Last August, as most of the Eastern U.S. sweltered, I was experiencing the cool days and nights of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, serenaded by the haunting call of the loons, which alternates between a watery yodel and a wavering tremolo.
Tuberculosis patients once went to the Adirondacks “to take the cure.” Today, a few days in the Adirondacks can surely cure the stressed out, technology-addicted and rat-racing urbanite.
Rob Surovell has been summering in the Adirondacks for 60 years. “I find the changing of the seasons, the continuity of life of the forest, the ducks and loons and other creatures all comforting, calming and quite beautiful,” he said.
Erinn Madden, mother of four, finds the Adirondacks a good family vacation venue, where children can “enjoy the outdoors, make their own fun, help the family with meals, and spend more time together without the distractions of our typical daily life.”
Artists, photographers, hikers, sportsmen and adventurers of all types have long enjoyed the region’s beauty. In the late 1800s, the Gilded Age, wealthy tycoons like the Vanderbilts vacationed in luxurious wilderness estates like Great Camp Sagamore.
Starting in Albany and heading north, you find yourself moving from bustling to quiet, from beach town to wilderness, enjoying declining gradations of busyness and deeper immersion in nature as you go.
Just four hours north of New York City, Adirondack Park, established in 1892, is the largest park in the U.S. It covers 20 percent of the state of New York, spanning six million acres.
It is actually a patchwork of public and private lands, a unique blend in ownership as well as habitats — granite peaks, crystal clear lakes, sparkling streams, vast dense forests, quiet wilderness trails and many small communities.
Throughout the Adirondack region you’ll also find 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, and 6,000 miles of rivers. It’s known for its looming mountains: 42 of them over 4,000 feet. While July and August are known for their perfect weather, beware of June’s black fly season.
Among the many pearls in the southern Adirondacks region is Lake George, an azure, 32-mile long lake. First, though, you must get past the ticky-tacky town of back-to-back souvenir shops, beach bars, strip malls and motels. Thankfully, the lake’s east side is protected from development and 170 of the lake’s 365 islands are state owned.
And if you’re not all that into nature’s wonders, or are traveling with grandchildren, the town of Lake George is the place to be.
The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom Fun Park (a theme park of roller coasters and 125 rides), Waterslide World (12 acres of 35 slides, a wave pool and kiddie pool), Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House and Goony Golf offer plenty of in-town diversions for the wilderness challenged.
Summer traffic can crawl through town, so the hop-on, hop-off Village Trolley from Bolton to Glens Falls is a sensible alternative to driving.
There is music most summer nights, fireworks on Thursdays, and a theater festival in July. Try the walking tours around the village and lake. Million Dollar Beach on the south end, a short walk from town, is free with picnic facilities, a bathhouse and lifeguards.
On the many lake cruise choices, you can have meals and fireworks or take in the old estates along the shoreline.
Invoke the spirit of James Fenimore Cooper at the Fort William Henry Museum (www.fwhmuseum.com), a reconstruction of the 1755 fort originally built by the British, used in the French and Indian War, and featured in The Last of the Mohicans.
Guides in 18th century military attire lead tours of the barracks, dungeons, an Iroquois longhouse and artifacts from the original fort. You can study ice harvesting, logging and more local history at the Lake George Historical Museum.
A drive up Prospect Mountain to 2,021 feet will introduce you to the Adirondack peaks and dramatic views of the region’s lakes and mountains — the splendor awaiting further north and west.
A Rockwellian village
Twenty-five miles further north, Schroon Lake is a sleepy village that is “turned up to medium” in the summer. On its one-mile-long main street (Route 9), you won’t see rowdy teens, thrill rides or glistening bikini-clad bodies. It’s more like a Norman Rockwell painting.
“There’s a real sense of community here and we don’t lock our doors,” said Alex Gillman who lives there six months of the year.
Stop by the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1075 Main Street for a calendar and visitor information. Fran Williford, who has lived there 53 years, will brief you on many local visitor treats. (Of course, you can also get this information ahead of time at www.schroonlakechamber.com.)
Be sure to ask about the Pontoon Boat Ride led by Laura Donaldson, a living encyclopedia of local lore. You can do-si-do with the best at the town’s Wednesday night square dances.
At the Monday farmers’ market, indulge in regional favorites like blappleberry pie (blueberries, apples, strawberries and raspberries) with crumb topping.
The Towne Store is the place to get black bear and antler knickknacks, Adirondack décor, sweatshirts and supplies, and check out the artisans’ co-op upstairs for handmade crafts and art.
While away a few hours at the Historical Museum where you can examine local artifacts, including items from some of the grand hotels like Scaroon Manor, which closed in 1960.
