William M. Dowd photos
Lake Placid village is on Mirror Lake.
Saranac Lake village is on Lake Flower.
Tupper Lake village is on Raquette Pond.
If all that doesn't evoke the image of a region of New York State that does things its own way, you haven't been paying attention.
Welcome to the Lake Placid area, or the Olympic Region, or the heart of the Adirondack Park. Whatever you choose to call it, it is an area with its own special character and attractions.
Just an easy 2½ hours north of Albany, the state capital, it's a straight shot up I-87, the Adirondack Northway, then hang a left for less than 30 miles to end up in downtown Lake Placid.
The area is one of only three in the entire world that has hosted the Winter Olympic games more than once. (St. Moritz and Innsbruck are the others.)
It will forever be known as home to the 1932 and 1980 Games, the latter probably the final time a community so small ever will host the gigantic undertaking that has financially ruined many a more prosperous place.
But the transient population actually is highest in the summer months when, for example, the numbers in the immediate Lake Placid area go from 3,000 hearty year-rounders who brave the lack of jobs and the excess of cold weather to 10,000 or more looking for a relaxed pace.
Everything from leisurely strolls through idyllic downtowns to more vigorous hikes, climbs and cycling activities attract the crowds to the heart of the 6-million-acre Adirondack State Park, which contains one-fifth of all the land in the state and is the largest park in the country.
Some of the attraction stems from leftover Olympic venues -- you can take a professionally handled sled down a bobsled run during the summer; skate at both indoor and outdoor spots in warm weather where shivering Olympians once competed; go up to the soaring ski-jump towers via chairlift or elevator to get a bird's-eye view of the area; ski the imposing slopes of Whiteface Mountain.
All depending on the season, of course.
But, long before there was the Olympics here, there were the High Peaks, 46 of the Adirondack mountains that present a special and varied challenge to climbers. They range from the formal, groomed snowshoe and cross-country ski trails in the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross-Country Center in Route 73, to the less-formal but well-marked hiking trails, and informal spots that vigorous individualists like to use for rock-climbing, boating and camping.
Lake Placid is the only village of any real size. It likes to brag that visitors don't need to make the hour's drive to Plattsburgh to get their mall shopping fix, but they do.
While the village has a few name-brand stores (Starbucks, Izod, Ben & Jerry) it has mostly locally owned craft shops, antique dealers, bookstores (two are next to each other, just five doors down from the public library), real estate agencies, restaurants and lodgings.
However, it has come a long way since it was called the Plains of Abraham, moving into the big time in 1811 when the Elba Iron & Steel Manufacturing Co. was founded and swelled the population to 300. After that it was a mere 89 years until it became an incorporated village, and just another 32 to become an Olympic town.
THINGS TO DO
• Main golf courses: Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club, Lake Placid, (877) 570-5891; Whiteface Club & Resort, Lake Placid, (518) 523-2551; Saranac Inn Golf & Country Club, Saranac Lake, (518) 891-1402. Go here for others.
• Olympic Regional Development Authority, Lake Placid: Seasonal activity listings for summer (mountain biking, bobsled rides, gondola, skating, figure skating, hiking, etc.) and winter (cross-country skiing, skating, biathlete lessons, skiing, luge, etc.)
• Performing Arts (plays, dance, concerts): Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Avenue, Saranac Lake, (518) 891-1854; Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive, Lake Placid, (518) 523-2512.
• Adirondack Museum, Routes 28 & 30, Blue Mountain Lake, (518) 352-7311: Open daily from May 23-Oct. 19, closed Sept. 5 and 19. Family-oriented facility that mixes exhibits with special events (barn raising, whimsy and play, harvest festival, rustic fair).
• Lake Placid Horse Shows, Route 73, North Elba, (518) 523-9625: The two-week equestrian competition is scheduled for June 24-July 6 this year on the sprawling grounds just outside the village. Also scheduled: jumping events, shows and children's events.
• The Wild Center: Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, Tupper Lake, (518) 359-7800: A 31-acre complex offers live exhibits, hiking and exploring venues. With naturalist guides or self-guided treks. Family oriented.
PLACES TO EAT
• Charlie's, 2543 Main St, Lake Placid, (523-9886): Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner indoors or on the lakeview deck. Particularly good fusion cuisine on the dinner menu, and a nice Adirondack-style cocktail lounge called T-Bar.
• Blue Moon Cafe, 55 Main St., Saranac Lake (891-1310): Comfy local spot for a snack, breakfast or lunch. Very reasonable prices.
• Milano North, 2490 Main St., Lake Placid, 523-3003: A 110-seat bistro patterned on the original Milano in Newton Plaza in the Albany suburb of Latham, this one is located above a Starbucks and an antiques shop. Good grilled Italian specialties, plus children's menu, and outdoor patio dining.
• Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, 813 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, 523-3818: The brewpub is upstairs and has a deck overlooking the lake. Downstairs is P.J. O'Neill's, an Irish-style pub. The pub, which gets its beers from the company brewing facility near Plattsburgh, is popular for locals and visitors alike and serves a wide range of craft beers.
PLACES TO STAY
• Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, 2559 Main St., Lake Placid, 523-3353: If you're environmentally aware, you'll be right at home at this iconic hotel that recently unveiled many changes that make it a true sustainable "green" experience: allergen-free rooms, recycled building materials, It's among a small handful of facilities in North America that hold the Audubon Societies' 4-Green-Leaf Eco Rating. From its comfy rooms to its white-sand lakeside beach and a 3,000-square-foot green roof that insulates the facility and acts as a storm water management system that catches pollutants as they drain off the roof, this is a clever hotel.
• Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa, 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, 523-2544: When you stroll on the long brick village sidewalk, you may be excused if you think you'll never get to the end of this sprawling inn. It includes a few lakeside buildings but 95 percent of it sits on a rise that allows an unimpeded water view. It has won about every luxury hotel honor available and advance bookings are strongly suggested.
Note: For listings of more than 300 regional lodging possibilities, go here.
Visitors spend a tranquil moment in a Lake Placid village pocket park.
ON THE WEB
• Land of Plenty
• Raising the bar in Lake Placid
• Dowd's Guides