At the beginning of lockdown in mid-March, I knew I wanted to read a book that didn’t have a heavy theme while I was safe at home. I looked at a bookshelf in my room that had all of my books from middle school, and realized I haven’t read Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. This Newberry Honor Book had a stunning front cover illustration with mountains, a boy, and a falcon. The inscription said, “The classic story of wilderness survival.” How have I not picked up this book sooner?
Just like how ice cream, macaroni and cheese, a favorite stuffed animal, and your favorite TV show brings you comfort, My Side of the Mountain succeeds in its ability to soothe and inspire. No wonder Robert F. Kennedy Jr. loved it and started to pursue a role in environmental activism. This book should be required reading in middle schools.
In her book, George writes about 12 year-old Sam Gribley. Sam hates living in an Upper East Side apartment with his parents and eight siblings, and escapes to the Catskill Mountains. He lives in a treehouse with Frightful, his falcon, and The Baron, a weasel. He survives a severe blizzard, learns how to start a fire, hunts for food, and learns how to identify plants.
While Sam’s courage is admirable, George’s tender writing also shines. One quote, in particular, makes an impact. George exquisitely writes, “Fortunately, the sun has a wonderfully glorious habit of rising every morning.” This speaks to me. Life goes on, and everything looks brighter in the morning. These thoughts stay with me as we are wrapping up the eighth month of 2020.
Growing up in New York City, I always loved retreating to rural New York. I guess I have an identity crisis: I love seeing Manhattan’s skyscrapers, but I also love seeing the mountains. Now, more than ever, I’m realizing the impact of nature on well-being. And I’m so grateful for green spaces. I may not have gone to the Catskills this year like Sam, but I did go to the Adirondacks. Seeing the sun shine when waking up at 8 a.m. after an evening thunderstorm the day before reminded me of George’s quote. This may sound lame, but just being on the New York State Thruway and going on a hike in the North Country proves that life continues and offers moments of joy. While I didn’t run away from home and live in a treehouse while trying to survive alone like Sam, I did experience the great outdoors in Lake Placid. The same feelings of courage and hope that are in between the pages of My Side of the Mountain as Sam embarks on a journey of self-discovery also permeate through the streets of Lake Placid and the-sometimes frightening-hiking trails of the Adirondacks.
Lake Placid is an Adirondack village that hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games. Passion, resilience, and optimism define the place. I just love how this place makes me feel. Historical moments happened here. It’s where 20 year old figure skater Sonja Henie won gold in 1932 and where a group of American college-aged hockey players beat the best team in the world in 1980. Now, in the twenty-first century, we can revisit the places where these moments happened and leave feeling inspired.
Lake Placid is part of the Adirondack Park, a sprawling area that consists of over six million acres. It’s bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon National Park. It’s deemed “Forever Wild.” There are 46 High Peaks, with Mount Marcy standing the highest at 5,344 feet. Whiteface Mountain, one of the High Peaks and the fifth-highest mountain in New York State, has the largest vertical drop east of the Rockies (More on that later). The area also includes Lake George (Thomas Jefferson wrote that the Queen of the American Lakes was, “Without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw”), Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake. This place is ginormous- A drive from Lake Placid to Ausable Chasm takes one hour, and a drive from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake takes forty minutes. There is something freeing about temporarily abandoning your routine and going to a rural place where you can actually see the stars at night. Ladies and gents, this is the real upstate New York. Anything north of the Bronx isn’t upstate. Westchester County and Poughkeepsie aren’t upstate just because they aren’t on the New York City subway map. Anything north of Albany is considered upstate. Buffalo and Rochester aren’t upstate, these two cities are located in western New York. The seven counties of the North Country are what constitute as upstate New York. I don’t make the rules.
I know city dwellers love to relax in upstate New York, the Jersey Shore, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Florida. The Adirondacks are my favorite spot on Earth, and I am a huge advocate for upstate New York. I wish everyone can experience the beauty of Lake Placid. You may think that upstate New York is in the middle of nowhere and only has outdoor attractions. You may think that upstate is only suited for those who love outdoor pursuits. Ignore those thoughts, I’m here to tell you that every type of traveler-from the aquaphile to the history lover to the shopaholic-will make incredible memories in Lake Placid.