When you spot the 50-foot chair outside the Adirondack Rustics Gallery on the south end of town on Route 9, park and go inside for original “forest-inspired” furniture by Barry Gregson. He makes everything from hardwoods and naturally bent roots, limbs and burls (nothing is bent by hand or forced), with and without the bark on.
For a real down-home meal, try Pitkins for breakfast or lunch, a favorite eatery decorated with gingham curtains, painted saws and taxidermied northern pike and tiger musky caught by the owner. Be prepared for big dollops of whipped cream.
Drake’s Restaurant is a comfy family spot for soups, seafood, steaks and pasta. Don’t leave without sampling Drake’s claim to fame and number one selling dessert —Ticonderoga Bread Pudding oozing with Drake’s own warm whiskey sauce.
Check with the Chamber of Commerce (www.schroonlakechamber.com) for lodging information. Reservations are advised. There are no lakeside B&Bs, but several in town, as well as motels and rental cabins.
Getting outdoors is what it’s all about in the Adirondacks. The marina on the north end of town rents canoes, kayaks, motorboats and pontoons. Then you can get on Schroon Lake free from two boat launches. The Towne Store will transport canoes and kayaks for self-guided tours on the Schroon River.
To plunge into the wilds, pick up a brochure for nearby hiking trails and fishing, hunting and guide services.
Fort Ticonderoga, at the southern end of Lake Champlain and once called “Key to the Continent,” is an easy day trip from Schroon where you will see weapons, tools, uniforms and documents from colonial and revolutionary days. Catch a fife-and-drum concert or drill.
Low-key Long Lake
An even more scaled-down lake and town destination about 50 miles west is Long Lake, a widening of the Raquette River.
The lace-curtained, all-wood Adirondack Hotel, first built in 1853 (rebuilt in 1899 after it burned down), recalls the glory days of the Adirondack lodge. There are 18 rooms (some with a shared bathroom) and one apartment with a kitchen. There are no telephones or televisions in the rooms.
The Victorian dining room serves lunch and dinner, but the real treat is soaking up the mountain air on the wraparound porch.
In the summer, there are seaplane rides, boat tours, concerts and boat races. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Custard’s Last Stand with ice cream flavors like Key Lime Pie, Adirondack High Peaks, Adirondack Black Bear, or the best seller, Holy Cow (peanut butter swirl).
Long Lake is a convenient jumping off point for visiting several renowned sites. Nine miles away is the world-famous Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. Allow at least three to four hours to explore the 22 buildings on 32 acres featuring 100,000 artifacts depicting many aspects of Adirondack life, history and culture.
You’ll see a restored Victorian cottage, a typical 19th century resort hotel room, a hermit’s camp, and learn all about logging. Visit www.adirondackmuseum.org for programs.
A lesson in Adirondack ecosystems awaits at the 54,000-square-foot Wild Center in Tupper Lake, 22 miles from Long Lake. There, a 31-acre campus on a former gravel mine is home to over 900 live animals, including river otters, turtles, birds and other critters. There’s also a glacial ice wall, an indoor river, and hiking trails.
By definition, being in the Adirondacks in the summer means getting outdoors — hiking, canoeing, rafting, fishing and camping.
Visitor Marfé Delano sums up the attraction: “I love the deep, cool, quiet greenness and the smell of pine needles. I love kayaking on the crystal clear lakes and hiking in the mountains.” All are cures for sure.
If you go
Albany is the closest airport, 55 miles south of Lake George. In mid-July, US Airways has flights from BWI to Albany, N.Y. via LaGuardia for around $206.
If you prefer the train, the closest Amtrak station to Lake George is Fort Edward, 15 miles south. From the train station, Greater Glens Falls Transit operates two services. Most direct is a shuttle from the Fort Edward train station to Lake George village. This must be reserved at least two days in advance and costs $20 per person each way.
Alternatively, it also offers hourly bus service from the Amtrak station to Lake George village, requiring a transfer at Glens Falls to the trolley to Lake George; $2 per person one way. For reservations or info, call (518) 792-1085. In addition, Enterprise and Hertz have car rental outlets in Glens Falls.
For the Lake George Chamber of Commerce, visit www.lakegeorgechamber.com or call (518) 668-5755 or 800-805-0059; for Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce, www.schroonlakechamber.com, (518) 532-7675; and for Long Lake Parks and Recreation, www.MyLongLake.com, (518) 624-3077.
For whitewater rafting near the towns in this article, try Wild Waters Outdoor Center in Warrensburg, www.wildwaters.net, 1-800-867-2335.
Glenda C. Booth is travel writer living in Alexandria, Va.