Autumn in the Adirondacks

Oh, the pure bliss of it all. Autumn in upstate New York is one that you hear talked about a lot, along with Vermont and New Hampshire (ok basically all of New England). It’s one that everyone says is absolutely incredible (actually I’d argue that people tend to exclude New York from that conversation, which is completely unfair, but that’s a post for another day), but you always wonder…”can it really be that good?”. The answer is yes, yes it can be, in fact it’s better. 

In fact, when I dreamed about what Autumn in New York would be like, I dreamed of spending a weekend in a cabin in the middle of the forest and just watching in wonder at the beauty around me. However, rentals go FAST around here, and you’ve got to plan almost a year out to get what you really want at a decent price (and I was determined NOT to do a hotel in a city for this particular dreamy weekend). My husband took over the plans and ended up booking us an RV and a campsite for the weekend in the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain area. There aren’t a lot of words that I can really give to the sheer beauty of it all, and so, while there will still be words in this post, the real star of the post will be the pictures that I took throughout the weekend. 

Now, before we go much further in this post, I’ll address the elephant in this post. Yes, we stayed in the RV in a KOA campground…and we LOVED every minute of it. My husband has been trying to sell me on the whole RV thing and while I wasn’t opposed to it, I also wasn’t jumping up and down and going out to buy one. This weekend convinced me though that an RV for the bulk of our travel is actually a really good idea. Let me briefly explain. When we travel to certain locations, we do a lot of outdoor activities. We are big outdoors people, loving to explore nature, hike through the woods, see waterfalls, and just general do everything we can within nature. When you spend all day just reveling in Mother Nature and the beauty that is around you, only to go back to a hotel in a city it can be a bit…jarring. Especially if what you are craving is an escape from “the real world”. Enter: the RV. It was brilliant and honestly, really added to our weekend. The boys loved it and, at least for this weekend, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing anything by staying in an RV instead of a hotel. It is something that, while we will be renting a few more times first, we are definitely going to be looking at investing in. I would say we do a fairly equal amount in our travels between visiting cities and escaping into nature, so this would definitely be something to have. 

Anyways, tangent over back to our post about Autumn in Upstate. We pulled in on a Friday afternoon and got all set up and unpacked at the campsite. Made up the beds, set up our little cooking and dining area and feasted on some dinner. Like I said, we stayed at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA and we really liked it. It had good amenities, very active and sweet owners (this was actually their last weekend there) and was VERY beautiful. It is a perfect spot to stay due to its location close to everything to see in the immediate region. 

Our first full day in the area we spent chasing leaves across Whiteface Mountain. Whiteface Mountain is the 5th highest mountain in New York and part of the Adirondack High Peaks. It is unique in that you are able to access the summit by car, with the Whiteface Memorial Veterans Highway. This highway was constructed as part of the New Deal public works projects and funded entirely by New York State. It winds up the mountain giving absolutely incredible views of the valley below (with several pull off points to step out of the vehicle and stare in awe), stopping just shy of the summit you are able to then walk through a tunnel and ride an elevator to the fully developed summit OR hike the stairway trail to the summit. The tunnel walks you through to the center of the mountain where an elevator whisks you to the top. We chose to take the elevator due to weather and little children (if the weather hadn’t been windy and damp, we would have probably hiked the trail up). The summit is the most incredible view of Lake Placid and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see the skyscrapers of Montreal on the distance. We didn’t have a clear enough view to see Canada, or even Vermont, but we were able to see down to Lake Placid and our further out surrounding area. Whiteface Mountain Summit is only open May to October (in fact the weekend we went was the last weekend), in part due to weather at the summit, but also because on the opposite side of the mountain is the Whiteface Ski Resort. The workers who work the roads and top, also work the ski resort, so they transition from one side to the other to prep for winter and the upcoming ski season.

So, like I said, the opposite side of the Veterans Highway is the Ski Resort. The Ski area is noted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority as a major ski area and is known for hosting the alpine events of the Winter Olympics as well as an Olympic Training Site and just a generally good spot to ski. There are two double black diamond trails within the ski area, as well as quite a few standard trails, and a great separate beginners’ area. Year round, you are able to ride the Cloud splitter Gondola up to the summit of Little Whiteface, which is what we did after leaving the summit of Whiteface Mountain. I will say- this is totally not necessary. In fact, I would recommend just choosing to drive the Veterans Highway and summit Whiteface Mountain. Yes, the gondola rides up to Little Mountain is INCREDIBLE, but it’s just not as good as the drive up the mountain. Just a personal opinion. 

We finished our day out at High Falls Gorge, a nature park that has been around since 1899. This nature park provides trail access to look throughout the falls of the AuSable river with bridges, clear viewing platforms and several photo spots to get close to the falls. There is also a nature trail that walks you through a protected untouched forest called Climax Forest. While the trail, river, and foliage was gorgeous, I don’t know that it was entirely worth the cost. It’s a really pretty area and maybe if we hadn’t spent time touring various waterfalls in the Finger Lakes (HERE) the month previous I would have felt differently, but this just wasn’t absolutely worth the cost. It’s one of those, I recommend, but I also wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it. It was neat I suppose.

And that wrapped up our first full day in the Lake Placid region. I’ve literally never been so in love with a trip (maybe if we had rv’d or camped that Finger Lakes trip, but we stayed in a hotel instead) and a space at a moment in time, but I just kept looking around in awe at every turn. A tear may have been shed over just the sheer beauty of it all. After the High Falls Gorge, we went back to the RV for the evening and spent our night around the fire, munching on some smores and just reveling in the area. 

On our second full day in the region, we headed into Lake Placid proper. Lake Placid, originally known as North Elba, started as a location for an iron ore mine. It started to grow in the late 19th century, starting as a place for former slaves to own land (thanks due to Gerrit Smith and John Brown) before turning in to a resort town. The name change was brought about by Melvin Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) who made a “Placid Park Club”. Lake Placid was incorporated in 1900 and became known as a resort spot, as well as a rest and recouperation area (especially for those suffering from tuberculosis- Saranac Lake had a sanatorium for those sick with the disease to convalesce). Before too long Lake Placid became known for alpine sports, later on going on to host the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. 

We started our morning off on the lake itself, taking a boat tour and looking at all the different “camps” and lodges that sit right on the water. It was a peaceful start, giving us a little look into some of the more “known” families that lived there at one time or another. We were also able to spot loons on the water and an eagle up in one of the pine trees. Not to mention, the leaves were just starting to wane from peak season, so all those beautiful reds/yellows/oranges were still standing amidst a sea of green and gray (from the trees that had already lost their leaves). It was a special bit of time. 

Once finished with the boat tour, we headed into downtown Lake Placid. Lake Placid is actually currently under construction…yes, the entire town is undergoing a massive overhaul. This made walking the main street a bit of a struggle, but we wandered down amongst all the shops and scenery of Mirror Lake. We did not make it to the Olympic Complex in town as it was under construction too. It was open to the public, however the reviews that we had read, it was only a fraction of the complex and so we decided to head to a different Olympic attraction from the overall complex. 

The Olympic Ski Jump Complex is one to see. You cannot accurately understand what the jumps are like, until you are standing in front of them, on top of them, riding the lift up next to them. They are MASSIVE. The current jumps are the only free-standing jumps and are listed at 90 and 120 meters tall. The 120 Meter jump is the one open to tourists, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The original jump was built into the mountain in 1920 and was known as the Interval 35 Meter. This jump was initially lifted, still within the mountain, to 50 meters in 1923. In 1927 they built the first tower to increase the jump to 60 meters. Ever few years this was increased, with a 75-meter used for the 1932 Olympics, until 1977 when the entire complex was demolished to build fresh towers for the 1980 Olympics standing at 70 & 90 Meters. The current towers date back to 1994. Another feature of the complex is the freestyle aerial training center, seen from the right of the jump towers. Athletes can train on two similar jumps and jump into a massive pool of water. 

Now, I’m terrified of heights. More specifically, I’m terrified of FALLING from high up. I do not have the personal strength to actually do this jump, just standing up at the tower, a few feet above where the ski jumpers would launch from was more than enough for me to get nervous (aka panic panic panic), but it was pretty incredible to think that people actually do jump and enjoy it. 

And that really wrapped up our weekend in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. It was one of the most incredible trips.  I really just fell in love with this area of New York (and specifically at this particular time of year, but I’m sure of its beauty year-round) and will happily go back again. I think that we talk about New England as being such a hot spot for Autumnal Foliage, but don’t write off Upstate New York. It’s just as incredible and I would highly recommend checking it out. 

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

Our final trip of the Summer was over Labor Day weekend and involved over 12 miles of hiking! It was a last-minute trip of sorts as we wanted to do something but didn’t know if schedules would work out for us to go anywhere. When it came out that we were going to be able to make it work, we decided to opt for a weekend in nature. We are a big “outdoors” active family, we love walking and hiking as a key part of our travel. I personally am a big water person (think lakes, streams, waterfalls, NOT beach). So, we decided to opt for a weekend in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. 

The Finger Lakes is a region in New York featuring ~11 lakes that run North to South. The Finger Lakes were actually formed during the last ice age when glaciers in the area receded to form these unique gorgeous lakes that do look like fingers from above. Each lake even has its own “claim to fame”, with Skaaneateles Lake being considered one of the cleanest lakes in the United States, Keuka Lake (the third largest) being a “crooked lake” like Lake Cuomo as well as for providing an excellent microclimate for wine. Cayuga is the longest lake in the grouping, running just under 40 miles and 435 ft deep. Seneca Lake is the largest by volume, with 618 ft deep. Finally, in fun facts, Canadice Lake – the smallest of all the lakes- is the most “untouched” of all the lakes making it the perfect peaceful spot for hikers and wildlife. 

Though the Finger Lakes have been existence for quite a long time, they weren’t actually referred to as “The Finger Lakes” until the 1800’s. The region was home to several Iroquois Tribes, which are referenced and respected throughout the areas you visit. The Tribes were actually able to fend of colonization for quite a long time, some of the last in their area to be colonized after putting up a large fight. 

Ultimately The Finger Lakes region is known for Waterfalls & Wine (or Beer), making it a pretty perfect vacation destination. This region is actually the main wine region in New York. In some ways it reminded me of Lauterbrunnen Switzerland (although, much to my disappointment it is very much not Switzerland- haha), in that you can be driving or walking down a road, look to your side and there is a waterfall. It is also the home to Watkins Glen International Raceway, which is home to several races of varying caliber drivers. 

We decided to explore the more Southern Region of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. Our initial plan was to RV or camp in the area, but a) camping wasn’t going to be an option and b) RV sites (and RV rentals) book up months and months in advance. So, instead we booked a hotel in Horsehead (which was all that was available!) to stay in. I will say, in some ways this would have been the only thing I would have changed about our trip. We spent 75% of our time out in the woods, in nature, and to leave that to come back to a hotel was a bit jarring. Otherwise, it was the perfect weekend. 

Our first stop was Buttermilk Falls State Park.

This is a park featuring a foaming cascade of waterfalls coming from an offshoot creek heading towards Cayuga Lake. There is a large amount of hiking trails throughout the park as well as camping, RV, Cabin, and Cottage sites to stay in the park. We walked the Gorge and Rim Trail, which allows you to see the different water spots. There are a couple of trickier spots to navigate, but overall, I would say these two trails are fairly easy for any level of hiker. I did not actually where my hiking boots for this trail or the next if that tells you anything. As for the falls themselves, these were pretty incredible to see. They are definitely a cascade effect, so you’ll be able to see several different smaller falls that lead down to the bigger Buttermilk Falls at the “bottom”. From Buttermilk Falls State Park we went over to the sister park of Robert H Treman State Park.

Similar to Buttermilk this State Park is home to not only waterfalls, but also campsites, hiking spots, AND (unlike Buttermilk) you are able to swim in the stream fed pool at the base of a waterfall. There are two waterfall spots; the one I previously mentioned that you can swim in and then the Lucifer Falls which is a 115-foot waterfall. Now, normally you would be able to hike through Enfield Glen gorge and get up close and personal with Lucifer Falls, however when we went there was a section that was closed, so we weren’t able to hike it down. We still managed to hike the trail opposite and see the falls in all of their glory, which were incredible. The trail was a bit more up and down than Buttermilk, but otherwise still pretty straightforward. After that we decided to call it a day, head to the hotel and let the kids do a bit of swimming in the pool. 

The next morning we were up bright and early to head to what became the real highlight of the trip: Watkins Glen State Park. I’ll say it here and now, Watkins Glen State Park was my favorite of the whole weekend hands down. The Park and falls were beautiful and expansive, the gorge trail was easy to navigate and if you walk the gorge in, the rim out, you get the perfect mix of both water and woods. 

The gorge was formed over time, starting during the same glacial event that formed the Finger Lakes.  As the water of Glen Creek cascades through the glen, cutting away at the rock. This is an ever-changing gorge, and you can feel that what you are walking through will continue to shift and change and move over time. The gorge opened for tourists in the 1860’s as a privately owned resort destination. In the very early 1900’s, New York State purchased the gorge in an effort to protect the land, the wildlife, and the people who would trek through. The goal was to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy. The stone trails that make walking the gorge so easy were crafted in the 1930’s through a program to help put Americans back to work post Great Depression. 

Like many of the other State Parks we’ve visited, there are camping options in the park, both primitive and basic cabins. The hiking trails were fairly easy (the official pamphlet calls them “moderate to challenging”), but I would definitely wear some sort of hiking shoe boot as the trails are wet. Another thing to note is that the Gorge trail does close during winter so you’ll want to keep that in mind as you plan a trip, and I would highly highly recommend walking the gorge trail. It’s incredible. 

We spent a good 2-3 hours in the park before wandering through the main street of town and over to Seneca Lake. We had a little snack and walk to the end of the pier at the lake before heading out. We stopped over to Shequaga Falls, which were easily the most incredible “side of the road” waterfalls as well as Hector Falls. From there we decided to do end our weekend on a high note of things for the boys and went to look at the international speedway and play a round of mini golf. 

Our final stop on our weekend was Taughannock Falls State Park. Taughannock Falls is a 215-foot waterfall right near Cayuga Lake. Like many of the other parks we’ve been to, it provides hiking, campsites, and cabins, along with a boat launch and marina for Cayuga Lake. We walked the Gorge Trail, and it was probably the easiest walk we did the entire weekend, the most accessible for anyone. I’ll be honest, the great thing about these falls is the accessibility, you can easily see them from above or below and while they are really nice, but they weren’t a highlight. 

And that really rounds up our weekend in the Finger Lakes! It was easily one of my top long weekend trips (rivaled by…of course Switzerland) and I think that it was the perfect way to close out the summer. As I previously stated, I do wish that we had camped/RV’d or stayed a little more remote in a cabin, but it was still a phone trip and the boys got to have a little hotel pool time. 

A Weekend Upstate

One of our final Summer Hurrahs was a weekend in the greater Albany region. We spent a total of 3 nights in Schenectady, exploring Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Albany. It was a relaxed weekend trip that covered quite a few cute spots. Our first evening was spent getting settled into our Airbnb and heading over to a nearby park for some live music. We didn’t really “start” our exploring until the next morning. 

Fueled with some delicious bagels, we headed out for a day in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs is really known for two things, horse racing and spring spas. The city’s slogan is actually “Health, History, Horses”. We started with the latter and ended with the former. So, Spring Spa’s. This dates back to the Native Americans believing that the springs (High Rock Spring) held medicinal properties- this is nothing new, there has long standing been a belief that mineral springs are good for you/your soul/your body/etc. This was then expanded when a British soldier was brought by the Native Americans to the spring to treat wounds from the French and Indian War. 

But back up for a moment… The land was originally “settled” by the British who built the Fort Saratoga in 1691, which was actually now Schuylerville. This is most noted in the location of The Battle of Saratoga, which actually took place in what is now Stillwater and the surrender at Saratoga took place in Schuylerville. Saratoga Springs was settled in 1819, incorporated in 1826, and then became a city in 1915. There are two turning points for tourism in the history, one of which was the arrival of the railroad, which made it much more possible for anyone to visit and be cured by the legendary springs. The second was the doctor Simon Baruch advocating for the “European Spa” (aka springs and bathhouses) coming to America. At one point in time, Saratoga Springs was the home of the largest hotel in the world.

Saratoga Spring State Park was developed in 1962 when the state of New York to control to preserve the springs. The property was then labeled a state park and gained National Historic Landmark status about 25 years later. There is a wide variety of activities to do within the park, between walking trails and taking in the springs, to snowshoe and cross-country skiing in the winter, to golf courses and pools to enjoy. We enjoyed walking along the creek and seeing a couple of the springs, as well as the wells that would have been used in its heyday. 

After we were entirely relaxed from the Springs, we headed over to the excitement of the Racetrack. The Saratoga Racecourse is the fourth oldest racecourse in the US, though many think it is the oldest. The track dates back to 1863 and has been in use almost every year since (notable exceptions would be during an anti-gambling legislation, as well as during World War II). The track itself has three tracks within the complex, a dirt track, a turf track, and a second inner turf track, which offers steeplechase races. We watched I think 4 or 5 races and enjoyed the excitement of the tracks and were swept away in the anticipation of the race. The boys enjoyed it and then were able to go in the kids’ zone to play some games in between. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours and an experience to have (this was my second time going to the races). 

We spent much of the rest of the day wandering the downtown shopping district, popping into bookstores, clothing stores, and tea shops and enjoying the afternoon in the quaint little town. It was a lovely way to spend a day in Saratoga Springs and the city itself is a really nice spot to stop for a weekend of fun and relaxation. 

Our second day of the weekend we headed into Albany. Albany is the state capital of New York (as of 1797) and a relatively modern city in the area (whereas quite a bit still has some original architecture, I saw a much more modern look to Albany). Originally founded by Dutch colonists in 1614 (though inhabited by the Mohican tribe at the time), the city of Albany was officially chartered in 1686 (under the English). The Albany region has its’ own long and storied history involving the Native Americans, the fur trade, and the shipping trade. It is one of the oldest of the original 13 Colonies and the longest continuously chartered city.  We headed into the city with no real plan, just a list of sites we’d like to see. This actually came out to be quite handy as we quickly learned that there is very little open in the city on Monday’s and Tuesdays. Every museum and attraction, save for the State Museum is actually closed those two days of the week. A bit of a bummer, we ended up driving past two of the attractions we wanted to see (The Schuyler House and The USS Slater (DE-766)) so we could still see them, even if we couldn’t tour them. The one place we were actually able to visit was the New York State Museum. Located within the Empire State Plaza (which also houses the State Library and Archives) and across from the Capital, this imposing building and museum details the history of the state of New York. It is the oldest and largest state museum in the US. As we walked through, we learned about the mining activities, the native American presence in the state, the history of New York City and its diverse makeup and neighborhoods. There is also a section devoted to September 11, which was incredibly meaningful and special to see. 

From the state museum we walked over to the Capital (though due to security you are not able to tour it at this time), and up through some of the neighborhood streets, admiring the old architecture (all of which is plaque dated and so awesome). We spent most of the rest of the day stopping in at different antique stores and bookstores as we wandered from little town to little town. 

The final thing we did on this little weekend away was see one of the Erie Canal Locks. The Erie Canal was built to provide a route from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes (Hudson River to Lake Erie was the original stretch). Originally proposed in the 1780’s, it was considered again in 1807, this time gaining approval and funding. Construction started in 1817 and finished in 1825 with a total of 34 locks. At the time water was the most cost-effective way to ship goods (as there were no railways) and this was a way to transport goods at less cost and faster transport. By and large this is considered the most successful human built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering in the United States. We saw Lock 7, also known as Vischer Ferry, though we also drove past Lock 8 (and have since seen the Oswego Canal). I will say, the sheer engineering of these locks is impressive, and it was very cool to stand right at the edge and see it first-hand. 

And that was our weekend in Upstate New York.