Why you should leave everything and visit the “Forever Wild” Adirondacks now
By Archana Singh
As I drove down the winding road, the wilderness stretched out before me like a dreamscape – shadowy and silent in the blue hour.
The wonderful wilderness took over the reins from the city in motion. Open skies replaced skyscrapers. I was the lone driver on the spectacular but sleepy highway.
The five-hour drive from New York drained me but this is no ordinary journey. I was making a pilgrimage to the Adirondack Park in upstate New York.
A place where on the damp night of September 14, 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt made his legendary night ride from the Adirondack Mountains to the Presidency of the United States of America.
A region where the word “vacation” was invented as the richest and most powerful men in the US started vacating their homes in summers to spend time in the clean and soothing surroundings of the Adirondacks.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans, DuPonts to Mark Twain; everyone got gripped by the spell of Adirondacks.
Big Daddy of Parks
The Adirondacks is historically the most important but least known park in the US. At 6 million acres, it’s the biggest in the lower 48 states – larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Everglades national parks combined.
The Park is incredibly wild with vast forests, more than 2,800 lakes, 46 peaks above 4,000 feet, 55 species of mammals and 218 species of bird.
Unlike other Parks, there is no entrance fee, no gates, just endless natural preserve and the promise of adventure in every part. It remains the only constitutionally protected “Forever Wild” forest in America.
It is this vast expanse of wilderness that draws people from near and far. Health and Adventure are not nouns here but a verb.
“The Adirondacks are a living playground for outdoor people. We don’t need a gym to stay fit. We just hike or ski in our backyard. We have this 6-inch rule – if it snows more than 6-inch, you can officially take a half-day off and go skiing” says Kim Rielly, Director of Communication, Visit Adirondacks.
Four Seasons Playground
Adirondacks is a region where you’ll find scenic beauty and friendly folks in all Four seasons – from summer days kayaking on Saranac Lake, hiking 46 peaks ablaze with autumn foliage, cross country skiing on powdery slopes to fly-fishing in Spring.
And no matter what type of adventure you crave, Adirondacks satiates it – from Scenic hiking, mountain biking, white water rafting, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, fly fishing, snowboarding or triathlon.
46 High Peaks above 4000 Feet
Usually, if you meet someone for the first time, you invite them for a coffee or a meal. But in the Adirondacks, you invite them for a hike. My first meeting with Kim was at Owl’s Head mountain.
The hike in the great outdoors rewarded me with pure air, grand scenery and a bird’s view of the region that no photoshopped catalog can match.
Hiking or mountain biking is the only acceptable currency here. Valleys carpeted with multicolored wildflowers in spring or the annual outfit change of autumn foliage is a sight to behold.
The view from the 46 high peaks is beyond spectacular. The higher you go better the view. There is no shortage of choice of hiking trails in the Adirondacks. From easy to advance, from an hour to several days.
2800 Scenic Lakes!
When you have 2800 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers, streams, and ponds, you can’t stay away from cruising the crystal-clear waters for hidden scenic views and exceptional wildlife. In the Adirondacks, you don’t rent a Kayak you own it. Kayaking goes on irrespective of rain or shine.
I kayaked recently so I opted for talking to the friendly locals, shooting the golden hour and enjoying the Mirror Lake views from the classic Adirondack chairs. Horseback riding along the Long Island shoreline is another way to savor the wonderful wilderness of the scenic Lakes.
White water rafting on the Hudson
I am most excited for my full-day adventure on the Hudson River with Adirondack Rafting Company. Starting at 7:30 am from Saranac Lake, I pass through extremely scenic winding road over hills, through small villages, rivers and dozens of lakes.
Very rarely did I come across an oncoming car. It was early in the morning, the sun had taken a day off. Occasional showers and gray clouds entertained me throughout my 1.5-hour journey.
This was pure joy. Along the way, I drove past several crystal-clear Lakes like Indian Lake, Long Lake, and Tupper Lake.
A few had seaplanes parked on them. As I reached my destination, I was given complete rafting gear and detailed instructions by Bob and his team.
I enjoyed the 15 miles of torrential action and dozens of breath-taking class IV and V rapids. We stopped over for an on-river snack break.
After which we continued our adventurous raft journey along wooded shores, into gentle eddies surrounded by towering cliffs.
Classic Adirondack Lodgings
As I spend more time in the Adirondacks, I got more interested in knowing about the 19th century extravagant gilded age Elite. On a rain-swept day along with Carrie, my trip-organizer-turned-friend, I drove down to get a peek into the wealth and charm of Adirondack Rustic. At the end of a two-mile dirt road, White Pine Camp stands surrounded by water on three sides and towering pine trees on the fourth.
Cabins painted green and black blend into the woods and there is an eerie sense of seclusion. The historic Great Camp is an assertion of a rustic yet luxurious retreat, fitting in with nature. The material used are shingle, stone, wood – all found in the park.
Recreation has many forms here – grab a canoe, rowboat or kayak from any of the two boathouses and go boating, swim in the crystal-clear waters of Osgood Pond, hike in the Great trails just minutes away or bowl in the vintage bowling alley used by the President himself. Once called the “Summer White House” of President Calvin Coolidge is now open to the public – you can stay here at as low as $95 per night in winters and $155 in summers.
After spending time in Adirondacks, all I can say is – a visit to Adirondacks as a solo traveler is great but, friends and family make this region even better. It is not overrun by tourists. Once you visit – you’ll always return. That’s the spell “Forever Wild” Adirondacks cast on you.
How to get there
By train: Amtrak railway from New York, Albany, and Montreal, with tickets including a shuttle ride to Lake Placid from the Westport Station
By car: Interstate 87 and 81 make traveling by car easy, quick and affordable
By plane: Adirondack Regional Airport at Lake Clear and Plattsburgh Airport
By bus: Adirondack Trailways from New York City and other New York State locations
Where to Stay
In the Rockies, you go to a ranch; in the Adirondacks, you go to a camp. You can camp almost anywhere in the park. Although I didn’t camp, here are the places I stayed and highly recommend
Whiteface Lodge: luxury cottages in Lake Placid starting at $548
Harbor Hill Cottages
Independent Lakefront cottages at Saranac Lake starting at $255
White Pine Camp, historic great camp cottages at Paul Smiths starting at $155
What to Do:
Kayak the 17-mile Saranac Lake Chain of three lakes connected by the Saranac River
Hike the 46 Adirondack high peaks
Tame the wild rapids of Hudson with White Water Rafting
Visit the Olympic Museum, a homage to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics
Stopover at the Wild Center, a natural history museum
Walk the nature trail to see a labyrinth of waterfalls at High Falls Gorge
Watch the rescued wildlife or volunteer at Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
Drive on the scenic byways of Adirondack
Buy locally made maple syrup and cheese
Visit micro-breweries, wineries, and distillery
Where to Eat
The Breakfast Club at Lake Placid: try their signature bloody marys and mimosas
Blue Moon Cafe at Saranac Lake: try their seasonal specials
Kanu dining room, the Whiteface Resort at Lake Placid for Chef specials
Adirondack Growl and Grub at Long Lake for Draft beer and Fresh Deli
The Cottage Cafe at Mirror Lake Inn for spectacular Lake view and delicious food
Bitters and Bones at Saranac Lake for local brews and chili maple wings.
Archana Singh is a Brand Strategist turned Travel Journalist. An award-winning Travel Writer and a Public Speaker who likes to visit offbeat places and share untold human stories. She publishes her travel experiences on Travel See Write and regularly contributes to international publications and online journals. When she is not traveling, or documenting her experiences, she makes brand strategies for some of the most iconic brands in the world.