Adirondack Mountains Vacation: Everything You Need To Know | Stanton House Inn
Scenic drive through the Adirondacks

Adirondack Mountains Vacation: Top Spots to Visit

Sunset over a lake in the Adirondacks

The Adirondacks in New York State is a trove of exhilarating activities. You can indulge in scenic rides in North Creek or feast your eyes on the awe-inspiring views of Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid. This region has been a vacation hotspot for centuries, thanks to its diverse outdoor offerings. Adirondack activities range from skiing and boating to hiking.

 

The Adirondacks holds the title of the largest wilderness preserve in the lower 48. It’s a unique blend of mountainous wilderness. The state created Adirondack Park among a patchwork of public and private land in 1892. It’s a wilderness preserve that outstrips the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite national parks in size. It boasts thousands of miles of hiking trails and a wealth of freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers.

 

The Adirondacks is home to sleepy hamlets and charming villages. It’s what makes it a popular choice for vacation spots. An Adirondacks vacation is ideal for family vacations and solo adventures alike.

 

Ready to get excited for an Adirondack Mountains vacation, any time of year. Let’s get into it:

 

Quick hits

  • Explore the stunning Adirondacks and its many outdoor activities, from ski slopes to hiking
  • Unwind at Mirror Lake or discover Saranac Lake’s history & culture
  • Experience unforgettable adventures in Lake George and explore Ausable Chasm

A Brief History of the Adirondack Mountains

Historic postcard of Ray Brook in the Adirondacks

Humans have called the Adirondack Mountains home since the Paleo-Indian period. The Laurentian culture, semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, settled here around 13,000 BC. As the climate warmed, forests replaced the tundra, and the Mohawk and Oneida tribes arrived. They claimed the Adirondacks as their hunting grounds between 4,000 and 1,200 years ago.

 

European explorers first encountered these groups during a battle in 1609. Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, was at the center of this conflict. The Europeans initially saw the Adirondacks as a vast, inhospitable wilderness. According to them, even the Native Americans referred to it as “the Dismal Wilderness.”

 

Over time, the Europeans’ perception of the region evolved. They began to appreciate its natural beauty and resources. The Adirondacks gained popularity during the Romantic movement. This collective fascination lead to the creation of the Adirondack Park in 1885 to keep the area “forever wild”. UNESCO later declared the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve a site of global heritage in 1989.

 

And so, the once “Dismal Wilderness” transformed into a cherished destination.

 

The Best Places to Visit in the Adirondacks

lake in the Adirondacks

The Adirondack region is massive. Look at a map, and that big green blob stretching from Vermont to almost the Lake Ontario side of New York State’s north section is the Adirondack Park.

 

For people living on the East Coast, this space is as close as you can get to those huge expanses of empty territory out West. And while the drives are beautiful, you don’t have to explore every niche to appreciate the beauty of the Adirondacks. Pick a spot, then plan day trips in the Adirondacks to see more of it.

 

Read on for the best places to visit on your Adirondack weekend getaway. Assuming you, like this writer, are coming from New York and points further south, this list starts at the southern end. So the region makes a great destination for one of the best road trips from NYC, heading north:

map of the cutest towns with the most attractions and activities for an Adirondack Mountains vacation
Map design by Stanton House Inn with elements from Flaticon

Lake George, New York

Sunset over Lake George

Nestled at the southeastern base of the Adirondack Mountains is Lake George, NY. The town offers a medley of attractions and activities. The list includes scenic steamboat cruises to educational farm tours, and heart-pounding outdoor sports. This lakefront destination is a must-visit highlight of any Adirondack journey.

 

Prospect Mountain, a family-friendly hiking spot, provides stunning views of Lake George and its surroundings. For a thrill, the Six Flags Great Escape theme park is just a short drive away. With its myriad of rides and attractions, it promises a day filled with excitement and fun.

 

Lake George’s Attractions and Activities

Lake George is a playground of Adirondack activities and attractions for all tastes. For the adrenaline junkies, the Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course is a heart-stopping delight. If you’re a history buff, quench your thirst for the past at the Fort William Henry Museum.

 

Don’t miss the Lake George Steamboat Cruise for a unique experience. As you sail, the lake and surrounding mountains unfold a panorama of breathtaking beauty. Shelving Rock Falls awaits hikers. This stunning waterfall offers scenic overlooks and picturesque hiking trails.

