Tag Archives: Adirondack Park

Five fun things to do in Lake Placid

8 Feb

View from Guest Room 437 at Mirror Lake Inn


On Sunday the 5th, Hubby and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We chuckle about this, because we have been together for over 15 years, but finally decided to “pull the trigger” and make it official in the eyes of the law just last February, with a 10-minute affair in our living room, officiated by a former mayor, witnessed by our next door neighbors, and followed by an afternoon of downtown pub crawling and Chowderfest fun. No frills, no fuss. Being not-so-conventional, no honeymoon either. But my mom, brother, and sister-in-law did give us a most generous wedding gift–a getaway to the amazing Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, New York–which Hubby and I enjoyed this past weekend, in celebration of our “first year” together.

Lake Placid is a great little village, nestled in the heart of the High Peaks region of the immense Adirondack Park, about 110 miles north-northwest of our Saratoga Springs home. While travel by car takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes, travel through time takes us backward about 30 years. You see, Lake Placid hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games–a feat that seems almost unimaginable now, given the town’s size, (lack of) infrastructure, and absence of urbanity, when compared to more metropolitan and glamorous Games hosts (think St. Moritz, Innsbruck, Oslo, Vancouver)–and there is some sense that time has, well, stood still in the village since its 1980 eminence.

Map of New York showing Adirondack Park bounde...

Image via Wikipedia

Then again, most villages located in the Adirondack Park feel a bit anachronistic. “Charming rustic”, teetering on “past-prime shabby”. I think this is due in large part to the strictly regulated development within the Blue Line boundary of the 6 million-acre state park. Since early discovery by westward-moving American pioneers, the Adirondack Mountains have been continually exploited, for fish, game, furs, lumber, minerals, ores…even for the curative fresh mountain air. Wonderful safeguards have been put into place to ensure that the natural beauty of this ancient mountain landscape is preserved for future generations. But these same measures have also made it difficult for any meaningful industry, development, or economic progress to occur within the protected park, which is really a complex patchwork of public and private lands.

Lake Placid and its environs have not been exempt from these restrictions. Whatever development and progress the village enjoyed in the past few decades was from the spurt of building activity leading up to the 1980 Olympics, and from posh private homes built for seasonal enjoyment by a wealthy few since then. Its main street has an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants, but sadly, the architecture is more urban renewal ugly than quaint, vintage Alpine. The Olympic facilities are still in use, and where budding athletes from the region still train. But like the village’s downtown, a lot of these once impressive structures now seem hokey, aging, forgotten. So, is the village of Lake Placid pretty, and worth visiting? In a word, “no”.

But look beyond the village, to the lake for which the village is named. Or to the lake that the village actually rims (oddly, not the same…Lake Placid, the village, sits on Mirror Lake; Lake Placid, the lake, is sort of hidden behind the village, with a really unprepossessing marina for public access). And to the majestic high peaks that ring the area. And yes, for this, the Lake Placid region is beautiful, and well worth the visit.

Hubby and I have only been to Lake Placid a few times, and this visit was our first in the winter. For us, we decided that there is no better time to go. Most other people think differently, I guess, since the “in” season for this historic winter sports haven is actually summer. Go figure. On this weekend, we embraced the area’s tranquility, free from throngs of tourists, and enjoyed a frosty corner of the forest with the laid-back local folk. Beyond unwinding, eating, and drinking, we didn’t do much during our two-night stay. And we still can’t claim to have partaken of any “Olympic Experience” activities. But here is a list of five things we did do, and enjoyed, and would recommend to anyone else wandering over Lake Placid way on some random winter weekend.

Five Fun Things (Winter Edition)

#1: Driving

Getting to Lake Placid is half the fun. State Route 73 winds westward from Interstate 87, much of it along scenic brooks, streams, waterfalls, gorges, and ponds, through rustic villages like Keene and St. Huberts, and past numerous trail heads to rises and rifts with names like Rooster Comb, Pitchoff, Chapel Pond, and Bear Run. The route is often precipitous, and the bare birches seem to beckon like skeletal fingers, luring you deeper into the wilderness, up into the mountains. The approach to Lake Placid opens to a wide clearing, where the majesty of the surrounding snow-dusted mountaintops is truly awesome. 

Mountain views

#2: Sleeping

Retreating into the woods and away from the noise and pressure of the daily grind guarantees a sound sleep. And there is no better place to rest your weary head than at the Mirror Lake Inn. “Polished, not snooty” is how it’s been described. It’s pricey, but well worth the splurge. Almost every room has a beautiful view of Mirror Lake and the string of towering peaks, like Mount Marcy and Algonquin, in the distance. Afternoon tea with homemade cookies is served daily in the main building’s cozy living room. You can cuddle up in front of a crackling fire and play board games in the adjacent wood-paneled library. Luxuriate in the indoor pool/sauna/hot tub or indulge in a spa treatment. Eat all manner of incredible edibles, from baked brie and fried brussels sprouts, to venison burgers and lobster risotto–and everything in between–at one of the onsite eateries. Do all that, then collapse in to the super sumptuous bedding, and sleep like a baby.

