After yet another Adirondack trek, the third one this year, you’d think I have a have a special relationship with the area or am a bit biased for some reason. The truth is…I do and for those of you who have read previous articles I have written, you’ll know that the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York are my old stomping ground, my early childhood turf and home to some of the most serene lakes and mountains I’ve yet to experience in my travels.
Autumn is of course, goes without saying, has universal appeal to anyone who is a fan of leaf peeping come October. Since the northern Adirondacks gets so cold, you may miss the most vivid colors if you take a trip to the region past mid-October. It’s best to check on how the temperatures before you make your final booking. That said, if you head there anytime from the third week of September to the second week of October, I’d be hard pressed to say you’d be disappointed.
Since nearly every inn, resort and hotel were booked up from Maine to Cape Cod and Long Island south to Pennsylvania on Columbus Day weekend, we decided to take a needed serenity check at a friend’s log cabin on what locals refer to as the Caroga Lake Road. Of course, that road extends beyond Caroga Lake, which sits at the base of the Adirondacks and where we had a camp through my entire youth. From Caroga Lake, which is where the lake region essentially starts, you head north on Route 29A and start to hit some of the more rural (some would say redneck) lakeside towns, including Green Lake, Canada Lake, West Lake, Lilly Lake and Pine Lake to name a few. (above shot is Loon Lake to the north of the base of the Adirondacks — below shots are taken of Canada Lake)
Of course some locals would be miffed to hear one of their own refer to any of the towns as redneck-like, however those who are authentically upstate New Yorkers can laugh at the fact that some of it holds some truth and some of it doesn’t like any small town American stereotype. And…perhaps even be a little proud of it.
A great example was when we were having breakfast at The Coffee Shop in Caroga Lake one morning, a place I’ve frequented countless times over the decades. I ordered my typical poached eggs and rye toast, a classic tradition when I go to New England diners. Sometimes I go for the coffee, other times a pot of tea. Two college girls sat next to us, where like most traditional diners in the area, there were rows of 1950’s style stools, catsup bottles, creamers, jams and jellies and glass salt and pepper shakers on the fake marble bar. They ordered a wopping pile of pancakes and hash browns and astonishingly ate the whole plate.
While the two girls chatted with the two older women who served us our coffee, I suddenly heard, “hell, don’t ask us, we’re rednecks” followed by a warm laugh. I didn’t catch the context but Anthony and I just glanced at each other and smiled.
Diving in and embracing what you are, think you are or merely giving some humor to what other people think you are is half the fun, that is if you can embrace it and not take offense to the fact that people label what they know and what they don’t know well and the experience is what it is, so why not embrace the flow of it rather than fight it. It’s amazing how light life feels when you can begin to laugh at yourself and others a bit more especially when you’re hit with something that might not sit too well. It’s so much about what we know and what we don’t know, what we’re familiar with and what we’re not familiar with and whenever something deviates outside of our norm, we either want to throw a label on it, alienate it, or get angry.
Warm and hospitable, we couldn’t have had more authentic service albeit a bit slow, and I couldn’t help but think of some of the 4 star establishments I’ve been to who could learn a thing or two from small town American diners.
The same generosity repeated itself at the Hope Diner in Hope, New York, a place where we made a commitment to healthier eating pact. I was trying to find the number of a cousin I hadn’t spoke to in years and the owner made two phone calls, let me use their landline for a long distance call since there was no cell phone coverage and scoured through the local phone book to see where we could connect the dots to find the right address or number. She also pulled out a few of their local maps so we could get a better handle on what route we wanted to take for that serenity fix I spoke of earlier and of course to get the best sampling of foliage we could given that we were slightly past prime.
The only place on our travels that didn’t have the same authentic and warm service was at Timeless Tavern & Inn in Northville New York, where the manager (perhaps owner) proceeded to argue with me over the bill, a trivial thing perhaps, but an experience that left me with such a bad taste in my mouth from how he handled the situation, I’ll never return. Frankly, I was astonished by his attitude in the moment yet in hindsight, not surprised given that Northville doesn’t offer much choice for food and booze for its locals, so when you’re nearly the only game in town, it’s a little easier to turn to arrogance when it suits you which was the case here. A much better choice (with a fabulous view) is Lanzi’s on the Lake on the main drag to Northville, which is perched on a grassy area overlooking the Great Sacandaga.
