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The Adirondacks: Appointment Television

Scott Vogel

It's not very often that we recommend a television program in this forum, but I'm a big fan of a travelogue that's airing nationally starting tonight on PBS. It's called "The Adirondacks," a rather nondescript title for a landscape and vacation spot that is anything but. Gorgeously shot (I've never wanted a high-definition TV more), the documentary explores every nook and cranny of what is the largest park in the continental United States, a six-million-acre experiment in public lands and private development that deserves all the attention the filmmakers give it.

Kick back with (or in) "The Adriondacks." (Courtesty: Amanda Bird / © 2008 WNED)

The Adirondacks, in the far upper corner of New York state, also deserve more attention by tourists in search of a different vacation spot this summer. Of course, tourism in the Adirondacks, as elsewhere, is a mixed blessing, but the combination of whitewater rafting and other opportunities for outdoor adventure have landed this area on my must-see list. After tonight, it may well land on yours too.

Watch especially for the section of the film devoted to the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, a.k.a. summer camps of the rich and famous, circa 1890. Sagamore, owned by the Vanderbilt family for much of the 20th century, is a wonderfully lavish collection of 27 buildings, one of which contains such amenities as a bowling alley with an ingeniously designed ball return system. The alley is just one of the camp's attempts to marry sophistication and rusticity, and Sagamore is just one of the camps you can actually stay the night at while visiting the region. Another one, the Rockefeller retreat on Saranac Lake called The Point, it offers 11 guest quarters and features a well-regarded restaurant.

There's much more to see in "The Adirondacks," and it makes for a pleasant, non-frenetic evening of TV viewing. Enjoy.

But enough of television. Anyone out there have personal experiences with the Adirondacks that might help us understand this special place?

By Scott Vogel |  May 14, 2008; 2:35 PM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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The Point is on Upper Saranac Lake. There are three: Upper, Middle and Lower. There is no lake simply called Saranac Lake, though that's what the town is called.

Posted by: North Country | May 14, 2008 6:26 PM

I went to college just north of the Adirondacks (yes, there is a little bit of NY still above the park). The whole region is amazing and not just in summer.

In fall the foliage is mind blowing - it looks like the mountains are on fire, especially at sunset. In the winter there's skiing and some great ice climbing (I'm told). Lake Placid (site of the '32 and '80 winter Olympics) has alot of activities for families. In the summer there lots of hiking including the 46 "High Peaks" as they are called in the area. For a list see:

The summer is also a great time to visit all the small lakes in the region such as Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, Blue Mt Lake, and Lake George (where Sagamore is).

For those who want to explore beyond the park, Lake Champlian and Vermont are to the east and lovely in all seasons. And to the northwest are the Thousand Islands (where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River). The salad dressing is named for this region that features thousands of small islands along the Canadian border.

Posted by: former North Country | May 14, 2008 7:10 PM

I'm from a very small town just outside the northern border of the park, and it was a wonderful place to grow up. I've been to a lot of other places in the world, but for my money there's no place more beautiful, especially in the fall. The color is amazing! Summer is pretty wonderful, too - you can just kick back and relax while the world slows down around you. There are tons of outdoor activities: mountains suitable for day-hiking, lots of lakes to paddle, and some of the best trout fishing on the planet. In the winter there's skiing, and you can't beat Lake Placid for sledding sports.

Specifically I would recommend that families might enjoy car-camping in any of the state campsites in the park. I think they're all on lakes with beaches, and there's always a trailhead nearby. (Campgrounds are managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, not the Park Agency.) Alternatively, rent a lakeside camp for a week, take your books and boardgames, and chill out. Go to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake for a non-trail day - it's very kid-friendly. The Museum focuses on the natural and social history of the Adirondacks, and has a ton of great interactive exhibits.

Kids will also enjoy Santa's Workshop, at North Pole, New York, at the foot of the open-to-the-public road up to the Whiteface Mountain weather observatory.

In the winter, ride the bobsled at Lake Placid, and you will never look at rollercoasters the same way again.

Food: Actually, the locals are better at treats than restaurant meals. Go to the Candyman in Wilmington for oh-my-God-yummy handmade chocolate, and get a frozen custard at Mountain Mist or Donnelly's Ice Cream. But fair warning, it will spoil you for any other frozen soft-serve ice cream product.

Posted by: BxNY | May 15, 2008 10:26 AM

I got married at a summer camp there this summer, it is beautiful!

Posted by: Gabby | May 15, 2008 10:35 AM

Re former North Country's post:

Sagamore, the Vanderbilt Great Camp, is on Raquette Lake.

Sagamore Resort is on Lake George.

Posted by: SMA | May 15, 2008 5:03 PM

I used to travel with my family to the Adirondacks as a kid in the 70's and 80's. I have such amazing memories of such special times that it inspired me to figure out a way to live in the ADKS. It was touch and go in the 90's but now thankfully I can say I have been a fulltime resident in the Adirondack Park since 1998. It is a very special place, the only highrises are the Olympic Ski Jumps and the mountains are lush and gorgeous. Most of the people I know follow the work to live not live to work. After work each day my friends and I go for a hike, kayak, or and ice skate at the oval in Lake Placid. Malls are foreign same goes with chain restaurants. Maybe once every two weeks we will run up to Plattsburgh to shop and twice a year we will go down to Albany to visit a mall. It is a fantastic life. Most families travel for summer vacations, we will take a week off of work and go camping ten miles down the road. The Adirondacks are AWESOME!!!!!

Posted by: Mountain Girl | May 16, 2008 11:30 AM

The Adirondacks represent the closest and some of the best North Country paddling opportunities. The next closest padding wildernesses are the Allagash watershed in Maine, Algonquin and Quetico Parks in Canada, and the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota.

Unlike the other areas listed above, I can get to the Adirondacks within 10 hours drive time from Northern Virginia.

I'm not going to tell this forum where I paddle in the Adirondacks because the area is already crowded.

Posted by: Sasquatch | May 16, 2008 1:43 PM

Everytime we drive past Glens Falls and head north to our place in the Adirondack Park I know we have entered into a landscape that is really something special. The documentary was so well done and it was fun seeing one of our neighbors featured as part of the program. The North Country is not for every one for it is the "real deal" and I would not have it any other way. a resident of Brant Lake and Adirondack.

Posted by: Sandra Iden | May 18, 2008 7:53 PM

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