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Established in 1892, Adirondack State Park comprises public and private land and is collectively bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Great Smokey Mountains National Parks combined, protecting over 6 million acres of land. Having checked off the major mountain ranges in New England, we were delighted to head over to New York for a long weekend vacation. Lonely Planet recently deemed the Adirondacks one of the “Best in the U.S.” to visit in 2017.
Happy Adirondacks Trails, Soggy Kid Shoes
Once exiting the Adirondacks Northway (this region is a 3-5 hour drive from most New England and New York metro areas), a scenic adventure revealed itself. Our car hugged the windy road as it snaked along the Ausable River, through Keene, past Cascade Lake and between the mountains. I had expected a busier hub, but was pleasantly surprised with the subdued atmosphere of Lake Placid and the neighboring towns. The Whiteface Lodge served as home base for our getaway.
After checking in, our first stop was High Falls Gorge, a 15-minute drive from the lodge. Roaring waterfalls, rock and mineral sluicing and a scenic nature trail entertained us at the nature park. Originally opened in 1890, this center sits where the Ausable River crashes through a gorge down a series of waterfalls and whirlpools. History, geology and flora highlighted via interpretive signs along the safe, wet walkways down and across the river made for a fun trail. The kids completed a junior explorer questionnaire and received a free gift.
Keeping an eye on the impending rain, a partly sunny afternoon (with a few sprinkles) accompanied our hike up Owl’s Head Mountain, a hidden 2,100-foot hillock near Lower Cascade Lake and Keene, NY. Don’t let its size fool you! It was an ideal 1.2-mile round trip (460-foot ascent) hike for young kids through forest and over rocky outcrops to panoramic views of its grander counterparts in the mountain range and stunning vistas of the Adirondacks. The unblazed trail was easy to follow with a few steeper sections. I was captivated by the shiny, multicolored and flaky bark of the spruce trees that lined the trail. The kids enjoyed reaching the summit and investigating the potholes in the rock that collect water.
The following morning was a soggy one but suitable for a flat, forested Brewster Peninsula nature trail on Lake Placid. The trail meandered through woods and led us to the lake shore, where the kids investigated the waterfall and dam near the bridge that guards the outflow of the lake into a gentle river. Go figure – more water. I’m not joking when I say my kids adore it. They watched leaves and twigs flow through the current toward the falls. This was a lovely find of protected land on the shores of a popular vacation lake. After a shoe change in the car, we made our way back to the lodge for a lunch break.
Lodging In The Adirondacks is Rustic Elegance
A respite from our usual camping or roughing it, we enjoyed the opportunity to explore the creature comforts of a lodge in the mountains. Built in the Adirondacks in 2005, authentic timber Whiteface Lodge was hospitable and impressive with a plethora of activities and amenities to keep us busy even during our pre-season visit. All the rooms are suites, with 1-3 bedrooms, full living room, fireplace, modern kitchen and private patio. Ours hosted an impressive view of the mountains and manicured lodge grounds. Wood-beamed interior, cozy fireplaces and signature Adirondack furniture adorn the lodge.
Rainy days? Not a problem. After a drizzle-accompanied hike in the morning, we took in the private bowling alley, game room, movie theater and a game of chess near a crackling fire. And rain could not stop our children from swimming in the year-round heated indoor/outdoor pool each day. For snowy/cold days, there’s even an underground passageway to reach the recreation clubhouse and the lodge organizes a host of winter activities.
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Always a planner, I appreciated the daily dispatch provided by the lodge, which was loaded with offerings, including morning fitness classes and a reminder about the evening s’mores. My kids could not say no to that! I also enjoyed a visit to the full-service spa after a yoga class. As the season kicks in for summer, the lodge offers a Canoe Club with extensive nautical activities on Lake Placid, a stocked fishing pond, tennis courts (in winter an ice rink), and a yurt for children’s programs. They also provide free transportation to town locations.Admittedly the weather forecast had discouraged my spirits, but the Adirondack family resort’s abundance of activities surely compensated for that. Not once did my children say they were bored between the lodge-hosted amenities and our outdoor excursions. Like any prepared parent, I had brought along a few board games, Lego bricks and craft materials for down time. Although we had a full kitchen (we packed food for meals), we dined at The Kanu, enjoying a delicious breakfast buffet and exquisite dinner meal. The restaurant provides a quiet view of Whiteface Mountain through the vaulted dining room. The kids delighted in counting the decorative taxidermy animals.
An Olympic Feat In The Adirondacks
The second thing I think of when the Adirondacks and Lake Placid comes to mind (after the mountains, of course) is the Olympics. The town was host to both the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics. It was surreal to walk through the small town and envision what it must have been like here for both competitions. Museums, visitor centers and venues are scattered throughout the region.
Our first stop was the ski jump set atop a steep hillside. A quick elevator ride up to the top of the 120-meter jump gave a (very windy!) birds-eye view. It put my fear of heights to the test. Back in town, we explored the outdoor skating track and saw one of the ice rinks where the famous 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game (United States against Soviet Union) took place. We had the place to ourselves and the kids did a full victory lap through the stands.
The Adirondacks’ Gardens and Cannons and Fortifications
On our last day, we woke to a dusting of white flakes. It didn’t deter us. We bundled up, packed and drove south to Fort Ticonderoga for a pit stop on our journey home. We had propitious timing; it was opening weekend for the season. Nestled against Lake Champlain, this well-maintained, star-shaped fort is rich in Native American, French and English history. It has extensive and impressive museum exhibits, demonstrations, a gift shop and knowledgeable staff.
I lost count of the number of cannons positioned around the large fort as we explored barracks, kitchens, walls and a courtyard. We all tested our ability to lift a (relatively small) cannon barrel. Let’s just say it required two of us! Our entrance fee included a drive up to Mt. Defiance’s summit, where a few more cannons lay strategically aimed toward the lake. In later spring and summer, the King’s Garden is a treasure trove of flowers at the fort.
After this fun and educational detour, we all pondered upon our favorites from the weekend as we drove home. And yes, they involved water in some form. Our favorites: the heated pool and dam at Lake Placid (a first place tie), High River Gorge with the bellowing waterfalls, the curvy drive along the Ausable River, and our scuffle up Owl’s Head Mountain. For a family who loves water, Lake Placid and the Whiteface Lodge did not fail to impress.
Note: The Whiteface Lodge provided complimentary accommodations, activities, and dining to Jean Grant and her family.
Jean Grant is a scientist, author, part-time education director, and a mom to two active, nature-loving sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts. She writes where her heart takes her…from castles to craters to crags of all kinds. Her website can be found at: jeanmgrant.com