide everything necessary for a wilderness experience.
For personal licensed backpacking, canoeing and fishing guide services, try adirondack-adventures.com. Another Paradise Cove ((518) 624-4440. [email protected]), a nascent canoe, kayak and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) rental business in Long Lake, also offers pastries and good coffee. In Old Forge, Mountain Man Outdoor Supply Co. ((315) 369-6672, mountainmanoutdoors.com) both rents and sells boats and equipment.
In Inlet, Frisky Otter Tours ((315) 357-3444, friskyottertours.com) offers personalized instruction, guided excursions and sales. Or try Mac’s Canoe Livery ((518) 891-1176, macscanoeadk.com) for rentals, guide services and outfitting.
For a fast, wet trip down the upper Hudson River in a raft, try the Adirondac (sic) Rafting Co. ((518) 523-1635, lakeplacidrafting.com), Whitewater Challengers ((800 443-8554, whitewaterchallengers.com) or North Creek Rafting ((800 989-RAFT, northcreekrafting.com). The website visitadirondacks.com offers a comprehensive listing of these and other wilderness opportunities.
Beginning in Old Forge, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a patchwork of rivers, lakes and portages, winds its way through the Adirondacks, northern Vermont, a bit of Quebec, and northern New Hampshire before terminating at Fort Kent in northern Maine. The book Upwards (Maine Authors Publishing), Laurie Chandler’s compelling day-by-day account of the 740-mile trek (125 miles of portages, 150 miles upstream), relates the challenges of this epic journey.
The “great warpath,” the strategic corridor from Albany to Montreal, saw furious combat in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Fort William Henry, built in 1755 by Sir William Johnson, the British and their Mohawk allies at the foot of Lake George, was cannonaded into submission two years later by the Marquis de Montcalm and his French army. The Fort William Henry Museum ((518) 668-5471, fwhmuseum.com) offers special events and a peek into area history.
Farther north at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga (nee Carillon) served in both wars. The landmark site ((518) 528-2821, fortticonderoga.org) now offers tours and re-enactments of those conflicts.
The Saratoga Battlefield ((518) 670-2985, nps.gov/sara), south of Lake George, commemorates the pivotal fight of the American Revolution, where Benedict Arnold (then a patriot) and his colonials defeated Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and his British Army to turn the tide of the American Revolution in 1777. The site now offers tours, re-enactments and other special events throughout the summer.
Calendar of Events
June 15. Mike Powell.
Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts, Blue Mountain Lake. (518) 352-7715, adirondack arts.org. The former Syracuse University lacrosse star turned singer-songwriter in concert. $25.
June 21, July 12, 26, Aug. 9, 23, Sept. 6, 20, Oct. 4. Beer and Wine Train.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad. (800) 819-2291, adirondackrr.com. Rail excursion from Utica’s Union Station into the mountains with libations and live music. $30/coach, $50/first class.
June 21-23. Black Fly Beer Camp.
Great Camp Sagamore, Raquette Lake. (315) 354-5311, Ext. 1023, greatcampsagamore.org. Lectures, demonstrations, accommodations, food and lots of beer. $275.
July 1-Aug. 31. Canoe the Raquette.
The Wild Center. Tupper Lake. (518) 359-7800, wildcenter.org. Take daily guided/instructed canoe tours of the Raquette River. $45.
July 4, Aug. 2, 5, 14. Tour Boat Rides.
Raquette Lake Navigation. (315) 354-5532, raquettelakenavigation. com. Cruises and tours of Great Camp Pine Knot and St. Williams Church aboard the W.W. Durant tour boat.
July 5-7. I Love BBQ and Music Festival.
Lake Placid. lakeplacid.com, ilbbqf.com. Smokey delights from across the United States, plus beer and live music.
July 13. Antique Wooden Boat Show and Fulton Chain Rendezvous.
Old Forge. (315) 635-6187, oldforg eny.com. Classic watercraft from the past.
July 14. Peter Yarrow.
View Arts Center, Old Forge. (315) 369 6411, viewarts.org. A concert with one-third of the legendary Peter, Paul, and Mary folk trio. $50.
July 20-21. Battle of Carillon Re-enactment: Montcalm’s Cross.
Fort Ticonderoga. (518) 585-2821, fortticon deroga.org. A two-day recreation of the epic 1758 siege of Fort Carillon. $24/adults, $22/seniors, $12/ages 5 to 15.
Aug. 3. Adirondack National Exhibition of American Watercolors lecture and brunch.
View Arts Center, Old Forge. (315) 369-6411, viewarts.org. The annual show runs through Aug. 29.
Aug. 9-10. Mountain Man Rendezvous.
Adirondack Experience. Blue Mountain Lake. (518) 352-7311, adkx.org. Traditions, skills, and lifestyles of 19th-century woodsy types on display.
Aug. 22. Rural Indigenousness.
Adirondack Interpretive Center, Newcomb. (518) 582-2000, esf.edu/ aics. Presenting a history of Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples in the Adirondacks.
Sept 6-8. Adirondack 90 Miler.
(518) 891-2744, adirondack90miler.com. The annual three-day 90-mile canoe stage race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. Entry fee: $175-$200. Entry deadline: July 20.