I firmly believe that Lake Placid and the surrounding area are the closest thing to heaven on Earth. After visiting the Adirondack Park three times, the experience stays with me long after the trip has come to an end because it is one of the most unique trips ever. I hope one day you can see the rarity that is Lake Placid. Where else in the world can you stand where ski jumpers begin their descent (This is the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex), see the Olympic Opening Ceremony torches and Miracle on Ice hockey equipment (This is the Lake Placid Olympic Museum), and walk on suspension bridges in the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks (This is the Ausable Chasm)? If COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, you can go over 55 miles per hour during the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience at the Olympic Sports Complex, experience the sport of biathlon as you fire a .22 rifle, or take in a free skating show on Saturday nights at the 1932 Jack Shea Arena. Imagine coming home and telling people how you stood on the observation deck of the 120-meter ski jump tower or in the arena where the Miracle on Ice happened?
Lake Placid solidifies itself as an amazing four season destination. The fact that New York City is a mere six hours away from an Olympic village where you can experience dog sled and bobsled rides is incomprehensible to me.
We started our Monday morning with a visit to High Falls Gorge. This park is in Wilmington, a town 8 miles from Lake Placid. A 45 minute hike on bridges and walkways will lead you to four waterfalls: Main Falls, Mine Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Climax Falls. You’ll first see the Ausable River after walking through the Main Lodge. This place reminds me of Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania. Prepare to get your endorphins flowing!
There is also an intermediate Nature Trail on the grounds. It’s a 1 mile loop. The steep inclines and uneven surfaces make for a rewarding hike (Why is it harder to walk down on sharp surfaces- while fearing that you’ll fall-instead of walking up?)
Whiteface Mountain Ski Center is also in Wilmington and is only a mile from High Falls Gorge, so that was our next stop.
Whiteface Mountain is a tour de force in the skiing world. Consistently ranked as one of the best places to ski in the Northeast, Whiteface was where alpine skiers competed in the 1980 Olympic Games. Whiteface continues to thrill and excite visitors in the summer: A brand new Cloudsplitter Gondola takes passengers from the Main Base Lodge to the summit of Little Whiteface. Get ready to feel like you’re flying- the cars on the winding roads of the Adirondacks will look like toy cars to you. There are new blue gondolas in 2020 that have replaced the black gondolas I rode in 2017 (I was amused to see a user ask, “Are the cars heated?” after Whiteface posted photos of the new gondola on their Instagram account.
At the summit, you’ll see the 46 High Peaks. You’re standing in a unique position- There is a rock below you that was created from a liquefied chamber 18 miles below. The rock, over a billion years old, was the product of a continental crash and was hidden below the planet’s crust. Coercion caused this rock to rise. That’s a cool science lesson for all of us!
At the summit, you can walk right past the black diamond slopes that skiers go on. Just looking at how steep the drop is makes my heart race. I think it sincerely looks like a 90 degree angle. I admire the courage of alpine skiers. I knew Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are exemplary role models!
I savored the gondola ride one last time as we began our descent down. Once you’re back at the base of the mountain, you’ll see the J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Café & Wine Bar on the second floor of the Main Base Lodge. It was here that I had my first indoor dining experience since March 3rd! (Indoor dining is permitted in the North Country). Indoor dining is prohibited in New York City and this ban may extend into 2021, so I treasured every second of this experience at Whiteface. I ordered the Ausable Flatbread, and wow it was so luxe! The chef cooked up a rustic flatbread that looked like pizza, and the flatbread was cut into several parts. On top of the flatbread, there were Asgaard Farms Chevre, caramelized onions, sliced New York apples, and arugula with balsamic fig reduction. Pair that with a Sprite and the restaurant playing only Taylor Swift music, ranging from her folklore album to the Red album. Perfect.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. This place houses the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, the 1932 Jack Shea Arena, and the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena. This place is infused with zeal, history, and dedication. One of the reasons why I’m consistently drawn to the village of Lake Placid is that the endurance and drive exhibited by past and current athletes that walk these streets is inspiring.
