You won’t have to pay for a ticket to road trip the Adirondack Park: this area is a mix of public and private land, one of the last wild areas in the United States of America. The park is protected by a series of laws that won’t even allow billboard advertising and reduce the opening of huge malls to the minimum. It won’t be easy to find Starbucks or Walmart, but rest assured: you won’t miss them!
My husband Aldo and I don’t particularly love the usual tourist traps. Road trips are our favorite way to explore, so the Adirondack Park was the perfect destination for us. While the area is lovely (almost) all year round, in Fall it’s probably at its best. If you visit in Winter, beware: aside from Lake Placid and a few other places, the Adirondacks are mostly quiet from October to May. I’ve been told by locals that Winters can be brutal over there and I have no reason to doubt it!
Adirondack Park Main areas of interest
Raquette Lake is best known for its Great Camps. Once resorts for the wealthy families from New York who escaped the pollution and chaos of NYC, they can now be visited. If you’re lucky and you book well in advance, it’s definitely possible to sleep in one of the beautiful historical cabins in the woods or dine in a lakefront dining area.
If you’ve ever heard of the “Adirondack style”, then know that we owe it to the Great Camps (especially Great Camp Sagamore) in Raquette Lake. The main idea was that they had to offer to their guests the chance to live like pioneers in the woods, but providing enough luxury that they weren’t going to miss New York. To force their guests to interact with the nature surrounding them, they built separate buildings for lodging, dining and group activities.
If you are looking for a beautiful, little town where everyone knows each other, and where you can eat some delicious “homemade” food, then add Saranac Lake to your itinerary.
For us, it was love at first sight. From the historical clock tower that overlooks Main Street to the little park where they have a nice market with local products every Sunday… to the cute statues of two teddy bears representing the city, everything seems to remind the visitors that it’s an “old style” town. Not like the tourist traps we have seen in other areas: Saranac Lake doesn’t even try too hard to be cool. It simply has that vintage fashion that attracts artists and tourists from all over the world.
If you walk up the hill from Main Street you will find a quaint little carousel for the kids. It represents the forest animals and it’s completely hand painted on wood. Very ‘Instagrammable’, if you ask me!
Most people think of scary gators when they hear “Lake Placid”: I couldn’t stop grinning when I visited this beautiful little town! No worries, there are no rabid gators here, only a beautiful lake that reflects everything like a mirror. Hence the name, Mirror Lake.
Lake Placid got famous in 1932, and then again in 1980 because it was the theater of the Winter Olympic Games. In the 1980 edition, a hockey team formed by college students and non-professional players defeated the Soviet national team and two days later won the gold medal. It’s remembered as “Miracle on ice”: today Lake Placid is the hub for all things Winter. And not only that! You can access a few great hiking trails from Lake Placid, from easy to very hard ones. In Autumn the foliage makes them absolutely gorgeous!
Lake Champlain is a rural area, full of big farms, where food is delicious and you can have the best pancakes with maple syrup. Farm-to-table is common here and road trips are magnificent in every season.
While Scotland has “Nessie”, the Loch Ness monster, Lake Champlain has “Champie”. The locals believe he’s been living in the deeper parts of the lake for centuries and every year there are several television crews who come here to try and spot Champie, investigating the area.
To be honest, I didn’t add Lake Champlain to our itinerary to hunt for poor Champie. I’ve always been in love with “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper, so I wanted to see the places that inspired the author of this iconic book.
Adirondack Park best food & drink options
The Adirondack Park is well known for the delicious maple syrup, used not only on pancakes but also for sweets and all kinds of desserts. But there’s a lot more than that!
- Origin Coffee: (Saranac Lake) is the perfect place to go for a healthy and delicious breakfast or a light lunch. They make the best muffins ever (try the chocolate chip and orange zest ones!) and they have wonderful vegetarian options for lunch too.
