Old School Things To Do in The Adirondacks That Still Thrill Today

WHY GO: Sure, you go to the Adirondacks to hike or ski. But on the trips that your Grandparents or Great Grandparents took up to the mountains, there were other monumental attractions to behold. In fact there are a dazzling number of things to do in the Adirondack Region in upstate New York.

These old-school sites are making a comeback – if only for their raw beauty and astounding vistas; on rivers flanked by limestone walls, by tiered waterfalls, and inside an elevator that rises through 27 stories of rock.

We’ve got all the details on these most romantic attractions that have stood the test of time. Just keep reading.

Where Are the Adirondacks?

The Adirondack Region encompasses six million acres of wilderness in upstate New York. Bounded on the east by Lake Champlain and Lake George, and to the south by Saratoga NY, it’s the largest area of publicly protected land in the Lower 48 US States.

You’ll find two major ski resorts in the Adirondacks as well: Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington NY (near Lake Placid), and Gore Mountain in North Creek (30 minutes from Lake George).

Things To Do In The Adirondacks

Through the whitewater chasm, one of the scenic wonders of New York . Ausable Chasm, NY

TOUR/HIKE/RAFT: Ausable Chasm

Wow! How did you ever miss this? This Ausable Chasm?? Pressing through walls of rock in an inflatable raft on a chute of whitewater, you might experience the nirvana that tourists did back in the 70’s – the 1870’s that is – when larger wooden boats were pulled back into place through an elaborate pulley system.  You can see the rusty remnants as you travel down rough and calm water (FYI – you will get wet).

The boats may have changed, but the grandeur has not, and it’s certainly worth the 40-minute drive from Lake Placid. There are many ways to experience this mini-Niagara Falls– from ambling along paved paths to partaking in the “Adventure Trail” which includes cables, rappelling, edge walks and lots of stairs.

If you’ve got only a couple of hours, opt for the “Classic Tour” which includes access to the one mile intermediate trail that descends into the chasm and a one mile river raft ride. Open all year, boat and tube rides seasonal. Snowshoe tours in winter. 

Ausable Chasm is one of the Getaway Maven’s recommended Best Places to Propose in New York State.

Exterior of small museum that tells the story of one runaway slave and his deliverance. North Star Underground Railroad Museum. Adirondacks

VISIT: North Star Underground Railroad, Ausable Chasm

Next door to Ausable Chasm, discover the part this region played in the Underground Railroad at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum. Exhibits tell the tale of a fugitive slave, John Thomas, who escaped from a plantation in Maryland, making the arduous journey on foot through Philadelphia to Troy, NY  bound for Canada. Whether by wagon, train, boat, or on foot, slaves were told to “Follow the Drinking Gourd” – aka The Big Dipper – by night as that would lead them north.

Slave Shackle - Underground Museum - Upstate New York

But, like many runaway slaves, Thomas stayed in upstate NY due to the generosity of one man – the Abolitionist Garret Smith – who gave away 120,00 acres of land to over 3,000 runaway slaves so, as landowners, they could vote in New York. In 1872, Thomas wrote a letter of gratitude to Smith, which was lost for over a century and just recently rediscovered.

“Thank you for the welfare you’ve taken in the interest of my people. We were blessed by your noble generosity,” Thomas wrote. This small but important museum is worth 30 minutes of your time. Check our related post for more Underground Railroad sites in New York

New York is also on the Harriet Tubman Trail from Birth to Death.

On top of the rocks; Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway in the Adirondacks

DRIVE/Hike: Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway

Drive to Whiteface Mountain, pay the toll, and then climb the first road to honor American Veterans, the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway, a Works Project built during the Roosevelt Administration in1935.

Follow the winding ascent with pullouts from which to ogle Adirondack views. But save your best ogling for the summit of Whiteface, the 5th highest peak in the Adirondacks.

Park near the tourist center then walk through a 427 ft. long dark tunnel to a 27-story elevator that rises through rock to the tippy top of Whiteface.

