Every summer, my husband and I go to Lake George for a long weekend getaway. There is plenty to do in the immediate Lake George area, but when we’re so far from the city, we enjoy taking the opportunity to day-trip to some other places that we wouldn’t normally be able to get to. This year, we decided to do a day trip to Lake Placid, home of both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, and there were so many fun things to do!
Getting to Lake Placid from Lake George on I-87 will take you about an hour and a half. And while 87 is perfectly scenic as far as highways go, I would suggest that you instead take the longer (but far more beautiful) route that we took. Essentially, we left our hotel in Diamond Point, NY and headed north on 9N to Bolton Landing for breakfast at our favorite spot, Bolton Beans.
After breakfast, we got back on 9N and kept heading north toward Ticonderoga and then Westport, where 9N starts to head west. We loved this route because you travel along the shores of both Lake George and Lake Champlain, and you pass through mountains, farm country, small towns, and over and around plenty of winding roads. This route will take you just over two hours, but the extra half hour of driving is well worth it to enjoy the scenery!
Whiteface Mountain – Veterans Memorial Highway
And after our two-hour drive to Lake Placid, we found ourselves at our first stop of the day – the Veterans Memorial Highway, which takes you to the summit of Whiteface Mountain. The highway, also known as NY-431, was dedicated by FDR in the late ‘20s when he was still governor of New York, and it was officially opened to the public in 1936 after he had become president.
Before you begin the drive up to the summit, you will come to a tollbooth where you’ll pay a fee. For the two of us, we paid $25 ($16 for car and driver plus $9 for an extra passenger). If you’re going to be in the area for a while, you may want to consider buying the Olympic Sites Passport, which will give you access to the highway and several other tourist destinations in Lake Placid at a discounted price. Once you pass through the tollbooth, you can begin your five-mile journey to the summit!
Whiteface Mountain is New York State’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet, and your trip to the top will bring you up 2,300 feet at an average 8% grade from the tollbooth. Along the way, there are several areas where you can pull off to enjoy the views or stop for a picnic. We pulled off a few different times, but mostly we just enjoyed the winding climb uphill!
When you reach the top, there is a very interesting parking situation. It’s all angle-in parking, but it was facing the wrong way if you’re driving uphill. It looked like there might have been a turnaround area at one point, but they were doing some construction during our visit so we just had to be a little creative while parking. And you will, too, if you visit before the construction is finished!
Once we were parked at 4,600 feet, we got out and headed to the part of Whiteface Mountain that made me want to go there in the first place: the mountain elevator! Yes, my friends, there is actually an elevator built inside the mountain which takes you the rest of the way from the parking lot up to the summit. How cool is that?!?!
FDR, who of course used a wheelchair himself, wanted to ensure that any visitor to Whiteface Mountain would be able to reach the summit, regardless of physical ability. And so the elevator was installed just a few years after the summit opened and had been in use for 80+ years. Ironically, the original elevator didn’t fully meet current ADA standards, and it was closed in 2017 for a $5 million reconstruction effort.
Fortunately, we visited after the elevator was fully renovated. The brand new elevator only just reopened to visitors over Memorial Day weekend this year, and it offered a perfectly smooth journey to the top of Whiteface Mountain!
To get to the elevator from the parking lot, you’ll walk into the granite mountainside through a 407-foot-long tunnel. There, you’ll board an elevator that has glass on 3 sides so that you can watch the 90-second and 27-floor journey up through the mountain to the summit.
And once you reach the top, you’re treated to sweeping views of New York, Vermont, and even Canada if it’s a clear day, and boy was it clear the day we visited! We could see for miles and miles.
There’s a weather station on top with some interactive exhibits, or you can simply take in the views of Lake Placid down below you and Vermont’s Green Mountains off to the East. We also had a bird’s eye view of the Cloudsplitter Gondola further down the mountain. It was just unbelievably stunning!
