17 Best Things to Do Around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: One of the Prettiest Places on Earth

La Casa del Mundo Hotel, Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, a four-hour drive from the international airport in Guatemala City, is beguiling in its beauty. Ringed by mountains, volcanoes, and twelve towns and villages, Lake Atitlan is best discovered by small boat.

At prayer – Lake Atitlan Guatemala

From artisan weavers, to legends of The Little Prince (the author spent time here recovering from injuries sustained in a plane crash) to a Mayan god who drinks and smokes – this Getaway Mavens “Greater Getaway” to Guatemala’s most famous Lake is not only resplendent, it is the source of both mythical and ridiculous folklore as well.

Lake Atitlan and volcanoes from Hotel Casa Palopo

Lake Atitlan and volcanoes from Hotel Casa Palopo

  1. Climb a volcano. Tours-Atitlan guide, Domingo Solis, insists, “I don’t carry my clients,” which is another way of saying that you better be in tiptop shape to scale the hills of Lake Atitlan. The dormant volcano, San Pedro, is the most challenging here – a five mile hike, with a climb of 4,000 ft. to a nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. It is straight up and straight down and takes a better part of seven hours to do the whole thing. Alternately, you can choose to climb the “steep but short” Cerro de Oro – “Hill of Gold” – or the “Sleeping Elephant,” that legend dictates was the model for the boa constrictor eating elephant illustration in The Little Prince. Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stayed in Guatemala after a plane crash here, so that theory is plausible.

    Santiago Atitlan Guatemala

    View of Lake Atitlan from Santiago dock

  2. Hire a boat to take you to various villages around Lake Atitlan – like the newly favored artisan community, San Juan La Laguna, the tiny but colorful Santa Catarina Palopo, and the larger Santiago.

     San Juan La Laguna on Lake Atitlan Guatemala

    San Juan La Laguna on Lake Atitlan Guatemala

  3. Wander the hilly streets of San Juan La Laguna, and stop into art galleries and textile shops. San Juan is known for its embroidered birds and flowers on woven fabrics.

    Q’omaneel Collective, San Juan on Lake Atitlan

    Learn about medicinal plants and herbs at Q’omaneel Collective, San Juan on Lake Atitlan

  4. Learn about medicinal plants and herbs at Q’omaneel Collective, San Juan, then purchase natural bug repellant and wrinkle erasers.

    Bone Healer Mural San Juan Atitlan Guatemala

  5. Look for the “Bone Healer” mural in San Juan. It’s not hard to find.

    Tortilla makers, San Juan La Laguna, Lake Atitlan Guatemala

    Tortilla makers, San Juan La Laguna, Lake Atitlan Guatemala

  6. Help make tortillas the way it’s always been done – with dried corn kernels soaked in limestone, ground to paste, patted flat, and roasted.

    Womens Weaving Collective San Juan Atitlan Guatemala

  7. Visit a weaving collective – Casa Flor Ixcaco – in San Juan La Laguna – to witness all the handiwork that goes into spinning and dying organic cotton (with natural dyes), and then creating works of wearable art on back-strap looms. Most amazing – scarves and throws in a rainbow of colors, some which take weeks to make, start at only $40 each.

    Mayan god, Masheemon, smoking, Santiago Atitlan Guatemala

  8. In Santiago, ask a Tuk-Tuk driver (or your guide) to find the Mayan god, Masimon (pronounced “mo-she-mon”), who is moved each May 1st to a different private residence. Concealed from the Catholic Church in apartments accessed by back alleys, Maximon drinks and smokes thanks to his Shaman handlers, who keep this irreverent legless wooden deity, cloaked in men’s ties, pretty plastered. Want a picture? It will cost you ten Q’s (about $1.30).

    Guatemalan taxi Santa Catarina Palopo

    Guatemalan “taxi.”

  9. Tuk-tuks are fine, but for a real thrill take a “Guatemalan taxi.” It’s basically an open flatbed truck. Though some have benches, most people stand up.

    Catholic Church in Santiago, Guatemala

    Catholic Church in Santiago, Guatemala where you’ll see the co-mingling of Mayan and Catholic iconography.

  10. Visit a Catholic Church in Santiago, where you’ll see the co-mingling of Mayan and Catholic iconography. Find saints and Jesus dressed in scarves and ties –the attire of Mayan god, Maximon. Locals state that when the Spanish came to Guatemala in the 1500’s and attempted to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism, they failed miserably. Instead, this – and Mayan alters in other churches – represent the compromise between the two cultures and religions.

    Santa Catarina Palopo

    Colorfully painted town of Santa Catarina Palopo

  11. Meander in the tiny, colorfully painted town of Santa Catarina Palopo, where women on front porches hand weave intricate cloth in vivid colors.

    Weaver Santa Catarina Palopo

    Weaver on front porch of Santa Catarina Palopo home, Lake Atitlan Guatemala.

  12. Stop into small family-run shops in Santa Catarina Palopo to discover inexpensive one of a kind table runners, placemats, and embroidered local blouses.

    School craft collective, Santa Catarina Palopo Lake Atitlan Guatemala

    School craft collective, Santa Catarina Palopo Lake Atitlan Guatemala

  13. On your way to the dock in Santa Catarina Palopo, stock up on gifts at the High School Craft Collective, which helps fund the local schools.

    Ceramic-Makers San Antonio Palopo Lake Atitlan Guatemala

  14. Check out the signature ceramics right from the source in San Antonio Palopo – a town known for its ceramic-ware emblazoned with timeless designs.

    Yarn Shop Chichicastenango Guatemala

  15. Drive an hour (hire a driver) to the market town of Chichicastenango. Locals buy produce and ritual objects for church visits (candles, incense, rum), while tourists are over stimulated with shop after shop of crafts in kaleidoscopic colors. You might discover sophisticated gems among the schlocky establishments, but it requires patience and a keen eye.

    Chichicastenango, Guatemala

    Church in the market town of Chichicastenango, Guatemala

  16. Visit the church in the center of the Chichi market for the best example of the co-mingling of Mayan-Catholic cultures. All that is left of the Mayan Temple, destroyed by Spaniards in order to build the church in the 1500’s, are the 18 steps leading up to the front door. Inside, slightly raised stone Mayan altars line the center aisle of the church, leading up to the gilded Catholic alter at the front. Stay long enough and you’ll witness locals lighting candles and pouring rum on flower petals on each square altar – quite the departure from our own rituals. It is not uncommon to see devout worshippers on their knees moving from the back of the church to the front, praying and sobbing.

    Casa Palopo Hotel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    Casa Palopo Hotel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

  17. Stay posh at what is arguably the best hotel in all of Guatemala: Casa Palopo (a Relais and Chateaux hotel). And for the best of the best, ask for one of three rooms in the Villa, which has its own kitchen, living room and infinity pool and hot tub. There is nothing more transcendent than watching the sun set over Lake Atitlan and its volcanoes from your private outdoor pool.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, a four-hour drive from the international airport in Guatemala City, is beguiling in its beauty. Ringed by mountains, volcanoes, and twelve towns and villages, Lake Atitlan is best discovered by small boat. #LakeAtitlan #visitguatemala #guatemala #travel

Keuka Lake NY: A Small Finger Lake With Big History

 

Sunset on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport NY

Sunset on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport NY

WHY GO: Three years ago, I wrote of the then sleepy Keuka Lake, the one with “Shape Pride:” Of all the 11 Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake is not the largest, smallest or deepest. But it does have one feature that instills pride in all who live along its shores.  It has a “shape.” An organic, divining rod “Y” shape to be precise.  And I also chimed in: Keuka Lake is also where this country’s version of European wine grapes were first successfully cultivated, although the area around the Finger Lakes has been a “native” wine region for centuries. Before Prohibition quashed the industry,  many vineyards throughout this section of New York turned out mostly ceremonial wine. Now, there’s a new “vinifera” renaissance, one that is being recognized by sommeliers at the best restaurants in New York City and elsewhere.  But that’s not the only reason to visit Keuka Lake. It has an old fashioned “summer by the lake” vibe. At sundown, its southernmost town, Hammondsport, feels bathed in the 50’s and lost in time.”  

Well, three years later the “renaissance” is in full bloom. There’s still a strong sense of community where “everyone promotes each other.” That hasn’t changed. But now, it’s not just wine lovers who will find Nirvana here. Tastemakers in beer and the harder stuff can discover new breweries and distilleries in the FLX mix. What else has changed? What’s stayed the same? Read on for some more recommendations to get the most out of a quick overnight around Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes.

Native wines flourished around Keuka Lake and the Finger Lakes in general, prior to Prohibition

Native wines flourished around Keuka Lake and the Finger Lakes in general, prior to Prohibition

This Getaway lets you in on the origins of European wine in the Eastern USA,  a museum that celebrates one of the country’s most unsung but ingenious inventors, the world’s premier Museum of Glass, and a surprisingly amazing restaurant/inn where you’d least expect it. Read on for the best, updated advice from the Getaway Mavens.

Things to Do on Keuka Lake

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Keuka Lake NY

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Keuka Lake NY

VISIT: Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. You wouldn’t expect the genesis of European wine production in the Eastern United States to be so off-the-beaten-path. But over 70,000 people per year find this vineyard on a just-paved road above Keuka Lake.

Fred Frank, third generation owner of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Fred Frank, third generation owner of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Until the 1950’s, only native grape varieties  – Concord, Katoba, Delaware, Niagra – called Vitas Labrusca, could grow in this cold climate. But fine wine production took a quantum leap forward when Dr. Konstantin Frank, a PhD in viticulture working at Cornell Agricultural Experimental Station, began planting European vines here in 1958. The cool climate, similar to Northern Europe, lent itself to Rieslings, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. Frank soon discovered that a pesky bug, Phylloxera, killed Vinifera roots but Labrusca roots still thrived. Frank posited that by grafting Vinifera vines to Labrusca roots, he’d be able to grow European wines in the States. Cornell did not agree, but his theory caught the attention of neighboring Gold Seal Winery, and Frank was proven correct.

