In the Adirondacks, you don't have to go very far to feel like you're getting away from it all. It's little wonder that this area is an escape not only for New York’s city dwellers, but for anyone seeking refuge from the modern grind.
Here are some top activities for outdoor fun in this incredible mountain range.
Hitting the trail
Called the "Porcupine Mountains" by Native American tribes, this vast park offers swaths of old-growth maple and beech pockmarked with serpentine lakes, bogs, and swamps that provide the perfect habitat for wildlife large and small. You might see porcupine, you'll certainly see beavers and their iconic dams, deer, moose, maybe even black bears. In autumn these rounded hills seem almost on fire from the brilliant reds, golds, and yellows as the deciduous forests submit to winter's chill.
For visitors seeking a hike, the park is criss-crossed with trails that offer something for nearly any trekking ability, from easy, short meanders along a scenic overlook or waterfall, to routes only the most seasoned of hikers can attempt. Note that park trails require you to sign in and check out, as getting lost or injured in this wilderness can be perilous. Bring appropriate layers and know your way at all times. Cellphone reception is limited, so plan well and know what to do if there's surprise weather or a health emergency.
Sleeping Beauty Mountain
The rewards of donning hiking boots and hitting Sleeping Beauty Mountain are almost instantaneous: warblers and songbirds flit about in the canopy; the air smells fresh and clean; brooks gurgle beneath your feet as you ascend. These things have remained unchanged for centuries. Sleeping Beauty is a medium-level hike and a very doable day trip, assuming the access road to Dacy Clearing is open (visitadirondacks.com/dacy-clearing-road), which cuts the necessary walking down by 1.8 miles each way. Expect a gorgeous – often wet – ascent through beech and maple forest that slowly gives way to conifers towards the top. It's rocky but requires no actual climbing, and while the runoff from snow or rain will make sections more like a stream than a trail, there are plenty stepping stones and detours to avoid puddles. If you're careful, you might not even get your boots wet.
From the summit, a healthy 2.2 miles above Dacy Clearing, you get a great view of Lake George far below, and the rocky outcrops offer ample spots to sit and picnic. Multiple trail options make it possible to loop or just go up and return via the same path.
Upper, Middle, and Lower Black River
With numerous places boaters can get into the water, canoeists, kayakers, and fishermen make visiting Black River a top priority. Offering over 100 miles of top notch, often extremely remote riparian habitat, this gem can be extremely dangerous in flood season and any visitors should seek local advice about the hazardous stretches.
The river is loosely dividable into three sections, Upper, Middle, and Lower, with the latter being the most challenging due to Class IV level rapids suitable for experts only. Scenic canoeing is best in the middle section, which is flat and even pond-like at certain times of the year. Upper Black River is a mix, with some rapids and portages, all very scenic: the top items of interest are the old locks that once helped steam-powered boats navigate this portion of the river. Fishermen can expect to catch a variety of trout, such as brook, brown, and rainbow, as well as pickerel, pike, walleye, and small-mouth bass.
The Wild Center
No trip to the Adirondacks is complete without visiting the lovely Wild Center (wildcenter.org), with its new outdoor exhibit for kids of all ages, the Wild Walk. A multi-station suspension bridge that at times reaches above the trees, the Walk is part science exhibit and part amusement park: a giant spider tempts you to get caught in her web or you can pretend you're an eagle chick in a giant nest. Visitors can also birdwatch, or learn about how woodpeckers slam their heads into trees with the equivalent force of a car hitting a bridge abutment at 26,000 miles per hour (Ouch!).
Inside, the gorgeous exhibits include a variety of Adirondack habitats: from river (with trout and turtles), to bog (with sundews and frogs), to woodland. The two rescued otters are the star attraction though, with antics that rival circus comedy. It's a great indoor option for a rainy day, and again, has just as much for adults to enjoy as for kids.
No other body of water is as synonymous with the Adirondacks as Lake George (visitadirondacks.com/lake-george). Large and lovely, this 32 mile-long stretch of shimmering magic is often the primary reason so many people visit each summer. The Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and other tycoons had summer homes here, and the area even attracted Georgia O'Keefe as well as many other artists. There are so many lake-based activities it's impossible to list them all, but they include some spectacular rock leaps (for those who enjoy the adrenaline rush of leaping off perfectly good cliffs into who-knows-how-much-this-will-hurt water) at Diver's (15 feet) and Double Diver's (30 feet...not for the faint of heart!). In summer, paddling, swimming, and jet- or water-skiing are popular attractions. Get above the lake in an amphibious plane or take a hot air balloon ride for high-altitude views that even the summit hikes can't provide.
Roaring Brook Falls
Near Keene Valley on Route 73, this quick and pretty hike is a perfect place to stretch your legs. It's a "two-fer": shortly after starting you'll see the path split. Take the low route to reach the base of the falls, an easy 0.3 mile journey that has a few logs to clamber over and some loose rocks here and there, but almost no incline. The more adventurous will veer to the left, up the incline, where half a mile later you reach the top of the falls (be aware that the rocks can be slick). In winter the water often freezes, producing a frozen waterfall popular with photographers and ice climbers.