In the dictionary next to the word "Zen," there should be a picture of the Adirondacks. Wend north from the New York State Thruway on to the mountain-framed country roads of the Empire State's northern reaches, and civilization drops away, a sense of peace washing over you like sunshine. Stretching eight counties, two-thousand miles of hiking trails and endless shores of lake, the region collectively known as Adirondack Park is a marvel of the modern era, a place protected since being legally declared "forever wild" more than a century ago. Today, six-million acres form an adventurer's paradise, whether your family's pleasure is hiking a summit, running the rapids, careening on an Olympic bobsled course, or wiling away the hours dallying on a tranquil lakeside dock. Adventure of a different sort is on the menu further south, where the beach-town kitsch of Lake George calls to those seeking roller coasters and water slides. But, it's nature that makes the Adirondacks unique, an instant antidote to even the most frenzied family's life. Sit back, breath in, and enjoy.
As four-season destinations go, the Adirondack region is the real deal. Outdoor enthusiasts flock here year round, to hike and paddle in warmer months, and to schuss slopes and cross-country trails in winter. Springtime brings maple sugaring, while fall draws crowds for the spectacular leaf-peeping. In summer, watch out for late July when Lake Placid plays host to die-hard athletes in the region's Iron Man competition. Those looking for quieter times will do well to visit mid-week, or during short seasonal lulls in late fall between foliage and snow, and again in the spring when winter wonderland turns briefly to March mud. You might find bargains in late May and June, but you'll be dealing with the misery of black fly season. On the other hand, with lodging options ranging from secluded campgrounds and RV Parks to hostels, motels, hotels and full-service spas, odds are good that you'll find something in your price range no matter what time of year you decide to go.
The Adirondack region boasts your typical mountain climate, with frosty winters and warm summers cooled by crisp mountain air. Bundle up in the winter when the snowy tundra's temps average in the 20s, but can drop down below 0. Springtime takes its time warming up (30s and 40 in March and April with a good amount of rain) but arrives in earnest in May with sunshine and warm trends into the 60s and 70s. Mountain hikes in the 80-plus degree summers will leave you hot and sweaty, though you'll still need a jacket at night. Many folks swear by the Adirondacks fall season, when comfy 60-degree days make it a joy to view the stunning foliage.
Car travelers will find the region easily accessible from Albany (1 to 2 hours, depending on where in the area you're going), Boston (4-1/2 hours), New York (4 hours), and Montreal (2 hours). Lazy country roads are an awfully nice way to make the trip from New England, but beware of frequently changing speed limits -- and many speed traps. Amtrak serves the region on the fittingly named Adirondack line that travels many stops between New York City and Montreal. Greyhound also has several stations in the area, although myriad transfers can make for lengthy trips. Albany International Airport is the closest for fliers, though you'll also find air access (and perhaps cheaper fares) at Hartford, Connecticut's Bradley International, New York's JFK or Boston's Logan.
Rural and spread out as the Adirondack region is, a car will be your best friend. During the peak summer season (roughly late June to Labor Day), trolleys run major attraction routes for free in Lake Placid (Lake Placid XPRSS; 518-523-2597) and for a nominal charge in Lake George (Lake George Trolley Service; 518-792-1085), meaning you can ditch the car for at least part of your stay. But don't think transportation options are limited to four wheels. Bikers are plentiful here, with many rental shops sprinkled throughout. Just beware: terrain is of the killer hill variety.
First timers to the area will find lots of info at the bright and well-stocked Lake George Visitor Center (1 Beach Road, Lake George, NY 12845; 518-668-2624). Here, in addition to live help (and an all-important public bathroom) and scads of brochures, you'll find historical info about the area, as well as a detailed relief map to help you plot your visit. Further up on Route 9 north is the smaller but equally friendly Lake Bolton Chamber of Commerce. If you're heading north on I-87, stop at the High Peaks Welcome Center at the rest stop located between exits 29 and 30. Online, help can be found through the Official Adirondacks website as well as sites for individual areas including Lake George and Lake Placid.
Special deals are plentiful through any of the area chambers and visitors bureaus. A few to try: the official visitors bureau, the Lake George chamber and visitors center and the official Lake Placid site. If you're planning to visit all of the Olympic venues in Lake Placid, ask about the discounted Olympic Passport that, for $29, offers pay-one-price admission to some attractions and discounts on others. When in Lake George, look for the free Lake George Vacationing Guide that offers pages of coupons in the back.
Campsites are as plentiful as hiking trails -- more than 12,000 in all ranging from the easy-to-reach, full-service variety to remote backcountry sites. Wannabe campers will find plentiful resources through the Adirondack Club; membership in the club nets you a 10 percent discount on accommodations. Additional camping info can be found through KOA and local tourist bureaus, such as the one for Lake George which details the lake's myriad island campgrounds. No matter where you camp, locals in the vast protected area are very serious about preservation and expect campers to live by the outdoorsman credo, "Take only photographs, leave only footprints."