An Early Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Sauvignon, 1963 Vintage owned by Jeff Ingersoll of McCorn Winery Lodging

An Early Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Sauvignon, 1963 Vintage owned by Jeff Ingersoll of McCorn Winery Lodging

Generous with his knowledge, Dr. Frank spread the word to neighboring states. Now, third generation Fred Frank runs the vineyard with his Winemaking daughter, Meaghan, fast on his heals, expanding the winery offerings to include the less expensive “value” label, Salmon Run. The L.A. Times just rated Dr. Frank’s Reisling #1 in the world, three wines were rated 90 in the July issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and Dr. Frank finished 2013 with 129 Gold Medals in National and International competitions.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2013 Dry Riesling

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2013 Dry Riesling

And here’s a tip from an award winning winemaker. Some whites, like reds, age gracefully and improve and get more complex over time. Taste a couple of times a year just to make sure they are not turning.  “We’re still opening up Rieslings from the 60’s,” says Frank. Due to its remote location, there is no tasting fee here. Come and sample away, and you’ll leave with some great history about the region and Dr. Konstantin Frank. Tasting room open Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5, free. And brand new this year –  wine-pairing dinners Fri, Sat and Sun include tour of vineyard and 4 pairings of wine and food. 

VISIT/TASTE/PLAY: Cider Creek Hard Cider, Canistio. From Hammondsport, you’ll drive about 40 minutes on breathtaking country roads, passing wind turbines, silos and farmland, climbing and descending hills, to get to this cidery. But once here, you’ll want to stay for a bit. The setting is stunning- with Adirondack chairs on a patio overlooking a rushing creek, a large lawn anchored by a newly built stage (for live music), and a humongous tasting/event barn with a farm-industrial-funky interior, colorful mood lighting, barn-wood backed bar with reclaimed wood from the family farm, and a stone fireplace built entirely of rocks pulled out of the creek.

Born locally, owners, Kevin and Melanie Collins lived in Boston where Kevin home brewed beer and established relationships with local breweries and wineries while working in the Dental Implant business. Kevin’s father, “a surgeon by trade, and hobby farmer with 300 head cattle,” wanted to establish a business to sustain his 2,500 acres of land here, and settled on opening a cidery, which Kevin’s brother, Chip, operated. Chip’s untimely death propelled Kevin to move back home from Boston to run Cider Creek.

It was a good move. In just three years, little out of the way Cider Creek has medaled in every Hard Cider category worldwide, and in 2017 was the 3rd most awarded cidery on the planet. Cider Creek ciders are sold at Wegman’s and other large grocery stores in 4 US states and Canada (MA, NY, CT, VT) with more in the pipeline. Cider Creek gets its apples from local orchards and presses the juice to ferment – most from 4-6 weeks – in tanks uplit by changing-colored lights. “We make Old World Cider with a New World influence,” says Collins, who uses ale and beer yeasts to create these award-winning drinks. “That makes it more versatile for beer and wine drinkers, too.”

There’s always something new brewing here, and patrons find new favorites all the time. “One in A Million” is a Saison with watermelon puree for summertime. Cran-Mango Cider is so, so easy to drink. Spy Games is made with 100% Northern Spy Apples and Champaign and Sasion yeasts, Saison Bratt – a puckerish sour – just won Gold at GLINTCAP – Great Lakes International Cider and Perry (pear and apple blend) Competition. My favorite, however, is The Flight of the Concord – a 2 year bourbon-barrel aged grape cider that goes down warm and ultra smooth.

TASTE: Ravine’s Wine Cellar, Keuka Lake. Many would argue that the best place for dry wine lovers is Ravine’s, which has a non-producing cellar/tasting room on Keuka Lake. For the ultimate tasting, go for the cheese/wine pairing – everything made right in this region. Ravine’s crisp Dry Riesling 2015 earned a 91 from Wine Spectator, and its Red Dry Riesling has made it to Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” list for its ’09, ’12, and ‘14’s. Keuka Village White makes a great table wine, its Pinot Noir is mildly spicy/smoky. Peppery Keika Village Red is a blend of Cab Franc and Noiret – a grape developed by nearby Cornell University. For those who want a sweeter experience, try Ayre – a honey-colored sparkling Muscat cooler that tastes like peaches. Perfect for after dinner.

TOUR: Bully Hill Vineyards, Hammondsport. This 40-year-old winery – a massive hillside compound, actually, that encompasses museums, a gift shop, an art gallery, two tasting rooms, a restaurant, and production area – with motto, “Wine with Laughter” has a somewhat rowdy reputation, draws a slew of bachelor and bachelorette parties, and has a back story to beat the band.

Walter Taylor, whose family owned Hammondsport’s Taylor Winery (established in 1883), was effectively kicked out when Coca-Cola purchased the company and Taylor name in 1977. In response, Walter opened his own Bully Hill Winery on original Taylor Estate property, bringing over cases of wines labeled with his name on them. Coca-Cola refused to allow the word “Taylor,” even on the labels’ small print, and so Walter held a “Black Out Party” with 18-year-old Cornell Students wielding black markers to cover every single instance of his last name.

Still miffed, Walter painted the word “Taylor” on a live goat, paraded it through town, and dropped it off at Taylor/Coca-Cola’s front door to prove a point. “Take the goat, you own my name, you own the goat,” he said. Or something to that effect. Coke didn’t want the goat, and, dejected, Walter came home, stewed for a few days, and realized he had the perfect coined phrase: “Coca-Cola, you can take my name, but you can’t get my goat.” That goat, named “Gilt Free” is now on many a Bully Hill Wine Label, which feature Walter Taylor’s own artwork as well. When Walter passed away in 2001, his wife and two sons took over the operation, which draws 150,000 people annually.

Come for the fun, for smashing views, and really good food. Chefs smoke meats (awesome brisket) right on site and everything on the plate is straight from the farm fresh.

TASTE HISTORY: Pleasant Valley Wine Co. Established in 1860, Pleasant Valley Winery is the Finger Lakes oldest winery and U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1. It’s also known for its Great Western Champaign (yes, Champaign – the French designation was grandfathered in), first sparkling wine to win a top spot worldwide in 1867 (and still in production). Come for a historic tour of the caves and redwood tanks, and of course to taste.

TASTE/BEER: Steuben Brewing Co. It’s all about the water at Steuben, where owner, Chad Zimar’s attention to detail is apparent in the final product. To whit – Zimar painstakingly blends hard and softened water to match what comes from the ground in Ireland for his Irish Red. Chad has enlisted his parents, Candy and Jim, to help him out where needed – a real family operation. Ask for a flight of four 4 oz. pours ($5) to try a few, then head outside on the deck overlooking Keuka Lake. Most popular – NY Pilsner, a light summer brew; Hometown Brown, best all around; and my personal favorite, DH (Toasted) Rice Pilsner.

TASTE/BOOZE: Krooked Tusker Distillery. This distillery’s got the hooch. And a great party vibe – with bartender concocting craft cocktails using freshly distilled QKA Kismet Vodka, Imbura Joe Vodka (infused with coffee), QKA Hooch, Hell Hound Hooch (smoked grains), and South Pultney Gin (teamed through 13 botanicals). It’s not your father’s wine-sipping crowd.

Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY

Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY

VISIT: Heron Hill Winery. Sip top Rieslings and twenty other wine varieties inside a vast wine barrel.  At least that’s what Heron Hill’s tasting room is built to look like. One of the most innovative buildings in the Finger Lakes designed by Charles Warren, the assemblage of architectural styles incorporates a barrel, a silo and other elements of the region.   Wine and Spirits Magazine June 2014 issue named Heron Hill Dry Riesling one of the Top 100 Value Wines of the Year (Under $15) – a bargain for this very flavorful drinkable white.

FLY: Finger Lakes Seaplanes. Take 30 a minute flight over Keuka Lake, or an hour flight to both Keuka and Seneca Lakes for the thrill and optimal aerial photography. Owner/pilots Bob Knill and Andy Sable will fly year round “as long as there’s no ice on the water.” Fall foliage, naturally, will be “huge.” 30 minutes $180 + tax for 3 adults, 1 hour $325 + tax for 3 adults. Daily 9am-7pm.

BOAT/JET SKI: Keuka Water Sports. The warmest of the three largest Finger Lakes, Keuka is usually calm and great for SUPing as well as boating. Rent jet skis, pontoon boats with slides, and other water craft at Keuka Water Sports.

Glenn Curtiss Museum: Cradle of Aviation, Hammondsport NY

Glenn Curtiss Museum: Cradle of Aviation, Hammondsport NY

VISIT: Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. Museum curators have managed to assemble 25 full-sized aircraft, a couple of dozen automobiles, a good number of boats and countless bicycles and motorcycles in a 57,000 sq. foot former wine warehouse. It’s a veritable Smithsonian of early flight and experimentation, concentrating on the life, time and accomplishments of Glenn H. Curtiss, born in Hammondsport.

Glenn Curtis Museum, Hammondsport NY

Glenn Curtis Museum, Hammondsport NY

The “Father of Naval Aviation” (Curtiss sold the Navy its first plane) began his career racing and building bicycles and lightweight-engine motorcycles. On July 4, 1908, Curtiss flew the first publically announced and witnessed flight (the Wright-Brothers’ puddle-jump was done privately) in his “heavier than air” aircraft, June Bug.

Glenn Curtiss photo from Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum, Hammondsport NY

Glenn Curtiss photo from Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum, Hammondsport NY

Curtiss palled around with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, was considered the “Fastest Man on Earth” in 1907 when he reached a speed of 136.4 miles per hour on his motorcycle in Orlando, FL, built the Hercules, Marvel and Curtiss Motorcycles which at the time outsold both Harley and Indian combined, and developed the town of Hialeah, FL in 1921. Curtiss died from appendicitis at age 52 and is buried in Hammondsport. Monday – Saturday  9 am to 5 pm Sundays 10 am to 5 pm in Winter open till 4pm.  $8.50 adults, $5.50 students.

Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

VISIT: Finger Lakes Boating Museum.  This freshly opened museum, housed in the former Taylor Winery, celebrates a Finger Lakes industry of yore. Before fine-winemakers, there were boat-builders – dozens of companies large and small situated all around the Finger Lakes. Penn Yan, Skaneateles (pronounced “skinny atlas”), Fay and Bowen, Thompson, Morehouse and many others produced beautiful wooden vessels that plied these long narrow bodies of water.

Make a Boat, Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

Take a Boat-Making Class at Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

If you are at all interested in running your eyes over gorgeously crafted boats, or taking a class on boat building, or are just curious about old abandoned winery buildings, you’ll appreciate this museum-in-process. On display are examples of iconic Finger Lakes boats: a Ben Reno Keuka Lake Trout Boat with sloped stern to prevent fishing line from snagging, motorboats in three configurations – inboard, outboard and a combination of the two, a 1905 double-ended rowboat that looks like a canoe, a 1990 Dan Sutherland, and a whole display of steamboat models representing the boats integral to the development of the Finger Lakes.

Boat Builders around the Finger Lakes NY

Boat Builders around the Finger Lakes NY

Wooden-boat restorers work on small craft in a room where visitors can also take boat-building workshops to learn the ins and outs of measuring, forming and finishing (in canvas and silica wrap) a small dinghy from experts like famed boat builder, Patrick Smith.  Check website for times and events.

Where to Eat on Keuka Lake

EAT: Pleasant Valley Inn, Hammondsport. Built in 1848 as a private house, the New Orleans-style inn features a cozy, but busy bar and pub room, in addition to a fine dining restaurant. So, you can take you pick to be as casual or fancy as you’d like. It’s all good here.The fancier dining room hasn’t changed much in 25 years – still with floral wallpaper, tapered candles (yes, real flames!), and a menu featuring traditional fare like Rack of Lamb ($38), Chicken Milan ($23), Hand-Cut Steaks ($28-$38), Baked Onion Soup ($10) and the like. In the hands of the magical Chef Drew Miller, who makes everything – even the mayonnaise – from scratch – these long-term favorites are enhanced by innovative sides, which elevate the meal to a true culinary adventure.

EAT: Union Block Italian Bistro, Hammondsport. This charming little Italian spot wins kudos from locals and seasonal visitors.

Freshest salad ever at Blue Heron Cafe, at Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY

Freshest salad ever at Blue Heron Cafe, at Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY

EAT: Blue Heron Cafe at Heron Hill. Amazingly fresh, lake views, great Rieslings, this little café is the bees-knees for an al fresco lunch with just picked from the ground salads.

Top of the Lake Penn Yan NY

Top of the Lake Restaurant ,Penn Yan NY

EAT: Top of the Lake, Penn Yan. At the northern end of the easternmost “Y,” this little nondescript spot puts you in perfect position for a serene, colorful sunset. You’ll watch water-skiers through lush hanging plants and gaze at marinas while dining on dishes like “Chicken French” egg-battered in sherry-lemon-butter sauce ($16), which comes with potato and salad for an amazing deal.

Where to Stay On Keuka Lake

STAY: Pleasant Valley Inn. For the money, and for its exceptional cuisine, there’s nothing better than the Pleasant Valley Inn. This Pepto-pink roadside tavern/inn is not situated on a lake or mountaintop. At the juncture of two busy streets several miles from the shores of Keuka Lake, it’s easy to whiz past on your way to the wineries. But that would be a big mistake. Such a mistake, the Mavens have deemed Pleasant Valley Inn a Maven Favorite, with a colorful and complete review HERE.

STAY: There are several dozen lodgings around Keuka Lake. Other recommendations include the eclectic Black Sheep Inn in Hammondsport,  Blushing Rose B&B, and Moonshadow B&B high on a hill.

Raystown Lake Region PA: Historic Huntingdon and Watersports Galore

WHY GO: Rimmed by mountains, the stunning Raystown Lake in Midwestern PA is 30 miles long with 118 miles of shoreline – nearly all of it managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. As the least developed, most pristine and dramatic of all the water bodies in the state, Raystown Lake is the only Pennsylvania State Recreation area where you can rent a houseboat to explore all “8,300 acres of fun.” But this region, which attracts a million visitors a year, mostly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, also includes the County Seat and Juniata College-town of Huntingdon, a humble burg that’s regaining its vibrancy by attracting artists with a low cost of living and access to gorgeous lakes and rivers (it was considered America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Magazine in 2009). Read on for the best things to do, best places to eat, and our recommendations for a terrific and historic overnight stay.

Things to Do in the Raystown Lake Region

VISIT: Isett Heritage Museum, Huntingdon. Plan two hours or more to see 40,000 objects on display, organized by era, at the surprisingly engaging Isett Heritage Museum. Referred to as the “Smithsonian of Huntingdon PA,” the Isett Museum is a tourist favorite nostalgia trip where part of the joy is getting there. On top of Stone Creek Ridge, 2 ½ miles from town, views while driving to this rather remote but incredible three-building collection of Americana, are unsurpassed. This is not your typical dusty arrangement of stuff: every display is spotless.

Founder Mel Isett is still very much involved at age 95. A prescient businessman, who started out “in TV” (he owned the region’s first tower – 100 ft tall), Isett brought Cable to this part of PA in 1960 (with 5 channels: he sold out to Adelphia in 1999). Over the years, Isett collected a progression of agricultural tools, electronics, machines, toys, kitchen and home appliances, utensils, complete rooms, and other memorabilia that are now arranged by historic era. The modest Isett started his life of hard work making milkshakes in Fouse’s Dairy. He was so nostalgic about his first job that when Fouse’s closed, he purchased most of its interior – now on display in the first building you’ll enter on a self-guided tour.

Among the artifacts in the three warehouse-sized exhibit spaces, you’ll find a letterpress with cases of typeface, underground wooden water pipes that once served as the local sewer system (some still remain), Abraham Megahan’s 1850’s Gunsmith Shop, complete Victorian Parlors (with fainting couches!), the Vincent R. Brown Photographic Collection of cameras and pictures (Brown worked for Kodak), a 1930’s Dentist office – which required the EPA to measure radiation in the equipment before it was installed in the museum – a mannequin used in the J.C. Blair School of Nursing, an interactive model train set with trolley and baseball game in process, old projector TV’s, and even a plastic doll with “Sticky Doll Disease” – the breakdown of Cellulose Acetate found in toys made in the 1930’s – 1950’s.

This well-tended and obviously well loved museum sparks memories in Baby Boomers and is a source of fascination for children as well. Open Mon-Sat 8-5, Sun 12-5, free, but donations to this worthwhile non-profit gratefully accepted.

TOUR: Lincoln Caverns. Discovered while building Route 22 in the 1930’s, this limestone cave system was once teeming with bats – a drawing card for visitors interested in those fascinating nocturnal flying rodents. But most of the bats have died off or left mysteriously, and that story, along with incredible formations and features, like massive flowstones, pure white calcite, sparkling crystals and of course stalagmites and stalactites, renders a visit here important as well as enjoyable. There are two caves to see: the original Lincoln Cavern and Whisper Rocks, which got its name from the spooky sound the wind makes as it blows over the cave’s airways.

Cavern owner, Ann Dunlavy, is a fount of knowledge about caves and caverns, determined to educate the public about their history and importance. To that end, she runs a multitude of programs for kids and adults, and of course daily I hour tours through two cave systems on property. Open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day 9-5 or 6, check website for other times of year. $16 for two cave tours.

VISIT: Raystown Lake Visitor’s Center. Raystown Lake is actually a Flood Control reservoir, created in 1973 by damming up the Juanita River for the second time (first in 1905). Managed by the Army Corp of Engineers, which oversees 8,300 acres of lake and 30,000 acres surrounding the Lake, Raystown differs from other regional lakes in that the water stays level as flood control for the area. The Visitor’s Center features worthwhile exhibits on hydro-power, the Dam’s history, geology, and archeology. Before flooding the lake by expanding the older dam, a Native American dwelling with the skeletal remains of a woman and child was found at a place called Sheep Rock. The site is now submerged under 85 feet of water, but the cliffs above are still imposing.

From mid-June to mid August, the Visitor’s Center hosts a Tuesday morning “Wake Up Reception” from 9:30-10:30 every week, with free cookies and refreshments (from Cassville Country Store) and information on attractions and events in the area. If you’re lucky, you might even meet Lincoln Cavern’s T-Rex!

VISIT: Swigart Antique Automobile Museum, Huntingdon. Antique car collector, William E. Swigart had his 15 minutes of fame after proffering the winning bid, against Jay Leno, on a 1936 Duesenberg Speedster. Leno complained on air that he had lost the sports car to a Pennsylvania “hick” – which was not quite fair to Swigart, an insurance agent with a penchant for suits and antique autos. His collection of 150 notable cars (35 of which are on display at any given time) includes the original Herbie the Love Bug, two Tuckers (the only auto museum in the world with two, one used in the movie starring Jeff Bridges: Tucker: The Man and His Dream), and an 1899 Winton. Open daily 9-5, $8.

DO: Hawn’s Overlook. You can best see Raystown Lake from up here – a favorite spot for selfies and photographers seeking the best lake vistas. In summer, you’ll witness an abundance of watercraft (no size or hp. restrictions), hidden coves and forested property that rings the lake.

DO: Hike the 80-Mile Standing Stone Trail. This moderate to strenuous 80 miles of ridge-top hiking includes the punishing 1,000 Steps – each stone marked by a number. Should you just wish to tackle the Thousand Steps – it’s a strenuous 3.5 miles up and back, and “equivalent to an hour workout on Stairmaster” according to AllTrails.com.

DO: Mountain Bike on Allegrippis Trail. Less technical than other trails, mountain bikers drive 8 hours just to cruise along this 36 mile single-track, fast and flowy roller coaster-like path, considered by Singletracks.com as one of the top 25 in the world.

BOAT/TOUR: 7 Points Marina. Owned by Pam Prosser and her family since 1975 (her parents owned the lake’s first marina in 1946, which had to relocate after the new dam was built in 1973), 7 Points is the largest marina in Pennsylvania, with 947 boats, most stored on easy to acess racks. Rent a Pontoon or Speed Boat for the day (or a Houseboat for a few nights – see below). Rates start at $600 for a weekend day for a Tritoon ’24 that can hold 12 people and comes with waterskis and tubes.

GO FISHING: Sparky Price – Trophy Guide Service. Raystown Lake is the Freshwater Striped Bass Capitol of the Northeast USA. A few years back, Sparky Price landed a 53 lb Striped Bass, and still holds the record PA Freshwater Lake catch. He obviously knows where to find the fish.

LOCAL OUTFITTERS: Rent canoes and kayaks at Arnold’s Marine, and on the southern end of the lake, find everything you need for the outdoorsman-woman at Saxton Outdoor Supply.

LAKE TOUR: Proud Mary Tour Boat out of Lake Raystown Resort, or The Princess out of 7 Points Marina.

WALKING TOUR: Huntingdon. Every Thursday from mid-June to mid-August – you can take a historic walking tour of the town that gave us the “Blair Tablet” – Mark Twain’s favorite writing paper. J.C. Blair, founded in the 1870’s, made notebooks with pages adhered together by wallpaper glue. By 1882, the tablets were so popular, they could be found in every state in the Union and internationally. The Blairs donated the land and funding for the local hospital that still bears their name today. Lately, artists have been moving here – from as far away as Arizona.

VISIT: Huntingdon County Historical Society. See a copy of the letter that Mark Twain sent to the J.C. Blair Company, singing the writing tablet’s praises, at this local History Museum, which also has an abundance of other important artifacts and documents.

PHOTO OP: Standing Stone, Huntingdon.  This tall thin rock in the center of town is a recreation of the Native American landmark for which this area was originally named. It was described by explorer John Harris as measuring 14’ tall and 8” square.

SHOP: Thompson’s Candle Company, Huntingdon. Twenty years ago, Angie Thompson started making “super scented” candles in her garage. Now these fragrant flickering beauties, some in the shape of frosted cakes, are sold all over the world. Based right in Huntingdon, Thompson’s can be found right behind the Gage Mansion B&B – also owned by the Thompson family.

SEE: The Playhouse @ McConnelstown. Now in its 35th year, this is regional theater at its best. See a revival, comedy, and music.

Where to Eat in Raystown Lake Region

EAT: Mimi’s Restaurant, Huntingdon. This delightful, art-filled restaurant is Huntingdon’s go-to for fine dining – and artisanal martini’s, with over 50 on the drink menu. Entrees, such as Chicken Milanese and Chicken Picatta ($22.95), Chesapeake Seafood Bake ($28.95), and Veal Oscar ($26.95) come with salad and sides and are toothsome, expertly prepared, and beautifully plated.

EAT: Stone Town Café and Gallery, Huntingdon. How about a bit of stained glass and ceramic whimsy with your afternoon crepes? This fun and innovative eatery-slash-art gallery, owned by glass artist, Deb Tumlin, and her life partner, Caroline Gillich, provides lots to look at, inside and out – in art galleries and a funky back yard that includes hammocks for chillin’. Order the Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepe ($6.95), a ½ Soup and ½ Crepe combo ($7.95), or fun snacks like Caprese on Pretzel Roll, while taking in the works of over sixty local artists or reveling in live music every week. When Tumlin and Gillrich took over this vacant building, they turned it into a real community; now encompassing  a frame shop, beauty salon, massage therapist, and a violin teacher’s studio.

EAT: Marina Café at Lake Raystown Resort, Entriken. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s fun to chow down on casual fare like Apple Peacan Salad ($11.95), the hearty Signature Boca Sandwich ($14.95) and more while overlooking private boats at dock at this resort and marina.

EAT: Locals recommend Top’s Diner for breakfast all day, and Boxer’s – a hit with the biking/kayaking crowd and a good place to carb up – both in Huntingdon.

Where to Stay in Raystown Lake Region

STAY: Gage Mansion B&B, Huntingdon. If you want to stay in Victorian-age grandeur, without the clutter and frou-frou that are hallmarks of the era, choose this beautifully restored brick and multi-colored trimmed Queen Ann Victorian right in downtown Huntingdon PA. A Maven Favorite – you can find a complete review HERERooms from $129-$209 (top floor “Billiard Suite,” sleeps 4, $300) per night includes hot gourmet breakfast, parking, wi-fi.

STAY: Rent a Houseboat from 7 Points Marina on Raystown Lake. According to those in the know, there is nothing better than sitting on the top deck hot tub in the middle of Raystown Lake on a moonlit night. “It is heaven on earth,” says one fan, who calls these vessels “beach houses on the water.” Take a kayak and/or bike on board and head out to paddle on the lake or pedal on the adjacent Alligrippis Bike Trail. Rates range from $895-$3,595 per session, depending on time of the week and size of boat. Rent 4 nights (Mon-Fri) or 3 nights (Fri-Mon) – the largest boat is 60 ft and can accommodate 10 people. Service is over the top – the marina sends a pilot to your houseboat to assist in docking.

STAY: Inn @ Solvang. Another luxury inn – this one like a Southern plantation – a bit out of town in tranquil surroundings.

STAY: Lake Raystown Resort, Entriken. A gated community and RVC Outdoors Resort, this lakeside resort offers beachfront bungalows, yurts, lodge rooms, and campground accommodations. Yurts, $75-$119, Lodge Rooms $85-$224.

CAMP OUT: Raystown Lake Campgrounds. There are 3,000 campsites for both tent and RV throughout the wilderness that rims Raystown Lake. Obviously very in demand in the summer. Ranges from $50-$85 per night in peak season.Raystown Lake PA Pin

Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake ME: 100 Years of Lake Cottage Traditions

By day’s end, the Sebago Lake (ME) chorus reaches its crescendo – repetitive loon calls, frogs that trill like never-ending car alarms, murmurs of mothers and fathers putting their kids to sleep in nearby cottages – all merging into one great Migis Lodge reverie. It’s a symphony that singles, couples, and families have been listening to at this upscale but down to earth Maine resort for 100 years.

Though there are other ways to access Sebago Lake – camping at Sebago Lake State Park, renting a condo at Sebago Point, staying at non-lakefront hotels on main roads – Migis Lodge is a self-contained summer camp, mostly for a highbrow clientele, but also for those who’ve saved up to splurge, with everything you need right on the grounds. The restaurant is the finest in the area (three meals a day included), and there are many ways to get in or out on the water, from the swimming platform, sandy beaches, canoes, kayaks, sup’s, sail, and motor boats.

Legend has it that Migis is Native American for “A place to steal away,” and though that might not be completely fact checked, the translation certainly fits. People have called this place “magical” – which is the real reason guests come every year, generation after generation.

First Impression of Migis Lodge

Driving in, my first sense of Migis harked back to my days at sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks, with dirt roads and rustic cottages peppered throughout the woods.

That initial impression – of moldy towels and hard bunk beds – was quickly dispelled at first view of the country-posh reception area in the Main Lodge with its view of the pristine lake, and the incredibly personable, anticipatory Migis staff and family, which includes, happily, a tropical bird.

If owners Tim and Joan Porta are around, you’ll meet their African Grey Parrot, “Deets,” who apparently has a vast vocabulary but was mute on the day I arrived.

The main lodge features couches in front of a roaring fireplace (all summer long!), reception, the dining room with outside deck, and upstairs, several guest rooms. As I checked in near the dinner hour, I saw men and boys, dressed in jackets for dinner (required), appearing as if they’d just walked off a Ralph Lauren shoot.

Rooms and Cottages at Migis Lodge

Cottages are upscale-country, with great internet service, lots of outlets, travertine marble tiled bath and showers, and cathedral ceilings.

Daybreak, a one bedroom cottage overlooking the resort’s sole sweat-lodge – aka a dry sauna hut heated by firewood, its little chimney pumping out smoke – also has a living room with fireplace and porch with views out to the lake.

All cottages and houses have been refreshed, some with renovated bathrooms, and are kept up and furnished as befits first-class lodging.

Dining at Migis Lodge

Three meals a day are included in the cost of a stay. Breakfast and lunch are informal affairs, but Migis has kept up its dress-for-dinner tradition. Men must wear jackets – and for women, resort casual dress applies. Seasonal wait-staff, like the genuinely friendly Anna Bolduck, are unpretentious as can be, and make sure that everything goes well, and is to your liking.

Each 5-course dinner includes a starter, salad, soup, main dish with side, and dessert, which you choose from a menu that changes often. On the menu the night I dined were old-fashioned favorites like Pan Seared Cod Loin, Veal Oscar, and Baked Lobster Thermidor. But chefs are adept at catering to a variety of dietary needs – so vegans will find several options, like the Vegetable Pad Thai, as well.  I could have slurped down several bowls of Wild Mushroom Ginger Soup, a sweet and hot consommé loaded with chunks of al dente mushrooms. A groaning dessert table, presided over by two young pastry chefs, featured Migis Lodge’s signature chocolate chip cookies and almond brittle, among other delectable desserts. This is not the place to start (or even adhere to) your diet.

Migis serves most meals in the dining room, but does have its annual traditions. Wednesday Lunch is “Island Cookout Day” – when guests are taken to Migis Island for a swim and meal. Every Friday Evening, it’s the popular Lobster Bake. Saturday night is Buffet Night, and Sunday morning brings Breakfast Cookout at the Point.

Amenities at Migis Lodge

Explore Lake Sebago via kayak, rowboat, SUP, or canoe (complimentary use), or motorboat (nominal fee). You can spend a whole day on the 5 mile by 7 mile lake (43 miles of shoreline!) paddling, rowing or motoring to Eagle Island (protected, with lots of Bald Eagles), Frye Island (where locals used to jump off the cliff at “Frye’s Leap” – no longer allowed), or spend most of the day cruising from Sebago to Long Lake via the Songo River and it’s one ancient lock.

It’s a bucolic ride to the lock and its adjacent hand-cranked swing bridge– either by car (very fast) or boat. If Migis takes you back to a simpler time, this bridge and lock experience will cement you there. (Songo Locks are open May 1-June 15, and Labor Day to Oct 15 8am-4:30pm, and June 15-Labor Day 8am-7:30pm.

Weekly activities are part of the fun here, and are included in the nightly room/cottage rate. There’s a Migis Cocktail Party on Mondays (complimentary cocktails), A Lake Cruise on Tuesday and Thursday, Bingo on Wednesday Night (with great prizes!), and Karaoke after Friday’s Lobster Bake.

Besides the above, Migis offers water-ski and wakeboard instruction three times a day, and fishing poles for those so inclined to drop a line.

There are several tennis courts and a 9-hole Disc Golf Course with equipment loaned for free.

The open-air Fitness Center has the most updated machines.

And the supervised children’s programs keep little ones busy, with hands-on activities like tie-dying and crafting.

Just the Facts

Rates range from $334-$434 per person per night in summer and $204-$296 from after Labor Day to mid-October (depending on accommodation), and includes three meals a day, complimentary use of non-motorized watercraft, children’s programs, fitness center, Waterskiing and Wakeboarding group instruction. Though open seasonally from Father’s Day weekend in June until Columbus Day Weekend in October, high season is July and August. To avoid crowds, the best time to come is in mid June or September, when the weather is still warm enough to swim – or at least take advantage of the lake. Just be warned: Migis takes check or cash only for payment. No credit cards.

Interlaken Inn, Lakeville CT: Pastoral Connecticut Lakes

The Interlaken Inn in Lakeville CT (not to be confused with the one in Lake Placid NY) has hosted parents and friends of next-door Hotchkiss School, along with newlyweds and other romantics, for decades. With a relatively new celebrated “Lobster chef” (as of December ’15) at in-house Morgan’s Restaurant, the Interlaken is drawing foodies and travelers seeking rural rustic-luxe peace and quiet as well.

With expansive property encompassing the Main building (40 rooms and suites of various sizes), several cottages, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a separate waterfront beach and dock on Lakeville Lake (aka Lake Wononscopomuc), some guests don’t even leave the compound once settled in. (If you do decide to venture forth – here are Getaway Mavens ideas for exploring the area.)

First Impressions of Interlaken Inn CT

From the driveway, the Interlaken Inn looks less like the upscale hotel it is than a 50’s ski lodge, with it’s weathered grey siding and modernist design.

Not to fear. Walk inside and you’ll find a warm greeting and several striking landscape paintings – often the first thing visitors comment on when checking in.

Rooms and Suites at Interlaken Inn CT

Most rooms have been renovated, or at least updated and refreshed with soft and comfy new bedding and furniture.

But in the Paul Newman Suite at least, both the bathroom, and screened-in-porch with pool and landscape views, are the stars of the show.

Though small, the beautifully designed bathroom, with iridescent glass backsplash, bead-glass sconces, granite sink-top, and sizeable glass/subway tile walk-in shower is a funky-cool departure from and nice counterpoint to the earth-toned bedroom.

Why a Paul Newman Suite? Until his death in 2008, the Hollywood star lived in Connecticut, and came to Lakeville often to race his cars at Lime Rock Racetrack, just 4 miles from the Interlaken Hotel. The Suite, in homage to him, features several photos and paintings of the philanthropic and well-liked celebrity.

Honeymooners – and brides preparing for an on-site wedding – prefer to stay in the contemporary Penthouse Suite, with its own entrance and enclosed hot-tub deck.

The Penthouse bathroom, with soaking tub inside a massive mosaic-tiled shower, is in a luxury class all itself.

Travelers looking for even more privacy should check out the Lakeside Cottage – with small beach, fire-pit, dock with loaner canoe, screened in porch, King Bedroom and pull out-couch in the living room.

Dining at Interlaken Hotel/Morgan’s

In 2001, Morgan’s chef John Welch was named “Lobster Chef of the Year” in the State of Maine. Given that there are probably thousands of great lobster chefs in Maine, that’s very high praise, indeed, and indicative of the expertise that Welch, who went on to cook in 4 and 5 star hotels and restaurants around the country, brings to Morgan’s at the Interlaken Inn. Rather than merely a hotel restaurant, Morgan’s is a great restaurant that happens to be located in a hotel. Welch sources his ingredients from his own on-site garden as well as local farms, ranches, creameries, distilleries, and tea-makers, which are identified on a menu that changes seasonally. To say that everything that appears, artistically, on each plate is “fresh” is an understatement. Take the Baby Iceberg Salad ($13), with Applewood Smoked Bacon, yellow tomatoes and Great Hill Blue Buttermilk dressing: minimally dressed, its just-from-the-garden essence is a knockout first course. Morgan’s menu also features a whole Vegan section – so your favorite plant-based eater will not be disappointed.

Amenities at Interlaken Inn

Complimentary Breakfast with Omelet Chef Johnny Carlson

Ellora Spa with Workout Room

Tennis Courts

Outdoor Heated Swimming Pool (Memorial Day to Mid-Sept)

Canoes, Kayaks and Floating Rafts on Lake Wononscopomuc

Just the Facts

Rooms from $249, Suites and Cottages from $649 per night plus tax (Penthouse Suite $709) include fresh custom omelet breakfast, wi-fi, use of kayaks, canoes, parking.

The Northwest CT Border: Lakes and Racetracks

Twin Lake CT Boathouse

WHY GO: Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, Daniel Day Lewis and Oliver Platt all have homes in these parts. Paul Newman was a frequent visitor – mainly to race his cars at Lime Rock Park. In California or New York, A-List stars are hassled and harried. Not here. So it’s no surprise that even stressed out New York Paleface Names come up to the extreme Northwest section of Connecticut to hide out. Most of the area’s attractions revolve around its many lakes, though the Racetrack remains its main draw.

Come up and we’ll introduce you to the places we love to paddle, shop, race cars (well, dream of racing), and eat, along with a couple of renovated inns worthy of the Getaway Mavens traveler.

What to Do in Northwest CT Border Towns

BOAT: O’Hara’s Landing Marina, Twin Lakes, Salisbury. Fish, canoe, kayak or just cruise around the larger of the “Twin Lakes” (562.3 acres), then come back for a quick meal in O’Hara’s restaurant. It’s a small town, small lake marina and particularly mesmerizing at dawn and dusk. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, $20/day, 14 ft. rowboat with motor $65, pontoon Boats for 8 – $295 per day. Consult website or call 860-824-7583 for reservations and for other rental rates and hours. Between the Lakes Rd. Salisbury CT

DRIVE: Between the Lakes Rd., Salisbury. On your way to downtown Salisbury CT, from O’Hara’s, take the self-explanatory Between the Lakes Rd. – a dirt road that cuts through East and West Twin Lakes. You might see herons standing stately on docks, lily pads in bloom, and views shaped by green hills and pristine lakes.

RECREATE: Salisbury Town Grove, Lakeville. The only place to launch a boat (10HP or less) into the fish-rich Lake Wononscopomuc is at Town Grove Park in the Lakeville section of Salisbury. A public park ($10 use fee, $10 launch fee), Town Grove also has a small beach with lifeguard, a small store, and a fishing pond for kids. Open 7am-8pm daily, $10 per person. $10 to launch trailer boat. 

VISIT: Salisbury Association Historic Museum, Salisbury. Illuminating the town’s obscure history as an iron mining and manufacturing center that supplied cannons and munitions to George Washington’s army during the American Revolution, the tiny Salisbury Association Museum is located inside the 1833 Salisbury Academy Building, built of handmade brick and beautifully maintained. Open 9-1 Mon-Fri., free.

SHOP: Passports, Salisbury. Find a great selection of reasonably priced home accessories, gifts and clothing cultivated from the owner’s world travels

SHOP: Salisbury General Store and Pharmacy, Salisbury.  The Salisbury Pharmacy has a whiff of old-fashioned Florida souvenir shop (minus the coconut monkeys) meets 1800’s apothecary about it, with “period” children’s toys, sundries, and a real old-fashioned hometown pharmacist that you hardly see anymore.

Lime Rock Park CT

GO: Lime Rock Park Racetrack, Lime Rock. Catch a car race or special event at what was Paul Newman’s “home away from home”, Lime Rock Park. He last raced on this 1.53-mile course at age 82, a year before he died, and there are still swashbucklers that age taking the wheel of high performance cars here. Various prestige car clubs (e.g. Porsche) rent the track for a few days for “Driver’s Ed”, and of course Lime Rock hosts important races. But the vibe is friendly, inclusive and welcoming – especially towards drive-by tourists who hear the roar of the engines and just want to gawk for a while. Unless there’s a mega race going on (tickets required), you can enter for free. And if you have the guts, sign up with the Lime Rock Drivers Club, and enjoy four hours of track time with a coach as co-pilot, in your own car for “your own personal track day.”  $1,250 weekday, or $1,450 Saturdays. Track open various times during the season – check website for details.

WALK: Industrial Walking Trail, Falls Village center of town. This quarter mile trail that takes in a hydro-electric power plant and foaming waterfalls tells the story of this industrial center with pictures and signage. It also happens to be the entrance to the Appalachian Trail, with an 8 mile hike (16 round trip) back and forth to get to Rand’s View, called the “Jewel of Connecticut” by AT through hikers.

Dennis Hill SP, Norfolk CT

DRIVE/PICNIC: Dennis Hill State Park, Norfolk. Drive to the top of the hill for sweeping vistas of the Berkshires, New York’s Hudson Valley, and northern CT. There’s a covered pavilion with picnic tables – so enjoy some local wine and cheese with the view. Open daily 8-sunset.

Infinity Hall, Norfolk CT

MUSIC/ROCK. Infinity Hall, Norfolk. This fully restored 1883 theater – complete with highly regarded Bistro –  hosts world famous rock, folk and jazz bands on a regular basis, and sits right across the road from….

MUSIC/CLASSICAL: Yale School of Music Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Norfolk. Listen to some of the best orchestral music in the hills of CT during the summer.

Beckley Furnace, CT

VISIT: Beckley Furnace Industrial Monument, Canaan. Though not usually identified with heavy industry, this section of Connecticut was once so rich in iron ore, it must have glowed from the light of dozens of iron furnace fires. One of the last of these furnaces to operate in the USA (from 1847-1919) is now a marvelous State Park with interpretive signs. This particular furnace produced the ingots used to make the wheels of newfangled railroad cars in the mid-1800’s. My favorite quirky remnant; a “salamander” – a multi-ton chunk of melted iron formed through leaks in the masonry.

CowPots from CT

SHOP: Freund’s Farm Market, East Canaan. Buy plants, baked good, produce, preserves, cheese and lots of ancillary products at this farm-side market. On its surface, it may look quaint, but the adjacent Freund’s Farm is the first dairy farm in Connecticut to incorporate “Robotic Milkers” to milk its 300 cows. Freund’s is a multi-generational family farm with focus on sustainability and ingenuity. Thus inspired, the Freunds created the best-selling bio-degradable manure-based seed-starter, CowPots ©.

Where to Eat in Northwest CT Border Towns

EAT: Morgan’s at the Interlaken Inn, Lakeville.  Morgan’s excels in farm-to-table cuisine, winning raves from both tourists and locals. Though located inside a hotel, Morgan’s is a destination restaurant in its own right, with fresh from field, ranch, stream, and sea ingredients and a relatively new chefs, James and Daire Rooney Corcoran.

 

COFFEE/BREAKFAST: Sweet Williams Coffee Shop and Bakery & Dessert and Scoop Shop, Salisbury. First thing in the morning, locals, second home owners, and tourists gather at Sweet Williams for warm, ethereal, just out of the oven Ginger Apricot scones, croissants, and cookies, and deeply flavored coffee and freshly squeezed lemonade. Next door, the Ice Cream Shop doles out Bette Midler’s favorite brand of frozen sweet stuff –  Kingston NY based Jane’s Ice Cream, seemingly made of 1000% butterfat.

Falls Village Inn Restaurant CT

EAT: Falls Village Inn Restaurant. Dine in either the restaurant or more casual Tap Room. Locals love it for consistently good food. I adored it for the quick and friendly service, decent house wines by the glass, reasonable prices, fresh “from down the street” produce and meats, and the fact that my comfy, cute room was right upstairs (see below). Dishes range from Fried Oysters ($13), Shrimp Satay ($13), Fish and Chips ($18), Steak ($28), Chicken Francaise ($24), and “The Whip” – a grass-fed beef burger from Whippoorwill Farm “just down the street.”

Mountainside Cafe, Falls Village CT

EAT/BREAKFAST: Mountainside Café. Right on Route 7, this new restaurant is starting to gain attention for its fresh cuisine in a modern-country space. Basic breakfasts (eggs, toast, home-fries, bacon – $8) are delish, served on handcrafted inlayed wood tables. Even better, Mountainside café is affiliated with the Mountainside Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment Center, providing extended stay clients with a supportive work environment. Service is friendly, and the chef, Charles Dietrich, knows his stuff. Eating here is a win-win for all.

The Woodland Restaurant CT

EAT: The Woodland, LakevilleThirty years ago, this place was a shake shack (no, not that one), but eventually became the local hangout it is today. Trendy places might come and go, but “everyone ends up here,” says one patron who lives nearby. The chef does wonders with a range of food. Munch on specials like the Caprese Salad on Baguette ($16), Sushi ($18) or burgers always on the menu. It was packed on a mid-summer Tuesday and the busy bartender stated that it’s “like this year round.”

Where to Stay in Northwest CT

STAY: Interlaken Inn, Lakeville. A $5 million renovation has put this resort back on the “stay” list. A Maven Favorite, you can find the complete write up HERE. From $249 plus tax per night.

Falls Village Inn CT

STAY: Falls Village Inn, Falls Village. When gutting a disintegrating flop house and revamping it into a stylish inn, it pays to be friends with a renowned New York City Interior Designer – in this case, Bunny Williams, queen of cozy-comfy chic. The NY Times wrote of a typical William’s interior – it’s “a place to put your feet up and your drink down.” This is precisely how you’ll feel at this newly renovated boutique inn just a few miles from Lime Rock Racetrack.

Falls Village Inn Tap Room

Across from a package store and Jacobs Garage, Falls Village Inn has delivered a bit of elegance and outside interest to this quiet hamlet. The restaurant is a draw in itself, but rooms are lovingly and beautifully redone with wainscoting, colorful art, fine antiques, soothing pastel colored walls and soft luxe bedding. It’s Ralph Lauren Country with a lighter, more feminine hand. Each room is a perfect retreat after a meal downstairs – and an excellent base for those heading to Lime Rock Park or learning to race at the Skip Barber Racing School. FYI- this is not a “B&B” – no breakfast is served in the morning. But you are directed to the Mountainside Cafe – just a mile plus down Route 7.  Rooms $239, 2-room suites (king and day bed) $299 year round.Northwest CT Pin

Lake Taghkanic Gold

Lake Taghkanic - New York State ParkIn early autumn, New York State Park Lake Taghkanic is awash in gold. Located in the Hudson Valley Region, the park can be accessed right off scenic Taconic State Parkway at one mile south of the Hudson exit. Over 1500 acres, the park provides seasonal boat rentals and year round hiking, biking, cross-country ski and snowmobile trails.

In addition to tent and trailer campsites, there are cabin camping facilities, as well as a few vacation rental cottages.

Plan a Getaway, Maven Style:

Image Details:

Camera NIKON D810
Focal Length 24 mm
ISO 64
Aperture f/5
Exposure Time 1/640

New Hampshire Lakes Region: Best of Squam and Winnipesaukee Lakes

WHY GO: Deep lakes bounded by mountains, the New Hampshire Lakes Region is an exquisite breath of fresh air for city folk. It can be a bit touristy, but only if you stay on the larger and more crowded Lake Winnipesaukee. For this Getaway, you’ll find that you can access attractions in towns surrounding Winnipesaukee, while staying near the relatively tranquil Squam Lake.

squam lake boat tours

Squam Lake is so serene and restorative in fact, it was chosen as the location for the filming of On Golden Pond in 1980. The following are inns, restaurants and things to do that will blow you, gently, away.

Things to Do Around the NH Lakes

Shaker Box, Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

TOUR: Canterbury Shaker Village. About 20 miles from Lake Winnipesaukee, you’ll find this fascinating vestige of a not-quite dead yet religious way of life. These 17 buildings are all that is left of the vibrant community that once thrived here. Read more about this religious sect in depth here. Plan to spend at least 3 hours, and if you can, take the 75 minute Canterbury Story Tour. Open daily mid-May-mid- October 10-5, $17 adults, $8 children.
Tilton Arch, Northfield NH

STOP: Tilton Memorial Arch, Northfield. This is just one of those very weird way-off-the-roadside attractions that has to be seen to be believed. Charles Tilton was in awe of the Arch of Titus while visiting Rome in 1881 and returned to his New Hampshire home with plans to replicate it. Standing 55 feet high on a hilltop above Northfield NH, the arch is surrounded by manicured lawns and picnic tables. It shares a driveway with a nursing home, but yes, you are in the right place.

squam lake nature science center

TOUR: Squam Lake Natural Science Center, Holderness. Opened in 1966 and updated to modern expectations, this exceptionally well-designed nature center keeps energetic kids and jaded adults happily engaged for hours.

Bobcats, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center

A rescue center for orphaned or injured animals native-to-New Hampshire (including a River Otter saved from the Gulf Oil spill), take your time on a ¾ mile outdoor trail to see owls, falcons, beavers, coyotes, grey and red fox, bobcats, mountain lions and other creatures happy to be alive. There’s plenty of signage to educate kids and adults, a fantastic garden and craft center at Kirkwood Gardens, and a sprawling “Predator/Pray” shoots and ladders-like playscape to rival the Children’s section of the Bronx Zoo. $17, May through Nov, daily 9:30-4:30 (last entry at 3:30).

Squam Lake Cruise

TOUR: Squam Lake Boat Tours, Holderness. This 1 ½ hour boat tour could be called “Finding Loons Tour,” or “Behind the Scenes in the Filming of On Golden Pond Tour,” because you will learn about and see all these things. Captain and tour-guide, Tom, pilots this 12-person boat from “Little Squam” under the bridge to the larger Squam Lake. The first scene of the movie was filmed at the marina office, dressed up like a General Store. “Katherine Hepburn goes into the store, and 80 year old Henry Fonda guns the Chris Craft that someone else was supposed to be driving, and misses the boathouse by inches,” Tom explains. “He only lived six weeks beyond the filming of the movie. So some of his sadness and unsteadiness on film might not have been acting.”

Under bridge, Squam Lake Tour

Squam was originally called Asquam – “Beautiful Water” – and its waters are nearly pure enough to drink. Only six by 6 ½ miles, the lake is tiny compared to Lake Winnipesaukee a few miles away, but is the more tranquil for sure. If you come in late spring or summer, you’ll almost always see Loon chicks “practicing” diving and swimming so they can be ready for the November Migration. You’ll also hear tales about Church Island – a boys camp in the 1870’s turned into a still-operating Church where as many as 200 people paddle and motor to services each Sunday – and the rustic Rockywold Campground at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain. Set right on the water, it makes the modest accommodations look mighty appealing. $25, Mid May – June daily 1pm, July-mid October daily 11, 1, 3.

Rattlesnake Trail, Squam Lake NH

HIKE: West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, Holderness. This two mile round trip hike is a must-do – for the views of Squam Lake and Winnipesaukee in the distance alone. Wear sturdy shoes or boots – you’ll be heading uphill for a mile on both stairs and a rocky, rooty path.

Squam Lake from Rattlesnake Trail, Holderness NH

Climb to a large flat rock. Go past it up to another set of stairs, and there you’ll find a very wide boulder outcropping for the stunning payoff view. It’s the perfect place for selfies and us-ies and to rest before the quick skip down. Find the trailhead 5.5 miles from Holderness on Rt. 113.

Wheelhouse, MS Mount Washington NH

CRUISE: M/S Mount Washington on Lake Winnipesaukee, Meredith or Weirs Beach. Like the Circle Line Tour of Manhattan, the M/S Mount Washington has been a tourist attraction for decades (actually since 1872 – this boat since 1940), and one that every new visitor must do at least once. At 230 feet with a passenger capacity of about 1,250 (550 for dinner cruises), the ship plies the 21-mile long Lake Winnipesaukee multiple times a day in season. My favorite is the sunset dinner cruise – “dinner” being a buffet with typical uninspired but decent buffet food – usually accompanied by live music.

Sunset Cruise, MS Mt. Washington

There are plenty of places to wander on several levels, both inside and out – the cash bar being one of the most popular stops; all while capable, professional Captains, like Fleet Captain Leo O’Connell and Captain Bob Duffy are hard at work in the wheelhouse. Sunsets on the lake are stunning, viewed best from the deck. You might even see lights from island homes flashing on and off, a traditional “hello” to the Captains at the wheel, who flash their own lights back. Sails mid-May – mid Oct. Day cruise, $30 for adults, $15 kids, under 5 free. Evening $48–$54.

The Old Country Store, Moltonborough NH

VISIT/SHOP: The Old Country Store, Moultonborough. Opened in 1781, this labyrinth of a store sells everything from Cat Lady Action Figures to S’mores kits to Yankee Candles, Family Crest mugs (a whole wall of them – and yes, Cohen is represented!), and so much more.  There’s “penny candy” for 3 cents each (?), sarsaparilla and other long-forgotten must-haves. You can spend hours there, just don’t miss the dusty museum upstairs with wooden Indians, and signage from centuries past. A plaque near the register says “cash only,” but according to the cashier, “we do cards.”

Loon Center, Moltonborough NH

VISIT: The Loon Center, Moultonborough.   Loons are birds designed by Escher; striped and polka-dotted black and white with deep red eyes,  they seem more art than animal, and that seems to be part of their appeal. The original “helicopter parents,” Loons carry chicks on their backs and communicate in a complicated series of fluted cries. But these beautiful birds are endangered in New Hampshire, and this small Audubon affiliate Visitors Center explains what we can do to reverse that trend. Watch a well-produced video, which explains how loons feed by sight (pollution curtails their ability to find food), and must nest on shore even though their strong bodies are ultra-cumbersome on land. (The video of a mother loon attempting to haul herself out of the water is painful to watch). The loon population is declining due to increased recreation and pollution – and a proliferation of lead-based tackle. So, the Loon Center offers loon-safe non-lead fishing tackle for free. Open May 1-Jan 1st, Mon – Sat. 9-5 (Sundays May-Columbus Day). Free.

overview, castle in the clouds, nh

VISIT: Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough. This is one of those attractions that entertain you coming and going. Enter through a gate at the base of a mountain, pay $16, and wind your way up the hill, first to a waterfall, a lake overview, and then finally, to the Restaurant and Gift Shop from which you’ll take a trolley to the actual “Lucknow Castle.”

Celebrating the view from Castle in the Clouds, NH

Thomas G. Plant went from rags to riches in the shoe biz. He made manufactured women’s shoes, married a wealthy heiress, and by many accounts was a benevolent employer, offering childcare, parks and a gym for his employees. In 1910 after marrying a second time, he discovered 6,300 pristine acres in New Hampshire, and built this 16-room mountaintop Arts and Crafts style home. Plant spent lots of money, and made many investments, both good and bad. But it was his multimillion-dollar investment in Russian bonds right before the Bolshevik Revolution that sunk his own fortune, and he never quite recovered.

Secret Room, Castle in the Clouds, NH

Though the Castle has been open to the public since 1956, it was taken over by the Castle Preservation Society in 2006 with a mission to return the home to its original glory. Sure, there’s kitsch and tourist traps aplenty, but anyone interested in Arts and Crafts and forward-thinking architecture will find it a place of serious beauty. There’s a Tiffany glass skylight, decorative wood flooring, rubber tile kitchen floor and even outlets for a central vac system. FYI – don’t miss the “Secret Room” in the lovely living room – a tiny cubby where Robert would hide out. Mid May to mid June, Weekends, Mid June – mid October, Daily 10-5:30, $16 per person

Libby Museum, Wolfboro, NH

VISIT: Libby Museum, 3.2 miles from Wolfeboro. If the Getaway Mavens had a Poster Museum, it would be the Libby. Surprisingly, most people who visit the area, and even people who live here, don’t know about it. A few miles from Wolfeboro on busy Rt 109, you can’t miss this large pale yellow Natural History Museum, built by dentist/artist Dr. Henry Forrest Libby in 1912 to showcase what has to be one of the strangest, most eclectic collections of oddities I’ve ever seen. Libby, a poor farmer and artist, became wealthy after attending Harvard Dental School. He believed that art and artifacts should “appeal to the imagination and from imagination to curious investigation,” and in that vein collected skeletons, taxidermied animals, and thousands of items for his “tables of curiosities.”

Mummy Hands, Libby Museum, Wolfeboro NH

In its early years, the Libby Museum drew thousands of visitors (among them, a Lizzie Borden, who signed the guest book) to see an 11.2 ft alligator caught in Florida (dead, of course), a real “Cootie” bug sent from the trenches of WW1, a long Chinese fingernail, lace from Napoleon’s wife’s dress, a mastodon tooth, and eek, two severed mummy’s hands. This place is worth a walk-through (though you’ll probably stay longer than you first anticipated) even on a sunny day. Open June-Labor Day 10-4, Sun. 12-4, $2, 12 and under free.

Wright Museum, Wolfboro NH

VISIT: Wright Museum of WWII.  Wolfeboro. What were the folks on the “Home Front” doing while our soldiers were off to war during WWII?  This excellent museum – jam packed with artifacts from 1939-1945 – tells the story. It was a time when our country rallied together “for the war effort.” Women went to work in the factories (symbolized by “Rosie the Riveter”), families grew “victory gardens” to offset the need for food that was rationed out, and people sat around radios listening to the latest of FDR’s Fireside Chats.

Women at Work WWII Wright Museum NH

Walk through the “Time Tunnel” that takes you through those years, and you’ll see, year by year, the costs of basic items like homes, cars, gas and milk, cultural icons and headlines of the day. Jazz and Pop Music, The Wizzard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, Roosevelt’s 4-Freedom’s speech, D-Day – all played a part in our collective memory.

Restored Tanks, Wright Museum NH

One room is devoted to  tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles, lovingly restored to their original condition – a favorite of veterans of that war. Open May 1 November 15, Monday – Saturday, 10am-4pm Sunday, Noon-4pm $10.

League of NH Craftsmen, Sandwich NH

VISIT/SHOP: League of NH Craftsmen, Center Sandwich. Though there are 8 other League galleries around New Hampshire, this was the first. By the 1920’s factories had rendered small-town craftsmen – shoemakers, furniture makers, toy-makers – obsolete, but tourism in the area was booming. Summer residents, Jay and Mary Coolidge, realized that these out of work artisans made the one-of-a-kind baskets, toys, tables, and rugs that tourists would eagerly snap up. They formed the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen in 1932 and built this shop in 1936. You’ll learn a bit of down-home history while perusing the best of the current crop of 800 craft artisans in this tiny quintessential New England town. In season, the center also offers free craft demonstrations. Open mid May to Mid Oct. Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5.

Where to Eat and Drink in NH Lakes Region

EAT: Van Horn Dining Room at Manor on Golden Pond. (see below)
Tuna Tartar, Inn Kitchen, Holderness NH

EAT: Inn Kitchen & Bar at the Inn at Squam Lake. It’s quite surprising to discover a trendy, locavore tavern in back of an 1800’s farmhouse, but Inn Kitchen and Bar is one of the hottest “foodie” destination in the NH Lakes region. All servers are knowledgeable and passionate about what comes out of the kitchen. Sporting very casual t-shirts and shorts, they recite specials with intricate knowledge about sourcing, prep and ingredients. The New Hampshire-shaped cheeseboard ($20, for two) comes festooned with three pairings of cheese “and its perfect accompaniment” e.g. roasted garlic, caramelized figs. The phenomenal Tuna Tartar, arriving in a martini glass, tastes as if it were caught, filleted and assembled just minutes ago. As with most field and stream to table cuisine, the menu changes often, but I hope Inn Kitchen keeps its ultra popular Ice Cream Cookies on the list. Freshly made ice-cream squished between two large artisanal discs of delight, you’ll need plenty of willpower to leave the second half to your companions.
squam brewing

DRINK: Squam Brewing. OK – so this is not a place. But how can I resist bringing your attention to a popular selection of beers made in the brewmaster’s parent’s garage? Yep, 35-year-old John Glidden, formerly an environmental engineer, left the “Cube Farm” to make and sell 13 types of beer out of the stereotypic entrepreneurial start-up office. You can’t visit it, but you can enjoy his No Wake Wheat, Loon Imperial Stout, Ice Harvest Porter and the eminently drinkable (this I can attest to) Asquam Amber Ale at many restaurants around New Hampshire (or buy bottles from 25 retail stores). The beautiful labels are watercolors done by Glidden’s mother in law. A true family operation.

Where to Stay in NH Lakes Region

Manor on Golden Pond Parlor, NH

STAY: Manor on Golden Pond. Owners Brian and Mary Ellen Shields greet guests warmly as they arrive to this lovely inn atop a hill overlooking Squam Lake. See the complete Getaway Mavens review of this wonderful inn here.

Inn Kitchen and Bar, Holderness NH

STAY: Squam Lake Inn. Down the hill from “the Manor” – you’ll find this adorable yellow 1800’s farmhouse. Rooms have been updated, and that goes for the very hipster restaurant, Inn Kitchen, right on site (see Where to Eat). Rooms from $229 includes breakfast and afternoon tea.

Lake George NY: From Kitschy to Fine, It’s All Good

WHY GO: The lake. The Adirondacks. Camping on exquisite islands. From the more touristy, kitschy, Southern end of Lake George – Lake George Village itself – to the island-rich mid-lake Bolton Landing, the 32 mile long clear, clean, gorgeous Lake George has been drawing visitors and heat-weary city folk for over a hundred years. You can go as rustic as a tent pitched on one of a few hundred small islands, or as grand as the venerable Sagamore Resort. Either way, a few days on Lake George is a beautiful thing.

Things to Do Around Lake George

Ron Miller at your Service, Love is On Lake George Tours

TOUR: Love Is On Lake George Boat Tours. Tool around the island-studded midsection of Lake George on a 26 ft. burnished-wood Lyman with Ron and Kathy Miller. You can arrange to be picked up almost anywhere on the lake, and Ron will custom design a route specifically for your party (up to 6 people). I took a one-hour sunset cruise on a stunningly beautiful and warm May afternoon, as Ron and his wife Kathy (who owns a custom-Lake-George-gift company called Love Is on Lake George) pointed out landmarks.

Southern Lake George NY

The 32 mile long Lake George, a narrow basin of almost unimaginably crystal-clear water, can be divided into three sections. The northernmost region, the Ticonderoga area, is most rustic, with not much development except for the age-old Silver Bay YMCA Conference and Spiritual Center. The Southern tip of Lake George, encompassing Lake George Village, is more commercialized with Mom and Pop motels and lodgings, huge tour boats, shops and restaurants.

The Narrows on Lake George

The middle portion of the lake, studded with over 100 islands ranging from the size of a Great Estate to the width of a single boulder, is where most of the larger lakefront homes – as well as The Sagamore Resort – are located. And this is where Ron chose to cruise. We headed into the “Narrows” – watery paths through popular camping spots; state-owned islands that are outfitted with picnic tables, grills, outhouses and tiny docks.

Lake George Island Campsites

Ron piloted around Paradise Bay – a little swimming hole of a private cove, by Glen Island (“it’s a right of passage to get an ice-cream cone from the Ranger Station there”), and into Sandy Bay, where you can moor your own boat. This is the most intimate and tranquil way to experience Lake George, and perfect for wedding or celebratory parties. Weekday Special – $225 @ 10:30-12,  $260 for 1.5 hours, $450 for three hours – up to 6 guests. Lake George Village, NY

LAKE TOUR: Mohican, Saint Sacrement, or Mini-Ha-Ha Tour Boats, Lake George Village. If you’re looking for a party atmosphere (Taco Tuesday Sails, Pizza Thursday Cruises, etc.) on a big paddle wheeler or steamer, book a spot on one of these big boys. Choose from a selection of cruises, from all-day full-lake $31, to dinner cruises $26, to one hour jaunts $14.50. The Mini-Ha-Ha even offers Moonlight Cruises with live entertainment on Saturdays in season $25.

Chic's Boat Rentals, Lake George

RENT A BOAT: Chic’s in Bolton Landing. If you don’t need a DC (Designated Captain), want to avoid a bunch of tourists, and would like to take your friends or family out tubing, water-skiing or for a cruise around the lake, rent a boat for a few hours or a day. Starts at $70 per hour, $300 per day, does not include fuel costs.

Entrance, Fort William Henry, Lake George NY

TOUR: Fort William Henry, Lake George Village. Built in 1755 and burned down by the French in 1757, this exact replica of Fort William Henry on its former footprint has been a favorite of families since opening in 1953. Most thrilling, obviously, is mustering for the militia – with uniforms and guns and shooting demonstrations. But the whole complex, stocked with passionate costumed interpreters, is an excellent way to learn about US History and have fun, too.

Fort William Henry, Lake George NY

In the early 1700’s, this area of New York, so close to Canada, was a contested region, and as such disputed territory during the French and Indian War. The French claimed the lake and its environs as theirs – ever since 1646 when Father Isaac Joque set his eyes upon it and called it Lac Du Saint-Sacrement. In 1755, Major General William Johnson, with a cadre of Colonial Volunteers and British regulars, built this fort at the Southern end of the lake, to protect British interests to the south. The Fort, named after two grandsons of King George II, served as a launch point for raids and as a frontier hospital, and didn’t see much action until 1757 when 8,500 French soldiers burned it down.

Regiment Recrutement Fort William Henry, Lake George NY

Take an engaging hour-long tour, with bomb toss and musket ball molding demonstrations. If you’ve got kids or grandkids, don’t leave before they are recruited into the 35th Regiment. Each child will be issued enlistment papers, a wooden shilling, a waistcoat, three-cornered hat and musket, and then marched around the center of the Fort to fire their muskets. The docents and interpreters never tire of seeing the glee on the kids’ faces. Open early May – October, 9:30-5:30 (last admission 4:30), $16.75 adults, $7.75 kids.Adirondack Winery Soaring Strawberry

VISIT/TASTE: Adirondack Winery Tasting Room. In the center of Lake George Village, this storefront tasting room is one of the most popular attractions in the area. Though it does not grow its own grapes (it outsources them from the Niagara Region), the Adirondack Winery does make its own wines, including the sweet and satisfying “Calm After the Storm” ($24.99)– a dark chocolate orange port. Try a tasting – seven samples cost just $6 and that includes a souvenir wine glass.

Adirondack Winery Tasting Room, Lake George NY

To complete your tasting, ask for a “Slate Plate” ($10) – an eye-catching presentation of Saratoga Crackers, cheeses from the Adirondack Cheese Co., local jelly from Surprenant’s Berry Farm, and little chocolate bears from Birnn Chocolate set out attractively on a slab of black slate. Together with the wine, it’s a mini-feast celebrating the best of the region. A hit with Bachelorette and Bridal parties as well, Adirondack Winery will personalize wine labels for weddings for just $5.99 per mini-bottle. Open Mon-Thu: 11a-6p; Fri & Sat: 11a-7p; Sun: 11a-5p

House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, Lake George NY

GO: House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, Lake George Village. You know you want to. Yes, it’s got Frankenstein himself at the door, the mad scientist at work in the window. This place has been here for decades and shows no sign of aging. $9.30 adults, $4.50 kids. Open daily in season, weekdays 10-6, weekends until 9pm, 10pm, or 11pm. Check website for times.

Opera Museum on Lake George

VISIT/CONCERT: The Sembrich, Bolton Landing. The studio of famed opera diva, Marcella Sembrich, who sang with the Met in its initial season in 1883, is open as a costume and artifact museum and intimate concert venue. You can literally rub elbows with some of the world’s greatest opera singers when they perform in this adorable pink studio overlooking beautiful Lake George. Open daily June 15-Sept 15, 10-12:30 and 2-5pm. Free but donations appreciated.

WITH KIDS? Lake George has the requisite theme parks and playgrounds for children. See Rex (or Lightening), the “Nation’s Only Diving Horse” at the perfect for tots Magic Forest. Do some water tricks yourself at Water Slide World. Or experience all 135 rides at Six Flags Great Escape Theme Park. All open in season only.

Where to Eat on Lake George

Adirondack Brew Pub, Lake George NY

EAT: Adirondack Pub & Brewery. Food is good, beer is awesome at this oft-times raucous craft brewery in the center of Lake George Village. Go for Eggplant Fries ($9.99) or Fried Cheese Curds ($8.99) and wash it down with one of Adirondack’s signature brews – Bear Naked or Iroquois Pale Ale.

HoJo Large

EAT: Howard Johnson’s, Lake George Village. This is the height of nostalgia – the  last remaining orange-roof Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the country. For those who grew up road tripping around the United States, the iconic HoJo’s roof was a sign of hospitality, of burgers, hot dogs and fries, topped off with little ice-cream sundaes that would fuel you for the drive ahead. Recently re-opened, and now in the news, this Lake George Howard Johnson’s was where a young Rachel Ray donned an apron and served sodas and shakes from the fountain. The food is nowhere near haute – but it will bring you back in time in this timeless place.

EAT: Locals recommend The Boathouse, Algonquin and Bistro Le Roux for fine dining. The Log Jam for rustic ambiance.

Where to Stay on Lake George

Sagamore Property, outdoor pool, marina

STAY: The Sagamore Resort, Bolton Landing. With new owners in 2009, The Sagamore recently emerged from a $150 million renovation – which added two new room wings in the main building, improved the fading lodge rooms, and generally gussied up the property. In season, even the very modest, no view lower-level lodge rooms are $300 to and suites go for over $1,000 per night. But off-season rates range from $200-$850 (for a two-bedroom condo) per night. See the Maven Write up here.

STAY: Inn at Erlowest. If you wish to stay on Millionaire Row in a stone lakeside mansion, this beautiful B&B is a perfect hideaway. Rates $270-$485 per night.

STAY/BUDGET: Canoe Island Lodge. There are so many lakeside motels and lodges on Lake George, its tough to know which ones are “the best.” For the price, Canoe Island Lodge comes close – say many local residents. Family run and clean, Canoe Island is a friendly place with lots of repeat customers. It’s also an “all-inclusive” resort – all meals and activities (waterskiing, etc) are included. Prices range from $147-$207 per adult per day, kids $70 per day, depending on accommodations chosen.

Lake George NY

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing, Lake George NY

On a private disc of land – Green Island – you’ll feel far removed from the rest of the Lake George action at the renewed Sagamore Resort.  With over three hundred rooms, in both the main hotel and adjacent condo-like lodges, a marina, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, five restaurants (two right on the lake), an airplane-hanger sized indoor “Rec Center” and tennis courts, the resort is the kind of campus many visitors never want to leave (until, of course, it’s time to go home).

The Sagamore Resort from Lake George

Under new ownership since 2009, The Sagamore recently emerged from a $150 million renovation – which added two new room wings in the main building, improved the fading lodge rooms, and generally gussied up the property.

First Impressions of The Sagamore

The Saratoga Resort From the Front

Driving up to the rambling white main building is like traveling back in time, when families spent summers in the Grand Resorts peppered around the mountains, lakes and shorelines of the Northeast USA.

Sagamore Resort Lobby

Valet service is swift and friendly, the lobby is beautifully re-done (with fire roaring in the fireplace on a cool early-May morning), and reception staff smiley and accommodating. But the piece-de-resistance, of course, is the stunning view of Lake George from the back of the main building, especially in the morning and evening when the sun sets.

Chairs for Cool Nights, Sagamore Resort

Dozens of inviting wicker and Adirondack chairs, wearing soft chenille throws, are arrayed on terraces that descend to the lakefront. Had I spent more time here, this is where you would find me. With a glass of wine and a good book.

Rise and Shine from Sagamore Resort

Rooms and Suites at the Sagamore

Lakeview Suite Main Building, Sagamore Hotel

In the main building, you won’t find the airy nautical shades of a typical waterfront property. Deep hued walls and upholstered furniture lend old world charm to these rooms and suites.

Frog Wallpaper in Bathroom

Designers added a touch of whimsy – leaping stag window valences, frog wallpaper in bathrooms (monkeys are so yesterday, bring on the frogs!), along with tufted wingchairs and 19th century landscape paintings.

Sagamore Property, outdoor pool, marina

For optimal lake views, splurge on a suite in the main building. There’s nothing like rising early in the morning, grabbing a coffee, and sitting on your private balcony overlooking the outdoor pool, marina and Lake George as the sun comes up.

Suite in The Lodges, Sagamore Resort

The lodges used to be a bit run-down-motel-ish, but that has changed with this last restoration. One-bedroom suites – with lovely contemporary Adirondack décor and full kitchens – offer rustic lake views.

View from Lodge Suite, Sagamore Resort

If you plan to bring your own canoe or kayak, rent a room or suite in Building 7, from which you can walk straight out to the docks. Lower level “land views” units are the least expensive rooms in the whole complex and perfect for guests who’d like to apply their money elsewhere (like renting a boat on the lake for a day).

Resort Amenities

Sagamore Lake Pool

There’s so much to do here, but most visitors come for lake time. You can rent a pontoon boat, Boston Whaler or jet-ski directly from the on-site marina, and add banana boats, tubes and waterskis. There’s also parasailing! Take a complimentary cruise on The Sagamore’s own wooden cruise vessel, the Morgan (11:30 and 2:30 in season), or just hang out by the large lakeside pool.

The Rec, Sagamore Resort

On rainy or cold days, the Indoor Activity Center – affectionately called “The Rec” – teems with kids, teens and adults playing mini-golf (yes, inside), climbing a rock wall, hitting whiffleballs, shooting pool, or playing ping pong, Wi, X-Box and hundreds of games. See a movie – with popcorn! – or sing Kareoke. The Rec Center is where you’ll drop off your tots for the complimentary “Kids Camp” (yes, you and your honey can have some alone time, knowing that your kids are happily engaged) from 9am-9pm in season only.

Sagamore Indoor Pool

Of course, the Sagamore has more and more: indoor pool, Zumba and Yoga classes, a spa, tennis courts, and a challenging offsite mountainside Golf Course. The Donald Ross designed course is long and narrow – built into the mountains that rise above Lake George. First built in 1928, it was restored in 1985 and is considered the “Fifth Best Public Golf Course” in NY State by Golf Digest. Green fees between $75 and $140.

Dining at Sagamore

Sagamore Breakfast Buffett

There are plenty of dining options at the Sagamore. Sing with a guitarist daily (in season) at Mr. Brown’s Pub. Get social with complimentary coffee in Caldwell’s Lounge (also popular with locals at night). La Bella Vita is the Sagamore’s fine-dining restaurant serving Northern Italian food. But for full-on lake views, nothing beats The Pavilion – a burger spot by day and steak and lobster restaurant by night; right on the waterfront.

Just the Facts

Shoulder season, mid-May, June and September, is the best time for comparatively low rates – the weather is warming and crowds are scarce. In season, even the very modest, no view lower-level lodge rooms are $300, with suites going for over $1,000 per night.

Sunset view from Sagamore Resort Suite

But off-season rates range from $200-$850 (for a two-bedroom condo) per night. Balcony Kings in the main building range from $500-$800 low to high season – and have pull-out Queen couch in the sitting room. Resort fee $30 per night per room in season, $25 off season includes wi-fi, bottled water, use of all resort facilities, shuttle, parking, Kids Club, cruise on the Morgan.

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