Family Travel Forum reviews the summer and winter activities, as well as the best in local lodging and dining, at Lake Placid in upstate New York.
The city of Lake Placid is the most developed population center in Adirondack Park, a six-million-acre wilderness reserve sanctioned by New York State in 1892 to protect more land than Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined.
Despite a reputation built on hosting two Winter Olympics – 1932 and again in 1980 – it’s amazing how little most families know about the region’s many attractions, winter or summer. So, after six trips to hike, visit friends, canoe and deliver our son to summer camp over a two-year period, our family now feels ready to share some favorite places and activities.
Lake Placid 4 Seasons Activities for All Ages
Of course Lake Placid comes to life in the busy winter months, when the town’s visual centerpiece, Mirror Lake, freezes over to accommodate dog sleds and ice skaters. Over in Wilmington, the Olympic downhill runs on Whiteface Mountain are being conquered by extreme and expert skiers oblivious to the biting cold. Quiet Lake Placid itself, much larger and more secluded than Mirror Lake, hibernates, shrouded in towering evergreens burdened by the abundant snowfall.
Don’t ignore summer, when the region’s snowmelt produces hundreds of waterfalls, roaring rivers, verdant lawns, dense birch forests and swimming holes for hikers and local families. The town streets blossom with passersby, baby strollers and antiquarians looking for Adirondack hunting memorabilia and duck decoys. Mirror Lake gets crowded with paddle boats and canoes, the town beach fills up by noon, trail entry points become busy parking lots and boaters and fishermen flee to quiet Lake Placid to make their catch.
Depending on your interests, Lake Placid makes a thrilling, challenging, active or restful four to seven-day getaway – for families with young children, teens, or even grandparents – at any time of year.
Family Activities in Lake Placid for Winter
Generations of winter visitors have left a legacy of every type of snow sport, earning Lake Placid and its environs Ski magazine’s title of “America’s #1 Destination for Off-Hill Activities.” Families with less-than-expert skiers will be glad to know that they can be spectators rather than participants, or avoid Whiteface Mountain altogether, and take a toboggan run on Mirror Lake or have a hot chocolate at Ben & Jerry’s.
Winter’s good news and bad news is the busy Olympic Regional Development Authority competition calendar which features world-class events such as Women’s Ice Hockey, the US Ski Team Gold Cup, World Cup Freestyle Skiing, Figure Skating championships and annual Luge competitions, among others. Being in town can be thrilling, but it’s also practically impossible to ignore the bus tours, T-shirt and Olympics memorabilia shops, condo clusters and mini-malls. If you’re seeking a peaceful winter wonderland, choose Adirondacks accommodations outside of the main village.
You can truly bury your heads in the snow at Whiteface Mountain, whose 3,430-feet vertical drop is the largest east of the Rockies. This ski resort also welcomes all levels of snowsports enthusiast, with a popular Kid’s Kampus program (daycare for 1-6s, ski and snowboard lessons for 4-12s), the Snowsports School accommodating teens 13-16 and adults, a Kids Kampus Lodge and conveyor “lift” system and a wide range of beginner and intermediate runs, as well as Olympic-caliber double black diamond trails.
If everyone’s into ski jumping or aerial freestyles, you can watch practice sessions at the K90 and K120 ski jumps, open winter (mid-December to mid-March) and summer (mid-May to mid-October), at the Olympic Jumping complex. Spectators will be more comfortable taking the chairlift or the 26-story elevator to the top. Local athlete Bill Demong, who trains here, was the first American to win Nordic Combined gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Adjacent to it is a sport park with a 750,000-gallon pool enabling ski jumpers to continue practicing their craft all summer.
The rest of the vintage 1980 Olympics complex is at Mount Van Hoevenberg, about 10 minutes away. This is the starting point for cross-country skiers who need to rent gear, and for those looking for scenic, wooded trails ranging from easy to quite difficult. From late October to mid-November and late November to late April, there is a half-mile bobsledding track made for anyone above 48” and a solo luge track called “The Rocket.”
Lake Placid in Summer
With an Olympic pedigree, the area attracts a similarly competitive crowd in summer.
July can seem overrun with “horse people” who come for the major horse shows, but they don’t outnumber the bikers, runners and swimmers warming up for the Ironman Triathlon. In summer, Whiteface Mountain remains a center of active recreation, and opens its gondola and trails to mountain bikers and hikers.
Families with young children aren’t immune to the Olympic Spirit either. SUVs packed tight with trunks and duffel bags pull into town every week to drop off campers at the area’s many competitive sports camps and sports academies. Joining an hour-long narrated tour of Lake Placid, or watching the fire trucks roll down Main Street during the July 4th parade, or having a double scoop of vanilla custard at the classic Custard, Mustard N Brew (518/523-4857) are some of the most pleasant ways to recover.
Back in town, the Olympic Center (518/523-3330, 2634 Main St, Lake Placid, NY 12946) houses four excellent ice skating rinks, a rental shop, and a museum exhibit with awe-inspiring video clips. It’s a fun destination year round, and many in-town shops enable visitors to rent any gear they need to be able to sample “Olympic” ice.
