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Day trip: Lake Placid

sled dogs Lake Placid

Winter transportation.

By Bennett Campbell

There's still a little winter left, and if you're looking for a way to make the most out of it, Lake Placid is less than a two-hour three hour drive from the Capital District. Sure, Lake Placid is a bit of a tourist trap, but as a two time host of the Winter Olympics it comes by it honestly (only seven cities can make that claim).

Now, I'm not a fan of tourist traps. I'd rather let wild hyenas pull my toenails off than shop for cheap souvenirs or pay $10 more than I rightfully should for a steak. Lake Placid has some of that, but it also has real history and plenty of locals who are trying to survive and keep the magic alive. Yes, there's a faux outdoor outfitter outlet, but there's also a local movie theater and dozens of shops and restaurants that will give you an authentic Lake Placid experience.

Here are a few ways to get the best from your visit.

Olympic Village

Lake Placid Olympic bobsled track

If you're visiting to watch winter sports, your main destination will be the Olympic Sports Complex. This is where you'll find the Mt. Van Hovenberg Bobsled Run, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a 20 turn course rocketing bobsleds to nearly 80 miles per hour. If you're feeling brave, you can try the skeleton on an non-event day. Check the calendar to see what's happening.

Dog sled rides

dog sled ride Mirror Lake Lake Placid

If you visit Lake Placid in winter, there's something you absolutely must try: the dog sled ride. From the intersection of Main St and Saranac Ave, head onto Mirror Lake and you'll see it. The ride is $10 and usually operates on the weekends starting at 10 am, but get there early, it's first come first serve and the first run of the day is the fastest. The guys running the show are dedicated; they've been doing this for years and obviously love the dogs. Talk to them a bit if you get a chance, their passion will show and you'll learn something about sled dogs and about the bonds between animal and human.

Toboggan chute

You can also try the toboggan chute on Mirror Lake, and there is public ice skating near the toboggan run, both weather permitting. You can also skate on the outdoor 400-meter Olympic oval, $8 for adults with $3 skate rentals.

Lower Cascade Lake ice skating

If you have your own skates, I'll tell you a secret: you can park at Lower Cascade Lake, on Route 73 between I-87 and Lake Placid, and skate on gorgeous if windswept ice amongst the Adirondack high peaks. It's a popular spot for ice climbers, so as you zip along the lake you can watch them, or if you are like me and afraid of heights, not. Obviously, if you're venturing onto the ice you should be aware of local conditions and operate by the "better safe than sorry" rule.

Sliding down Whiteface

Whiteface Mountain has downhill skiing and snowboarding, Check its website for rates. You can also check out the Cascade Cross-Country Ski Shop, just a few minutes away from the Olympic Complex, for rentals and miles of trails.

Lunch/Dinner

Big Mountain Deli

Lake Placid itself has plenty of shops and places to eat once you're done conquering the great outdoors. Notable is the BIG Mountain Deli & Crêperie and its "46 sandwiches," one named for each of the 46 Adirondack high peaks -- but they also have crepes for breakfast and brunch. Most of the restaurants serve a typical American menu, but Mexican, Greek, and sushi are available if you look hard enough. If your budget is tight, try driving the 15 minutes to Saranac Lake where you'll find lower prices and shorter lines.

High Peak trails

High Peak Hurricane

If you visit Lake Placid you'll drive right through the heart of the high peaks, and there are a few hikes that are easy and rewarding even for novices. These are not challenging trails, but conditions can vary wildly during the winter. You may need snowshoes and/or crampons, so be prepared and always be cautious. All of these hikes are found between the exit from I-87 and Lake Placid.

