Lake Placid is a welcome addition to the bountiful adventures New York State has to offer. Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, this area holds its place in history and people’s hearts.
The Accidental Destination
Truth be told, this is an accidental destination for us. I have always wanted to visit Lake Placid so we added it as a quick stop during our weekend trip to see The Wild Center in nearby Tupper Lake.
We often leave wiggle room in our trip planning because we often find there’s so much more to explore in the surrounding areas of our destination. We typically start with the main attraction that prompted the trip and then add a flexible list of things we would like to explore. The list is usually overflowing with ideas from each family member. It serves as a resource to help us make the most out of our adventure no matter what direction it takes. Weather, availability, mood, and more can all play a role in our adventure agenda. The list helps us shift gears quickly even while we’re already in transport.
Well, Tupper Lake is predominantly a summer town (we visited in October) and The Wild Center, although wonderful, was a quicker visit than we had originally planned. This gave us a big window to check out the surrounding areas. Lake Placid is home to the Olympic Village and nearby Whiteface Mountain is the fifth highest peak in New York State so we spent a day exploring and this is what we found…
The Olympic Village
You will be hard-pressed to find a village like Lake Placid anywhere else. The quaint collection of shops and restaurants along the lake surrounded by New York’s highest peaks only begins to set the scene. The area is filled with activities for every season, but most notably its winter sports which host world-class competitions regularly. You don’t have to be a professional skier to marvel at the iconic high jump that competes with the mountains for a sky-high view. You don’t need to be a professional figure skater to get goose bumps while skating on the former Olympic ice. This village is alive with Olympic spirit, the love of the outdoors, and American pride. There is no doubt why Lake Placid has been chosen twice to host the Winter Olympics and we have no doubt it will host them again.
(To be honest, one of the reasons we hadn’t made it to Lake Placid before was our preconceived thought that it was predominantly a ski resort town. Don’t get me wrong, we love skiing, but it’s an expensive sport and we have never been able to commit to the expense. The mountainous Northeast, especially the Adirondacks, are known for their skiing and resorts; so much that towns are built by it. Lake Placid began as a resort town for summer folk, but quickly became an icon for winter fun.)
We were drawn to Lake Placid’s Olympic history and thought we could sneak in a glimpse of its glory while we were in the area. One glimpse turned into a mini exploration and then a return for a half day adventure. We were so excited by what we discovered, we can’t wait to plan a future trip exclusively to Lake Placid.
Olympic Arena and Museum—The Olympic museum is home to some very cool Olympic memories—“Fram III” bobsled and Jack Shea’s skates from the 1932 games, 1980 Miracle on Ice Hockey Team memorabilia, the 2005 Olympic Cup and much more. The Olympic Arena houses three ice surfaces—the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, the 1932 Jack Shea Arena and the USA Rink.
Ice Skating on the Olympic Oval—During the winter Months, the Olympic Oval is open to the general population for public and speed skating. This outdoor rink that once hosted Olympians was also the stage for a world record set by Eric Heiden during the 1980 Olympics in the 10,000 meter event with a record-breaking time of 14.18,13. (Skate rentals are available.)
Skiing is just one of the many activities to enjoy on Whiteface Mountain. You can have a full vacation here and never touch a ski. We were in awe of the mountain’s beauty and surprised at the availability of attractions.
Skiing—Whiteface Mountain boasts the biggest vertical drop in the East and offers more than 238 acres of skiing. This ski resort offers some of the best ski experiences you will find in the East with “98% snow making coverage”, expert terrain, a five star ski and snowboard school, and even Groomed Nordic Skiing. (You will also find Back Country and Cross Country skiing in Lake Placid.)
Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride—“It’s like a bird’s eye view—in flight! Our eight-passenger Cloudsplitter Gondola carries you from the Main Base Lodge to the top of Little Whiteface in fifteen minutes. As you trace the mountain’s contours—soaring over streams, ski trails, steep rock faces and thick forests—the beauty of the Adirondacks reveals itself. You’ll see Lake Placid and its namesake village. To the east lies Lake Champlain, and to the south stand the tallest peaks in New York State. You’ll spot the ski jumps and the Ausable River. At the top, an observation deck and picnic area await you.”—This perfect description is directly from their website.
Bobsled Experience—This terrific experience allows you to feel like an Olympian as you wind through the turns of the track and thunder down the straightaway. A professional driver will lead you and a brakeman will keep it safe so you can enjoy the rumbles of the ride and feel the thrill of banking those turns. Need more of a challenge…try the Skeleton Experience! (Did you know this area has one of only 16 bobsled runs in the Western Hemisphere?)
Whiteface may be known for its winter sports, but we planned our visit to experience taking the drive up the only High Peak that can be reached by car. With a vertical elevation of 3,430 feet and a summit height of 4,867 feet, this mountain was a goal to climb with our Subaru Crosstrek. It was this experience that made it to our area exploration list and prompted us to delve more into the Lake Placid area. It did not disappoint. (Note: You can only drive up during the warmer months.)
The winding road up towards the summit has gorgeous views that go on for miles. There are a few areas to pull over for photos that we could not resist. Once you reach the end of the road at 4,610 feet you are prompted to park the car. You are welcome to enjoy the castle style cafe and gift shop made of native stone and/or walk through the tunnel in the mountainside and take the 27 story elevator to the summit. Once you’ve reached the summit, you will enjoy 360 degree views that extend hundreds of miles—all the way to Vermont and Canada on a clear day.
Mirror Lake—Mirror Lake is at the center of Lake Placid village and many of the town’s activities center around it’s lake. In addition to the many winter activities listed here; you can also enjoy canoeing, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and swimming during the summer months. There’s also a 2.7 mile paved trail for walking around the lake,
Toboggan—This local favorite is a 30 foot reconstructed ski jump that’s designed to give you an amazing thrill. You climb to the top of the stairs and have a seat on a wooden toboggan that will take you down the ice-covered slide at 35 mph. You will shoot out onto the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and glide as far as 1000 feet. (You can also find Sledding & Tubing in Lake Placid.)
Ice Skating—You can enjoy two miles of ice skating around the perimeter of Mirror Lake in the winter. A skating path is cleared for your enjoyment. If you need skates check out Locker Room 5, a local business close to the lake right on Main Street.
More Fun—Right across from the Beach House you will find a cleared area for Pond Hockey. You can also enjoy Fat Tire Biking and Cross Country Skiing.
Dog Sledding—Once the lake is frozen over, dog sled mushers line up along Main Street for hire. Two separate companies offer this service of pulling passengers around the snowy lake with beautiful sled dogs. This is a “quintessential Adirondack experience.”
Lake Placid Area
Snowmobiling—Lake Placid has hundreds of miles of groomed and back country trails to explore. Rentals and tour groups are available if you don’t have your own “sled.”
Hiking & Snow Shoeing—The Adirondacks is a hiker’s a paradise from easy scenic hikes to the challenging *46 High Peaks. Hiking during the warmer months becomes snow shoeing during the winter months. Rentals are available in town.
*The 46 High Peaks—One of the greatest challenges in Adirondack Park is summiting all of the 46 High Peaks. It is such a challenging feat that there is an exclusive club for those who accomplish this goal called the Adirondack 46ers.
Horse Drawn Sleigh Ride—Country Dream Farms offers a wonderful horse drawn sleigh ride through Lake Placid with views of the Olympic Ski Jump, Whiteface Mountain and the historic John Brown Farm. You’ll enjoy a the winding trail through the forest and a “dash” through the snow while enjoying the crisp winter air under a cozy blanket. To add to the romance, you can warm up in their Adirondack cabin with some cocoa and take pictures with the gorgeous Belgian Draft Horses. Adirondack Sleigh Rides
- Lake Placid was founded in the early 19th century as a developing iron ore mining operation.
