Being a Brit I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard much about the Adirondack Mountains before my visit, well apart from the semi-schlocky killer-animal flick Lake Placid which is set in the area of course (okay that’s even more embarrassing to admit). But to New Yorkers and beyond, this is bonafide backcountry – a place adorned with glorious towering peaks, deep pine forests, and vast silvery lakes, providing some of the most wild-feeling terrain in the east. After a flight from London and a stay in Montreal, I drove across the border and took an easy three-hour drive to the mountainous area where towards the end of my journey the region’s juxtaposition to the grey densely packed buildings of the second-most populous city in Canada was undeniably climatic. The seemingly unending wilderness stretched out before me like a dreamscape and after a week’s stay there, I was hooked. I longed not to leave my Lake Placid resort hotel room – my new happy place – where the balcony opened out directly onto the peaceful lake and I was lulled to sleep each night by the sounds of gently lapping waves and crackling campfires. Here are my seven beautiful places to visit the Adirondack mountains, arguably North America’s best-kept secret…
Anywhere outside in nature
I’ve already mentioned what kind of scenery to expect – it’s both unspoilt and extremely beautiful and the lo-tech, uncomplicated culture of the region ensures that you can have an authentically rustic experience if you’re not a boutique hotel kind of traveller (although there are plenty of those too)! Outside the busiest resort of Lake Placid, the area is pure wilderness scattered with a just smattering of log cabins, guideboats, hiking trails, self-tour kayaking and the ubiquitous and much loved Adirondack chairs – long-seated wooden garden chairs which come with tray-like arms perfect for balancing cold beers – this is New York state after all!
During the week, I personally loved the River Walking experience – an almost meditative event which saw our small group wade into a softly flowing mountain river to acknowledge and learn how to truly appreciate our natural surroundings. A two night stay at Elk Lake Lodge was another highlight. Encircled by mountains and flanked by a magnificent lake, the resort covers over 12,000-acre privately owned forest preserve. I spent my two days here wandering the network of hiking trails in place which seemed a million miles away from modern life.
You can stay in one of America’s historic Great Camps
There’s not many places where you can stay overnight in a museum but pay a visit to Great Camp Sagamore on Raquette Lake and that can be changed. For fifty years, it was the summer retreat of the very wealthy Vanderbilt family and their close knit circle of politician and celebrity friends. Beautifully restored so it still exudes its former opulent ambience – albeit in slight worn around the edges kind of way – it was completed in 1897 for a reputed $250,000, a whopping $7.5m in today’s money. I was guided round the 50-building complex (which was elaborate even for a great camp) open mouthed and wide-eyed – it’s a very special place that instantly transports you back to the Gilded age. I loved the antique bowling alley (still with its original ball return in tact!), the cosy lodges and the hedonistic ’playhouse’ where Howard Hughes once thumped out a tune on the piano and Gary Cooper joined the men of the family in game of roulette…amongst the odd stuffed weasel or two.
The mountains in this region are seemingly endless and range from anywhere from 1,200 feet tall to well over 5,000 feet tall and the tallest summits (which stand over above 4,000 feet) are known as the High Peaks. Mountain highlights include the highest of them all, Mount Marcy which stands at a towering 5,344 feet above sea level, Bald Mountain which after a steep climb to the summit will reward you with spectacular views, and my personal favourite Whiteface Mountain. One of the High Peaks and home to an impressive vertical drop of 3,430 feet, it’s a hub of activity for outdoorsy types in all seasons – a place where you can ski, snowboard, bobsleigh, take a gondola ride or even ‘tube’ down its craggy slopes.
…and the lakes
This region is also home to an endless amount of waterways – nearly 700 lakes, ponds and rivers in total in fact – and they offer unparalleled paddling and boating opportunities, not forgetting just kicking back and taking in the otherworldly beauty of it all. If you tire of just peace, still waters and magnificent vistas (which is probably very unlikely) you’ll find more human traffic over at Lake Placid. Frequently topping many a prestigious most beautiful towns in America list, the gorgeous resort is also home to plenty of high-end bars and restaurants. It’s both a laid back and utterly charming town and I loved every minute of my stay there.
The region’s answer to the Grand Canyon
Formed from 500 million year old sand stone and the oldest natural attraction in America, The Adirondack’s answer to the Grand Canyon is truly breathtaking. Magnificent Ausable Chasm is a place to see ancient rock formations, gaze upon the mighty Ausable River or rock climb, raft or tube, if you’re feeling a little more energetic. Alternatively take a nighttime lantern tour or one of their new adventure tours (including ferrata and rappelling courses).
The gorgeous collection of hotels
The options for accommodation in the area are endless – visitors can choose from swanky resorts, bunking down in traditional hotels, staying in homey bed and breakfasts or renting a home or apartment. If you do opt for a hotel there’s some genuinely beautiful ones to choose from (and of course their idyllic location definitely helps)! I stayed three nights at the Golden Arrow resort and adored my cosy but spacious room which directly overlooked Mirror Lake and their wonderful lobby which was home to a floor-to-ceiling window displaying the same lake in all its picture-perfect glory. Another stand out hotel is Lake Placid Lodge which has a reputation for being one of the most exclusive adult-only mountain retreats in North America. With unique and exceptionally creative rustic-chic interiors, the hotel is nothing short of a masterpiece – expect stone fireplaces, artistic pieces hand collected from all over the globe and exquisite rooms with deep soaking tubs and home-baked cookies presented at turndown.
Dine at Artisans Restaurant, Lake Placid Lodge
Although I’ve just mentioned Lake Placid Lodge, their restaurant – where you can dine without staying overnight – deserves a special mention of its own. Intimate, romantic and famed for their fine farm-to-table offerings, this is where I spent one of my favourite evenings of the whole trip. I sat on the stunning restaurant porch which overlooked Lake Placid and watched as the beautiful lake turned an ethereal blue as the sun slowly descended while I was presented with one delicious and immaculate dish after another – my new personal paradise!