By Rachael Desjardins
ABOVE: Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest mountain in the Adirondacks, sits the State of New York Weather Monitoring Station. From here you can walk around for a great 360-degree view. Photo: Orda Media
While best known to most Canadians as a winter vacation spot and home to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, Lake Placid is truly a four-season destination. For sports enthusiasts (extreme or otherwise), food and wine connoisseurs, shoppers and antique hunters alike, the village of Lake Placid and the surrounding area has something for everyone.
There are many places to stay in Lake Placid, from camping grounds, to hotels, motels and lodges. If you really want to treat yourself, a stay at The Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa is a must. This enchanting get-a-way is located on a hill overlooking the Adirondack high peaks and Mirror Lake. The Inn’s beautiful décor includes warm mahogany walls, polished walnut floors and stone fireplaces. Guests are sure to find their “happy place”. The Inn has three fabulous restaurants. Collectively, they have too many awards to mention, including a AAA Four Diamond Award — all richly deserved. The elegant and superbly appointed suites are charming yet elegant, each with an incredible view of the mountains and lake. The Inn has all of the amenities you desire including a full-service spa and salon, a full fitness centre, heated indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, whirlpool, and a private sandy beach. For those at work, the Inn offers state-of-the-art meeting and reception rooms. For those at play, you will enjoy tennis, boating, kayaking, fishing, and nearby golf in the summer. During winter, the Inn offers a private skating rink, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and nearby downhill skiing. Whether you are seeking a romantic getaway, a family vacation or a work retreat, you will return home feeling pampered and rejuvenated.
We drove up the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway on our first day Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway and toured Whiteface Summit. About twenty minutes from Lake Placid, in Wilmington, Whiteface Mountain is the fifth-highest mountain in New York State and one of the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Its summit is the only one of the Adirondack high peaks accessible by car. The drive up the mountain is truly beautiful. Stop along the way at one of the nine designated spots to take in the view and learn more about the surrounding area by posted signs.
At the end of the highway, before reaching the actual summit, you will see a two-storey castle built from granite excavated during the highway construction. In the castle, you will find a cafeteria, a gift shop and a magnificent view through the many windows. To reach the summit you can either take a short hike of a little less than a mile up the mountain edge, or you can take the elevator. We took the elevator which we reached by walking down a 426 foot long tunnel deep inside the mountain. The elevator climbed about 27 stories to reach the summit. As it climbed, we could see the stone through the wire mesh door. It was truly incredible. At the summit, the treeless and unfettered 360 degree panoramic view took our breath away. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mont Royal in Montreal. The pure, soul calming peacefulness of being at the peak of a 4,867 foot high mountain is truly something to experience.
The only thing more impressive than the view, was the history behind the building of the highway. Built in the early years of the Great Depression it provided much needed work for masses of employed labourers. I couldn’t help but be struck by the thought that while in 2008, we often seem to find it difficult to make buildings and scenic are as truly accessible for people with disabilities. However, in the 1920’s, then Governor of New York State, Franklin D. Roosevelt had the vision to create access to the top of a mountain so that everyone, regardless of physical limitations, could have a first hand experience of reaching the top of a mountain. Often it takes a real leader with a vested interest to make things like this happen.
After our incredible experience at Whiteface mountain, we returned to the beautiful Mirror Lake Inn where we enjoyed a delicious lunch on the outside deck of The Cottage over-looking the water. The food was outdone only by the wonderfully friendly staff. After lunch, we took advantage of the super shopping and welcoming sales staff in the village of Lake Placid. We went for dinner at the Boat House Restaurant situated on the shores of Mirror Lake. This was just the right pace after a full day of explorations and outings. It was enjoyable casual dining, with an incredible view of the lake.
The next day, we ventured over to the High Peaks Wilderness area where we met with the staff of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) at the Adirondack Loj Visitor Centre. ADK runs conservation, education and advocacy programs that strive to find the balance between protecting natural resources and encouraging the public’s respectful use of the resources for recreation. These young folks were something else — highly informed on all aspects of Lake Placid’s natural history. They arranged a kayak outing for us on Heart Lake with a hike on Mt. Jo. The two mile, moderately challenging hiking loop is great for a family. It is one of the easier treks with one of the best views of the High Peaks. After our excursion, we returned to the Loj where we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch by “Simply Gourmet Deli”, and listened to colourful historical tales of the area and its ancestors delivered with passion from the ADK staff.
The Adirondak Loj itself is something to see. It is a beautifully rustic year round outdoor centre only five miles south of Lake Placid on the shores of Heart Lake. In the heart of the grand room is a lovely stone fireplace and huge windows looking out into the forest. The Loj has private rooms, family bunkrooms, and a co-ed loft, bathrooms with showers and change areas, and a cafeteria with meal plans. This is a great place to stay while you explore the area. If camping is more your thing, the ADK’s Wilderness Camp ground offers camp sites, lean-tos and cabins.
Next, we headed for the Olympic Jumping and Sports Complexes. Our first stop was at the Freestyle Aerial Training Centre, a year-round training and ompetition site for freestylers and part of the US Olympic Training Centre constructed by the New York Olympic Regional Development Authority. We saw young kids, possibly future Olympians, practicing their ski jumps, twists and flips while landing in a 750,000 gallon pool. It was incredible to see the drive in these young people loaded down in their skis and boots as they, one after the other, gave it their all only to pull themselves out of the pool and try again. Who knew ski jumping was an all year sport!
At the Olympic Sports Complex, we lived up to their slogan of “for those who take their fun seriously!” by daring to ride down the 1980 Olympic bobsled track with it’s world famous zig zag turns. The experience was an exhilarating high-speed adrenaline rush of the highest order. It is a “must do”. We walked away with a whole new respect for the Olympian bobsledders. They must be fearless! A tour of the mountain and bobsled tracks gave our hearts a chance to return to a normal beat! This was definitely a highlight to end our afternoon of outdoor activities.
Following a little R&R back at the Inn, we went to the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. Lake Placid’s pub of choice since the 1960’s, it is known for its on-site micro-brewed ales and lagers including the famous Ubu Ale. It has everything a good neighbourhood pub should have — great food, friendly service and good drinks. For the undecided, the pub offers a beer tasting service by extremely well-informed staff. To add just a little fun to your laid back evening have a s’more fondue. It will bring the child and chocolate lover out in you. This pub ensures a really fun night out and a great place for friends to recap the day’s adventures. Whether that included a summer’s day on the lake, a fall day hiking in the mountains, a winter’s day on the slopes or a spring day taking in the sights on your bike. I’m sure these walls have heard it all!
Lake Placid has something for everyone, every occasion and every season, and at just over a three hour drive from Ottawa, it is a perfect get-a-way.