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum isn’t too big, but it sure leaves an emotional impression on visitors. You’ll see the Opening Ceremony outfits for United States athletes, including the recent ones from Pyeongchang and Sochi. You’ll also see torches from the Olympic Torch Lighting, including the 2018 one from Pyeongchang. The display of athletes’ prized possessions, ranging from their ice skates to their short program costumes, and the information about their training regime are testaments to their persistent drive.
” Athletes who are deeply devoted and possess an intense love of their sport must be willing to make sacrifices to be the best. Although sport skills and techniques are teachable, it takes real passion to attain the podium. When life gets hard, it is this intrinsic motivation that drives them through the obstacles thrown their way. Their sport is their passion; it is their obsession and the key to greatness.”– A label at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum that can also serve as inspiration for us when the going gets tough
No description of this museum is complete without mentioning the Miracle on Ice. On February 22, 1980, the United States won 4-3 over the Soviet Union. These college-aged Americans had no professional experience in the National Hockey League and defeated the Russians in the first game in the medal round. The United States took the gold medal, the Soviet Union took the silver medal, and Sweden took the bronze medal.
” Great moments are born from great opportunities.”– Herb Brooks
For some fascinating recollections of this game, I recommend Wayne Coffey’s book The Boys of Winter and the 2004 movie Miracle. The narratives are both heartbreaking and electrifying. Goaltender Jim Craig overcame grief from his mother’s death-Herb Brooks noticed that Jim was not playing the same after this death and later confronted Jim about his team commitment-and won the game. You’ll see Jim’s goaltending equipment at the Olympic Museum. My favorite Miracle on Ice American hockey player, Jack O’Callahan, turned down Harvard to play hockey for Boston University after he was repeatedly told not to. What a guy.
After your visit to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum is over, you can head upstairs and visit the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena. That’s right- you can stand right where unforgettable games were played. Well, okay, you can stand in the audience and not on the actual ice. With everything that’s going on, you’re only allowed to stand in a designated area and the rink is undergoing renovation (The 1932 Jack Shea Arena is also closed). But wow, you can see the cheering crowd from February 1980 if you just close your eyes.
In precedented times, there used to be free ice skating shows on Saturday nights over the summer at the 1932 Jack Shea Arena. I saw American pair skaters Caydee Denney and John Coughlin perform in 2017! Amazing athletes train at the Olympic Center every year. Rumor has it you’ll never know who you’ll see when you’re near the Olympic Center. I hope I run into another athlete in the future.
A new day means a new adventure, and we started off our Tuesday with a visit to The Wild Center at Tupper Lake. This is a thrilling interactive experience in nature. The biggest draw is the Wild Walk. Think of it as the High Line of the Adirondacks! Instead of experiencing nature from the ground, you experience nature in an elevated position as you walk on bridges right above the treetops. This new perspective changes the way we approach nature.
Don’t forget to check out the Canoe Cut off Trail! There are two Oxbow Overlooks that offer views of the Raquette River.
Visiting The Wild Center was on my New York State bucket list since 2018, and interning at I LOVE NY last year only intensified this wish. This place exceeded my expectations, and our last visit in this area left me stunned. Allow me to introduce Forest Music.
“Immerse your senses in an experience that combines nature, technology, and art. Twenty-four speakers placed throughout this trail will envelop you in music that blends with natural sounds of the forest.”– The inscription that welcomes you to Forest Music
In the area known as Forest Music, you’ll walk through a forest as instrumental music plays from speakers. They play Vivaldi to soothe the soul.
We got takeout from Big Mountain Deli & Creperie in Lake Placid, and they made the best sandwiches. Each sandwich is named after one of the High Peaks. Take a look at the goodness inside these sandwiches.
- Marcy: Roast turkey, cranberry horseradish sauce, cheddar, apple, and cracked pepper mayo.
- Algonquin: Roast turkey, Applewood smoked bacon, avocado, spinach, and Russian dressing.
- Whiteface: Cracked pepper turkey, provolone, avocado, spinach, and mayo.
- Haystack: Roast turkey, smoked cheddar, roasted red peppers, and maple mayo.