Cozy living room at Mirror Lake Inn

#3: Eating/drinking

See #2 above. Of course, there are a number of other great places to eat in Lake Placid and the surrounding area. One place we’d like to return to is the Brown Dog Cafe & Wine Bar. We got here too late on our first night to have much more than a cheese board and some wine. (Second night was Super Bowl Sunday, and restaurant was closed.) But the owner, an affable Jersey Boy named Jim, was so welcoming, despite our late arrival. He joined us at the bar as he wound down, regaling us with stories and a photo album of his prize English bulldog, Rolex, who had apparently supplanted in Jim’s heart the chocolate lab for whom the restaurant had been named. Otherwise, we were content to enjoy the unusual menu of small plates at the MLI’s bistro, called taste, and the hearty Adirondack breakfast served in the hotel’s main restaurant, The View.

Hearty Adirondack breakfast sandwich at The View, Mirror Lake Inn

#4: Visiting a palace

Happenstance had it that the neighboring village of Saranac Lake was kicking off its annual winter carnival on the Saturday we arrived. Quintessential small-town charm and tradition. A palace built of over 1,000 massive ice blocks cut from Lake Flower in the heart of town, and magically illuminated from within. The “lighting of the palace” preceded a stellar fireworks display over the frozen lake. A wonderful 115-year-old Adirondack ritual to break the season’s monotony and celebrate winter’s brighter side. 

Inside the Ice Palace, Saranac Lake

#5: Walking/snowshoeing/skiing/skating/tobogganing/dog-sledding on Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is not that big. Originally, it was called Bennet Pond, named for one of the founding settlers. But at some point in the late 1800s, with the advent of stagecoach and then train travel, the area began to attract tourists who would vacation at grand hotels and inns that sprang up around the lake. The reflective tranquility of the water prompted some to compare it to a mirror, and the more romantic name stuck (I have learned this while reading The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid, a fascinating collection of writings by Mary MacKenzie, a long-time town historian). But I think it’s even more beautiful in winter, when frozen over and covered with snow. At this season, it becomes like a big playground. People cross-country ski on it, traverse it on snowshoes or ice skates, and take dog sled rides. A toboggan chute at the lake’s southern end sends squealing riders out across the frozen expanse. This sure looked like fun…

…but ultimately, we opted to save our spines and invest in what seemed like a much more serene turn on a dog sled. We weren’t fully prepared for the extra gifts this team of handsome huskies bestowed!

Have you been to Lake Placid in winter? Please share any recommendations for fun, food, folly…

The ramble in pictures

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Chocolate-covered bacon and other Southern Adirondack wonders

17 Jan


It isn’t often that Hubby and I are up early on weekends. This past Sunday, we had occasion to be up with the sun, and decided to put the time to good use. We hadn’t taken any road trips in a while–for fun, we drive without maps or navigation and see how lost we can get within a 1-2 hour drive-time radius–and so decided to take a ramble in The North Country.

But like I said, we don’t use maps. So what started out with northerly intent ended up being westward wandering. At least in the beginning. Hubby suggested we start with breakfast at Shirley’s Restaurant, on the west side of town. Despite living in Saratoga for over 15 years, and passing this place dozens of times, neither of us had ever been. It’s been around for about 50 years, owned by the same family. I remembered news of the place’s namesake dying quite suddenly a few years back. But the restaurant was carrying on without Shirley, still being run by family members, so that’s nice to hear.

But I hesitate about going. As shallow as it is, I have been judging this book by its nondescript cover: a pretty odd 1960s brick edifice wedged between a Mobil station and a seasonal ice cream shack. Stepping inside, my outlook doesn’t improve much (bland, dated decor; drop ceilings and wood paneling; ho-hum breakfast menu). But the place is pretty busy for 8 a.m.–a mix of hunter/snowmobiler types, older couples, and a few families–so I think they must be doing something right. We seat ourselves, and the waitress arrives promptly with really good coffee, rattling off the morning’s specials. Hubby latches on to the homemade-hash-and-eggs special. I decide on the Eggs Benedict with home fries, and also ask for a grilled pumpkin muffin. Within 10 minutes, we are served up two piping plates of sheer breakfast bliss.

OK, so maybe that’s an overstatement. I mean, it’s diner food. But really, really good diner food. Check out these Eggs Benedict. Perfectly poached orbs atop crisp English muffins and two slices of Canadian bacon each, enveloped in sublime, silken Hollandaise heaven. The home fries are among the best I’ve had, not too salty/over-seasoned, not greasy at all, and absent those unsavory burned bits. Just uniformly browned and crisp, perfect for mopping up the extra egg and golden saucy goodness. And the pumpkin muffin is so good that Hubby–who isn’t typically a “sweets” guy, and who rolls his eyes every time I order this indulgent extra bit of carb “on the side” when we have breakfast out–sheepishly asks for half, and then wants to know if I am going to eat the rest. His homemade hash is equally as good (though not as pretty to look at, so no photo). Total bill comes in at under $20. This day is off to a good start. Fueled up and ready to hit the road with happy bellies.