From Northville, we headed north towards Route 8 which is a lovely route any time of year. Route 8 North brings you through a series of charming towns, many of which are surrounded by lakes and rivers with stunning views, vibrant colors, diverse trees, birds and ducks.
I grew up with loons and the lovely sounds they made became background audio candy for me which put me to sleep and woke me up during some of the most pleasant times of my childhood. We began to know some of the loons personally and when one had birth, locals knew about it. I never thought twice about the fact that we were privy to such knowledge, but after returning years later, I found myself marveling at it as if it was the most bizarre thing in the world. Did we really pay that much attention to what happened on the lakes and in our hood? And, as part of that natural part of our daily lives, appreciated their presence and value as much as we did the health and well-being of our own loved ones.
Technology takes me further away from that daily sense of awareness and gratitude and in seeing the HSBC ad at JFK airport nearly a week later that went something like this: “The Future: Nature and Technology Will Become One,” I couldn’t help but shudder. I need my nature to be as far away from my technology as possible and vice versa and hope that the future doesn’t change my ability to make that “choice.” For now, I retreat to some of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever known.
With 2,300 lakes and ponds in Adirondack Park, you’ll find no shortage of loons on any of them. So, while we had our own loons on Caroga, there’s actually a lake called Loon Lake along Route 8 which is nearby the towns of Wevertown, Riparius, and Pottersville. We stopped by on our Columbus Day weekend route and fell upon some breathtaking views that had us at hello.
Below is the Riparius Bridge over the Hudson River.
We had this public dock to ourselves so were in no hurry to get off it and so we lingered and…..lingered. As we took in the sounds of the Adirondacks, sounds we were both so familiar with growing up, we were swept away by gratitude as the beauty of nature so often does when you’re paying attention.
The wind was low, and while the colors may not have been as vibrant as a week and a half prior, there were plenty of oranges, yellows and reds to make us smile and pay a joyous salute to a set of mountains that I am proud to call home.
In addition to the access to so much water, there are over 2,000 mountains, and 40 high peak mountains, those over 4,000 feet in height. The highest Adirondack peak is Mount Marcy at 5,344 feet which is also the highest place in New York state and one I’ve never had an opportunity to climb. With roughly 8,000 square miles of mountains in the Adirondacks and 2,000 miles of foot trails, we never had a shortage of hikes to take in the summer and fall months.
While I’ve been to nearly every nook and cranny of the Adirondack Park over the years (from Lake George, which I wrote about last year – see article Lake George, Queen of American Lakes), Serenac Lake, Indian Lake and Friends Lake to Tupper and Schroon Lakes, we did a more central loop this year through Warrensburg, which I hadn’t been to in years.
Be sure to stop by Oscar’s Adirondack Smokehouse in Warrensburg for some “dog gone good” smoked meats. Located at the bottom of Hackinsack Mountain, the Quintal family has been running the smokehouse for over 65 years. The original wood-fired brick smoke house which was built in 1946 is still standing and in use. In addition to their delicious smoked meats, you can purchase hickory smoked bacon and ham, cheddar cheese and Adirondack Maple Syrup.
Heading north along Schroon River, you’ll bypass Cat Mountain, Bull Rock Mountain, the town of Riverbank and eventually a junction which will bring you to Brant Lake. While there’s not much there, Brant Lake is incredibly beautiful so it’s worth a detour if you love pure beauty and are as much of a fan of New England lakes as we are. If you go in the opposite direction north, you’ll reach Speculator where we drove to last fall this time. Oxbow Lake (below), just south of Speculator is also a charming lake where you can fish and boat. See my write up on Caroga Lake and the Adirondacks from last September.
Melody Lodge is worth a stop if you’re heading to Speculator, which is a charming historical inn that sits 2,200 feet above sea level – the bar inside is all things Adirondacks in every way, from the food they serve to the Adirondack chairs and the moose heads hanging from the walls.