 

For art lovers, the Hyde Collection Museum awaits in nearby Glens Falls, NY. This historic house-turned-museum houses a remarkable art collection.

 

Lake George Distilling Company

No trip to Lake George is complete without a visit to the Lake George Distilling Company. This upstate New York craft distillery is renowned for its small-batch spirits. Each bottle, whether whiskey, gin, vodka, or rum, is a monument to the art of distillation. Using locally sourced ingredients, the distillers create unique flavors that can be savored and appreciated.

 

Each sip resonates with the history and culture of the Adirondacks. So, as you enjoy these spirits, remember you’re experiencing a piece of the Adirondacks.

 

Where to stay in Lake George

Lake George offers a bounty of accommodations, from:

 

  • Lakeside resorts
  • Motels
  • Inns
  • Yurts
  • Camping sites
  • Glamping sites

 

But be warned, they fill up swiftly in the summer!

 

A great option is the historic Sagamore Resort. Dating back to the 1880s, it’s a National Register of Historic Places holder. The resort features a luxurious spa and dining with a lake view.

 

For a different vibe, check out the Stone Gate Resort. It’s conveniently located near the south entrance of Adirondack Park. The resort offers a variety of accommodations, including hotel rooms, family-friendly suites, and private cabins.

 

Schroon Lake, NY

Sunset over Schroon Lake, with fishermen with a valid fishing license coming to shore for the night

Next is the Schroon Lake Region, another scenic corner of the Adirondacks. Here, the great outdoors beckons with the promise of boating, hiking, and fishing. If you’re a fan of fall foliage spots near NYC, a visit during the autumn months will reward you with a riot of color. You can rent a boat for the day if you happen to have not brought your own at the Schroon Lake Marina.

 

The charming town of Schroon Lake itself hosts specialty shops and delightful eateries. One such spot is Pitkins Restaurant on Main Street, a firm favorite amongst locals and tourists alike.

 

Where To Stay near Schroon Lake, NY

When it comes to accommodations, Rowes Adirondack Cabins in Schroon Lake offers a rustic experience close to the beach and the Underground Railroad trails.

 

Lake Placid, New York

Fall in Lake Placid

Lake Placid is likely the most famous destination in the Adirondacks. This charming town in Upstate New York offers a variety of experiences. You can traverse hiking trails that meander through majestic mountains. Or plan a winter trip to engage in exhilarating winter sports at top ski resorts like Whiteface Mountain.

 

Don’t forget to venture into the Whiteface region. Here, you’ll find:

 

  • The Lake Placid Olympic Museum
  • The Olympic Jumping Complex
  • Ice skating on Mirror Lake
  • The tranquil Ausable River

 

Whether your heart yearns for thrilling activities or the soothing calm of fresh mountain air, Lake Placid, along with nearby North Creek and Blue Mountain Lake, will not disappoint.

 

Experiencing Lake Placid’s Outdoor Adventures

Winter trail through Lake Placid, near Gore Mountain

Ever fancied hurtling down a bobsled track or launching off a ski jump after watching the Winter Olympics? The Olympic Park near Lake Placid is your ticket.

 

Whiteface Mountain, a titan among peaks, beckons you for a day of skiing at one of the best ski resorts near NYC. It also offers the audacious airbag free-fall jump. Or come in the warmer months for some awesome hiking.

 

Or set your course for Gore Mountain for a winter escapade like no other. It boasts four majestic peaks served by 14 lifts, including the grand 8-passenger Northwood Gondola. A myriad of terrains awaits, each with its own tale to tell. The Nordic Center and Village Slopes are illuminated for nocturnal revelry.

 

Don’t miss the Olympic Legacy Sites. Glide on the very ice that bore witness to Olympic glory. Watch future champions train in ski jumping. In this wonderland of winter sports, boredom is a foreign concept.

 

Unwinding at Mirror Lake

While you’re here, be sure to take a leisurely stroll by Mirror Lake. This serene lake, along the town center, offers a picturesque backdrop for relaxation and outdoor activities. Try ice skating under the open sky. Or, embark on a dogsledding adventure for a truly memorable experience.

