1. It’s called Mirror Lake for a reason.Photo: Neil Kremer
The town of Lake Placid is located deep in the Adirondack Mountains, a far cry from the urban hubbub you typically picture when you hear the words “New York.” As you head out of the bustle of the city and make the drive north into the shadows of the yellow birch and red spruce lining the shores of the area’s thousands of lakes and ponds, you’ll probably find yourself itching to get out on all that water.
It can be confusing to first-time visitors, but the lake in the middle of Lake Placid the town is called Mirror Lake. Motorboats are discouraged and jet skis are banned, keeping the water beautifully calm. Here, it’s all about quieter water activities. My favorite is SUP boarding; it’s the perfect way to explore a lake of this size (you can walk around the entire thing in less than an hour). There’s also canoeing, kayaking, paddleboats, and a great public beach.
2. There’s a water ski slalom course.
Lake Placid the lake sits just north of town. At almost 2,200 acres, it’s huge, with two significant islands — Buck and Moose — breaking up the middle. Many spots around the lake are inaccessible by car, so getting on the water is the only way to take in Lake Placid in all its wild glory.
Lake Placid caters to all manner of watersports — test the waters on skis, a wakeboard, or a tube. There’s also a water ski slalom course if you’re feeling competitive.
3. Chasing whitewater is easy.
Arguably the area’s most intense whitewater rapids can be found on the upper Hudson River, a little over an hour or so from Lake Placid by car. Closer, more family friendly, and at least as gorgeous are the rapids running through the Ausable Chasm, where over the centuries the river has dug a smooth ravine into the bedrock. Rafting day trips start from Table Rock, a large, flat, natural expanse at the river’s edge just above the chasm.
You’ll find the biggest rapids during springtime, when the snow melts and rushes down the mountains. In summer, the water becomes warmer and a rafting trip is a more relaxed affair.
4. You can watch a concert from a SUP board.
Every Tuesday evening from late June through mid-August, Mid’s Park on Lake Placid’s Main Street turns into a free outdoor concert venue overlooking Mirror Lake. Most people find a spot on the grass, but some head over and watch from canoes and stand-up paddleboards. SUP Lake Placid offers board rental packages for the occasion, dinner from Big Mountain Deli & Creperie included.
Live music ranges from reggae to blues to rock. When it’s over, you’re well positioned for a stroll down Main Street for dinner or drinks.
5. You have access to maybe the most pristine canoe path on Earth.
The historic Seven Carries canoe route once took visitors between a couple of grand 19th-century hotels — the Saranac Inn on Upper Saranac Lake and Paul Smith’s Hotel on Lower St. Regis Lake — popular with US presidents of days-gone-by. Both hotels ultimately burned down, and today the route is far less traveled, but no less stunning. It’s now part of the state’s only designated canoe area.
Despite the name, there are actually only six carries, one of which is particularly long at a half-mile from St. Regis Pond to Little Clear Pond. (Luckily, today’s Kevlar and composite materials make canoes much lighter than they once were.) It’s possible to camp along the route in lean-tos maintained by the Adirondack Park — they’re first-come, first-served, but it’s rare to find much competition, and if you do you’ll likely be invited to share the site for the night. Look (and listen) for loons along the waters of the Seven Carries. Their plaintive calls only heighten the sense of solitude.
6. There’s an awesome local swimming hole.
Take the plunge from the cliff above the swimming hole at the bottom of Flume Fall, one of a series of falls along a narrow, gushing stretch of the Ausable River. Try to keep your eyes open during the descent — you’ll see rocks and conifer-lined banks rushing past you before you hit the cool, clear water. Coming here can definitely be an adrenaline rush.
Or not. If cliff diving isn’t your thing, stick to the swimming hole below, which is gorgeous and — by midsummer — a refreshing plunge. The falls above are worth exploring as well, and reachable by easy trails and bridges. Whatever your approach, there’s no hike necessary to check out these cascades, as they’re right off Route 86 near Wilmington, about 12 miles from Lake Placid.
7. Round here, you can see how the tycoons summered.
Lake Placid is world famous for its winter offerings, but before it hosted two Winter Games it was famous for its status as a summer resort for 19th-century New York and Boston elites, with “Great Camps” belonging to the Rockefellers, J.P. Morgan, and many of their white-collar buddies.
The camps of Upper St. Regis Lake are a throwback to the days of big city swag in the area. Somehow, they’re as luxurious as they are rustic, and each one is well-preserved and remote — and even today more than half the camps are only accessible by water. Keep an eye out especially for Topridge, which belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, one-time richest woman in America after she founded General Foods in the 1920s. It’s probably the only camp with its own funicular — a cable railway that takes guests from the water up the hill to the main property.
A fleet of exquisite wooden sailboats built at the turn of the 20th century specifically for the owners of the camps on St. Regis still races throughout the summer months. Despite the air of exclusivity, anyone can enjoy Upper St. Regis Lake via the public boat launch and marina, even during the boat races.
8. The waterfront dining doesn’t get any better.
I never leave Lake Placid without grabbing lunch on the deck of The Cottage on Mirror Lake. Owned by the nearby historic Mirror Lake Inn, it’s a famous après ski spot, but for my money it’s even better in the summer months. Sip one of the eight beers on tap, order a flatbread pizza, and look out over the water to the High Peaks in the background.
The Brown Dog Café & Wine Bar down the street is another great waterfront option on Mirror Lake. You’ll get amazing views of sunset reflections and candlelit dinners of organic Scottish salmon, Maine dayboat scallops, chicken schnitzel — basically whatever strikes your fancy.
9. It’s even possible to take in the water from above.
To get a broader sense of the bodies of water in this region of the Adirondacks, head straight up. Several mountains in the Lake Placid area have hikes that can be completed in an afternoon, with summits that make it easy to enjoy views of some of the 2,700 lakes and ponds scattered throughout north-central New York.
St. Regis Mountain is a relatively easy hike that’s great for kids and older hikers. The view at the top includes no fewer than 30 lakes, like Upper and Lower St. Regis, Spitfire, and Upper and Lower Saranac Lakes. The hike up Ampersand Mountain is more challenging. Expect a couple of moderately difficult scrambles near the top, but the summit view is worth the effort. From here you’ll see the beautiful Saranac Lakes and Ampersand Lake, among others.
The water views are as amazing — and as plentiful — from up high as they are from down low.