Or, opt for a slick-rock ascent from the castle-like café and tourist center. My recommendation; take the elevator up then walk down. FYI- wear closed toed shoes.

Majestic Adirondack waterfalls

VISIT: High Falls Gorge

Yes, touristy. But you have to admire the tenacity of this “gorges” spot off Route 86. The stunning Attraction-that-Could, High Falls Gorge, was destroyed twice in 2011: once due to excessive snow melt, then months later from Hurricane Irene.

Back better than ever, marvel at the force of water down and through rock on a half-mile multi-level series of paths, stairs and bridges. Teeter over rushing water on glass pathways.

In the heat of summer, the water spray is refreshing. In winter, crunch over snow and ice. Photo ops abound any time of year. Afterwards, sample local wines at the Beer and Wine Bar in back of the gift shop. 

TOUR: Fort Ticonderoga

This might have been your great-great-grandparent’s introduction to US Military history as Fort Ticonderoga, built in the 1700’s, was open to the public as an historic site in 1909.

WILD Center Wild Walk in Snowfall Tupper Lake NY

VISIT: Wild Center Wild Walk, Tupper Lake

The Getaway Mavens covered the Wild Walk at the fantastic Wild Center – and famous Adirondacks Winter Carnivals – in this Saranac Lake NY post.

DO: Olympic Sites and High Peaks

Ice skate, snowshoe, and cross country ski at Lake Placid Olympic Sites. Or become a “46er” by summiting all 46 High Peaks. The Getaway Mavens guide you to all in this Lake Placid post.

Statue of John Brown with child in shadow of Olympic Ski Jumps, Lake Placid, NY

VISIT: John Brown Farm and Gravesite, Elba

John Brown’s Farm and Gravesite sits in the shadow of the Olympic Ski jumps. It’s not difficult to imagine why one of the most famous abolitionists, Brown, born in Connecticut, and raised in Ohio, would have decided to settle here in 1855.

Brown spent only a few weeks in Elba, NY before traveling to Kentucky to join his sons in their fight against slavery. Before being executed for his role in the raid on the US Arsenal in Harper’s Ferry VA, Brown asked to be buried “by the big rock” on his bucolic property in NY. Grounds and grave open year round during daylight hours.

VISIT: Museum on Blue Mountain Lake

Open seasonally, this interactive, 20-building, 120 acre Museum on Blue Mountain Lake is the quintessential deeply immersive and family friendly “Adirondack Experience.” Row a lake boat, climb a fire tower, break up a logjam and more.

Best Restaurant and Lodging in Keene NY

EAT: Forty-Six, Keen 

The Adirondack-chic bistro-style farm-to-table Forty Six is owned and run by the same guys who brought the boutique Dartmouth Lodge (see below) to Keene. Dine on dishes like Pork Osso Buco, Duck Fat Bread Rolls for dinner, and fresh from the farm delights for breakfast and lunch.

Inside Halcyon House; One of 7 cabins at Dartbrook Lodge, Keene, NY

STAY: Dartbrook Lodge, Keene

As a rule, you won’t find boutique design in rustic roadside cabins. But The Dartbrook Lodge, which elevates “Classic Rustic Design” to boutique hotel standards, breaks that rule entirely.

Right on Route 73, current owners Steve Pounian and Jay Haws, with backgrounds in design, completely remodeled each cabin in Great Camp style and reopened the Lodge in 2009. While sourcing locally made furniture and accessories, Pounian and Haws established relationships with Adirondack artisans and began to collect and sell their products at the neighboring shop Dartbrook Rustic Goods – a terrific balsam-scented emporium.

Because of the Lodge’s roadside location, you’ll pay a fraction of what you’d have to fork over for a comparable space a few miles away on Lake Placid. Ask for the apartment-sized Halcyon House; log plank walls, Sleep Number bed, rustic/luxe and beautiful décor extends to the slate floor bathroom; the glass and bluestone double rain shower is downright glorious and could find a home in any upscale hotel. 

More Romantic Getaways In The Adirondacks (or Nearby:


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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