 

The lake is at its best from May to July. During these months, you can witness the famed mirror effect. By August, this natural phenomenon disappears. So, plan your trip wisely to capture the lake’s true beauty.

 

High Falls Gorge

High Falls Gorge, an Adirondack spectacle, offers a memorable stroll. This series of trails, akin to nature’s red carpet, unfolds over a 30-minute journey. Here, cascading waterfalls and untouched wilderness surround you. Despite the man-made walkways and bridges, the raw beauty remains unobstructed. And the glass floors add a bit of a thrill.

 

Where to stay in Lake Placid

From grand lodges to chic boutique hotels, Lake Placid has a little bit of everything.

 

Take the family-owned Mirror Lake Inn, for instance. It boasts 131 rooms, each offering a stunning view of the lake and surrounding mountains. After a day on the ski slopes, you can thaw out by the grand stone fireplace or soak in the spa’s hot tub.

 

Then there’s the Eastwind Lake Placid, a revamped 1950s motor inn on the Chubb River. This boutique mountain retreat offers 26 chic Scandinavian-style rooms and eco-luxe cabins. Amenities at one of the most pet friendly resorts in New York include saunas, a pool, a spa, and bike/skate rentals. They even host special events like yoga and live music.

 

Lastly, the Grand Adirondack Hotel originally opened as the Northwoods Inn in 1897. That said, the hotel has undergone a complete overhaul recently. Its new design pays homage to the Adirondack Great Camps, luxurious 19th-century compounds favored by the era’s elite.

 

Saranac Lake, NY

Fall foliage along Saranac Lake

Just a short 9 miles from Lake Placid, you’ll stumble upon the charming town of Saranac Lake. Famous for its picturesque scenery, it’s a postcard come to life. The village boasts a rich history, and its outdoor activities will get your heart racing.

 

Dining options are diverse, with unique experiences at places like Origin Coffee Co., Left Bank Cafe, and The Fiddlehead Bistro.

 

Exploring Saranac Lake’s History and Culture

Saranac Lake is a perfect spot for history buffs. The Saranac Laboratory Museum was the nation’s first establishment dedicated to tuberculosis research. There, you’ll unearth the town’s unique role in combating this devastating disease.

 

Outdoor Activities in Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake offers a variety of outdoor activities. You can take on the 6er hiking challenge, conquering the six Adirondack peaks that surround the lake and enjoy breathtaking views. Try kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

 

When winter arrives, Saranac Lake transforms into a snowy haven for skiing and snowshoeing at Dewey Mountain, Pisgah, and cross-country skiing on the Jackrabbit Trail. Regardless of the season, Saranac Lake provides endless opportunities for outdoor exploration.

 

Where to stay in Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake boasts a variety of accommodation ranging from cozy inns to quaint cottages. There are rustic campgrounds, charming inns, and quaint cabin rentals. You’ll even find island campsites, accessible only by boat.

 

For a more traditional stay, consider the LEED-certified Saranac Waterfront Lodge. Or, head to the Hotel Saranac, a 1920s landmark with a unique Great Hall bar.

 

If Adirondack luxury is what you seek, The Point is your destination. Originally built as William Rockefeller Jr.’s Great Camp, it was the first Relais & Chateaux hotel in North America.

 

Tupper Lake, New York

Blue sky over a beautiful Adirondack forest on an Adirondack Mountains vacation

Tupper Lake emerges as a celestial stage in the heart of the Adirondacks. It’s a stargazing spectacle to rival Broadway itself. The Wild Center and the Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory are the star attractions here. They make Tupper Lake the go-to destination for lovers of an unblemished night sky.

 

Yet, Tupper Lake isn’t just a star-gazing haven. It’s also a culinary hotspot. The Raquette River Brewing Company offers a family-friendly brewery experience that’s not to be missed. Local restaurants, such as Amado Bakery & Bistro, serve up delicious cuisine that’s sure to satisfy your palate.

 

The Wild Center: A Unique Experience

The Wild Center is a unique museum and science center. It boasts a treetop walk that elevates you above the forest floor, immersing you in the beauty of the Adirondacks from a different angle. This destination is unforgettable for the whole family.

 

Beyond the treetop walk, The Wild Center offers even more outdoor activities. These include guided canoe trips on the Raquette River and behind-the-scenes tours with the Wild Center’s science and nature teams. Nature walks, guided tours, and hands-on learning experiences are also on the menu.

 

Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory

Stargazers, set your sights on the Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory. It’s a gateway to the cosmos. Clear nights are your golden ticket for optimal stargazing.

 

Beyond the spectacle of the night sky, there’s more to explore. Engage in lectures and workshops. Attend star parties, where the stars are the main attraction.

 

The Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory is a must-see attraction in Tupper Lake.

 

Where to stay in Tupper Lake

Motor lodges are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Thanks to its recent makeover by the Weekender hotel group, Shaheen’s Adirondack Inn is now Trailhead, which sports a modern twist on its classic roadside charm. The real draw, however, remains its prime location. Nestled near hiking trails, canoeing rivers, and direct snowmobile trail access, it’s an adventurer’s dream come true.

 

Navigating the Lake Champlain Region and Adirondack Coast

A flock of cormorants on piers jutting into Lake Champlain

The Lake Champlain Region and Adirondack Coast is a cocktail of nature, history, and culinary delights. Here, you’ll find lakeside tranquility, echoes of the past, and geological wonders. You can:

 

  • Trudge through the verdant vineyards of the Hudson Valley
  • Or meander through the historic towns of Essex, Peru, and Keeseville

 

Either way, the Lake Champlain Region and Adirondack Coast is perfect for an Adirondack Mountains vacation, all on its own.

 

Exploring Ausable Chasm

Ausable Chasm, dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” is one of the best hikes in Upstate NY. Here, stunning waterfalls cascade with untamed power. Rope bridges sway precariously above the chasm, daring visitors to cross. Whitewater rafting opportunities abound for heart-pounding experiences. This natural wonder caters to all ages, making it a popular destination for both nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers. Choose to explore the ridges and rope bridges with young kids for a fun-filled day. Or head to the Adventure Trail’s suspension bridges for a more challenging experience.

 

History and Culture of the Adirondack Coast

History buffs, your first stop is Fort Ticonderoga, a French fort from 1755. This relic from the French and Indian War has seen more action than a tavern brawler. It’s been the stage for five battles across two wars. Reconstruction began in the early 1800s and continued well into the 1900s. Now, Fort Ticonderoga is a renowned historical attraction in the Adirondacks. Explore the Fort Ticonderoga museum, watch re-enactments, and participate in regular programs.

 

Next, experience the local flavors on the Adirondack Coast Wine Trail. Sample the finest wines, crafted in the local wineries of this lush wine country, and learn about the area’s winemaking history.

 

Where to stay in Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Coast

At the Essex Inn, history meets comfort. This lakeside inn has been welcoming guests since 1810, back when Essex was Lake Champlain’s busiest port. Today, it offers 11 unique and elegant rooms. Don’t miss a meal at the inn’s cozy tavern, where seafood stew and lobster ravioli are stars.

 

If solitude is your desire, Mace Chasm Farm has the answer. It offers a secluded, solar-powered cabin with a private sauna, an outdoor shower, and stunning views.

 

For a grander stay, head to Beebe Farm. This spacious ranch home on a fourth-generation sawmill and farm boasts views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

 

Embracing the Wilderness of Adirondack Park

Sunrise over the mountains

Adirondack Park is an immense wilderness sprawling across more than 6 million acres. It’s larger than Yosemite, Everglades, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon combined! This park is a paradise for outdoor recreation. Trails for hiking and biking snake through its vast woods.

 

Rural small towns dot the park, offering a respite from the wilderness. The High Peaks region is a backpacker’s paradise, boasting 46 mountain tops above 4,000 feet. The park also offers peaceful waters for fishing and boating.

 

Hiking Trails in Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park serves as a paradise for hikers, offering a variety of trails to suit all skill levels. For beginners, the Great Camp Sagamore Lake Trail is ideal. This 3.7-mile loop around Sagamore Lake in Raquette Lake is a gentle introduction to the park’s beauty. For a bit more challenge, try the Mount Van Hoevenberg Trail in North Elba.

 

But for the ultimate test, Mount Marcy awaits. Standing as the highest peak in New York State at 5,344 feet, this trail is not for the faint-hearted. The 14.8-mile round trip typically takes a full day, between 7 to 8 hours. However, the incredible views of the Adirondack wilderness make the journey worth every step.