(Important update! When searching online to see if Shirley’s had a website, I found this article that appeared recently in the Business Review. Apparently, Shirley’s was bought last month by a fashion designer and former president of a now-defunct horse racing facility (funny career combo) from Montreal. He isn’t/won’t be making many changes to Shirley’s, except for adding things like poutine…man, this place just keeps getting better. Next time: Lunch a must!)

We decide to start rambling northward by way of Route 9N, a winding but well-traveled road that travels north and west out of town, going through the towns of Greenfield, Corinth, and Luzerne, before looping back east and ending in the village of Lake George. We’ve taken this route before. Wanting to change things up, we opt to turn left off Route 9N on the outskirts of Corinth, onto County Route 10, following signs and heading west for the Great Sacandaga Lake. Our travels take us up, up, up, on a narrow and winding road–to where the snow from a few days ago still clings to the trees and the plowed banks seem curiously high compared to home–before we descend down, down, down, ending at the northern end of the Sacandaga. We follow the lake’s eastern/southern edge for a time, until we tire of it, and then, before we have to commit to going around the entire lake’s perimeter, we take a bridge (under sizeable construction, hence the crane) across to Northville . This is a huge lake. And sort of an odd one, too.

Former homes in the now-flooded valley

The Great Sacandaga Lake was formerly known as the Sacandaga Reservoir. It lies in a valley, and is actually a man-made reservoir created in the 1930s to control the disastrous springtime floods that impacted businesses and communities downstream of where the Sacandaga River meets the Hudson. Thousands of people then living in the reservoir area were displaced, and their homes were destroyed or moved to make way for the new lake. I used to work with someone who had a summer camp on the lake. He had a reputation for telling tall tales. He recounted stories of going diving in parts of the lake, where he could see the ruins of buildings that used to be in the valley before the flooding, things like church steeples. I couldn’t find anything about that sort of “Atlantis” online. But I did learn that there used to be a popular amusement park and railroad on the valley floor in the late 1800s. And that the reservoir was built at a cost of $12 million, fully funded by contributions made by area business owners who benefitted from the flood protection provided by the resevoir…not a bit of tax money used for its construction!

The fabrication of this lake renders it less appealing to me, and makes it much less authentically “Adirondack”, where it serves as a sort of southeastern gateway to the state park’s wild expanse. The views from the road winding along the lake are pretty enough. But knowing the history of this lake, I feel a sadness. And am haunted by thoughts of what used to be, before billions of gallons of water rushed in to drown the valley…A place where people lived and played and worked and died…gone, because a bunch of business people wanted to safeguard their downstream establishments from flood damage…

Which is why I am glad to leave the lake area, and to head north along the not-man-made Sacandaga River on Route 30. A tranquil stretch, with snow-laden pines and the occasional year-round cottage circled by chimney smoke. Glimpses of mountains in the distance, whose tree-topped peaks look like they are coated in confectioner’s sugar. I’d love to meander this stretch longer, right up to Lake Placid if time allowed; this route runs roughly parallel to the 133-mile Northville-Placid hiking trail, which I’d like to explore in the warmer months.

But Hubby and I make the decision to start homeward. We turn off Route 30 onto Route 8 and then Route 28, heading eastward now, back toward the Northway which will carry us swiftly back to reality and to home. But not before we make a quick detour to cruise the packed parking lot at the base of Gore Mountain, and then head into the village of North Creek. This hamlet is seeing a renaissance of sorts, since the Saratoga & North Creek Railway began running passenger service again this past summer, bringing tourists to the area for foliage in the autumn, Polar Express rides at Christmas, and now skiers. We are hoping to land a nice hot cuppa at Sarah’s Place on the main drag, but abort when a bevy of downstaters fills the place and begins barking out their cappufrappelattecino orders to the overwhelmed hipster behind the counter. The price of success, I guess.

One last stop before we hit the interstate: Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House in Warrensburg. This place is legend. A mainstay for 50 years, Oscar’s was leveled by a fire in 2009. But liked a smoked pig with wings, it has miraculously taken off since. Oscar’s has all manner of smoked meats, from beef and pork, to venison and boar. Not to mention cheeses (some with smoked meats in them, of course!), sauces, local foodstuffs, desserts, and…wait, what’s that? Do my eyes deceive me? Could it be? Is that for real, or have we been on the road too long? Chocolate-covered bacon. Oh yes they did. Hubby gags at this, but I jump at the chance to experience this taste sensation, adding a few pieces to the armful of edibles we have gathered to take home. Verdict? Smoky-salty-sweet yum.

A mere thirty minutes later, we pull back into the driveway. A fun ramble, a few new discoveries. And the fixins for dinner later in the week…

Want to ramble? Map below…click on the pins for descriptions of the route along the way!

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