Can any other season really compare with winter at a top ski resort? In New York’s gorgeous Adirondacks—home to famed Lake Placid and its premier hill, Whiteface Mountain—the answer is an eye-opening, money-saving, crowd-escaping, wildly-adventurous yes. Just don’t tell all those folks waiting in lift lines and shelling out peak-season hotel rates in a few months.
Shoulder seasons like late summer or fall are the perfect other time to discover the alter-ego of any big-name ski destination, whether it’s situated in the Rockies, the Sierras or in New York’s vast wilderness playground—the Adirondacks. Weighing in at about six million acres of mountains, lakes, rivers, and trails (that’s about the size of Vermont, folks) with numerous outfitters offering a wide array of adventures, the Adirondacks fits the bill for off-season exploration in every direction.
Here’s how to appreciate this area before the ski crowds arrive and the whole place is buried in powder.
Re-Introducing Lake Placid
The site of two Winter Olympics, you’ve heard of Lake Placid even if you’re somehow not a fan of epic hockey victories. About a five-hour drive from New York City, the village is situated right on Mirror Lake and just south of the namesake lake. Lake Placid’s main street—lined with bars, restaurants and shops—is also stocked with outfitters to gear visitors up for everything from trail running to SUPing. There’s no better home base for your summer or fall adventure in the Adirondacks.
Where to Stay
High Peaks Resort
Come winter, this popular Lake Placid resort right on Mirror Lake will be hosting skiers bound for nearby Whiteface Mountain—New York’s fifth-highest peak boasting one of the top verticals in the Northeast. Right now, the property’s three buildings—all with lake views—are another sort of oasis. Guests have access to swimming, kayaking, and SUPing on Mirror Lake with hotel-supplied gear. It’s the perfect spot for families or rookie SUPers, as motorboats are verboten on a lake which is usually as smooth as glass.
Inside the main resort, you’ll find clean rooms, a mountain lodge motif, lovely views of the lake and mountains, two pools, plus solid restaurants and bars. Tip: snagging a room on the fourth floor gives you direct access to your parked car without having to haul gear through the lobby.
Where to Eat & Drink
High Peaks Resort guests have easy access to the Dancing Bear, situated on the same property. This window-lined, casual spot with views of the lake and mountain is a solid choice for hearty breakfasts (they call it “brunch” here at any hour) and later meals. A solid beer list leans heavily on hard, excellent ciders—best enjoyed on the upstairs deck with those great views.
If breakfast is going to be quick, and if you can get there before the line starts, this bakery covers all the basics from scones to cinnamon buns the size of a fist and coffee. Come with cash or Venmo—they don’t take plastic. If you’re with a big crew, send in one rep because the shop is tiny.
This favorite spot overlooking Mirror Lake specializes in local ingredients and a kid-friendly menu that will appeal to youth of all ages. Think giant handmade pretzels with house-made mustard, or a German smash burger featuring two bratwurst patties under onions and cheese. The beer list features an array of fine local ales complete with tasting notes.
For town-hopping daytrippers, this rustic, lakeside tavern in the nearby village of Saranac Lake (less than 10 miles from Lake Placid) is the perfect casual pitstop for hearty salads, flatbreads and grain bowls. Thankfully, they don’t shy away from a killer poutine as well.
Best Off-Season Adventures in Lake Placid
Families can warm-up with an easy, paved two-miler around Mirror Lake—or, a short drive away, some off-roading in Henry’s Woods. Hikers who aren’t yet up for the Adirondack’s big-league treks featuring its 46 High Peaks (most of them over 4,000 feet) can opt for Lake Placid’s more moderate “9’ers”—a group of mountains hanging below that mark. In-town, that includes a 4.4-mile round trip up Mt. Van Hoevenberg. A short drive away in neighboring Keene is the friendlier-than-it-sounds Hurricane Mountain, where a 3.5-mile climb leads to a 2,000-foot summit with spectacular panoramas.
Rock climbers of all levels can hook up with a qualified instructor at Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) in Lake Placid. The climbing store and school leads classes and trips of all levels—including a popular “101” option which shows first-timers the ropes at some friendly beginner spots. Don’t need the hand-holding? Stop in here anyway for some solid intel on the best climbing routes in the area.
Just a short ride from downtown, experienced riders can access over 30 great biking trails tucked behind the Lake Placid Club. Choose from moderate rides, like Twisted Sister, to more difficult routes, like Lumberyard with its featured boardwalk. Nearby, Craig Wood Trails offers an additional three miles of machine-built singletrack. Novice riders can opt for Heaven Hill Trails, a family-friendly multi-use trail system offering short, mostly flat loops with sweet mountain vistas.
Day-Tripping to The Wild Center
Rolling through Lake Placid’s nearby satellite communities—including Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Wilmington—is all part of the fun of exploring the Adirondacks. A top attraction in Tupper Lake (about 40 minutes from Lake Placid), The Wild Center offers a mix of indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits situated on 115 acres showcasing the wildlife of the Adirondacks. Step outside to see wildlife demos or hike groomed trails, including one that weaves around outdoor sculptures to a classical music soundtrack. Don’t miss the Wild Walk, an elevated pathway zig-zagging across the forest floor on suspension bridges, staircases, and a giant trampoline disguised as a spider web.
High Falls Gorge
The signature tromp along cliff-clinging staircases at this stunning 22-acre nature park takes about half an hour, darting across the AuSable River at three different points for epic scenes of water slamming into rock. Seasonal trails are spread across the park, complete with numerous waterfalls and glass-floored viewing platforms above a granite crevice that’s been a work-in-progress carving over the last billion years.
Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway
About 12 miles northwest of High Falls is the toll booth for this drive up famous Whiteface Mountain along the Veterans’ Memorial Highway. The white-knuckler snakes up 2,300 feet in about five miles, with no less than nine pull-offs for spectacular vistas of Lake Placid and the surrounding mountains. Park at the summit where part-two of your ascent begins—a short but breathless 257-foot clamber up some rock stairs to the 4,867-foot summit with the expected payoff panorama at the end.
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