A 6-million-acre playground (with some 3,000 lakes) for wilderness junkies.
By Aimee Hirsch
THE VIBE: The Adirondacks have been a stomping ground for many groups: Gilded Age robber barons, Olympians, outdoorsmen and vacationers. And, as the largest protected area in the contiguous United States, the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park (2.6 million acres of which are owned by New York State) has plenty of space to go around. Swathed across it all is breathtaking scenery—mountains touching water touching pristine forest. And, thanks to strict environmental protection laws, the Adirondacks are still largely wild, all the better for a genuinely tranquil escape or outdoor adventure.
In the late 1800s, when socialites traveled to the Adirondacks by train and steamboat, William West Durant, the son of a railroad tycoon, had a vision to turn the region into a vacation destination for the rich. It’s a good thing he failed. If he hadn’t, Adirondack Park might not be the preserved wilderness sanctuary that it is today. It’s not entirely wilderness, of course. There are pockets of civilization, like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Schroon Lake, which together offer plenty of accommodations and dining options for tourists while serving as access points to the mountains for hiking and biking.
The center of tourism is Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. (The Miracle on Ice game against the Soviet Union happened here.) Lake Placid draws people in with its charming downtown and countless recreational activities, and it’s part of the High Peaks region, so it’s an ideal base for a hiker who strives to be a “46er”—someone who has climbed all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks (4,000+ feet). During the Gilded Age, magnates like Vanderbilt and JP Morgan retreated to Raquette Lake in Hamilton County. Channel the Old-World grandeur by hopping on a dinner cruise run by Raquette Lake Navigation Company, or visit Great Camp Sagamore, the Vanderbilts’ wilderness estate and the prototype for Adirondack-style architecture.
(Photograph above is of Great Camp Sagamore, which was purchased by Alfred G. Vanderbilt in 1901)