There are lots of rocks to ramble on once you reach the summit and not a lot of fences or barriers, so keep your children close if they have a tendency to wander. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of people out on some of the overhanging rocks trying to take selfies. We did not do that ourselves because we actually enjoy living, but we did a bit of our own wandering and picture-taking (while respecting the laws of gravity and, well, just plain good sense).
Now, if you don’t take the elevator to the summit, there is a trail you can take instead. We opted to take this back down and we worked up quite a sweat in the process. There were plenty of people coming up, and I can’t imagine how badly THEY must have been sweating. But take it from me: ride the elevator up and walk the trail back down. You’ll get to experience everything the site has to offer without having a heart attack in the process!
Once you reach the bottom of the trail, you’ll come to the Whiteface Castle at the parking lot level. There are restrooms here in the lower level, as well as a gift shop and cafe upstairs if you need a snack. We got some super yummy chicken sandwiches to go and headed back to the car. As we worked our way back down the mountain, we found one of the many picnic tables lining the highway to have a quick little picnic before heading on to our next destination!
For more information: Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, open late May through early October, 8:45 am – 5:30 pm (4:45 pm for cyclists). Check the website for opening times, pricing, and any weather-related notices before you visit.
High Falls Gorge
Once we descended Whiteface Mountain, we were off to our next destination, which was High Falls Gorge. Since we had spent so much time at the Whiteface summit, we didn’t really leave ourselves as much time as we needed to make a proper visit of High Falls Gorge, but we still got to enjoy the main attraction – the falls!
High Falls Gorge is a 22-acre nature park where you can hike through the forest and get nice and close to four different waterfalls created by the granite rocks that stand in this smaller branch of the Ausable River.
When you arrive at the guest center to buy your tickets, you’ll be given a trail map and you’ll have a choice to either go to the left first to enjoy a hike on their one-mile-long nature trail, or you can go to the right and experience the half-mile trail that passes along the gorge and falls.
The nature trail closes earlier than the falls trail, and since we had arrived on the later side, we opted to skip the nature trail and head straight for the gorge. We did start walking the nature trail briefly and it seemed like it was quite nice, so if you do have the time I’d recommend checking it out when you visit. Or…you can just head for the falls like we did!
There are quite a few steps here, and the gorge pathway is built all along the side of the gorge so that you’re basically hanging out over the water. They even have a couple glass viewing boxes that you can stand on top of to see the water directly beneath your feet (though they were in need of a bit of cleaning when we visited!) There are also two different bridges where you’ll cross right over the water rushing below.
There were tons of people out the day we visited, and we all enjoyed watching the water gushing over the falls. I personally enjoyed the angle at which the rocks were stacked alongside the falls. Rather than laying horizontally, they were in more of a 45-degree angle. As a fan of geology, I loved seeing this effect and knowing it was millions of years in the making. The earth is just so dang cool sometimes…
They recommend giving yourself about 45 minutes to enjoy the whole loop to the falls, and I’d say this is pretty accurate. If you do the nature trail, you’ll want to add at least another 30-45 minutes because it’s not a flat trail and you may want to stop to rest or just take in the scenery. In the wintertime, you can even go snowshoeing, which sounds like a lot of fun. I’m not sure if the falls freeze over, but it would be a spectacular sight to see if they did!
Once you’re done and back in the guest center, there is a cafe and bar onsite in case you need a snack, as well as a gift shop. Since we had just eaten at Whiteface, we passed on the cafe ourselves and instead moved on to our next and final stop of the day.
Downtown Lake Placid and Mirror Lake
From High Falls Gorge, we set out for Mirror Lake, which is just to the south of Lake Placid. While you can kayak and canoe on Mirror Lake, there are no motor boats or vessels permitted, so it is often very calm and “mirror-like”, which is how it got its name. We first drove around the entire lake before parking and getting out to walk around.
There is a lovely path around the lake, and you can walk the whole 2.7-mile loop if you wish. We only walked a small portion ourselves in order to get into the Main Street area of Lake Placid. As with any resort town, there were tons of restaurants, bars, t-shirt shops, ice cream and fudge stores, and more. We, of course, found the Great Adirondack Brewing Company and settled in briefly to enjoy a flight of beer (they also make their own root beer, which was soooo good!)