One of the most rewarding is Hurricane, a 2.5 mile out-and-back hike, with a panoramic view from the top and one of the few remaining fire towers in the Adirondacks, though the platform is closed. Cascade and Porter are popular hikes and two easy high peaks. Cascade is a 4.5 mile round-trip hike to a bare summit, giving spectacular views of the high peaks, but dress for windy and extremely cold conditions. Porter adds 1.5 miles but bags you another high peak. You've seen Roaring Brook Falls if you've ever driven on Route 73 through the high peaks; it's the gorgeous waterfall coming off of Giant mountain and is less than a mile's hike off the road. Finally, Owls Head is a quick hike with a rock scramble near the top that may not be advisable in icy conditions, but with amazing views even if you don't reach the summit.

For a better look at these places, try the large-format photos at the top of this page -- scroll all the way up.

Bennett chronicles his adventures at his blog, Photo This.

Comments

hmmm...driving pretty fast (like over the speed limit) to reach Lake Placid from here in under two hours

Had a great meal at Liquids and Solids last fall, when visiting.

Recommended!

We just did a weekend getaway in Lake Placid last month and really enjoyed it. I definitely second the Big Mountain Deli. The crepe varieties were so inventive. We also really loved the Carribean Cowboy for dinner. If you aren't a skier, you can still do the Gondola ride at Whiteface. The views were amazing and it was fun to watch the skiers.

I second Liquid and Solids at the Handlebar for REALLY creative, locally sourced cuisine at a fair price. I also recommend Chair 6 for breakfast or lunch.

Umm, yeah, LP is NOT under 2 hours from the Capital District, unless you're counting Lake George as CD or something....

Also recommend the LP Pub and Brewery for UBU ALE!

Not sure how one can mention Lake Placid without mentioning Great ADK Steak and Seafood or Lake Placid Brewery.

Attention NYS troopers: Bennett Campbell does not have a lead foot. That was all on us. A typo created in editing. All fixed. Thank you.

I'm printing that to display next time I get pulled over, thanks Mary.

There's only so much one can eat in a couple trips to Lake Placid (yes, really), so I'm loving all the dining suggestions, let me know what else to check out next time I'm there!

If you have kids, I highly recommend making the drive out to Tupperlake (35-45 minutes) to visit The Wild Center. It's small, but has hands-on exhibits about all that nature has in the ADK. Fish, turtles and of course, otters! They also have excellent child and stroller-friendly trails. Be aware they have limited winter hours - and unless you want to eat at the cafe, pick up sandwiches in LP before you head out. (In the summertime, they host a Farmer's market.)

I love Lake Placid. Its only a tourist trap if you do tourists trap stuff (ie everything you mentioned). There is cross country skiing, lots of hiking, and great photography opportunities as well. Dining always struggles in Lake Placid so don't go there and expect to find fine dining, even the most pricey places are mediocre at best. You are better off looking for good middle of the road food. I suggest heading to the end of the strip and parking it at The Cottage, even better when they have a fire on the patio. The Lake Placid Brewery is pretty good food wise and awesome beer wise (Ubu is awesome). Of course everyone knows that is Mirror Lake right? You can't see Lake Placid from town. Best place to stay? Northwoods, its pretty rough around the edges but its smack dab in the middle of town and every bed is a high quality posturepedic as they are very hiker friendly. My $.02, I go to LP every chance I get!

Lake Placid is just plain fun, and the "touristy stuff" - aka, in most cases, Olympic History - is worth it. The bobsled track is just awesome to see in person, especially with Olympic champions flying down it. We're so lucky to have this in our backyard! I hit the high peaks region often for hiking, but in hurrying past, seldom get a chance to do this kind of stuff. And while a dogsled ride is touristy, its not something most of us will ever get to do otherwise, so why not? I second the suggestion to visit to the Wild Center in Tupper Lake (Bennett did a write up on this once upon a time, too: http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2011/03/03/the-wild-center.)
And yes, Chris, Bennett mentions this is Mirror Lake in the Dog Sled section. We're glad you know your stuff.

I came to the comment section to mention Liquids and Solids and it is already there twice! It is literally one of my top 3 restaurants anywhere, and almost worth the drive by itself. Incredibly creative food, unbelievable beer and cocktail selection. Casual (very). Check out the Yelp reviews for suggestions.

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