Adirondacks State Park
Lake George and the Adirondacks, New York (Stockbyte/Getty)

Hiking. Canoeing. Wilderness.

These words define the great outdoors. And in many ways, the Adirondacks have defined these words.

The Adirondacks was the nation's first great preserved wilderness, and the park is still the one closest to home for New York's metropolitan hordes. The region was the wellspring of some of the country's first outdoor magazines, as well as hiking and paddling clubs. Even the rustic architecture of ranger stations and hunting lodges was first developed in the Adirondacks.

A thin blue line on the map separates the Adirondacks from the world of madcap development. The park covers six million acres—an area larger than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite combined. It is roughly the same size as the state of Vermont to the east. Still not impressed? Well, Adirondack State Park covers a fifth of New York State. Two thousand peaks lie within its folds, 100 are taller than 3,000 feet. Two peaks, Marcy and Algonquin, are higher than 5,000 feet. Nearly half of the Park is forest preserve, meaning that the land was set aside to remain in its natural state. Spanning most of the park's lands are vast forests of pine, maple, and birch. The park supports 500,000 acres of true old-growth forest, 200,000 acres of which have never been logged.

For many, the High Peaks Region is synonymous with the Adirondacks. The High Peaks area offers an endless array of possibilities for hiking—from an afternoon saunter with the family to a week of wilderness backpacking. This is the territory of the "46ers"—a (very) loosely organized club of those who've climbed the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks.

Mount Marcy is the highest of the high. It is also a hugely popular destination and offers several routes to the summit. Many hikers in the know prefer Algonquin Peak, the Adirondacks' other 5,000+ peak. This is a challenging, though non-technical, climb with amazing views of the High Peaks at the summit, and even before. Life doesn't get much better than hiking Algonquin in the autumn while the leaves are turning.

While in the 'dacks, you should definitely seek out a "Great Camp" or two. These camps were built for the super-rich of the American Gilded Age as remote and luxurious rustic summer retreats. Built from massive logs and festooned with stuffed trophy heads from hunting expeditions all over the world, these compounds—that might include private bowling alleys, ballrooms, carriage houses, and libraries—are a far cry from the chilly, zip-flied tents the rest of us use to enjoy the outdoors. We recommend two great camps: Sagamore, designed by William Durant, and later purchased by the Vanderbilt family, is kept open as a museum piece, with all of the facilities that you would expect at any other preserved historic site complete with guided tours, gift shops, interpretative displays, and a parking lot. If your taste runs more towards the ghostly, we highly recommend heading to the deserted Santonini Preserve. Surrounded by 12,500 acres of forest, this fenced-off compound includes a central lodge, a boathouse, guest cottages, and a studio—all built out of those typical massive logs. The compound is fenced off, but you can hike by before discovering one of the Adirondacks' best trails and some enchanted camping spots.

Lake Champlain Valley is perfect for a family vacation. It is a region of scenic splendor and has a full range of lodging and restaurants, from rustic to luxury. Some of the Adirondacks best farming country is here.

Thomas Jefferson called Lake George the most beautiful water he had ever seen. The beauty has been somewhat blemished by spots of tourist development. But it is a big, 44-square-mile lake, and once you get away from the roadside motels, you'll see what Thomas Jefferson saw: a deep drop of blue waters set among rugged mountains and sprinkled with hundreds of piney islands.

New York State operates a system of island campgrounds in Lake George, which allow you to boat out to one of these small islands and find yourself smack dab in the middle of Lake George's gorgeous expanse. Lake George offers superior fishing, so if you bring your fishing pole, you may be able to dine on trout amandine rather than freeze-dried chili. Also, up and around Lake George are approximately 50 miles of hiking trails that allow for some serious exploring.

The Adirondacks excels as a canoeing destination. One good place to explore is the St. Regis Canoe Area off of Saranac Lake. This is a pond-hopper's paradise. Many of the carries are short and most routes can be done as part of an unencumbered day trip. The classic is the "Seven Carries Route," a nine-mile trek from Little Clear Pond to Paul Smiths that traverses ten lakes and ponds. A loop around the St. Regis Lakes, requiring a 0.6 mile carry, offers the opportunity to view several great camps and take a side trip into Black Pond.

The Northville-Placid Trail is a clear choice for a cross-Adirondacks backpacking trip. The trail connects the picturesque southern Adirondack foothills and scenic High Peaks region to the north. Lakes and ponds of all sizes and uncounted streams are met at every turn as the trail winds northward up valleys, along ridges, and over mountains. All in all, it traverses 133 miles of forest and requires an average of 19 days to hike—though you could certainly do the trail in sections.

There's more, lots more. The Adirondacks are big. They draw you in and invite you to spend a lifetime delving deeper into their legendary wilds.

Published: 22 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 3 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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