We still weren’t hungry yet, so after our flight, we headed back out onto Main Street to stroll some more before heading back to Lake George. There are tons of cool little alleys and hidden walkways to houses that are built along the lake and behind the stores that sit on Main Street. Just before we got back to our car, we also passed a lovely little amphitheater and park where lots of folks were enjoying the evening. Tons of people were out and about in town, and it seemed like Lake Placid would be a fun place to spend more than just a day!
On our way out of town, we passed by some of the many Olympic sites that we didn’t get to work into this visit to Lake Placid. Unfortunately, the two Olympics sites I was most interested in checking out were both closed for renovations this summer. These were the Olympic Sports Complex and the Olympic Jumping Complex.
At the Sports Complex, you can actually go on a bobsled ride, which sounds AWESOME, and we fully intend to go back at some point in the future so that we can do that. Similarly, at the Jumping Complex, you can normally take an elevator up to the top of the ski jumping towers.
Now, the ski jumping tower didn’t sound quite as exciting to me as the bobsled ride, but as we were driving out of Lake Placid we could see them and wowzers are they tall! Once renovated, you’ll be able to take a glass elevator up to the top of the 120-meter ski-jump tower (that’s 400 feet high, folks!) From the website, it sounds like most of these renovations should be completed soon and these sites are slated to reopen in November of 2019.
For the trip home, we opted to take the highway so that we could get back to Lake George a bit quicker than our trip up to Lake Placid. Once back at the hotel, we ditched the car and walked over to the Diamond Point Grill for one of their super delicious burgers. We wrapped up our day by heading back to the hotel to enjoy watching some shooting stars from our hotel’s dock. Unlike the city, the Adirondacks offers some spectacular night skies, and it was the perfect end to a perfect day!
We really enjoyed our day trip to Lake Placid, and it’a great little side trip to make if you find yourself in Lake George sometime soon. There’s lots more to do in the Lake George area, including some other fantastic day trips, and I hope you’ll get to check out some of these amazing places next time you’re in the area!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway: Whiteface Mountain, Wilmington, NY 12997 (also known as NY-431)
- High Falls Gorge: 4761 NYS Route 86, Wilmington, NY 12997
- Downtown Lake Placid: Main St, Lake Placid, NY 12946
When to Go
- The Veterans Memorial Highway is typically only open from around Memorial Day through about Columbus Day, but you should check their website for weather alerts and open hours before visiting. I also highly recommend visiting on a clear day to get the best views possible.
- High Falls Gorge is open year-round! They have fun activities available for all seasons.
- Lake Placid is a year-round vacation destination. Enjoy boating and water activities in the summertime, skiing in the colder months, and shopping, dining, and art all year long.
Tips for Visiting
- When driving from Lake George to Lake Placid, take 9N instead of I-87 if you want a more scenic drive. It will add about a half hour to your trip, but you’ll get wonderful views of Lake George and Lake Champlain on your way north.
- If you plan to visit several sites in the Lake Placid area, consider getting the Olympic Sites Passport. For one fee, you can access multiple sites for less than you’d pay on admission fees at each site separately.
- Some of the Olympic Sites are seasonal, so not all locations may be open or available when you plan to visit. Check the website before your own visit so that you’re not disappointed if something you really want to do isn’t open!
- For the best of both worlds at Whiteface Mountain, take the elevator to the summit and then do the hike back down. The trail is pretty steep, and you’ll want to wear some sturdy non-slip shoes.
- The nature trail at High Falls Gorge closes earlier than the falls trail, so be sure to arrive at least 90 minutes before closing time if you want to enjoy both of the trails.
- For a great little taste of Lake Placid, park along Main Street so that you can get out and walk and check everything out at a slower pace. Interestingly, Main Street Lake Placid is actually situated alongside Mirror Lake, and if you wish, you can stroll a full loop around the entire lake on their very nice 2.7-mile path.