Any excuse to get to the Adirondacks in the summer or fall and I’m there. We decided to head north with two kids in tow in late August, heading further north than we normally do. Alas, Lake Placid was the plan, a place I hadn’t been to in probably 10 or so years and before that, probably more than twenty. Yes, really.
Lake Placid was a summer destination we went to a few times during my childhood and of course for the 1980 Winter Olympics since it was close enough and a big deal for locals back when, no grave surprise since it’s such a great spot for winter activities. It took us about 5-6 hours to get there from New York City and the drive is about the same from Boston. Lake Placid is not a destination with easy access and that’s the point — getting lost in a place you’re not likely to run into anyone and get away from wifi and bustling crowds for awhile.
Lake Placid itself is a village and oddly enough, not on the lake of Lake Placid, but on the more placid and tranquil Mirror Lake, a stone’s throw away. None of the tri lake villages — Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake lie on their namesakes. As mentioned, Lake Placid sits on Mirror Lake, Saranac Lake is on Lake Flower and Tupper Lake is on Raquette Pond.
Lake Placid itself is 19 miles around with three islands: Huck, Buck and Moose with an average depth of around 42 feet. It is primary spring fed, boasting the cleanest natural drinking water source in New York State, a fact we loved. As for another cool Adirondack factoid, apparently New York State’s largest trout ever (32 pounds) was caught in Lake Placid waters by a local resident.
While you can’t actually drive around the lake, you can take a boat tour to get the scoop on the who, what, when and where. There is something called a “Forever Wild” status, which is a constitutional designation set into the law at the turn of the century that states once a property is under state ownership, it cannot be developed for any other purpose, making it literally “Forever Wild.”
Pure Nature at its Best
As you get close to the town of Lake Placid (they actually refer to it as a village), you’ll drive past an idyllic river surrounded by trees and mountains on both sides — it’s a great way to be introduced to this part of the Adirondacks.
Whiteface Mountain has the highest vertical drop on the East Coast, with great skiing and snowboarding for all skill levels. There’s also the nearby High Falls Gorge where you can take a breathtaking 30 minute walk, where you’ll pass additional hiking trails, waterfalls and a river walk. At the end, there’s a restaurant and gift shop and it is located in Wilmington NY, less than a thirty minute drive from Lake Placid.
Photo credit: LakePlacid.com.
The Pub Scene
There are plenty of pubs along the main drag and you can play pool, people watch and even get views of the lake. There’s also live music at various spots around town including the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and Delta Blue to name a couple, the latter of which has live blues music and great burgers. Be sure to read my foodie write-up on the area, which includes both pubs.
Antiques & Shopping
As you drive into the village of Lake Placid, you’ll pass other small towns with antique and artisan craft shops along the side of the road. It’s a great place to see the woodmanship of the locals, get a sense of the true Adirondack style and other trinkets available once you get into the village itself. Go on a little visual journey with us to get an idea of what we saw and experienced.
Olympic Activities from Former Winter Games
Winter sports fans will remember that Lake Placid has hosted two winter games, one of which was in 1980 when I was still a young pup — we headed up there to take in one of the bobsled events. There are still remnants from the Olympics to be found around the village and the surrounding area, including in the shops. (see below).
There are a number of activities you can do that focus on the Olympics, including Olympic Museum, Olympic Ski Jump, Olympic Sports Complex Bobsled Ride and Ausable Chasm.
The Olympic Venues are located in four different areas surrounding the Village of Lake Placid. The Olympic Center Arena houses the Olympic Museum, 3 ice rinks and the Olympic Oval. The Ski Jumps are located along Route 73 and Mount Van Hoevenberg, which includes Cross Country Skiing, Biathlon, Bobsledding and luge tracks is just past the Ski Jumping Complex.
We opted for the Bobsled Ride, where you can experience the bobsled experience in a traditional car, but not on ice. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an Olympic slider, this is about as close as it gets. You can take a Bobsled ride, with a professional driver and brakeman.
They’ll have you begin at the half-mile point on the track and wind through turns known by sliders the world over. You’ll feel the rumble of the sled thundering down the track. You’ll speed through one turn, bank high on the next one and pick up speed on the straightaway. Race car driver fans will love the speed and thrill of the ride — you’ll go faster than you’re allowed to drive a car through town. They leave you with a traditional old fashioned photo at the end of the ride, a team t-shirt and a Bobsled lapel pin among a couple of other perks.
