Adirondack Park spans six million acres and is located in the northeastern part of New York State. Known for crystal clear lakes and streams, dense forests, and rugged terrain, the region is ideal for people who love the outdoors. Its location—four hours from New York City and just a few miles from the Quebec border—has made the region a popular tourist destination for more than a century.
People arrive seeking fresh air and adventure, and often end up discovering so much more, from friendly lake communities to fascinating local history. To sample a little of everything the region has to offer, here are some of the best things to do in the Adirondacks.
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This nature center is one of the best ways to learn about the wild world of the Adirondacks. Inside, visitors will learn about the local flora and fauna by inspecting the aquariums stocked with fish, turtles, and—perhaps cutest of all for their playfulness and thick coats of fur—the resident river otters.
When you go, be sure to check the events schedule for the next Animal Encounter, where naturalists handle snakes, porcupines, and owls, giving visitors an up-close look at the resident creatures.
Outside, visitors can walk above the treetops on the Wild Walk, which is a network of wooden pathways built over the tree line. The Wild Walk provides one of the best views in the Adirondacks, allowing visitors to see the wilderness from up high.
Address: 45 Museum Drive, Tupper Lake, NY 12986
There are literally thousands of lakes in the Adirondacks—the best ones depend on what you want to do. The Fulton Chain of Lakes are popular for boating and swimming. Lake Champlain, which separates New York from Vermont, is known for bass fishing; it also has several public beaches. Nick's Lake is small and quiet and great for camping. If you want easy access to the water, look for accommodations located on a lake, such as Big Moose Inn or The Woods Inn.
If you want to motor around the lake a bit, an internet search or trip to any town visitor center will turn up resources for boat rentals and boat rides. Raquette Lake Navigation Company offers lots of popular scenic excursions, including brunch and dinner tours. Old Forge and Lake George are also popular destinations for lake cruises.
Long before it became a hotspot for outdoor recreation, the Adirondacks was a popular seasonal destination for the extremely wealthy. They traveled up from points further south in order to escape the city heat and crowds and take in some fresh mountain air.
This trend became popular in the latter part of the 19th century when so many grandiose residences were built that they became known collectively as the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. At least one of them is still a working resort today.
Great Camp Sagamore was built on Sagamore Lake in 1897 and then purchased by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in 1901. Vanderbilt expanded the property to lavish proportions and regularly invited guests to hunt, play tennis, and generally relax in the quiet, rustic forest. Today, the Sagamore is a working resort, with summer weekends and other select dates available for booking.
Address: 1105 Sagamore Road, Raquette Lake, NY 13436
The real party starts when the lakes freeze over. Many small towns and villages use the winter season to build community, showcase local businesses, and have an all-around good time.
Winter carnivals are held on frozen lakes throughout the Adirondacks. One of the oldest winter carnivals in the U.S. is in Saranac Lake. Its inaugural event was in 1897 and has since evolved into an annual ten-day festival whose central focus is an elaborately sculpted Ice Palace. Other than Saranac Lake, popular winter carnivals are held in Old Forge, Raquette Lake, Lake Placid, and Lake George.
Expect to see such unique activities as snowmobile parades, outhouse races, and a frying pan toss, and maybe brace yourself and take part in a Polar bear plunge.
Lake Placid was a two-time host of the Winter Olympic Games, first in 1932 and again in 1980, and the various event sites are must-see Adirondacks attractions. Start at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum for the history and memorabilia of the games, and then hit the spots where Olympians once competed.
Do laps around the Olympic Skating Oval, cross-country ski on the groomed trails of Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and take a thrilling half-mile bobsled ride. Visitors can also take a gondola up to the Olympic Jumping Complex for heart-pounding views from the 90 & 120-meter ski jump towers.
Though famous for hosting the Winter Olympics, the village of Lake Placid is a year-round destination with lots of restaurants, pubs, and cafés to unwind in after a day of adventure.
Address: 2634 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY 12946
Ausable Chasm is one of the coolest things to do in Adirondacks. There are several ways to explore this deeply cut gorge made of 500 million-year-old sandstone. Visitors can do easy hikes of up to five miles on the well-maintained walking trails, stopping along the way for photo ops set against the steep canyon walls.
The more daring in the group can take the Adventure Trail, which involves scaling the edges of the gorge and requires participants to wear safety harnesses.
You can also take rafting tours and tubing trips on the Ausable River, which runs through the gorge. Ausable Chasm Campground & Cabins are located on the grounds for those wanting more than a day trip.
Address: 2144 U.S. 9, Ausable Chasm, NY 12911
If you follow the Ausable River to the south, it cuts through another ancient canyon. At High Falls Gorge, visitors can walk inside the billion-year-old crevice via a series of walkways, bridges, and groomed paths. Each season offers its own unique experience. In the winter, the ancient rock formations are blanketed in snow.
As the season changes to spring, the melting snow feeds the four High Gorge Waterfalls, bringing them to their gushing peak. Summer brings lush green foliage, which then explodes into color in the fall. High Falls Gorge is closed for parts of the year, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
Address: 4761 NYS Route 86, Wilmington, NY 12997
The great outdoors is the Adirondacks' claim to fame and no one season is better than another for recreation. In the winter, downhill skiers head to Gore and Whiteface mountains.
Garnet Hill Ski Center is popular for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Year-round, rock climbers and ice climbers flock here from around the world and there is no end to options for hiking.
Trails exist for every level, but avid hikers often set their sights on becoming members of the Adirondack 46ers, a club for those who have climbed all 46 of the region's high peaks.
The challenge culminates at Mt. Marcy, which at 5,344 feet is the highest point in the state of New York. Inquire at your hotel or visitor center to find the best hiking trails near you. The best place to see fall foliage in New York is in the Adirondacks, so be aware that popular trails will be very crowded.
Railbiking is one of the best things to do in the Adirondacks. When you go on a railbiking adventure, you can explore sections of the Adirondacks where few others have gone before, at least on bikes.
Revolution Rail Co. leads seasonal guided tours on a now-defunct portion of the D&H Railroad, which used to transport visitors from New York City up to the Adirondacks.
Rail bikes can accommodate two or four people. The guided tour takes bikers on an exhilarating six-mile tour through the forest and along the Hudson River for some of the most spectacular views around. This is a perfect activity for the whole family. It's also very popular, so book tours in advance.
Address: 3 Railroad Place, North Creek, NY 12853
There's nothing like visiting local museums to get to know an area. Here, the best museum to dig into local culture is the Adirondack Experience. It's located on Blue Mountain Lake and features indoor and outdoor exhibits that highlight the culture, crafts, and history of the Adirondack region.
Tour their exhibit of handmade, rustic furniture, learn about the region's history as a health destination starting as far back as the 1918 flu, and much more.
Other museums of local interest include the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, which is the former home and final resting place of the famous abolitionist; and Fort Ticonderoga, an American Revolutionary War site where visitors can learn about one of the country's most famous battles through 18th-century artifacts, costumed interpreters, a narrated boat ride, and much more.