- In 1845 Gerrit Smith came to North Elba and bought a great deal of land around the village. He granted large tracts of this land to former slaves. He also reformed the Land Law in his support of Abolitionism.
- The abolitionist John Brown from Kansas bought 244 acrews of land in North Elba after hearing about Smith’s reforms. This land became known as the “Freed Slave Utopian Experiment”. He was executed in 1859. His farm is now preserved as the John Brown Farm State Historic Site.
- Melvil Dewey (Dewey Decimal System) designed the Placid Park Club which inspired the name of Lake Placid and aided in the creation of winter sports in the area.
- Melvil Dewey’s son, Dr. Godfrey Dewey, convinced the International Olympic Committee to host the 1932 Winter Olympics.
- Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980.
- Lake Placid Village is the site fo the 1980 USA vs. USSR Hockey Game dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” where amateur American college students upset the Soviet National Hockey Team for the Gold Medal.
- Jack Shea, who became the first person to win two gold medals with Speed Skating in the 1932 Olympics, was a resident of the village. His grandson later won a gold medal in the 2002 Olympics competing in the Skeleton.
- Lake Placid is home to one of the first golf courses in the US (1898). The Adirondacks were reminiscent of the mountainous Scottish landscape where the game originally started.
- All of the following are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the John Brown Farm and Gravesite, the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run, New York Central Railroad Adirondack Division Historic District, and United States Post Office.
- Whiteface Mountain website- https://www.whiteface.com/
- Lake Placid Tourism Website
- John Brown Farm State Historic Site
- Calendar of just some of the events you’ll find…
- Empire State Winter Games-January 30, 2020
- Lake Placid Marathon/Half Marathon-June 14, 2020
- Annual Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon (second oldest triathlon in N. America)
- Lake Placid & I Love NY Horse Shows held at North Elba Showgrounds yearly
- Lake Placid Ice Dance Competition held every year in July or August in Olympic Arena
- ECAC Men’s Hockey Championship March 20 & 21, 2020–Olympic Center
- Nearby Saranac Lake hosts a Winter Carnival each year complete with an Ice Palace! This year: January 31-February 9, 2020.
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Cost– This adventure requires some planning to fit within your budget (unless you’re fortunate enough not to have one). Aside from accommodations and food, you can plan an itinerary that fits your budget. There are so many different things to do. Our family of three spent the weekend filled with exploration for $500. We did spend a bit more money in the village on some cool winter clothes, but since that’s optional we won’t include it in the cost.
Parking & Transportation– There is plenty of parking for your car, but don’t plan on public transportation to get around. Three airports service the area (Albany, Burlington, Montreal); each one is about two hours away so you will need a rental car. The nearest railroad station is Westport, NY. You can arrange a shuttle to Lake Placid from Westport if you plan in advance.
Location– This location can be considered somewhat remote being centered in Adirondack Park wilderness, but this is also what makes it so outstandingly beautiful.
Day Trip or Overnight– The majority of us do not live in the surrounding area so that makes this an overnight trip. Luckily, there are plenty of accommodations and we found that many will take dogs.
Experience– Lake Placid is a wonderful area for lots of family adventure and bonding. We are always proponents of outdoor activity and disconnecting from “screens.” The fresh air, activities, and athletic inspirations will help make this an unforgettable adventure for everyone in the family.
Combination– Just in case this post doesn’t have everything you need, here are a few more options in the area to add to your adventure fun…
- The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY
- Saranac Lake, NY
- Ausable Chasm, Keeseville, NY
- Fort Ticonderoga
- Santa’s Workshop, North Pole, (Wilmington) NY
- Natural Stone Bridge & Caves, Pottersville, NY
- Mt. Arab Fire Tower, Tupper Lake, NY
- High Falls Gorge, Wilmington, NY
- Gerrit Smith Estate, Peterboro, NY (part of the Underground Railroad along with the John Brown Farm)