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Exploring Adirondacks Wilderness in Eastern New York

April 12, 1987|JACK BRESLIN | Breslin is a Sherman Oaks free-lance writer.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — With 6 million acres it's larger than any national park, bigger than the whole of Vermont. It has 28,000 lakes and ponds, 31,000 miles of rivers and streams and 46 peaks more than 4,000 feet high.

Some who have trekked through the world's magnificent ranges will agree that it has some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on earth, with its towering green peaks tumbling into rushing brooks or placid lakes.

About half of Adirondack Park is protected as "forever wild," just a four-hour drive north of New York City and two hours south of Montreal. Inside this "wilderness" are more than 100 towns with affordable accommodations, reasonable meals and tourist treats.

Some of its more famous spots are Lake George, Ausable Chasm, t. Ticonderoga and Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Only a few miles from humanity are trails you can hike and lakes to paddle inside the largest protected wilderness area east of the Mississippi.

The most popular lake villages--Placid, George, Saranac, Tupper and Blue Mountain--offer the best lodging and restaurants, but are a bit more expensive than the lesser-known towns. That doesn't mean, however, that the others are less attractive. Vacationers from around New York and neighboring states have long flocked to "their lake" or "camp" because "nobody else goes there."

A Full Schedule

During a leisurely week's vacation in the Adirondacks a family can easily fit in some fishing, camping, hiking, history, an amusement park, Olympic nostalgia, specialty shopping, a drive up a mountain, a concert or a horse race.

The budget per person can be less than $50, and lower if you cook your meals or drive a camper. As with any vacation to a popular camping spot, make your reservations well in advance (some available through Ticketron) and have a back-up site.

The Adirondacks are a year-round resort. In the winter there's ice skating, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing.

For fall foliage, a weekend drive along the Adirondack highways, usually well-maintained and clearly marked, will wind through some of the best colors the East Coast can offer.

Adirondack Park doesn't have the organization or protection that the national park system has. In fact, some regulars don't consider it a park at all, just "the Adirondacks." You'll only find park rangers at public campgrounds or along the hiking trails. There isn't an official visitor center, though several towns have interpretive centers at museums.

The chambers of commerce provide excellent guidebooks as does the New York State Tourist Office. Call or write the latter and you'll be deluged with color brochures complete with accommodations and prices. (Division of Tourism, One Commerce Plaza, Albany, N.Y. 12245, phone (518) 474-4416.)

Using a guidebook or map, you can plan several routes. One suggested route would be from the south, after a stop in Saratoga Springs. The nation's finest thoroughbreds run there in August on America's oldest race course, across the street from the Racing Hall of Fame. The harness track is open from April to November. Saratoga has more than 60 restaurants and as many hotels and motels.

Tourism hasn't harmed the Victorian charm along these shady streets lined with gracious homes from the days when Saratoga was strictly for the beautiful people. The mineral baths are still popular, and are right next door to the Performing Arts Center featuring symphony, ballet, theater and musical acts.

To the east lies Saratoga Battlefield in Saratoga National Historical Park, where American colonists defeated the British in September and October, 1777, and rallied the French to our side. In nearby Saratoga Springs is Saratoga Race Track.

A short drive north on Interstate 87 the incredibly scenic "Northway" takes you past Glens Falls, where Adirondack Balloon Flights offers a 45-minute ride over Lake George, the High Peaks and surrounding area. (Reservations required: (518) 793-6342, May to October, sunrise to sunset, daily.)

Ten miles north, just inside the park boundary, is the quaint village of Lake George at the tip of the 32-mile-long lake dotted with dozens of tiny islands. This is about as touristy as the Adirondacks will get. The village has 160 places to stay or eat and a Gaslight Village, Magic Forest, Animal Land, Great Escape Fun Park and Waxlife U.S.A.

Ft. William Henry is a reproduction from the French and Indian Wars, with historic relics and weapons demonstrations.

You can also rent boats, take a relaxing steamboat ride or swim at three public beaches. An evening boat ride offers a two-hour "Opera on the Lake" presentation with excerpts from the local annual festival.

Continuing by Lake George up New York 9-N, you'll soon arrive in Bolton Landing, another small town that is more an overnight stop than a fun village. Thus it's less crowded and a few dollars cheaper, though it was once called "Millionaire's Row" because of the mansions still lining the lake shore.

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