The Adirondacks are credited with the concept of a vacation: since the mid 1800s, New Yorkers have been “vacating” the heat of the city and heading north to the cooler temperatures and natural beauty of the mountains, staying in homes known as “Camps.” The area known as the Adirondack Park is the largest state park in America, as well as the first state park. It covers over six million acres, more than 3,000 ponds and lakes, and over 1,500 miles of hiking trails. Today, more than seven million people visit the Adirondacks each year, but with so much space, so many activities and places to explore, it never feels crowded.
Our family recently decided to explore just a few towns in the Adirondacks, with a focus on the Lake Placid area. Popularized as the site for the 1932 and 1980 Olympic games, Lake Placid is located in the northern part of the Adirondacks, approximately five hours from both New York City and Boston, and just over two hours from Albany and Montreal. Popular villages and towns include downtown Lake Placid and nearby Wilmington, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake regions.
We used lakeplacid.com, the region’s website administered by ROOST, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, for a majority of our research. The website is comprehensive, with information on everything from activities (filtered by interest and season) to dining (filtered by cuisine and specialities) to lodging and events.
Transportation: Lake Placid’s free public transit system is called Placid XPRSS. Buses and trolleys operate from 6:30am through 9pm Monday through Saturday and from 8:30am-4:30pm on Sunday. Both systems make several stops throughout the downtown area- the schedule can be found here. There is also a helpful app, The Placid Express, which visitors can download to get live-time feed of where the shuttle is located along the routes.
While major parts of the downtown area are under construction through 2022 and as a result, some public parking lots are not open, there are some designated parking lots with a nominal meter fee. Metered street parking is also available around the downtown area. This map provided a good overview of the Lake Placid area and popular spots.
10 Ways to Have Fun in Lake Placid:
1. Visit the Lake Placid Visitor Center. While it is currently under construction through 2022, there is a temporary office for the tourism board, which offers plenty of maps and literature for local activities, as well as helpful staff who can assist with directions, reservations, and plans. On the second level, there is the Totally 80 Exhibit Gallery, which includes memorabilia from the 1980 Olympic games. The gift shop sells a variety of apparel, souvenirs, and posters related to the Olympics. Up to date information on construction can be found here, including renovations to Speed Skating Oval, Jack Shea Arena, Herb Brooks Arena, and the Olympic Museum.
Travel Tips: The Visitor Center and museum exhibit are open seven days a week from 10m-5pm and are free to visit. Restrooms are located on the second level. Metered parking is available in nearby lots.
2. Feel the mist of four waterfalls at High Falls Gorge. The 22 acre nature park includes portions of the AuSable River which flow through four waterfalls in the park. Visitors can hike the half mile loop that is marked by steel bridges and groomed walkways (packed gravel) and offers several viewing points. There is also a one mile Nature Trail loop in the woods (trailhead closes 1 hour before the rest of the complex). Some of the rocks in the Gorge date back 1.5 billion years and over one million gallons of water flow through the Gorge every day.
Kids will especially love completing a quiz while exploring and earning a special souvenir.
Travel Tips: The Gorge is typically open year round, with limited hours and some short closures in the winter months- check here for updates on hours and admissions. There is plenty of free parking adjacent to the Main Lodge, which includes a gift shop, snack bar, River View Cafe, and restrooms on the lower level. Plan on one hour to follow the loop trail, and an additional 30 minutes for the nature trail – see the full map here. There are several sets of steep stairs; make sure to wear sneakers.
3. Check out the views of Whiteface Mountain and Mount Van Hoevenberg 2,300 feet above sea level from the top of the top of Olympic Jumping Complex. Guests can take a 60 second gondola Skyride, walk to the base of the tower, and take an elevator to the observation deck for the 90 meter and 120 meter jumps. There is a “classroom” with tables and chairs, posters with Olympic trivia, and two outdoor viewing platforms.
Kids will especially love looking for the white pole, which was the official starting point for jumpers, taking the Sky Flyer Zipline (usually open Wednesday through Sunday, but currently under construction in 2021), and watching freestyle jump practice in the pool adjacent to the Lodge.
