New York State’s Most Remote County is no Alien to Good Times
By Bruce Northam
Talk about finding yourself in gorgeous remoteness.
Hamilton County, in the heart of New York’s Adirondack Park, is not only the least populated square miles of New York State’s 62 counties, but it’s also the least inhabited county east of the Mississippi.
This birthplace of the American vacation was the beacon for Gilded Age travelers 100 years ago, and that same rustic allure endures today.
The heart of the Adirondacks is all about small lakeside-town bliss and truly getting away from it all—until you stumble upon the many timeless wooden establishments.
The prelude to my Hamilton County experience that engaged three diverse lodgings was at Indian Lake’s re-baptized Antiquers Café. Run by a countrified Adirondacker? Not quite. How about ultra-chatty Richie D, who grew up in Manhattan’s East Village.
Richie’s local Indian Lake sidekick is from the family who owned this timeless sell-everything lair for generations, so the peace endures up in this North Country. The only headline I scanned during a week here was in the Hamilton County Express: Moose loose in Speculator. Yeah, you’re gonna like it up here.
Inlet, is, as one that’s part of the Fulton Chain of Lakes runs through the heart of this tiny lakefront village in New York.
The Fulton Chain of Lakes is a string of eight lakes named for Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, who proposed connecting them to create an Adirondack canal.
Today, kayaks, motorboats, and pontoon party boats tranquilly crisscross paths in Fulton’s dream.
The Woods Inn was established in 1894 and is perfectly positioned in Inlet to worship sunsets slowly diving into Fourth Lake. This divine 21-room star is surrounded by wide wraparound porches and signature Adirondack trees including white pines, birch, and juniper.
Half of the ground floor is an old-style kick-back parlor. The other half is The Overlook Restaurant, where the classic American comfort food menu dazzles (stuffed portobello mushroom, crab and scallop-stuffed sole). No two of the classic, spacious but cozy rooms on the four floors above are alike.
A dictate of the grant received by former owners to revive the inn’s rustic elegance means no televisions. Yes, it’s time to talk to your spouse! Right next door, a permanent, festive tent-pavilion doubles as an outdoorsy sports bar. Prior to World War II, this town had fourteen Adirondack hotels.
The Woods Inn is now the only historic hotel remaining open year-round.
Next door, beachside Arrowhead Park has fishing and inlet piers and is also a great sunset spot. A quick stroll away, the Screamen Eagle Bar has 50 beers on tap, pizza, wings, and a mishmash of revelers to suit any merriment mode. On the edge of town, the half-mile hike up Rocky Mountain rewards with an amazing mountain-panorama payoff.
Before you drive deep into the woods to experience the grand dame of the Adirondack’s historic great camps, you’ll be tempted by the Raquette Lake Tap Room, and for good reason. It’s the real deal.
The loggy hole-in-the-wall saloon’s bartender has a huge Raquette Lake tattoo on his side. Tourists and locals mingle as they sip drinks chilled by a cooling system using ice harvested from wintertime Raquette Lake. A sign on the wall (seen here) truly sets the tone for this joint.
A shining star of the Great Camps of the Adirondack Mountains
Great Camp Sagamore is an off-the-grid all-inclusive wilderness retreat in the spiritual and physical heart of the Adirondacks.
At this (1897) National Historic Landmark, you can sleep in an epic, creaky-logs antique after fireside chatting, canoeing, hiking, or bowling in an open-air alley.
A sole patch of log-cabined humanity on an otherwise uninhabited Sagamore Lake, the retreat perfectly mingles piney Mother Nature with elegant boarding-house bliss.
Meal bells signal the three communal simple-but-special meals per day in a family-style dining hall where desserts like locally sourced blueberry pie with cream top off the daily buffet-style delights.
The dining hall is open 24-hours, so you can chill out over a coffee or tea anytime.
Activities-wise, you can wing it on this nature-rules campus by choosing numerous adventures as you go (or not), or participate in the daily group offerings. The 10-building lakeside campus hosts 72 guests max, with 50-60 being typical.
Take an inspired walking tour (the general public can also participate for a cost) with Historian Robert Engel or hike the “Adirondack flat” trail around Sagamore Lake.
The ultimate nature refuge with earthy activities is open Memorial Day through the third weekend in October, A short drive away, Cathedral Pines (Adirondack’s version of California’s redwoods) and Death Brook (Falls, actually) are hidden but convenient roadside attractions where Mother Earth will always have the upper hand.
En route to my final accommodations, I stopped in Blue Mountain Lake to behold The Adirondack Experience—the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.
At this incredible museum, you can earn your degree in understanding life in this wilderness via exhibits of early boats, cottages, timber-industry gear, and so much more.
Their curious creatures taxidermy room is not what you expect, you’ve got to see it to believe it! On my way out of town, I hit Chef Darrell’s Mountain Diner, where the inspired chef/owner has transformed a classic diner trailer into a culinary hotspot.
As opposed to hotels involving elevator rides and lobby strolls to reach the outdoors, I’ve always enjoyed motels where fresh air is right outside your door.
Lake Pleasant Lodge, a four-season motel, sits on Speculator’s Lake Pleasant and has a lakeside gazebo and fire pit that includes complimentary firewood. Canoe rentals are also available.
You’re in view of Lake Pleasant Beach, a park where there’s a memorial to world heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney.
In the late 1920s, Speculator was the location of the world’s most famous boxing training camp where Tunney trained at the height of his career. Across the street there a mini replica village of Route 66 and from there you can walk the riverside Sacandaga Pathway.
Everything you need is walkable here, including the Speculator Department Store, which has everything you could possibly need, from trinkets to hardy mountain wear.
The broken-in Sunrise Diner is the place to go for (secret ingredients) goulash or lasagna turkey-sausage soup. Here, you can’t avoid hearing the news of the day. It’s where I learned that the local three-village middle school graduates only eight students per year, thus resembling a private education.
This is also a great place to solve your marriage puzzle, as this ski resort also rocks mountaintop weddings.
A fun surprise was King of the Frosties, a roadside ice cream and fast-food classic that’s been Filipino-owned for 30 years (and serves Filipino dishes on Wednesdays).
I’ve been on assignment to the Philippines 10 times and truly enjoyed comparing notes with the staff. Logan’s Bar & Grill will satisfy any desire you have for a gritty local experience.
There’s no shortage of hiking options near Speculator. Try the Foxey Brown trail, an ode to the infamous hermit and guide Foxey Brown, whose hermitage was located about 6-miles north of Piseco where the trailhead is adjacent to a small airport.
The Siamese Ponds Wilderness, accessed via Elm Lake Road, leads to Rock Pond and Long Pond. These 114,010-acres are one of the larger wildernesses in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Finally, easily accessed off Route 8, Auger Falls is a must!
Forever wild, the olden Adirondacks in New York are alive and well. To begin the definitive small towns—big outdoors experience, hike on over to AdirondackExperience.com.
The author’s trip to Hamilton was sponsored but the opinions are his own.