After eating these godly sandwiches, we went to Wilmington to see the godly views from Whiteface. The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a scenic five mile drive that starts at an alpine-themed toll house next to Lake Stevens. Construction workers and engineers built this highway during the Great Depression, and their testimonies describe how grateful they were to have a job during a recession. Franklin D. Roosevelt opened this highway in 1936.
” This is a tribute from the citizens of the state of New York which would be appreciated by those fallen comrades of ours who served their state and nation so well. It is fitting that we should dedicate it in their names. It will stand as a tribute to them through all the centuries to come.”– President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Dedication Address, September 1935
While Roosevelt dedicated this highway to New Yorkers that served in World War I, New York State Governor Mario Cuomo dedicated the highway to veterans of all wars in 1985. At the summit, 70 cars are accepted at a time. The 27-story elevator (Yes, there is an actual elevator inside a mountain!) that leaves visitors on a spot over 4,800 feet above sea level is currently closed. But you’ll still see panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see the Montreal skyline! You’ll also see Vermont. There was a 30 mile visibility on the day we visited. Don’t forget that there are nine stops along the highway where you can take in the views before you reach the summit.
This place is a must-see if you are visiting Lake Placid. You, quite literally, feel like you’re on top of the world and unstoppable. Every single time I stand here, I get a feeling I can’t explain. I get the same feeling when I see the Brooklyn Bridge at night. If you’re feeling hungry, 4610 Grill (named after the position it stands on- It is 4,610 feet above sea level) has food and Whiteface-themed souvenirs. Make sure to go to the left to see the views of Lake Placid (I’m referring to the lake, not the village).
Back in Lake Placid, it’s worth it to check out the village’s charming Main Street. All the rustic-themed stores look like they’re catered to tourists, but trust me, there’s some pretty neat finds. Here are some of my favorite stores:
- Adirondack Decorative Arts & Crafts: This three floor store is like a museum. Along with rustic-themed furniture and home décor, expect books, journals, posters, and soap. Souvenirs include balsam essential oil, Adirondack baseball caps, pins, patches, and shirts.
- Little Blue House: I first saw this Canadian store in the pedestrian village of Mont Tremblant. Canadians Alice and John Oldland opened a store in North Hatley, Quebec. This store has nature-themed pajamas, robes, and socks with playful images of moose, bears, and pigs. I love the Yoga bear pajama top and a bottle that says “Environmentally friendly” and features a moose, bear, and a beaver.
- Where’d You Get That Hat?: This store has baseball caps, fedoras, and cold gear accessories. If you buy a hat from here, no doubt someone back home will ask you the million-dollar question- “Where’d you get that hat?”
- Critters: This store is perfect for children. Not only is there Lake Placid-themed clothing, there are stuffed animals placed throughout the store.
- Imagination Station: This is perfect for the whole family. This place has puzzles, toys, and games.
- The Bookstore Plus: I love independent bookstores! Thanks to this store, mountain villagers in this area have an extensive choice of the latest bestsellers, non-fiction, and classics. There is a children’s section and even an Adirondack-themed section with local titles that delve into the area’s history. You’ll also find stationery, posters, and art supplies.
- Adirondack Chocolates: Indulge and satisfy all your cravings! The menu includes almond bark, truffles, fudge, and chocolate-covered pretzels.
- Just Bead It!: I highly recommend stopping into this store to create a necklace or bracelet. Your cute craft will be a great souvenir from Lake Placid. You can choose hockey player and ice skates beads. You can choose a pre-packaged selection of beads to take home, or you can choose each bead.
- USA Spirit Shop: What would Lake Placid be without some Team USA themed merchandise? There are USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics shirts. There’s a bunch of sweatshirts, jackets, and hats.
- USA Hockey Store: Oh man. This place is awesome. It has Miracle on Ice and Olympic merchandise. You can get the 1980 USA team jersey, or shirts that commemorate the Miracle on Ice. There’s also USA Hockey t-shirts and NHL gear.
- Visions of Tibet: You’ve never seen anything like this. Located in the Alpine Mall, Visions of Tibet sells beautiful Asian gifts.
