This article appears in May 16 Travel page.
Adirondack Park in upper New York State has no gate. There is no park ranger who opens and closes the entrance each day. Instead, an imaginary line surrounds a vast region of wilderness and communities of about 135,000 residents, according to local historian Andy Flynn.
“The park is like no other,” said Flynn, author of “New York’s Adirondack Park: A User’s Guide.” Spread across 6 million acres, it is about the size of Vermont.
Despite its immense size, the park is fairly easy to navigate. The center of activity is among the picturesque lakeside villages of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
The Adirondacks are an important part of the American landscape. Vast forests of white pine and hemlock delight the senses and offer a getaway from the summer’s heat and traffic. In fact, the park’s origin dates to 1892 when city folks in New York and Boston “vacated” their homes to set up camps and cottages on the lakes to enjoy the fresh air, crystal clear lakes and rugged scenery.
Today, they still do. The park’s year-round population of 140,000 swells to a summertime crowd of 200,000 drawn to superb hiking, kayaking, waterfalls and canoeing. The park encompasses one-fifth of all the land in New York State — 6 million acres.
To get a true picture of the Adirondacks, visit the Wild Center, a new kind of natural history museum. Playful otters and other animals cavort and can be seen up close in the main hall. The main center has a soaring rotunda with floor-to-ceiling windows, a towering waterfall and a massive moving glacial ice wall.
Outside, the riverfront has access to guided canoe and paddleboard trips. Spread over 31 acres, the complex now has Wild Walk, a stunning aerial walkway across the treetops accessible for all ages and abilities to see animals close up. Kids like to play on a gigantic fake spider’s web.
Every community in the Adirondacks has its own personality. Built on history and age-old industries like logging, farming and mining, towns and villages have evolved into exciting destinations of world-class museums, art galleries and outdoor recreation.
A perfect little village in the shadow of the mountains, Lake Placid thinks big. The town plays host to some of the fiercest athletics anywhere, from the grueling endurance test of the Ironman triathlon to the Empire State Winter Games and Lake Placid Marathon. In the winter hockey, ski jumping, bobsledding and ice skating abound.
A stroll through town captures the spirit of a friendly citizenry who own and operate small bakeries, boutiques, bookstores and wineries.
The Lake Placid Center for the Arts has a variety of local art. Just below the sweet hometown library, circa 1884, a lush, native plant garden overlooks Mirror Lake.
Dining options include the popular ‘dack Shack and, for breakfast, the Base Camp Café.
The Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort on Mirror Lake is steps away from the famed Olympic Village in the heart of the town and has its own restaurant, Generations. It has a pool, fitness center and private beach from which guests can launch their canoes in summer or go ice skating in winter.
Nearby, the waterfalls and mountain cliffs at High Falls Gorge are worth the drive.
The village of Saranac Lake is a magnet for artists and art lovers. Main Street is full of funky shops, restaurants, art galleries and live music venues. The art spills onto the streets in the summer when sidewalk musicians and painters entertain visitors.
Saranac Lake ArtWorks displays art by locals who draw inspiration from the lakes and mountains. The gallery offers studio tours. The Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery on Main Street is also filled with stunning landscapes from local artists, and visitors can browse galleries and see artists creating on Thursday Art Walks every summer.
Children love the Adirondack Carousel, featuring a rotating selection of l8 hand-carved animals painted by local artisans.
The Hotel Saranac, built at the height of the Roaring Twenties, still bears the elegant ambience of the Great Gatsby era. The Great Hall, a social hub of the village, dominates the second floor with its Palazzo-inspired design influenced by the 14th century Davanzati Palace in Florence.
The hotel’s Campfire Grill is a local favorite.
Saranac Lake is a five-hour drive from New York City and Boston. Cape Air also flies in daily from Boston. Contact the Visitors Center at 518-846-8016 or go to visitadirondacks.com.