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Tramel New England travelblog: Side trip to Lake Placid

The view of Lake Placid across Mirror Lake. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)
The view of Lake Placid across Mirror Lake. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)

Do you believe in miracles? If the answer is yes, you’re either a dreamer -- nothing wrong with that -- or an Olympic fan or both.

And you need to visit Lake Placid, New York.

That’s exactly what Trish the Dish and I did Tuesday on our New England adventure. I know, I know. New York is not in New England.

But for the second straight morning, we woke up Tuesday in Plattsburgh, New York, across the lake from Burlington, Vermont. So we decided when you’re that close to something as magnificent as the Adirondack Mountains, it would be a tourist crime not to investigate. We spent the day in the Adirondacks.

Upstate New York is a cousin of New England. Some of the same characteristics -- great natural beauty, long history, tourist mecca -- but distinctly different.

The Adirondacks have a rustic feel missing from most of New England. More of an alpine feel. A more detached feel. In New Hampshire and Vermont, even when you’re in a village that seems remote in distance and time, you know you’re often just a short drive from an interstate freeway.

Not necessarily so in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondacks is a huge region in northeastern New York. About 9,100 square miles, making it bigger than several U.S. states. The region has 132,000 full-time residents and 200,000 seasonal residents.

The Adirondacks are home to 105 towns and villages. Home to 3,000 lakes and ponds. Home to 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. Home to foliage that rivals New England’s, it’s just more difficult to reach.

Lake Placid is a tourist destination in all seasons. (Photo by Berry Tramel)
Lake Placid is a tourist destination in all seasons. (Photo by Berry Tramel)

And it’s home to Lake Placid, host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.

The 1980 Games are remembered for the greatest upset in sports history, the U.S. ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union. The Americans, a team composed mostly of college players, knocked off the Soviets, who were four-time defending Olympic champions and international hockey veterans.

As the final seconds of the Americans’ 4-3 victory counted down, a relatively-young ABC announcer named Al Michaels said, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

You know the rest. That game became the anthem for underdogs everywhere. Reading up on the game Tuesday, I came across a passage that said many Americans remember exactly where they were when they learned about the upset (it wasn’t televised live). And literally an hour earlier, I had told the Dish where I was when the game ended and I learned the U.S. had won -- in my Pontiac Trans Am, having just exited I-35, trying to turn onto 12th Street in Moore.

Lake Placid is about 50 miles southwest of Plattsburgh. The Dish, of course, had heard about Lake Placid but figured it would be a huge place. After all, it hosted an Olympiad.

Beijing, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, Sarajevo. Those are the kinds of cities that host Olympics, even the frozen kind.

But I warned the Dish that Lake Placid was different. It was a tiny village, with virtually no commerce. Population about 2,600.

Turns out we were both wrong. Oh, I was right about the size. But Lake Placid is a thriving tourist destination. Drop-dead gorgeous, with a thriving downtown built around beautiful Lake Mirror, and lots of enterprises as you enter town. Think of Crested Butte, Colorado. Or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, if you eliminated all the stuff for kids.

The Olympic imprint in Lake Placid remains high. The U.S. Olympic Training Center, for winter games, has been in Lake Placid since 1982. Pre-pandemic tours were offered of the 1980 Olympic sites, including the Miracle arena. Merchandise relating to 1980 abounds. I spotted a Lake Placid pullover and pulled the trigger. It’ll be a great reminder of a fabulous day.

We drove around Lake Mirror, then strolled the streets. Just a totally charming place.

The same could be said of all the Adirondacks.

Lake Saranac, New York, is considered the capital of the Adirondacks. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)
Lake Saranac, New York, is considered the capital of the Adirondacks. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)

The Adirondacks are a wilderness. They were a wilderness 10,000 years ago, the first evidence of humans in the area, and they were a wilderness in 1826, when James Fenimore Cooper made Lake George the setting for his Last of the Mohicans, and they were a wilderness when the work of Verplanck Colvin resulted in the creation of Adirondack Park, which made the region a state-constitutionally protected area.

Adirondack Park is six million acres of pristine waterways, forests and mountains, with almost half owned by the state of New York and the rest owned privately but restricted to preserve the region’s nature. The constitutional amendment ensures that forest preserve land won’t be logged for timber and certain areas will be maintained for recreation, including skiing, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and mountain biking.

The Adirondacks are bigger mountains than what we saw in New Hampshire and Vermont. Their colors are past peak but still breathtaking. Deep reds and yellows, with a little orange mixed in. Water is everywhere.

On the way to Lake Placid, we stopped in Lake Saranac, which bills itself as the capital of the Adirondacks. New York’s municipality system seems to be village, town, county, with several villages often comprising towns. Lake Placid, for example, is part of North Elba. But villages are the closest thing to what we would call towns, and the Lake Saranac has the largest population in the Adirondacks, with about 5,200 people.

Lake Saranac has a vintage downtown that seemed to be doing OK, built against beautiful Lake Flower.

We stopped in for lunch at Little Italy, which we thought was just a pizza-by-the-slice joint but had a cool restaurant in back. We had a great view while I had a pepperoni roll and the Dish had a slice of pizza. We had a nice chat with a couple of New York state troopers, who gave us a couple of tips on where to go.

Ausable Falls is a gorgeous spot in the Adirondacks. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)
Ausable Falls is a gorgeous spot in the Adirondacks. (Photo by Tricia Tramel)

After Lake Placid, we headed back to Plattsburgh but went by Ausable Chasm, a breathtaking waterfall that is part of a hydroelectric power plant and has become quite the tourist attraction, with all kinds of float trips and hikes normally available. The chasm is 1.5 miles long, and its waters eventually empty into Lake Champlain.

We got back to Plattsburgh just before dark, which was about 5 p.m. on this cloudy day, and eventually went to dinner at Butcher Block, a 40-year Plattsburgh institution. Butcher Block is famous for its salad bar; first salad bar I’ve seen since March. The Dish had salmon, I had haddock, and it was all delightful.

The upstate New Yorkers are charming. They use words to which we’re accustomed, like “folks” and “pokey.” I felt at home.

I’m quite glad that we mixed in a little New York with our New England adventure.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›