- Blue Moon Café: (Saranac Lake) also has great breakfast options but we much prefer it for dinner. The owners, Ken and Trish Fontana, will make you feel like you’re a guest at their house. The food is divine!
- Maggie’s Pub: (Lake Placid) is one of the favorites from the locals because they have billiards and board games so you can go there to have a drink (or dinner) and play Monopoly with your friends if you feel like it.
- Gunnison Lakeshore Orchards: (Lake Champlain) is a cute, tiny shop near a big orchard. They sell bags of freshly picked apples, jams, and one of our favorite treats ever: apple cider donuts with that sprinkle of cinnamon that makes them to die for!
- Turtle Islands Café: (Lake Champlain): Farm to table food and a cozy atmosphere for this tiny restaurant. They even make homemade Italian ravioli!
Getting around the Adirondack Park
If you are planning to explore the Adirondacks, the best way to go is by planning a road trip from New York. Public transport isn’t a thing in the area and even if there are train stations here and there, the park is just too big and untouched to rely on them. In certain areas at Lake Champlain, the locals have to drive up to 20-25 miles to find a decent sized supermarket! You will definitely need a car.
In case you are flying to New York, pick La Guardia airport and rent a car there. The trip to the Adirondack Park will be easier, as you won’t find that much traffic to get out of New York.
Places to stay in the Adirondack Park
While everyone in the area is waiting for the big reopening of the historical Saranac Hotel in Saranac Lake, let me suggest you a few nice alternatives for every pocket.
- The Hedges or Great Camp Sagamore: if you want to experience one of the Great Camps in the Adirondacks, I strongly suggest you book a room well in advance. They tend to fill up quickly! Both Camps are open from May to October, but they have a different feel. The Hedges is more luxurious than Great Camp Sagamore.
- Ampersand Bay Resort: (Saranac Lake): a few minutes away from the city center. Open from May to October, they also have nice bonfires at night for their guests.
- Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort: (Lake Placid): the rooms overlook Mirror Lake and it’s within walking distance from all the best shops and restaurants in Lake Placid.
- Dacy Meadow Farm: for those who like the idea of lodging on a working farm. They also breed Highlander cattle!
Don’t miss out on the Adirondack Park’s…
- The Wild Center: Opened in 2006, this beautiful center teaches people (kids, especially) how to take care of our planet. Don’t forget to visit the iForest and the Wild Walk!
- Saranac Laboratory: If you like history, this little museum in Saranac Lake won’t disappoint. Not many people know that back in the early ‘900s this city was the place to be if you wanted to survive tuberculosis!
- Adirondack Experience Museum: Open from May to October, this interactive museum shows visitors everything about the Adirondack Park, through games, interesting videos, and exhibitions.
- Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway: an easy but spectacular drive to the top of Whiteface Mountain. Tickets cost 15$/car.
- Fort Ticonderoga: once known as the “Fort Carillon” you’ve read about in The Last of the Mohicans (also seen in the Oscar-winning movie, of course). Here you will find historical reenactment, a museum and several daily shows.
- Ausable Chasm: Also known as the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks. The park is beautiful and offers breathtaking views of the Ausable River. You will be able to do rafting or adventurous trails if you feel brave enough!
Facts and curiosities
- The Statue representing the two teddy bears in Saranac Lake… was a mistake. It had to represent, originally, two wild bears! Yet the kids have immediately fallen in love with it so it stayed!
- You can attend a photography course at Great Camp Sagamore, practice and theory, for a weekend with experienced photographers. All the information can be found on their official website
- It’s difficult to lodge in the Great Camps because there are guests who keep returning, booking always the same room, some for over 20 years!
- Maple syrup in the Adirondacks is a bit more expensive but 100% natural and absolutely delicious.
Danila Caputo is a Translator and Interpreter from Italy. Together with her husband, she manages “Travelling Dany”, a bilingual (English/Italian) blog where she tells stories of their travels, sharing tips and deals with her readers, and several social channels.
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