Travel Tips: The site is currently under construction and guests must park at the entrance to the complex and walk down a gravel road to Intervales Lodge. Information on hours (typically closed on Monday and Tuesday) and admission fees here. The Lodge includes a snack bar, gift shop, restrooms, and indoor and outdoor areas for dining and viewing. Plan on 60 minutes for a full visit.
For more information on Olympics sites and a weekly calendar, check here.
4. Ride a Cliffside Coaster at Mountain Pass Lodge on Mount Van Hoevenberg, the longest mountain coaster track in America. The 1.4 mile track runs alongside the 1932 and 1980 Olympic bobsled course. The ride takes about 10 minutes to get to the top of the mountain and then riders control the speed as they race down the track (make sure to smile for the camera!). The ride is narrated, highlighting points of interest on the course.
Kids will also love other experiences on Mount Van Hoevenberg such as the Bobsled Experience, Skeleton Experience, mountain bike rentals and Discover Activities. See the full list of activities by season and hours of operation here. Check here for a full map of hiking and biking trails.
Travel Tips: The Lodge is open year round, but the Cliffside Coaster is usually open from mid May to mid September, and then only on weekends in the fall; more information on hours and fees here. Guests must be at least 9 years old to ride the single coaster. Plenty of free parking is available in several lots near the Lodge. Restrooms, a gift shop, and the 81-88 Café (open from 9am-4pm serving breakfast and lunch) are located in the Lodge. Coaster riders can download photos taken on the track.
For more information on Olympics sites and a weekly calendar, check here.
5. View Lake Placid from the water on an hour long boat tour that covers sixteen miles of Lake Placid. The narrated tour on a covered pontoon boat includes the history and the geology of Lake Placid, as well as background on several of the islands and personal stories of the families who inhabited some of the 250 “camps” on the spring fed, natural lake.
Travel Tips: Tours operate from mid May through early October and are usually offered 5-6 times a day. Tickets often sell out on weekends and summer weekdays, so it’s best to go to the ticket office at the marina at 9am to purchase (no advanced reservations accepted). Restrooms are located in the ticket office. The pontoon boats are open air but do have a roof. Limited parking is available at the marina.
6. Drive the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway to one of New York State’s highest peaks, at 4800 feet high. The highway opened in 1935 and includes a Castle and Summit House open to visitors. The drive from the toll house to the summit is a five mile, 10 minute drive with an elevation of over 2,300 feet. There are nine designated spots along the road with pull offs and viewing areas of Adirondack Park, Lake Placid, Lake Champlain, and even Montreal on a clear day. (We visited on an extremely foggy day-see the pictures below- but did get a break in a couple of spots.)
Travel Tips: Information on hours and admission fees (charged for both vehicle and passengers) here; The Cafe at the summit serves lunch and snacks and a small gift shop offers souvenirs. Restrooms are located on the lower level and portapotties are available outside. There is an option to take an elevator to the Summit House via elevator, but it is closed for repairs as of summer 2021. Plan on 30-45 minutes to drive to the summit, with time to stop at some of the observation spots, and another 30 minutes to hike to the summit observation deck.
For more ways to have fun at Whiteface, including gondola rides, skiing and snowboarding, and lodging and dining, check out this guide.
7. Visit with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves at Santa’s Workshop. One of the first amusement parks in America, opening in 1949, Santa’s Workshop is geared towards younger children, under 48 inches tall. There are almost a dozen rides and a village filled with interactive workshops and activities. See the map of all attractions here.
Kids will especially enjoy the Toy Shop test area, the North Pole (NY) Post Office, and rides such as the mini coaster, ornament ball, ferris wheel, and bobsled ride.
Travel Tips: The park is typically open for the summer and early fall season and during the holiday season for Winter Weekends- information on hours and admission here. Information on special events like Yuletide Family Weekends, Village of Lights, and Breakfast with Santa here. There is plenty of parking and restrooms are available throughout the park and the park is handicap accessible. Dining options include the Bake Shop and Candy Shop. PLan on spending 3-4 hours to explore the whole park.
8. Swim, picnic, and play at Mirror Lake Public Beach & Park in downtown Lake Placid. The park includes the Olympic Toboggan Chute, a playground and swing set, a sand beach and swimming area on Mirror Lake, and tennis courts.
