Travel Tales

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Travel Tales: The Adirondack Mountains

August 19, 2008
by Colleen Brondou
When I was growing up, going on vacation meant going camping, period. And growing up in central New York state meant the Adirondack Mountains were a regular destination. So when I got married near my hometown in June, the idea of a quick honeymoon in the mountains of my childhood filled me with nostalgia. Luckily, the rugged Adirondacks held enough appeal to charm my new husband, too.

The Adirondack Park

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I’m always shocked when I meet people who have never even heard of the Adirondacks, but meet them I do. Often overlooked in favor of more well-known national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, the Adirondack Park is the largest publicly owned and protected area in the Lower 48—about six million acres in all. Visit the Adirondack Park Agency Web site for more information on the park, including maps and history.
Those who are familiar with the Adirondacks are probably acquainted with Lake Placid, home of the 1980 Winter Olympics, or Lake George, an area whose official Web site boasts that it’s just “3 hours from Manhattan.” I’ve never been to either, preferring instead the lesser-known (and less commercialized) lakes in Hamilton County, the least populated Adirondack county. Hamilton County’s official site is brimming with interactive maps devoted to specific activities such as hiking, birding, canoeing and more.

Old Forge

When camping with my grandparents as a child, Old Forge was our usual destination. My grandfather’s hunting camp, known as “The Hangover,” was nearby, making a handy retreat in case of rain. And the town itself is loaded with summertime amusements that will make a kid downright giddy, like the Enchanted Forest Water Safari theme park (complete with a supersized statue of Paul Bunyan), several miniature golf venues and plenty of soft-serve ice cream stands.

When we drove through Old Forge en route to our hotel, I thought about stopping for a large twist with sprinkles (just for old time’s sake), but instead opted for lunch at Walt’s Diner. Walt’s was pretty mediocre; the ice cream cone might have been a better bet.

The Woods Inn

For a classic Adirondack lodge that isn’t decorated with dusty quilts and worn linoleum, The Woods Inn in Inlet fits the bill. Built in 1894, the Inn sits on the edge of Fourth Lake and features a wraparound porch and shaded lawn strewn with classic Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake—and, of course, the Adirondacks. Though the hotel has undergone several renovations and expansions, it still retains an authenticity and charm. With a restaurant serving excellent food (the filet of sole stuffed with crab and scallops was melt-in-your-mouth good) and a tavern in the basement boasting free pool, how could we go wrong?

Adirondack Museum

My husband had never been to the Adirondack Mountains before, so I felt a bit of cultural education was in order. At the Adirondack Museum in the town of Blue Mountain Lake, we both got a kick out of the exhibits depicting an old school house, a hunting camp and a hotel, as well as wooden canoes, a railroad car, a stagecoach and a carriage. My husband oohed and ahhed over the variety of handmade rustic furniture and took about a million photos of old-fashioned chairs and tables and beds.

Tahawus

Our convertible rental car was perfect for a leisurely drive through the winding mountain roads. Route 28 to 28N and then back to 28 was a manageable loop for a day drive, with one tangent: an unnamed road on the map dead-ended at a place called Tahawus, which piqued my curiosity. We would later discover that the Tahawus Tract was a protected area, and that the monolithic stone structure that lured us out of the car was a blast furnace constructed in 1854.

We explored the abandoned village and the nearby iron mine, which inspired part of a photo essay I found later, entitled “Modern Ruins.” These haunting images of abandoned places (boatyards, mines, asylums, mills) in various states of decay capture the loneliness of forgotten structures, like those in Tahawus, and the thrill of discovery we felt as we accidentally stumbled upon them.

Talk to the Locals

For the inside scoop on a place, there’s no better source than the people who live there. The Adirondack Almanack is a vibrant blog full of Adirondack news, history and folklore. Best of all, you can browse posts by county to find information specific to the area you plan to visit. Visit the ADK Forum, an active message board, to find tips on paddling, hiking and skiing in the Adirondacks, as well as recommendations on restaurants and lodging.
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