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Magazine

OPEN | Open Secret: The Adirondacks Remain (Still!) America’s Undiscovered Treasure

OPEN | Open Secret: The Adirondacks Remain (Still!) America’s Undiscovered Treasure

Photo: Garnet Hill Lodge

Words by Kathleen Willcox with contributions by Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director

It’s kind of crazy how under-appreciated the Adirondack Park is, even  or especially  by New Yorkers, for whom this quiet giant occupies their own backyard.

Perhaps it is because, unlike more familiar parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone, Adirondack Park, which dwarfs them all in size, is not an official National Park. It is not even a State Park. Created in 1892 in the Empire State by proto-naturalists alarmed by dwindling timber and water resources in the region, its present six million acres comprise a dense network of both public and private lands.


The Park itself is larger than several states in New England, not to mention Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. It is also the largest protected wilderness area east of the Mississippi.

The folks who live around the mighty Adirondacks may be secretly grateful that the Park is still best known among the true mountain cognoscenti, those for whom living off the land isn’t an occasional weekend project.

“People who grew up in the Adirondacks do many of the things you might suspect they do: they’re woodworkers, furniture makers, ski fanatics, hiking, and camping experts,” explains Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director, who just made the trip. Herman has traveled extensively in the “Dacks”, especially since her niece married a man bred recreating in those mountains. “For people who live in the Adirondacks, it’s not a lifestyle. It’s a way of life.”

Cutting boards made with Adirondack-sourced wood by Adirondack Kitchen. Photo: Adirondack Kitchen. See more >> 

Their sense of community, their love of history, and the pure rugged wildness of their surroundings define not just their outlook on life, but the way they build their towns, their businesses, their ski trails, and their lodges. The air is clean and crisp. Roads are few and people can be far between. Lakes and rocky rivers, beaver-dammed ponds rest among hills, and mountains draped in evergreens and trees tall and small with stones and trails that wind throughout -- some human, some just for the wildlife.

For a quick getaway, follow in New York Makers’ footsteps.

STAY

For an authentic Adirondack experience, Herman headed to the newly refurbished Garnet Hill Lodge (39 Garnet Hill Road, Section 2, in North River). Built in 1937, the four-season lodge embodies luxurious rusticity. Think pillowy-soft beds, lots of wood paneling, hand carved furniture, roaring wood fires, pine cones galore. Enjoy from-scratch farm-to-table cuisine, like white flint corn griddle cakes topped with country gravy; whole roasted trout with roasted celeriac; and pecan pie with Adirondack bourbon and fresh whipped cream.

Garnet Hill Lodge. Photo: Garnet Hill Lodge

“The simplicity and beauty of the lodge and its vast property was immediately apparent,” Herman says. “When I walked up to the lodge, I noticed the stunning entrance latch on the front door. The latch was a small, simple, seemingly hand-wrought latch which set the tone of for what was within. I opened it to find a roomy, low-ceilinged lobby with an enormous cozy stone fireplace embedded with garnets.” (Editor’s note: more on the garnets, below!)

The rooms at the lodge mirror the lobby.

“They’re beautiful, but austere in the Adirondack style,” Herman says. “Each has its own bathroom, which, believe it or not, is a recent addition. One side of the building has balconied rooms overlooking Thirteenth Lake and the Mountains. The standard rooms have a more restricted view, but are just as lovely.”

Photo: Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director

ON-SITE ACTIVITIES

Year-round, Garnet Hill Lodge offers an ideal retreat for families.

During the colder months, skiers and snow-shoers can be found lounging by the fire with a book or beer, or checking out the game-filled family room. (That family room also has one of the few TVs or telephones on-site.) Outside, fat biking, snowshoeing, and one of the best cross-country ski centers in the country beckon.  

In warmer months, guests enjoy rafting, hiking, biking, and exploring the surrounding wilderness area.