Another cool thing to do is simply take a stroll along Mirror Lake and pass the Mirror Lake Inn. Mirror Lake is the lake that borders the village of Lake Placid’s Main Street. The body of water named Lake Placid is actually on the northern side of the village. Gas powered motors are prohibited on Mirror Lake, as paddlers and stand-up paddleboarders enjoy the lake while taking in views of the High Peaks. You can rent a pedal boat or aqua bike in the summer. In the winter, there are dog-sledding tours and ice skating opportunities on Mirror Lake.
Along your walk, you’ll see Mirror Lake Inn, named the best hotel in Lake Placid on TripAdvisor. Rooms start at roughly $400 a night (!) and all have views of Mirror Lake. There are two restaurants, a spa, and afternoon tea with chocolate chip cookies. Want to know a really cool fact? Alpine skier and two-time Olympic medalist, Andrew Weibrecht, is a native of Lake Placid and skis at Whiteface Mountain. He is the son of the Mirror Lake Inn owners! This Olympian even works in the marketing division of Mirror Lake Inn.
Taking a walk along Mirror Lake in the evening is a nice way to unwind. If you prefer to walk in the morning, then Mirror Lake is just as beautiful during that time of day too- I saw many people enjoying a morning walk. The whole route is 2.7 miles and is called Lake Placid’s “Central Park” route.
I didn’t know the wonder and excitement that awaited me on Wednesday morning. We took the one hour drive to Keeseville, home of the Ausable Chasm. This sandstone gorge is called the Little Grand Canyon of the East. I have never experienced a place like this, and this attraction is not to be missed. This geological history trip will satisfy adventure-seekers, but don’t worry- everyone will enjoy this excursion. Guaranteed.
Ausable Chasm is three miles away from Lake Champlain and includes a mile-long gorge. Rock formations include the Devil’s Oven, Elephant’s Head, the Cathedral, and Column Rock. While rafting, tubing, and rock climbing are closed for the season due to COVID-19, the trails are open. There is basic admission to pay for the trails, but I highly recommend paying extra for the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk was the highlight of my day, and the memories will stay with me forever. You’ll get very close to the river, and your guide-while wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart-will tell you more about the falls.
Your day starts with stairs that descend all the way to the inside of the chasm. You’ll have a great view of Rainbow Falls, the most photographed waterfall in the Adirondacks. The chasm looms 150 feet over you. The guide will point where the waters reached after Tropical Storm Isaias hit earlier this month and after Hurricane Irene back in 2011. Hurricane Irene devastated the area in 2011, as Governor Cuomo visited the area to view the damage. President Obama issued a disaster declaration for the area. While everything is now repaired, the rising waters evident after a heavy storm demonstrate the power of nature.
Some of the chasm’s parts were created from glaciers during the last ice age. You’ll also walk across 2 100-foot cable bridges. These bridges are 50 feet above class 3 and 4 rapids. It’s kind of scary, but I conquered my fear of cable bridges. What’s life without a little adventure?
Riverwalk lasts around 45 minutes (It’s an intermediate trail). After that, there’s the Inner Sanctum Trail (Intermediate), Rim Walk (Easiest), and Dry Chasm Trail (More Difficult). We hiked the entire five miles and went all the way to the end where there used to be a trolley (Not sure if it’s operating during these times). Along the way, we saw Hydes Cave, Column Rock, Smugglers Cove, Table Rock, Grand Flume, The Rapids, and Whirlpool Basin.
Allow yourself four hours if you want to see everything. We walked 12,000 steps here!
Don’t forget to walk on the pedestrian bridge to get a different perspective of the falls. There’s also a gift shop and cafe on the grounds. My Whiteface burger was delicious.
Back in Lake Placid, the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex should be placed on everyone’s itinerary. The Skyride, a new gondola, takes you to the place where there is an elevator. The gondola has replaced an open ski lift. Both the ski lift and the gondola are fun to ride! The elevator will take you to the top of the K-120 meter jump (There is a K-90 meter jump and a K-120 meter jump at this complex). You can stand right where the ski jumpers accelerate and see all the High Peaks.