Other park options in the downtown area of Lake Placid include Kiwanis Teddy Bear Park (within walking distance to Main Street and great playground), and Peacock Park (about 1/2 mile from Main Street and has playground).
Travel Tips: Metered parking is available on Main Street. No restroom facilities.
9. Learn about the history of the Adirondacks at the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. The 120 acre complex includes over 20 museum buildings, hiking trails, a boathouse (visitors can rent a variety of boats to explore Minnow Pond), and daily workshops and activities.
Kids will especially love walking through a Pullman train car, recreating various chores of a logger, going to school in an old schoolhouse, and feeding the trout in the pond.
Travel Tips: While the museum is located 60 miles south of Lake Placid, it is absolutely worth a stop on the way into town, or as a day trip, if you’re visiting between late May and mid October. Admission tickets are valid for two consecutive days. Plenty of restroom facilities, parking, and the entire complex is handicap accessible. The Lake View Cafe offers plenty of lunch options (and stunning views!), but guests can also bring their own food and picnic on site. Plan on at least 4-5 hours to fully explore the complex.
Read our full post about the Adirondack Experience here.
10. Explore Wild Walk at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Wild Walk is a trail of bridges that visitors can climb through and connect to the giant spider’s web (jump in the middle of the 20 foot web), the Eagle’s Nest, and Snag, connecting treehouses. The Wild Center also features an indoor exhibition hall filled with aquariums and hands on exhibits, hiking trails, Forest Music sensory trail, a natural playground, and more.
Kids will especially love Wild Walk, Hopstock outdoor sculpture, and daily animal encounters, including watching the otters play in the pond and indoor Living River Trail exhibit.
Travel Tips: The Wild Center is located about 30 miles west of Lake Placid and definitely worth a visit. The Wild Center is open for most of the year (closed in April), with more limited days and hours in the winter; the Waterside Cafe is currently open for bagged lunches only and there are plenty of places to picnic throughout the complex. The complex is handicap accessible. Restrooms and the Wild Supply Co. gift shop are both located in the main exhibit hall.
Read our full post about The Wild Center here.
Dining in Lake Placid: There are dozens of dining options throughout the greater Lake Placid area- a good index of options can be found here. We had the opportunity to enjoy great meals and snacks at:
- The Dancing Bears, right downtown on Main Street and part of the High Peaks Resort, for delicious burgers, salads, and steaks, and a great weekend brunch. The staff was friendly and attentive with food allergy concerns. There are both indoor and outdoor dining options, and plenty of televisions around the bar for game time.
- Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, located across the street from Mirror Lake Beach, for flights, appetizers, pizzas, and sandwiches. Both indoor and outdoor seating and the outdoor patio includes corn hole games and views of Mirror Lake.
- Big Slide Brewery, located near the Ski Jump Complex, is the sister property of Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and offers a similar menu with even more farm to table dishes. Both indoor and outdoor dining are available.
- Generations, part of the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort downtown on Main Street, has a large indoor dining room and outdoor patio overlooking Main Street, and offers a wide variety of “sammies”, burgers, dinner entrees, and several gluten free options. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the kid’s menu portions are very generous.
- The Breakfast Club on Main Street overlooks Mirror Lake and is open for breakfast and lunch. The portions are very generous and the drink menu (over 10 types of made from scratch Bloody Marys and Mimosas and unicorn hot chocolate for the kids) is fun for everyone.
- Green Goddess Market on Main is a great spot for all organic smoothies, bagels, soups, and wrap.
- We don’t drink coffee but heard that The Coffee Bar, Origin Coffee, and The Farmhouse Café all makes great coffee.
- We passed dozens of people eating ice cream from Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery.
- Main Street is also home to Adirondack Chocolates, The Adirondack Popcorn Co., and Saratoga Olive Oil Co. which all sell delicious treats that would be easy to pack up for the car ride home.
Staying in Lake Placid: We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Lake Placid, which was less than a five-minute drive to the downtown Main Street area. The hotel was clean, the rooms were well appointed, and the hotel includes an indoor pool, outdoor fire pit and patio, and Bistro, open for breakfast and evening snacks and drinks.
Disclaimer: My family was given media passes to several of the activities we included in this City Guide. All opinions expressed are my own.