We took a 4×4 truck up Whiteface Mountain, including many of the ski runs….even a few black diamond ones, which is a thrill to do this in the summer. Have a look. It was the only day we were completely fogged in, although thankfully we had perfect views from the top the day before when we took a ride via the gondola.
It’s a fun family activity to do — the adventurous experience takes you along rugged mountain roads, starting with a trek through a remote forest stand to a secluded section of the Ausable River. As you navigate the rugged terrain of our Olympic mountain, you learn a lot about the mountain, as well as the process of snow making from a snowmaker himself named Zach Snow — apparently his dad was the oldest snowmaker on the mountain and still works part-time. He had one fascinating story after another.
The views are spectacular and you get a firsthand view of the ski trails used in the Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Downhill events during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
Below is Zach Snow at the bottom of the mountain.
While skiers may think of a gondola only as a means to an end, i.e., to get to the top, it’s an entirely different experience when you use it during warmer months – you have exquisite views and you don’t have to freeze your toes and fingers off in the process. It was pure bliss and definitely worth doing.
The view from the top on a clear day…we hung out there for awhile — it was hard to leave with weather like this!
The result is a bit like a bird’s eye view—in flight. Their Cloudsplitter Gondola can carry 8 people, so great for family travel. It takes you from the Main Base Lodge to the top of Little Whiteface. As you trace the mountain’s contours, soaring over streams, steep rock faces and thick forests, the beauty of the Adirondacks reveals itself. You’ll see the village of Lake Placid as well as Lake Champlain in the East, and to the south stand the tallest peaks in New York State. You’ll spot the ski jumps and the Ausable River and at the very top, there’s an observation deck and picnic area.
While sports enthusiasts knows about Whiteface Mountain for skiing in the winter, they may not know about waterskiing, tubing, paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking activities during summer months. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Meditative Time on the Lake
Whether it be gazing out at the lake while lazily going around it in a paddle boat, taking out a paddle board on a calm day when the lake is like a mirror or exploring the lake by canoe, it can be one of the most meditative experiences you’ll ever have in this part of the world. The Adirondacks is simply a treasure if you haven’t spent time here, especially if bold enough to get up at the crack of dawn when there’s not a soul on the lake. I spent a ton of reflective time out on a paddle board and it was as meditative as yoga.
Frankly, I think paddle boarding is under-rated — it was as if the activity wired down my nervous system by ten degrees. I think part of the reason for this is that unlike a canoe or even a kayak, you are that much closer to the water on a board, like you are when you surf, except that you always stay level.
Take a Boat AROUND the Lake
We were fortunate enough to be able to take a leisurely drive around the lake, learning about its history along the way. We drove past a whole section of the lake that was only accessible by water — the few summer camps and homes on that side of the lake had that much more privacy and solitude due to the simple fact that you could only get to them by boat.
Newer camps that were within a certain distance to the lake’s edge could not be built as a permanent living space and the ones you do find that are, have been there for years and therefore “grandfathered in.” The drive is simply stunning and worth doing, even if your main objective is to get into the water for skiing or other water sports. Learning about a lake’s part in the region and in the world puts an entirely fresh perspective on how you view a place and more importantly, its residents.
Restaurants & Foodie Scene
While it may not be known as a foodie destination, there are plenty of places that offer great food. A few worth mentioning include: (read my write-up on the Lake Placid Restaurants for a more in-depth write-up and photos).
Delta Blue food shot above is courtesy of Delta Blue, which is also great for blues fans as they have live music.
- Delta Blue Restaurant @ Hotel Northwoods
- The Cottage
- The Dancing Bears at the High Peaks Resort
- Fireside Steakhouse
- The View @ Mirror Lake Inn
- Kanu @ Whiteface Lodge
- Smoke Signals
- Top of the Park
- Jimmy’s Lakeside Restaurant
- The Cottage
- Caffe Rustica
- Black Bear Restaurant
Be sure to read up on our other Lake Placid articles, including our reviews of the Foodie scene, Mirror Lake, and the three resorts where we stayed: Whiteface Lodge, Mirror Lake Inn and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort.