By Sonja Stark
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
When temperatures drop in Lake George, New York outdoor activities heat up. Winter zealots in this upstate community refuse to hibernate even when the thermostat plummets below zero. Their resilience proved contagious when I visited the winter playground in February.
Cabin Fever Unleashed
The frozen wonderland was hosted at the Charles R. Wood Park named for the venerable developer of amusement parks like Storytown USA, Gaslight Village, and The Great Escape.
I prepped my camera for a timelapse of thousands huddled in anticipation of the gate opening. Staff artisans beamed with pride; their labors easily topped 5,000 hours.
Now, it was time for their work to wow visitors from as far away as Pennsylvania and Canada.
Labyrinth of Fun
Thousands entered the glittering courtyard gobsmacked by the beauty. Cameras clicked madly and children ran wild.
Even my mom, Mutti, stood mesmerized by the larger-than-life features: ice thrones and hypnotic tunnels among a maze of archways and chutes.
Billions of icicles were fused together to craft this unique labyrinth of fun. Children ducked into caves where their parents couldn’t fit. Two little girls dressed up like heroines Elsa and Anna from the Disney movie Frozen.
When darkness fell, a blanket of multi-colored LEDs really brought the pixel wall to life.
“This beats playing video games any day!” one child exclaimed.
Ice Dependent Lake George
As described by the event manager Brad Buehlhorn, hand-harvesting 25-million pounds of ice into place was no easy task. Crews worked day and night using old fashion pickaxes, rakes, and buckets of slush. A landscape tiller helps break up the ice.
Ice Castles was built by the award-winning, Utah-based company of the same name. It’s a company that builds only five ice castles per year, a unique opportunity for tourism in a select region.
Each castle is different and Lake George’s included a coliseum made up of 30-foot columns and a wishing well.
“Mother Nature is still our lead architect. If it’s too warm, we experience melting. If it’s too cold, the water will freeze before it hits the ice,” said Buehlhorn.
Predictably, warmer conditions in mid-February temporarily closed the attraction but that didn’t stop the adventures. Minutes away, a 4-weekend blitz on the frozen lake fueled the fun.
For 60-years, the village has hosted a month-long celebration of fun for all ages. From comfort food competitions and outhouse races to ice-diving demos and dog races, the frozen tundra proved thick enough, yet again, to withstand a record attendance.
Estimates of nearly 50,000 visitors over four weekends made Lake George officials like Nancy Nichols very happy. “After months of staying inside due to COVID, people have been so happy to go outside and socialize,” she said.
I arrived early to queue for the Mac-N-Cheese Cook-off at Shepard Park Amphitheater. Hundreds of us plunged into a smorgasbord of 14 samples, one cheesier than the last.
My favorite was a unique combination of curried shrimp and four kinds of cheese. No doubt, the pasta, rich in calories, helped keep body temps from frostbite for the polar plunge. (I was airborne when the craziness kicked off.)
The Robinson R-44 was operated by scenic tour specialist, Bruce Mowery. The helicopter had room enough for 3 passengers on an 8-minute adventure of a lifetime.
Mowery is also the owner of North County Heli-Flite based out of nearby Fort Ann. Passengers lucky enough to be onboard when Mowery needed refueling got an extra-long joy ride. Mowery narrated the trip by pointing out the mountains below worth exploring.
Short Hike, Long Views of Lake George
If crowds aren’t your thing, try hiking one of the many beginner shorties that surround Lake George. With an elevation gain of only 480 feet, Pinnacle Mountain is an easy 1.5-mile roundtrip with the option of adding 30+ minutes to Bradley’s Lookout via the new blue trail.
Hiking in the elements is all about preparation and a positive mindset. We donned microspikes and hiking poles and found the solitude of the red trail a perfect antidote to the pandemic.
“People like to lament that they’d rather be in Florida in February. No thank you!” smiled Nola.
At the summit, we took in panoramic views of the Tongue Mountain range, the Narrows, Shelving Rock, Buck Mountain, and Sleeping Beauty Mountain.
In 2020, the parking lot on Edgecomb Pond Road was greatly expanded. That means you can sleep in late and still find a spot!
Community Bread Rack
After hiking, we stopped by the Rock Hill Bakehouse in Glens Falls for an all-vegan lunch and pastries galore. Located off Curran Lane, Rock Hill moved into a once-abandoned shirt factory in 2016.
As we ate, we watched bearded bakers toss the dough high into the air on the other side of the glass. We lapped up the soup special: a Chickpea Chipotle Chili and Creamy Veggie Fucilli (warning, it’s spicy!) followed by a Mimi’s Reuben.
Fun Fact: Rockhill has been most generous with its leftover loaves since the pandemic started. Rather than throw them out, they put the day-olds out on a free bread rack out front.
That’s between 80-100 loaves a day for those with too little to pay. There are no forms to sign, no questions asked. Those that can afford to are welcome to donate.
That’s the kind of community generosity that Warren County businesses are best known for!
Queen of Swing
My fairytale fantasy of overnighting in a roaring twenties luxury suite came true in Glens Falls!
The 1926 Queensbury Hotel, also known as The Q, is a city center landmark and recognized on the Historic Hotels of America list.
Mutti and I were swinging to the jazzy sounds of Goodman and Lombardo – both performed here in their heyday – as we entered the gallery corridor from the parking lot.
To our right, construction was underfoot to restore the Adirondack Ballroom to its original big band splendor. That is expected to open in the summer of 2022.
As we reached the lobby our shoes danced across a beautiful black and white checkerboard floor tile. A blend of Colonial Revival architecture included tall, rounded windows and pearl-white columns, both sparkled in the light-drenched mezzanine. Retro accents and fancy furniture were meticulously arranged throughout.
I caught sight of a century-old painting above the fireplace. It was Cooper’s Cave! The deep cavern is within walking distance of the hotel and a must-see. It inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write the classic American adventure novel, The Last of the Mohicans.
Mom and I shared a corner double queen on the fifth floor. We unlocked the mahogany door and stepped through time. This wasn’t just any old hotel room.
A separate sitting room with a big-screen TV, two bathrooms dressed in white subway tile, a kitchenette with a granite countertop – this was the perfect balancing act between the past and present. I dropped my bags – and my jaw.
Dining Al Fresco in an Igloo
Refined dining in an outdoor igloo? Heck, yes! This pandemic trend is a treasure I hope lives on long after social distancing.
At check-in, Stephanie reserved us the last remaining time slot in one of three popular pods at Park 26. We had no idea what to expect so we dressed for the elements. It wasn’t necessary. Between the tiny space heater and wool blankets, we were plenty warm.
Romantic couples, especially on Valentine’s weekend, are guilty of steaming up the inside of a normally crystal clear dome.
We dined after dark overlooking the Glens Falls City Park with our server, Meg Ryan (she even looks like the actress) popping in to pour us two glasses of the best house red.
The howling wind was no match for our laughter and frivolity. Reciting our favorite lines from When Harry Met Sally, we indulged in steaming hot bowls of French Onion Soup followed by flavorful plates of Faroe Island Salmon and Chicken Francaise. We ate slowly to make the moment last!
For more information on Lake George and surrounding delights, visit the Warren County travel website!