By Paul Gerald
MARCH 16, 1998: I just got back from a bus-and-train trip all over the East, from Birmingham to Cape Cod and back to Memphis by way of Chicago, and I can tell you without hesitation that the Adirondack Mountains in New York are at the top of my list of places to go back to.
In fact, I cant wait to get back up there. I havent been to many places as beautiful as the Adirondacks, and I have never been to a place with as much stuff to do, especially if youre talking about the kind of stuff that people do on vacations. Its a big playground, in other words, especially for playing of the outdoor variety, my favorite kind.
The only question is which time of year. Do you go in winter, when theres a huge Winter Carnival and you can ski downhill or cross-country, snowboard, snowmobile, skate, snowshoe, dogsled, watch international winter-sports competitions, ride a toboggan onto a frozen lake, and even go over to the Olympic Park and ride the bobsled and luge?
Or do you go in summer, when your options are hiking, camping, bike touring and mountain biking, river running, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, windsurfing, antiquing, horse shows, staying in a fancy lodge, and even watching big-time figure skating?
Even if youre just in the area New York and Boston are five hours away, and Montreal is two aim yourself at the Adirondacks and youll be happy you did.
I rode up there on Adirondack Trailways, up the frozen Hudson River from Albany on I-87, the Adirondack Northway. Saratoga Springs famous for horse racing and hot-spring spa resorts is on that road. When we went through, there were cross-country skiers zipping around golf courses and through forests.
If the state of New York is a slice of pizza pointing north, New York City would be the east end of the crust, Buffalo the west end, and the Adirondacks the first bite youd take. North and west of them is Quebec and Lake Ontario, to the east are the Green Mountains of Vermont.
The area in question is called Adirondack Park, which is neither a national nor a state park but a thing of its own. Its run by the Adirondack Park Authority, which seems bent on keeping the Adirondacks in their 1930s condition but with big-time tourist amenities. A lot of local folks dont dig it, since it means their taxes go up, but for a tourist it means the place is a wonderland.
First theres the land itself 6 million acres, the largest wilderness area in the eastern United States with rivers flowing from lake to lake between towering trees and beneath snow-capped mountains. There are hundreds of miles of trails through there, to be hiked, biked, or horsed in the summer and skied, snowshoed, and snowmobiled in the winter. The lakes and rivers, which appear at every turn of the head, are full of trout, bass, and northern pike, and the scenery is broken up by multi-level waterfalls and Class 5 rapids in deep canyons. Guides abound for fishing, tubing, whitewater, or luxury cruises, or you can just rent a canoe or kayak and take off on your own.
Summer tends a little more toward family entertainment. Late June brings a world-class horse show, September an antique fair. Frontier Town is Americas oldest Western-themed park and has a rodeo, and you can take area tours of either the eco variety, with ecologists and historians showing you around, or of the agri variety, where you pick your own apples, cherries, or strawberries or take the kids to a dairy farm. Id also like to see High Falls Gorge when its not cut off by ice. Its got three consecutive falls adding up to 700 feet high.
The main ski hill (there are three right around there) is Whiteface Mountain, with 66 trails and a vertical drop of 3,216 feet. Thats where the Olympic races were held, so I suppose that someone with an excess of testosterone and lack of brains could retrace the downhill race route. Snow Country magazine says Lake Placid is also the number-one cross-country ski resort in North America. The 50 kilometers of groomed Olympic trails are open to the public, and other trails literally criss-cross the whole area, connecting town and wilderness.
There are also, the brochures tell me, opportunities in the area to go (with or without guides) on hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, climb frozen waterfalls, ski in the backcountry, and ice-fish. The bobsled (which a professional drives for you) and the luge (on which youre on your own, at up to 50 mph) are $30 each. You can go to the top of the ski jump, just to look around, for $5. The toboggan chute in town, where you come down a 50-foot slide at 40 mph and go a couple of thousand feet out onto the lake, is three bucks for two hours. Twenty-three dollars gets you a half-hour sightseeing plane ride.
It turns out that both the Olympic arenas, from the 1932 Games when Sonja Henie won figure skating and the 1980 Games when the U.S. won hockey, are still open and being used. I stood right behind the spot where Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal against the Russians. I had walked in off the street to watch some professional figure-skaters work on their routines. The speed-skating rink where Eric Heiden won five gold medals is right out on Main Street. All the rinks are open to the public.
When I think about when to go back to the Adirondacks, I lean toward winter, but mostly because I want to see the Lawn Chair Brigade in the annual Winter Carnival Parade. Im told the all-female crew does some pretty neat tricks with those chairs, as do their male counterparts with lawn mowers. The community builds a 15-foot-tall ice castle every year for the crowning of the King and Queen of Winter, which takes place at the end of the parade. Nobody mentioned that partying was a part of this scene, but I think we can make that assumption. In the spring, when the ice on the rivers is ready to break up, they release a bunch of water from the dams to finish the job, and thus ensues the Ice-Breaker Canoe Race. The same assumption about partying would have to apply for that scene.
Of course, I might go back up there in the summer. Then I could ride my bike on the marked, 350-mile route around Lake Champlain, or play 200 holes of golf. Or maybe I could go windsurfing on Lake Champlain, where they get waves up to 6 feet and the brochure says, You can always count on getting some big air! Right.
All I know is that Im going back. US Airways flies there, and Amtrak can get you within 40 miles of it. Accommodations run from campsite to bed-and-breakfast to European-style ski lodge to $200-per-night historic hotel. You would run out of time and money long before you run out of stuff to do.
I think that of all the places Ive recommended in these travel columns, the Adirondacks are the hippest. Go there.
For more information, call 800-447-5224 or surf on over to lakeplacid.com.
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