The Rockies and the Appalachians cast a pretty long shadow over the other mountain ranges of the US. After all, the Rockies are the longest range in North America, and the Appalachians boast the famously rigorous Appalachian Trail. The Adirondacks are usually overlooked, except by folks in the immediate tri-state area. Yet the Adirondacks have some of the best hiking, biking, and camping this side of the Mississippi; a lively winter scene in Lake Placid; and a grand canyon of their own. They even have a mini wine country and microbrewery trail. Here’s why the Adirondacks deserve to escape the shadow of these other mountain areas — and why you need to plan a trip there this summer.
Hiking across the Adirondacks might not earn you the same bragging rights as traversing the Appalachian Trail, but with over 2,000 miles of trails and forested paths to explore, you won’t be lacking in adventure. One of the best hiking spots is the High Peaks Wilderness Area, with 10 towering peaks — including Mt. Marcy, the highest in New York, at 5,344 feet.
The main trail follows the high ridgeline of the Great Range, giving you incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding forests and peaks, including views of the Green Mountains and even Lake Placid. Due to eroded trail beds, however, this is considered to be one of the most difficult hikes in the country. For truly immersive multi-day hikes, check out the Adirondack Shelters, three-sided wood shelters that provide a more serviceable alternative to roughing it in a tent.
If pitching a tent in the wilderness is your goal, however, countless campsites dot the Adirondacks. Blue Jay Campground on Big Tupper Lake is among the most relaxing places to start a bonfire and sleep under the stars, and there are hundreds more campsites in the Adirondacks where you can do just that. Meanwhile, Limekiln Lake Campground at the foot of the southwestern foothills is perfect for renting canoes and exploring the remote shorelines. If roughing it isn’t your thing, more comfortable campsites are also available. Glamping spots like Posh Primitive and Camp Orenda give you a welcome respite from the wilderness with luxury accommodations and even meal services and family activities.
Bikers will have a field day in the Adirondacks. Waking up early and hitting the trails on a bike is one of the best ways to experience the region’s natural beauty, and serious bikers will find plenty of challenges here. Bike paths through the mountains will take you on zigzagging adventures through forests, across streams, and give you some of the most incredible views around. The Lake Champlain Bikeways are composed of 35 loops and over 1,600 miles of trails, bringing you through the villages of Vermont, New York, and even Quebec (if you decide to venture that far). On the Moose River Plains, the Black Fly Challenge bike race is held each June between the communities of Inlet and Indian Lake. For truly hardcore mountain bikers, the Whiteface Mountain Bike Park has downhill trails — in addition to smoother, cross-country paths — that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
The Olympic Games typically often take place near the world’s major cities, but in 1936 and 1980, the games were essentially hosted by the Adirondacks in the small town of Lake Placid. Nestled in the mountain range, this town of just over 2,000 residents played host to one of the world’s largest sporting events all due to the area’s dramatic terrain, which lent itself to winter sports.
You can still visit the Olympic Ski Jump Complex, the Bobsled and Luge Complex, and even go skating on Mirror Lake. But although it’s known as a winter town, there’s plenty to do in Lake Placid in the summertime. Every Saturday night starting in June, you can catch the Saturday Night Ice shows — performances by up-and-coming skaters under the lights of the Olympic Center. Lake Placid is still a popular training center for Olympic Athletes, so it’s not uncommon to witness the next generation of stars training there for international competition.
From late June to August, the Adirondack Mountain Club hosts a series of guided hikes up nearby Mt. Jo and around Lake Placid and Mirror Lake. The hikes are led by a naturalist, who will be able to answer your questions and provide you with helpful information about the natural history of the region. Throughout July and August, a music series on the banks of Mirror Lake features local and regional acts. It’s perfect for couples and families, especially if you’re looking for a lively way to cap off your weekend trip.
Ausable Chasm and Rainbow Falls
Often called the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, Ausable Chasm is a sprawling two-mile gorge in Keeseville, New York. The Ausable River slices through the gorge before emptying into Lake Champlain. Several uniquely shaped rock formations were created during its formation, including The Devil’s Oven, Elephant’s Head, The Flume, and Table Rock. Exploring the gorge is one of the most enjoyable parts of any trip through the Adirondacks, with numerous opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, tubing, stand-up paddleboarding, night tours, and rafting.
One of the most popular ways to see the chasm is the Classic Tour, which involves a hike through the upper chasm, followed by a rafting journey through the lower chasm along the Ausable River. For a more hiking-based trip, take the Adventure Trail in the Upper Chasm, where cliff walks, cable bridges, and some rock-climbing make for a truly adventurous experience.
The chasm is fed by Rainbow Falls to the south, a cascade of waterfalls often surrounded by visible rainbows if the weather is clear. Formed of 500-million-year-old sandstone, the falls are among the oldest natural attractions in the US and one of the most widely photographed sites in the Adirondacks. The best views are from the road bridge that crosses the chasm. Next to Rainbow Falls is a slightly smaller waterfall called Horseshoe Falls. If you’re lucky with weather conditions, you can get an epic photo of the two natural wonders thundering in unison.
New England wine country
Napa might cast a huge shadow when it comes to producing premier wines in the US, but there’s one little-known wine country that’s certainly no secret to locals. The Adirondack Coast, along the shores of Lake Champlain at the edge of the mountains, is home to several family-owned wineries and vineyards. It even has a wine trail that takes visitors through this 33-mile burgeoning wine region. And the wineries and vineyards are close together, making it easy to hit them all in a single day. Moreover, the region’s unique cold weather conditions also help create a well-balanced wine with a lot of depth and perfect acidity.
The trail encourages a casual, leisurely pace and will introduce you to both new wines and the vintners who produce them. Among the stops are the Amazing Grace Vineyard, nestled in the small mountain town of Chazy; Hid-In-Pines Vineyard in the Champlain Valley; the Elf’s Farm Winery & Cider House, also known for its local and flavorful hard ciders; and the Vesco Ridge Vineyard, offering not only a variety of wine options but also wine-infused gourmet food.
Whether you’ve finished the wine trail and are looking to take your buzz to another level or you’re in the mood for something a bit different, you might as well check out the microbrewery scene in the Adirondacks too. More and more breweries now call the Adirondacks home, with brewers sourcing their hops from the local area.
Check out the Adirondack Pub & Brewery in Lake George, which brews 25 craft ales all bottled on site, with tours available throughout the year. Davidson Brothers Brewing Company in Glens Falls is a family-owned operation that offers traditional IPAs, porters, and English-style bitter brews. And for a solid microbrew and a bit of history as a bonus, visit the Valcour Brewing Company in Plattsburgh, NY, housed inside the Old Stone Barracks. The barracks are the last remaining structure of an army barracks from back in 1838. The official Craft Beverage Trail has a full list of breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries native to the Adirondacks.