Favorite Family Resorts in Lake Placid
If you envisioned a less active winter holiday – roasting your toes around an open fire, perhaps cozying up in a dogsled on its way to dinner, or skating on a frozen pond –stay at the Mirror Lake Inn (518/523-2544, 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY 12946). In a classic Victorian white brick lodge overlooking Mirror Lake (the quiet end of the town beach in summer), the family rooms are cluttered with mahogany, oriental rugs and tea cozies.
Updated units include large double rooms (many can be adjoined), and suites with various bed and bath accommodations. To accommodate their low-key adult crowd, the Inn encourages one child for each paying adult to dine free of charge before 5:30pm; parents may book a sitter through the front desk for their own evening out. In the summer, when you can swim in the lake, and canoes, paddleboats and rowboats are available for guest use. The Mirror Lake Inn’s full service health spa also has an indoor pool and Jacuzzi.
Other more economical facilities closer to the town’s commercial center include the Lake Placid Resort Crowne Plaza (877/570-5891, 101 Olympic Drive, Lake Placid, NY 12946). From the hilltop main lodge and French-American cuisine Verandah Restaurant you’ll have great mountain views; the Mirror Lake-front Boathouse restaurant is more casual fare.
Generally bland guest rooms offer refrigerators, coffeemakers, fireplaces and no surprises, but suites, chalets and rooms with Jacuzzis and fireplaces are also available. The LP Resort’s groomed cross-country ski area reveals 45 holes of golf when the snows melt; summer is the time to use the 10 tennis courts and private beach; an indoor pool and fitness room are available year-round. Seasonal specials start as low as $89/N.
Within the busy village, the “log cabin” style Adirondack Inn by the Lake (800/556-2424, 25 Main St, Lake Placid, NY 12946) is a good family choice, because it’s conveniently located and quiet. Directly across the street from the Olympic Center skating arena and just in front of the town beach and boating facilities, this Best Western hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the central Main Street hubbub. Nice touches like complimentary coffee and pound cake in the lobby for early risers, a large and clean indoor pool, a creative Japanese rock garden and fountain, and spacious (if unmemorable) rooms with two double beds and good water pressure add up to good value.
If you’re into pets, hiking or skiing more than visiting the local EMS store and Ben & Jerry’s, the Willkommen Hof B&B (800/541-9119, 5367 NYS Rt. 86, Whiteface, NY 12997) in nearby Wilmington is our top pick. About 20 minutes from downtown Lake Placid and 1.5 miles from the foot of Whiteface Mountain, it’s a large turn-of-the-century farmhouse with well-furnished, cozy rooms and suites perfect for larger families. When we entered our floral print bedroom, whose queen bed and loveseat took up most of the floor space, little did we know there would be a large bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and shower to one side, and an adventurous loft with a double bed for our son up top. From the delicious breakfast with a choice of European crepes or American pancakes (and more) each day, to their friendly Lab Linus, to the guest dog crate put out on the porch for our pet, Snowy, when we wanted to dine out, this B&B could not have felt more like home.
Our friendly hosts Heike and Bert Yost (Bert is also a licensed local guide and gives great advice on kid-friendly hiking trails and swimming holes) sent us to the best nearby restaurants including The Hungry Trout (518/946-2217, 5239 Route 86 Wilmington, NY 12997). At our visit, we enjoyed the picture windows upstairs overlooking the Ausable River and Whiteface as much as our fresh grilled fish. Since then, the restaurant has built a motel on their land and more dining options, making it a good choice for those who want to be a bit away from the main town’s hectic pace.
The exterior of the centrally located High Peaks Resort (518/523-4411 or 800/755-5598; 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946) is an eyesore dating from the second Olympics period. However, the interior of the former Hilton Lake Placid has been freshly renovated and the location is still perfect. It has the town’s most business-like facilities, including a screening room for the annual Lake Placid Film Festival. Their small lakeside pool and marina are busy in summertime, and the heated indoor pool, Jacuzzi and weight room serve well in winter. We fondly recall their Dancing Bears Lounge, a coffee shop with a wonderful mural of bears frolicking in Adirondack State Park — glad to hear it is still the center of town nightlife.
The area’s most posh rustic choice (and the Adirondacks boasts many grand, classic Adirondack camps such as The Point and The Sagamore) may be the local Relais & Chateaux member, Lake Placid Lodge (518/523-2700, Whiteface Inn Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946). The 11-room lodge is on the western side of quiet Lake Placid, a hefty walk or brief drive from the hubbub of the town center. This lodge was added to another 19 traditional but very elegant family-size cabins, some lakefront, tucked into the evergreens. All are individually designed, with birch and twig Adirondack furnishings, stone fireplaces and the finest amenities and linens. Besides the gourmet dining, families with children (only those over age 14) can expect the same pampering service offered by the establishment its owners once ran, the legendary Point nearby.
For more ideas on lodging and activities, contact the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau at 49 Parkside Drive in Lake Placid or call 518/523-2445.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.