Travel Essay: Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks

Traveling to the Adirondacks is always a special treat. Any time of year, there is any number of adventures to be had, and one just needs to jump right in to get the full picture of what the Adirondack high peaks region has to offer. From fishing, boating (both paddling and motorboats), mountain biking, and hiking in the summer to seeing the fall colors and skiing or touring the woods in the wintertime, anyone can enjoy themselves in this part of the north country. My most recent trip to that neck of the woods took me to Saranac lake to stay with my brother for a week. We are both funemployed, he was returning from a ski trip to Japan, and it seemed like an excellent opportunity to spend some time together. As the snow was already falling, I packed my snowboard and cross-country skis, and we drove up from lower New York. We hit sleepy Keen Valley in the early afternoon and into the High Peaks region, where Marcy (the highest peak in New York), the Gothics, Algonquin, Colden, and other peaks of the area’s tallest mountains hang out. It may be the most dramatic landscape within the Adirondacks, and the views are incredible.

Saranac Lake is a small town outside of Lake Placid, the largest in the area and where the 1980 winter Olympic games were held, a miracle on ice! The city is relaxed and looks like a winter wonderland when covered in snow. The abundance of conifers gives a pleasant juxtaposition to the white snow, and the forest doesn’t seem as dormant as the ray of the northeast. This feels like the heart of the Adirondacks as it is full of adventure possibilities and the best mountains: endless trails to hike or ski, mountains to downhill and backcountry ski, lakes to skate, and fish to catch. This is also where Saranac beer is brewed and where the Saranac Lake 6er challenge is located. It’s one of the better spots to spend your winter on the east coast. Though the snow can be finicky and some years old man winter never shows up, with so much to do, the place is always worth a trip.

We arrived in the north country and set out for a sunset hike up the mountain. From the top, we watched a golden sunset among the snow-covered pines. A glorious introduction to the weak ahead and the beauty within the land up there.

The next few days were filled with cross country skiing on various tracks, all within ten minutes of town. The Jackrabbit trail is the most notable as it links many towns within the area, providing beautiful ski touring through forests and around lakes. The trail is managed by Bark Eater Trail Alliance (BETA), a local organization that maintains the ski and mountain bike trails around the area, they are mainly volunteers and work hard to keep the trails in good condition. 

The high peaks region is home to Whiteface ski mountain, a resort busy outside of town. It’s known for its windblown slopes that offer icy turns and hard-packed snow. During my time in Saranac Lake, we managed to get one decent powder day in on the mountain, and we found some fresh snow to sink our skis and boards into. Thanks to my brother’s local, backcountry knowledge, it more than made up for the crowded conditions on the rest of the mountain. The tickets can be a little steep but on a good snow day it is always worth it. As the day went on, the snow was mounded into moguls or blown off the summit, so we let this be our sign that it was quitting time. While exploring the open trails, we met a few of the local beaters getting the most out of their day off and season pass. Everyone is outside, ready to take advantage of every free moment they can. 

On my last night, we went to a night cross country ski at local Dewey mountain where the trails were lit up and the campfire going. The night also played host to an open mic jam session with some good steel guitar and old country singing. The whiskey and hot toddies kept us warm while we skied hot laps and enjoyed the gathering of the town. It’s nights like those when the 20-somethings get together and hang out. We skied until it was time to bring the party back to the house and finish the night next to a warm fire. The next day I boarded the train in West Port NY and headed back down south, completing my time in the Adirondacks and escape from the everyday.