Stay awhile in Old Forge, New York, the gateway to the Northeast’s largest wilderness.
By Earlene Youker
Mmm! Breathe in that clear mountain air. If you love the outdoors, you’ll want to spend time in the Adirondack Mountains in Old Forge, New York. This little village is a gem that people have been flocking to for years.
New York’s Adirondacks region is the largest natural wilderness area in the Eastern United States. Encompassing more than 6 million acres, it is bigger than the state of Vermont, has more than 3,000 lakes, and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The land is not managed by one giant entity, but rather is a combination of privately and publicly owned property.
The United States’ wealthiest people used to vacation in the Adirondacks all summer, because it was thought to be more healthful for their families than battling the heat in the city. Turns out, they were right. There is something about the cool breeze whispering in the evergreens while you’re camping out and getting a ton of exercise while vacationing that can improve your whole outlook on life.
Most motorhome owners visit in the summer. At that time of the year, you can engage in just about any sport you enjoy, and even those new to you. Kayaking, river rafting, or maybe mountain biking or rock climbing will catch your interest. Or, you can just enjoy the pastimes you’ve always loved, such as fishing, golfing, hiking, biking, or swimming. You can even go horseback riding and spend anywhere from half a day up to all day with Adirondack Saddle Tours. But you don’t have to be a sports nut to enjoy Old Forge and the surrounding communities. Just resting your body and your nerves can be sufficient.
If it’s excitement you want and you travel with children, be sure to visit Enchanted Forest Water Safari. Slide through its water rides all day, have a picnic, and watch the family circus. This is the largest water theme park in the Northeast and it’s located right in the heart of Old Forge. The park has plenty to do for people who want to stay dry, too, with shows, amusement rides, and more.
Next door to the Enchanted Forest Water Safari is Calypso’s Cove. It’s not another water park, but rather a family fun center with miniature golf, batting cages, an arcade, go-karts, and a Pizza Hut restaurant. Your youngsters will insist on a visit there as well!
When you’ve had enough excitement, take a day and visit the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, approximately 34 miles northeast of Old Forge. This is a world-class museum about all things Adirondack. People who settled these mountains made a living as loggers, miners, and guides. Before roads were constructed, a train regularly took visitors part of the way to the high peaks area. One such train has been restored and visitors are invited to walk through to experience what it must have been like at that time. Antique carriages, a fire truck, an Adirondack boat, and many antique conveyances used to travel through and around the mountains are on display. The exhibits change every year, and a number of events are held each season.
The Adirondack Museum isn’t just a repository of old artifacts. It also has a wonderful collection of fine art and photography. Paintings by Thomas Cole and Winslow Homer, and photographs by Seneca Ray Stoddard and many others grace the walls. The fine art collection would be reason enough to visit.
This is a very hands-on museum, too. You can wash clothes the old-fashioned way, and see a Victorian “lean-to and platform” tent. Sit on the porch and flip through photos of what it was like to summer in the Adirondacks. At lunchtime each day you can help feed the fish that are in the museum’s pavilion “” a collection of brook and rainbow trout.
When we visit this museum, we bring a lunch, because we know we’ll be there all day. If you prefer, you can buy lunch at the Lake View Café, where you can sit and drink in the beauty of Blue Mountain Lake and its surrounding peaks. Before you leave, check out the museum shop for gifts and souvenirs. The museum is open daily from May 27 to October 17 in 2011.
Old Forge is approximately 46 miles north of Utica, on the southwest edge of the huge Adirondack region. It is actually not a village in itself, but part of the state’s largest town, called Webb. Old Forge is at the southern terminus of the Fulton Chain of Lakes, which you can explore via Old Forge Lake Cruises. The ride will give you an unspoiled view of the scenery you’re sure to enjoy. Your trip can be anywhere from one to four hours long, depending on your preference. Dinner cruises are offered as well. When the fall color arrives, the ride is even more spectacular.
Camping in the Adirondack Mountains is unbeatable, and you can choose from private and primitive spots to fully developed sites. The latter can be found next to Enchanted Forest Water Safari in Old Forge, at Old Forge Camping resort. Some RV sites are pull-throughs for your convenience, and if you have kids with you, you’ll be interested in the campground’s special discount tickets to Enchanted Forest Water Safari and Calypso’s Cove. A free shuttle bus runs between the campground and the amusement parks throughout the day. Since they are on the edge of Old Forge, you can walk from there through the village, if you wish.
Wooded, primitive campsites big enough to accommodate up to a 40-foot RV are available at Nick’s Lake, a park run by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Hot showers, water, and a dump station are available, but no hookups. The lake there is not too deep and warms early for swimming.
Quaint little shops in Old Forge can keep explorers on the hunt all day. Woodcraft items, paintings, and more can remind you of your time in the mountains. At the Old Forge hardware store, room after room of collectibles, books, and all sorts of finds will entertain your curiosity.
When you tire of cooking and want a break, check out the many restaurants that line Main Street in Old Forge. The selection runs from fine dining to pancakes, but you won’t find any chain restaurants. Be adventuresome and try one of these local eateries.
If you’re visiting in September or October to see the fall foliage, you will want to be prepared for the traffic, which can be a little heavy on the weekends. But it is worth the trip. The colors are spectacular. This might be the best time to take a ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs between Old Forge and Otter Lake. It’s a trip of a little over an hour through the wilderness. You never know what varieties of wildlife you’ll see along the way.
Using Old Forge as your base camp, you can take many day trips farther into the Adirondacks. At the Adirondack Wild Center near Tupper Lake, about a half-hour drive from Old Forge, you can visit with river otters, take guided nature walks, and learn about wild creatures that are returning to the mountains. Indoor and outdoor exhibits are spread across its 31-acre campus.
Or, drive from Old Forge to Speculator and Lake Pleasant on State Route 30 just to take in the views. Several lakes are situated along the way, and you may even encounter a moose. The mountain peaks are especially beautiful along this scenic byway.
The Old Forge area offers a variety of events year-round, some of which may make you want to time your stay accordingly. They include a motorcycle gathering; a classic car show; craft shows; art shows; and a wine, beer, and food festival. Be sure to get as much information from the sources below before your visit. And enjoy the Adirondacks.
For Old Forge only, including area campground listings, contact:
Town of Webb Visitor Information Center
3140 State Route 28
Old Forge, NY 13420
For the Adirondacks region, contact:
Central Adirondacks Association
P.O. Box 68
Old Forge, NY 13420