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Exploring the Adirondack High Peaks in Autumn

It’s easy to categorize outdoor adventures as summer’s exclusive domain. Hot weather and swimming spots go hand in hand. Like anything worthwhile, however, the great outdoors are best enjoyed in a variety of contexts, and with benefits to boot. Have you ever considered the post-bug season benefits of hiking during cooler months? Perhaps you’re looking to enjoy the seasonal foliage? Or maybe you’re craving the company of old friends and a glass of locally-brewed ale. If any of these scenarios piqued your interest, plan your visit to the Adirondacks during its most colorful time of the year: autumn. When planning a trip to the Adirondacks, plan a foray into the heart of the Adirondack Park to experience some of New York’s most impressive landscapes firsthand.  

The majority of the 46 High Peaks (which includes New York’s tallest point, Mount Marcy) are no joke — some require up to seven or eight hours for a round trip climb — but always worth the effort. Hitting the trail early on a crisp autumn day, and the view will reward you. One can easily see for 30 to 40 miles in any given direction depending on the position of the mountain’s summit; on one particularly lucky afternoon, this writer was able to see Lake Champlain from the top of Whiteface Mountain, which is situated north-east of most of the other High Peaks, but nevertheless almost 30 miles from the Lake.  

Don’t be surprised if you run into treacherous snow or ice in the middle of October; climates can be drastically different when 4,000-feet above sea level. If you’re not quite feeling up to tackling some of the more serious peaks such as Marcy, Algonquin or Gothics, the trails leading up Cascade, Porter, and Phelps mountains are well noted as being great introductions to the world of New York’s High Peaks for adults and young children alike. Considering the Adirondack tendency to precipitate bitter, cold rain most days throughout autumn, aspiring climbers should be cognizant that concrete plans to visit the Adirondacks during this time may need to shift.  

But don’t forget the region isn’t just for hiking extremists!  Specialty shops, fine lodging, historical sites and top-notch restaurants are hard to miss when traveling from town to town. Should you find your plans washed out by the mercurial autumn weather, Lake Placid is an ideal place to spend the day window shopping or sightseeing. No matter how cosmopolitan the patron, Lake Placid’s bookstores, clothing boutiques, smoke shops and Adirondack craft dealers each offer something of interest. Handmade everything is on display in Placid and ranges from the classic Adirondack chair to intricate frames of stained glass.

All of it, by the way, is conveniently located on one main drag through town. Visitors can stop in to each and every shop as they stroll Main Street by foot, walking along the southwestern perimeter of Mirror Lake. Just a short walk or drive from Main Street’s commercial strip stands the Olympic Center. Ground zero of the historic 1980 Winter Olympics’ “Miracle on Ice,” this arena hosted the epic match between the internationally-feared Russian hockey team and a largely amateur American roster; the Americans prevailed and eventually seized Olympic Gold. Though possibly anticlimactic for the casual sports fan, many a hockey devotee experienced at least one moment of reverence in the venue of this monumental upset; in 2008, “Sports Illustrated” named the event the “Top Sports Moment of the 20th century.”

If a less sports-heavy adventure through green mountain history appeals, a modest $2 will grant any sightseeing adult (children’s admission is half-price) to the farmhouse of John Brown. A gift from Gerrit Smith of Underground Railroad renown, John Brown stayed at the house from 1849 until 1855 when he joined abolitionist forces and only visited sporadically henceforth. Though his involvement with the property was relatively brief, Brown was buried on the grounds following his execution in 1859.

But if sports and history have yet to convince you to make an autumn Adirondack trek, make a point to travel for the excellent selection of food and drink establishments. Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar one of the region’s more oddball eateries, and garners much local praise. A gastro-pub — meaning more emphasis is placed on the drinks and how they complement the flavors of the food — you’ll find an intriguing menu with plenty of veggie and seafood appetizers like Fried Brussels Sprouts and Spicy Pickles, though entrees, desserts and classic pub food like fries and potato skins are at the ready. As for the alcohol selection, well, one of the more confusing negative reviews on Yelp states that the beer list alone is “just too long;” we think too much of a good thing is never enough. The average meal runs just between $10 and $30 per person.

If you’re looking for a somewhat more conventional sit-down restaurant, but don’t want to sacrifice flavor or quality service, The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery is by far the easiest way to placate the most skeptical of travel-mates. Five dollar pints and 10 dollar entrees rule the menu, but the quality hardly shifts over a variety of the Pub’s iterations of classics like pulled pork sandwiches, steak dinners, or veggie burgers which offer an equally satisfying experience as their beef-laden brethren. All beer is brewed on-site, of course, and it’s always easy to pick a flavorful ale or find staff willing to recommend and pour your next. Some delicious trivia: the not-so-secret ingredient in the Pub’s house barbecue sauce is their most widely-recognized brew, the Ubu Ale.

And then there’s Oktoberfest. During the first weekend of the hallowed month, catch the annual festival hosted at Whiteface Mountain, complete with live music, lederhosen, and some of the finest drinks you can find in a well-stocked town. When the night eventually draws to a close, there’s ample lodging just a stagger away ranging from the austere elegance of the Whiteface Lodge to a smattering of more reasonable chain hotels down the road in this tourist-friendly town. Having been featured in The New York Times and USAToday.com Travel, the Whiteface Lodge is the obvious choice for any vacationers who happen to be looking for a spa, catch-and-release fishing pond, private movie theater, an outdoor hot tub, seasonal ice skating rink and various lean-tos in which cigars and cognac are explicitly encouraged by the management, and s’mores supplies are set out each evening.  As one could probably imagine, the Lodge is fully furnished and decorated in the bare-wood style synonymous with the region, and the perception that one is walking through some sort of Adirondack castle may be worth the night’s $200+ price tag for a room.

Just a few hours’ drive from almost any point in the state, the Adirondacks boast a tried-and-true, century-plus track record of providing a vacation experience that stacks up well to the perks (and potential complications) of staying at any other popular destination.  But if the timing doesn’t work out to catch the outstanding foliage and seasonably crisp air, don’t forget the area does what it does best the winter!

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