When New Yorkers talk about the beauty of upstate New York, they're often thinking about the Adirondack Mountains. Much of this huge highlands area, which begins about 110 mi/180 km northwest of Albany, is still unspoiled wilderness with dramatic vistas, and parts of it are extremely rugged. (The exotic name actually is an Iroquois insult meaning "bark-eater.") At 6 million acres/2.43 million hectares, Adirondack Park is the nation's largest outside of Alaska.
The region is most beautiful in autumn: That's when we like to relax on a cabin porch in a genuine Adirondack chair—a low-slung folk design that seems to induce naps. The high altitudes offer a cool summer retreat for urbanites (it's a good season to hike trails), and the range's 46 peaks that measure more than 4,000 ft/1,200 m guarantee that there's plenty of snow for skiing in the winter. There's also a grand total of 3,000 ponds and lakes as well as 2,000 mi/3,220 km of hiking trails. For nature lovers, there is something for everyone.
Plan on seeing the Adirondacks as an excursion from Albany or Saratoga Springs. The following suggested itinerary touches on some of the area's best attractions.
On your way north on Interstate 87 from Albany, stop briefly in the area around Glens Falls; if possible, call ahead and reserve space on a hot-air-balloon ride. (Adirondack Balloon Flights is one provider; http://www.adkballoonflights.com.) Nearby is Lake George, a popular vacation village on summer weekends: There are many motels, factory outlets and boutiques along Highway 9 leading into town.
Fort William Henry, just outside Lake George, was the main setting for the book The Last of the Mohicans as well as a shooting location for the film version. The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom, on the outskirts of Lake George, has more than 125 rides and shows, including many water rides.
Lake Luzerne is home to a chamber-music festival and a number of New York rodeos. (Yes, classical music can go hand-in-hand with cowboys and bull riders.) Continue north on Highway 9N to Ticonderoga, site of Fort Ticonderoga, a restored military installation built by the French in 1756 and the site of an important Revolutionary War battle. History buffs will enjoy watching the musket-loading demonstration and learning what soldiers' lives were like. Stroll the LaChute River Walk Trail and visit Ticonderoga Heritage Museum in downtown Ticonderoga.
Cook Mountain, along northwestern Lake George, is a splendid spot for viewing the Lake Champlain Valley, the Green Mountains of Vermont, northern Lake George and the Adirondacks.
Continue north on Highway 9N to Highway 22. The beauty of the Adirondacks becomes truly impressive at the next stop, Ausable Chasm, just west of Lake Champlain. A true geological oddity, the chasm was created when the Ausable River carved a path through deep layers of sandstone. Today, you'll see a gorge of sheer faces broken by rock shelves where trees have taken root. To explore the chasm, you'll start out walking, then opt for either a return on foot via the Rim Walk or an invigorating raft ride through the Grand Flume, a hair-raising section of white water.
From Ausable Chasm, head southwest to Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. The Olympics are still a big part of life in Lake Placid: It's home to the U.S. Olympic Training Center and Whiteface Sports Park. Not surprisingly, winter sports are some of the major activities in Lake Placid: There are bobsled and skeleton runs (which adrenaline junkies can try out for a price), an Olympic Ice Arena (where the U.S. defeated Russia in 1980's "Miracle on Ice"), a ski jump, a speed-skating oval and excellent cross-country trails at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
The area is a popular destination year-round, however: Any time of year, Lake Placid offers events, attractions, festivals and sports competitions. Equestrians may prefer the community's two world-class horse shows in late June-early July. And there are lots of hotels, restaurants and shops, no matter what time of year you visit.
While you're in the area, plan on an evening at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and a visit to the John Brown Farm State Historic Site (home and burial site of the famed 19th-century abolitionist). If you're planning to visit Lake Placid, be sure to book well in advance—it's a very popular vacation spot.
Southwest of Lake Placid is Blue Mountain Lake, home to an active arts-and-crafts community and the Adirondack Museum. Exhibits in 20 buildings include a collection of 19th-century Adirondack paintings, Adirondack guide boats, carriages, an elegant private railroad car, a blacksmith shop and a log hotel.
Apple orchards and maple trees dominate the landscape on the eastern shore of the Lake Champlain Valley, which runs north-south along the state's border with Vermont. Plattsburgh sits at the mouth of the Saranac River, a popular spot in spring for kayakers hoping to take advantage of the snowmelt and its resulting rapids. Each July, the Mayor's Cup Yacht Race provides a long weekend of fun for sailors and landlubbers, and the weekend after Labor Day is the annual commemoration of the Battle of Plattsburgh, a pivotal moment in the War of 1812. The Plattsburgh State Art Museum, part of the university, is also worth visiting if you're in the area.
Other artful options include the Kent-Delord House, the Battle of Plattsburgh Interpretive Center and the Clinton County Historical Association. You can soak up some sun at Plattsburg City Beach or at the beach in Point au Roche State Park, just north of town. For some good fishing, stop at Rouses Point, host to seasonal derbies and events.
If you get out on the lake, keep your eyes open and your video camera handy for sightings of Champ, the local lake monster. According to area lore, Champ is related to the Loch Ness monster—but he's as elusive as his Scottish cousin, so be patient.
As you leave the Adirondacks, consider a stop in Old Forge. It's a snowmobiler's heaven in winter and a canoer's dream in summer. Its Enchanted Forest Water Safari may mollify kids who've maxed out on mountain scenery. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad takes passengers on a nostalgic ride between Thendara and Old Forge.
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