 

Biking Trails in Adirondack Park

The Adirondack Park is a haven for both hikers and mountain biking enthusiasts. The park offers trails that cater to all skill levels. Some of the popular biking trails include:

 

  • The challenging Black Bear Trail
  • The heart-pumping Bug Lake & Morgan’s Miles
  • The leisurely Beaver Lake Trail
  • The historic Great Camp Santanoni
  • The adventurous Newcomb Lake

 

How to get to the Adirondacks

Southbound train through the Hudson Valley to Grand Central Terminal

Reaching Lake George and the rest of the Adirondacks is a breeze. Just hop in your car and let the journey become part of the vacation. With the Hudson Valley, then mountains and lakes painting the scenery, the drive is a treat.

 

Coming from the south, take Route 87 North (NYS Thruway) to Exit 24 at Albany. From there, continue north on Route 87 (Adirondack Northway) to Exits 18–26. Stop into Saratoga Springs, NY, on the way, if you’re not in a rush.

 

If you’re more of an air traveler, Albany International Airport is your gateway. It’s only 50 miles south of the Lake George Area and serves most major airlines. Once you land, car rentals and bus services are at your disposal. Some local lodgings even offer shuttle service from Albany.

 

For one of the best train trips from NYC, AMTRAK has you covered. It runs routes from New York City to Montreal. Daily stops are made in Fort Edward, which is just a short 20-minute journey from the Lake George Area. Once you arrive, you can rent a car, take a taxi, or hop on a Greater Glens Falls Transit System shuttle.

 

Tl;dr

Ampersand Mountain Trail near Lake Clear, NY

The Adirondacks are a masterpiece of nature’s creation. It’s a paradise for adventurers, a library for history buffs, and a gourmet feast for food lovers. Lake Placid is a charming village nestled in the mountains. The Adirondack Park is a vast wilderness, echoing with the sounds of the wild. Lake George is a shimmering jewel at the foot of the mountains. So, what are you waiting for? Head to Upstate New York’s Adirondack region. A diverse array of unforgettable experiences awaits you.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about an Adirondack Mountains vacation

 

Which is better Catskills or Adirondacks?

The Catskills are a visual feast with lush ground cover, a riot of fall foliage, and a springtime carpet of wildflowers. They also boast less mud than the Adirondacks. The latter, on the other hand, present a different spectacle with their evergreens and pine trees standing tall at higher elevations.

 

If you ask me to pick, I’d lean towards the Catskills. It’s much easier to get to up, a shorter drive up the Hudson River Valley. But every landscape has its own unique charm.

 

Are the Adirondacks worth it?

Cast your gaze upon the Adirondack Park. This titan of wilderness stands as the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. Its grandeur is within a day’s drive for most in the Northeastern US and Canada. For those beyond, it’s a journey worth undertaking. The Adirondacks, in all their natural splendor, beckon the adventurer in us. A trip here isn’t just worthwhile – it’s a rite of passage.

 

Why do people go to the Adirondacks?

Folks are drawn to the Adirondacks like bees to honey. The allure lies in the promise of adventure and the charm of towns like Old Forge, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, and Lake George. These are more than mere dots on a map. They are gateways to unforgettable experiences.

 

In the wilderness, one can lose, find, or rediscover oneself. The towns brim with rustic eateries, quaint shops, and unique attractions. These are not just places to visit. They are experiences to be lived, breathed, and savored.

 

The Adirondacks welcome all. Whether you are married to adventure, single, or it’s complicated, the mountains stand ready to embrace you with their beauty.

 

What is the difference between the Catskills and the Adirondacks?

The Catskills, those gentle giants, wear a soft crown of dome-shaped peaks. The Adirondacks, on the other hand, are a rugged lot, brandishing their jagged, rocky crests with a wild defiance. Two mountain ranges, two distinct personalities, both mesmerizing in their own right.

 

Is the Amtrak Adirondack line reopening?

Indeed, after a three-year hiatus, the Amtrak Adirondack line has sprung back into action. As of April, this iron horse is once again galloping from New York City to Montreal. This scenic train ride follows the course of the Hudson River, pausing at stations sprinkled along the way.

 

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