There are plenty of hiking trails off all of these routes, whether you’re traveling south to north or east to west, however we were there during hunting season and heard from locals that the kids were in the woods this weekend. Bottom line, that means take your chances or not but its risky, some say with a smile. “May as well stay outa the woods today honey,” was one remark, “either that or be sure to wear bright neon pink or orange and have something that makes a whole lotta noise.” Needless to say, we didn’t delve too deep into the woods although we did take some short walks not far off the road.
North of Warrensburg at the junction of Route 9 and Route 8 lies Chestertown, which was a new stop for me. It was recommended by friends of friends while we were hanging out one late night on the Sacandaga Lake when we first arrived. Loaded with quaintness, the ambiance of Chestertown is a mishmash of Adirondack mountain town and New England “country cabin.”
While we were fast to leave Chestertown, we were too hungry to continue on our way without a bite to eat. Most places were closed, so locals redirected us back to the big chicken on the side of the road on our way in. The outside chicken in the parking lot is now the home of Silver Star, which hasn’t been around for that long under its new ownership. This charming and authentic restaurant has some surprisingly delicious dishes, including chicken breast with potatoes cordon bleu and smoked ham, a yummy old fashioned split pea soup, shrimp scampi with lemon and salad, Prince Edward Island mussels and a broiler Scottish Salmon with spring greens to name a few.
The place has a view of a swampy serene pond and the owner Brigette is very welcoming as well as committed to supporting local farmers. Before we finished our meal, she was off to pick up some tomatoes from Tomato Tom in Pottersville.
Also in the center of town is The Bullhouse Kitchen & Bar on Main Street, where on the night we were there, was hosting a dinner theater night with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company. The theatre group who we met briefly couldn’t have been more inviting and we were so tempted to stick around for the night had it not been for a longish drive back to the base of the mountain region where we were staying for the night.
They were performing Macbeth that evening, which I would have loved to see as it had been awhile since I’ve seen it on a live stage. We were a little surprised by the price tag however for such a small Adirondack town in the middle of nowhere. $50 per head for dinner and the show, excluding wine/beer/cocktails, while may seem like a steal by urban standards, is a bit high in an area where you can get a coffee for $1.50 and breakfast for $4.
Another suggestion in the area is Owl by Twilight in Olmstedville New York which locals seem to love. Note that in upstate New York, there are a whole lotta places ending in ville and town, some with amusing names and others which are tougher to pronounce, particularly those which are named after American Indian tribes. The area was once home to the Algonquian and Mohawk Indians, hence the Mohawk River, a stone’s throw from the town where I grew up in Fulton County.
North Creek, a half an hour drive or so to the northwest, has more of a ski town feel to it, as it’s close to Gore Mountain, where we skied as kids. They had a street festival on October 12 where bands played, artisans sold their wares and the local Bar Vino was more packed than usual because of it. There’s also Trappers Tavern and Basil & Wicks which are obviously more populated during ski months.
There was also a Ski Warehouse sale down the street which we combed through, looking for jacket and ski deals, but in the end left empty handed. From North Creek, one route north is 28N which will bring you to Minerve. A more popular route is 28 towards North River, Indian Lake and eventually Blue Mountain Lake, where we spent many a weekend hiking and a couple of times camping, as kids.
Long Lake is even further north if you have the time. If you don’t, you can take a loop in and around Route 28 after leaving Routes 8 and 9 to the east, and do a hike in and around Indian or Blue Mountain Lakes. From here, you can make your way back down Route 30 South towards Pine Lake, Canada Lake and Caroga Lakes, which was where we started our root at one base point of the Adirondack Park.
Many tourists stick with Lake George and not venture too far from this massive and renowned lake, which offers plenty to do. It’s a little pricier than some of the other lakeside towns – taking a trip on the Minne-Ha-Ha, which has been going for as long as I can remember, will take you along the edge of the lake where you’ll witness countless multi-million dollar camps and year-round homes that you won’t find on other lakes. The Lake George Steamboat Company offers a variety of Cruises on their 3 large cruise ships, of which the Minne-Ha-Ha is one of them. They also have an authentic Paddlewheeler, The Mohican and the Lake’s largest cruise ship, The Lac du Saint Sacrement.