Ski jumping is well, unique. In 2017, I learned that it is safer than alpine skiing (You read that right). Sarah Hendrickson (United States), Peter Prevc (Slovenia), and Kamil Stoch (Poland) are my favorite ski jumpers. New Hampshire is the only state that allows high school ski jumping.
You can see ski jumpers practice on Saturdays over the summer. Some are in high school! In July 2017, I saw Tara Geraghty-Moats practice. In December 2017, she was on my television screen when I watched the Olympic ski jumping qualifiers for the 2018 Olympics. You can also see a freestyle skiing show in this complex where skiers land into a pool. While there is currently no show, we did see some young skiers practice when we visited.
Something new I discovered on this trip was the magic of antique stores. I knew antique stores could hold historical treasures, and this couldn’t be more evident in Lake Placid. The antique stores here have hockey and figure skating tickets from the 1980 Winter Olympics, Coca-Cola bottles from the 1980 Winter Olympics (These bottles still haven’t been opened!), snowshoes, ski poles, vintage Lake Placid posters, art books from 1891, and tote bags from 1980!
On our last night here, we had dinner at The Pickled Pig. I got jalapeno tacos and Southern-style sweet tea.
We were also able to stargaze for the last two nights. No air pollution in the Adirondacks means that there are more stars in the night sky than you can count. The Perseid meteor shower is active in mid-August, and we were able to see the Milky Way. You’re able to see it from 10 p.m. to midnight, although the shower peaks after midnight. We sat outside on the porch outside of our condo at 10 p.m., and saw at least four shooting stars each night. There was something very relaxing in kicking back and watching the stars while you’re dressed in a hoodie for comfort.
And how cute is this condo? It was rustic-styled, and had ski poles, snowshoes, and Lake Placid posters. There was a sitting area outside- it had tables and a grill-that had views of the mountains. I could see the mountains from the living room! It was especially pretty when there was mist on the mountain.
On Friday morning, we left Lake Placid and stopped in Lake George for a bite to eat (It takes around 90 minutes to get to Lake George from Lake Placid, another reminder of just how enormous the Adirondack Park is). We left after lunch because of how crowded it was.
While we did not stay in Lake George, we did visit The Hyde Historic House & Art Museum in nearby Glen Falls (Lake George is part of the Glen Falls metro area). We actually stopped here on the way to Lake Placid, not on the way home. Museum organizers Louis and Charlotte Hyde have compiled an extensive art collection. The two floor museum features works of El Greco, Childe Hassam, Rembrandt, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Seurat. You can see the Hyde House and the library.
Since the photos that I took at the museum are not currently on my camera and have transferred elsewhere, I’ll describe the museum more. If you visit the Hyde in the near future, you’ll be able to see two special exhibitions. One is called Images of the People: Russian Lacquer Painting. It’s on display till January 3, 2021, and features detailed hand-crafted paintings that depict scenes from Russian fairy tales. You’ll see troikas and the Firebird. The other exhibit is called J.S. Wooley, Adirondack Photographer. Wooley photographed Lake George and the surrounding area from 1908 to 1923.
A visit to the Hyde is by appointment only. Masks are mandated, and you are allowed one hour inside the museum. The museum is one-way, and there are markers to enforce social distancing.
We got back home at six that evening. The Adirondacks are definitely a place that seem too perfect for this world. I’m so glad I got the chance to go. And can I just say how impressed I was with the COVID-19 regulations in Lake Placid? Masks are required while walking on Main Street, visiting the stores, and visiting all attractions. There is hand sanitizer in every store, and you must use the hand sanitizer before entering the local bookstore and antique stores since you touch a lot of the stuff inside. There are markers to enforce social distancing in the attraction sites, and owners only allow a certain amount of people in stores at a time. Masks are required while you wait for your food in restaurants. They use paper menus and plastic utensils.
Nature does have an impact on the soul. I think back to My Side of the Mountain and when Sam says, “I throw back my head, and feeling free as the wind, breathe in the fresh mountain air. Although I am heavy-hearted, my spirits are rising. To walk in nature is always good medicine.” I highly agree Sam.