“For families with young children, the lodge has become a legend,” Herman explains. “While grown-ups enjoy a relaxed meal in the porch dining rooms or bar and lounge areas, their kids can go in there and play board games or play pool.”

NEARBY ADVENTURE

If Nordic skiing makes you want to zzzzz, the world-renowned Gore Mountain is just a hop away. Garnet Hill has a special ski lift arrangement with Gore, so be sure to inquire. For the uninitiated, Gore is New York’s biggest mountain, with 14 lifts and 110 trails, from bunny to demon diamond.

Audra Herman at Gore! Photo Belonging to: Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director

Also nearby is the source for Garnet Hill Lodge’s name, the mines that produce the famous sparkling gems for which the region has long been known. The area’s commercial Garnet boom started in earnest in the 1790’s, and really took off when Henry Hudson Barton founded the Barton Garnet Mines on Gore Mountain in 1878. Those mines are still open today June-October, though a number of other once-active mines are no longer in operation.

Before you leave, make sure to swing by New York Makers’ own Judy Brown’s studio and store, Garnet Studio, located close by Barton Garnet Mines. Judy and her husband Joe are both Garnet Hill natives (Fun Fact: Judy's family previously owned Garnet Hill Lodge), and were gathering the stunning stones embedded with the red jewel well before Governor Nelson Rockefeller declared the garnet the state’s signature gem in 1969.

Garnet Studio makers Judy and Joe are taking a vacation this winter. Email us here to inquire about ordering one of their garnet necklaces pictured above.

At the studio, you’ll find raw garnets on display, as well as custom jewelry made from the stunning stones.

VISIT NORTH CREEK

While the lodge, the garnets, and the slopes are fabulous, for a true Adirondack experience, one must also venture into the towns. In this case, be sure and meander through North Creek, near Garnet Hill Lodge and home to Gore Mountain.

“You get a real taste for the sheer amount of history, the intense pride of place and, seemingly contradictory, the utter humility of everyone from the area,” Herman explains. “One thing is clear: if you’re lucky enough to born in the Adirondacks, you never leave.”

North Creek was the original northern terminus of the Adirondack Railway. It was at this station that then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rode from Mount Marcy upon learning of William McKinley’s death in 1901. Revolution Rail, which opens up again for the season in May, uniquely offers, weather permitting, railbiking along abandoned railroad tracks that give access to a part of the Adirondacks never open to passenger traffic.

Make sure to visit Izzy’s Market & Deli, where the shabby chic vibe is cranked to 10. Think mismatched cups, locally purveyed groceries, a tin ceiling, New York-crafted beer, and housemade sausage. The pea soup is killer. Then head over to Café Sarah for cookies and a beautiful cup of coffee.

Hudson River Trading Co. is HQ for authentic Adirondack home décor, clothing (note to self: Buffalo Plaid goes with everything), children’s toys that don’t beep and buzz, kitchen wares, and local food provisions.

Hudson River Trading Co. Photo: Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director

While you’re in town, don’t miss the mosaic mural along a retaining wall lining Main Street; it depicts the beauty of the mountains throughout the season, and embodies the overlap between public and private pride and land.

Photo: Audra Herman, New York Makers Marketplace Director

Before heading out, stock up on local legend Barkeater Chocolates (the Cherrylicious Bark with dried cherries, almond, and milk chocolate and the Adirondack Adventure Bark trail mix are glove-box staples).

En route south, pull over in Warrensburg for some of the best smoked meats and cheeses in the world. Oscars Smoke House has been in business since 1943, slowly growing from a regional favorite to one of New York and Vermont’s most sought-after artisanal meat and cheese purveyors. But shhhh! folks up there don’t want you in on this secret, even though Rachel Ray has discovered it!

Please don’t get too popular Oscar’s, Barkeater Chocolates, Hudson River Trading, Cafe Sarah, Izzy’s, Garnet Studio, and Garnet Hill Lodge! We love you exactly the way you are.