There are more restaurants and bars than other towns as a result, but it lacks some of the authentic Adirondack small-town feel that I’m more accustomed to in some of the less known stops further inland.
Northern lakeside stops along Lake George however include Diamond Point and Bolton Landing on one side and on the other, Kattskill Bay and Pilot Knob. Gotta love the names!!
On our last day, we did a bike ride around Canada Lake, a lake I know perhaps not as well as Caroga, but well enough. Truth be told, it had been awhile, so I had to take it all in as if it was my first time to travel back to the past, a glorious childhood past it was when we spent our summers in this glorious natural wonderland.
We took the first road to the right from the main road, just south of the Canada Lake Store, which is the start of one route you can take around Canada Lake on part paved road and part dirt road.
From here, you’ll circle around for around 10 minutes or so before taking a right across a bridge (note: it’s over the top charming and scenic) and shortly thereafter, a right onto South Shore Road.
There’s no shortage of fabulous views and beautiful Adirondack trees to distract you. Below is a view from Kane Mountain, a relatively easy hike just off the main road near Canada Lake. (note this photo was taken at summer before the fall colors hit)
At the start of our route, I recalled a lovely visit with a couple I met a few years back who had restored a camp along South Shore Road. We decided to see if we could find their camp and after talking to a local for a few minutes and my own visual memory, we found their place without much effort only to discover them at home. What are the chances I thought to myself, thinking that summer season had passed and those who didn’t stick around for the winter were already back to their second homes by mid-October.
This is the charm of upstate New York and a part of the Adirondacks that Richard Russo doesn’t paint as well of a picture as he I think perhaps he should. While I may have shared many of the same dysfunctional experiences he had in his early childhood (boy, the stories we could exchange no doubt), there is a heavenly piece to this region of the world.
Revisiting this Canadian Lake couple for just a couple of hours brought me back to childhood in a way that surprised me. Something we never seem to do in California, we did frequently growing up and that was “popping in” to see people randomly without warning and frankly without a reason why.
Merely a visit. Merely a hello. Merely a time to share stories and wine. Merely a time to gather together. The one underlying thing that seems to bond all of us who grew up on one of New York’s Adirondack lakes however is the gratitude for what the natural beauty brings to us every day we’re a part of their presence.
It’s a place where time stands still. Sure, places closed down for economic reasons (many in fact) however many families who lived in homes thirty years ago still live there today. There’s an inner and almost intimate knowingness of not just the area and the loons, but of the families who live in certain camps and houses.
I’m always reminded of how intimate the lake community is when I go out on the boat with my childhood friend Bob, quite possibly my oldest friend. As we pass each camp, he’ll give me an update of the family, what they’re doing and their history, not unlike my grandfather used to do when we were in our own boat some forty years ago and had family in the boat or guests from either the town next door, or what we referred to as “down the line,” which was anywhere south of Gloversville and Johnstown heading towards New York City, which is roughly a four hour drive away.
We all knew everything about each other. If a child of a family was sick, we knew it. If someone lost their job, we knew it. If someone’s house burned down, we knew it. If someone got pregnant, we knew it. If a place was about to go on sale, we knew about it before it was listed.
In the beautiful Adirondack mountains of my childhood, people and nature were one in an odd kind of precious way. What we knew about our friends and friends of friends, we knew about our loons on the lake, the bass and trout in our rivers and lakes and the deer in our woods.
My Adirondacks – oh yes, she is special to me and coming back here, I treasure time with her and her woods more than I do with the people who surround her. If you have the opportunity to visit, take time to appreciate her mystery as much as what she exudes on the outside when you visit her.
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett, with contributions by Anthony Compagnone.
Note: Read my reflective piece on the Adirondacks and in particular Caroga Lake which I also wrote in October of this year although many of the photos for that post were taken this past August. Also if you’re a serious hiker, be sure to check out our post on Trap Dike in the Adirondacks, one of America’s toughest hikes.