You might think that the western states have cornered the market on big, but that's not the case. New York's Adirondack Park is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined, encompassing more than 9,000 square miles. However, the Adirondacks aren't just about size. The beauty of these ancient mountains, with their pristine ponds, glittering lakes, riffling streams, and roaring rivers played a key role in protecting America's wild places.
"Howard Zahniser fell in love with the Adirondacks and later wrote the Wilderness Act," says Phil Brown, editor of Adirondack Explorer magazine and author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures. "Bob Marshall spent his childhood summers here and that's how he got turned onto wilderness. He later founded the Wilderness Society and was one of the first wilderness advocates in the nation."
So, what about the Adirondacks stirred a lifelong love of wild places in these two?
"The Adirondack Park abounds with water," says John Nemjo, owner and founder of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, New York's largest canoe, kayak, and SUP dealer. "It's second only to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota in flatwater paddling opportunities."
That water is literally right outside the door of Nemjo's Old Forge store.
"We are located on the Moose River in Old Forge, New York, and offer half-day and full-day family trips right from our store," Nemjo says. "We are also located right at the beginning of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the popular annual Adirondack Canoe Classic. From our base, there are hundreds of lakes, ponds, and streams available to paddle and just a short drive away. Recent acquisitions by the state of New York has indeed created a Boundary Waters type experience for many paddlers."
If you prefer your water to roil, that's on the menu too.
"The Moose River is one of the premier whitewater rivers in the northeast," Nemjo says. "We host the Annual Moose River White Water Festival each year in October. Some of the biggest drops can be found on the moose and it offers whitewater opportunities for nearly every level of paddler." Nearby whitewater rivers also include the Black, Beaver, and Hudson—which is one of the top rafting destinations in the east.
Will Crimmins, a self-styled paddling ambassador, moved to the Adirondacks for the whitewater.
"I do all sorts of paddling, but I moved here from Indiana to paddle the whitewater on the Moose River," he says. "It's great. It's got everything from Class I to Class V."
Crimmins also enjoys the region's calmer waters. He took up canoeing 10 years ago, and standup paddleboarding soon after. He uses both types of craft to access backcountry ponds teeming with bass, pike, and trout.
You don't have to go backcountry to stretch your line, says Nemjo. The Fulton Chain of Lakes right in Old Forge offers great fishing for bass, lake trout, salmom and northern pike. With over 3,000 lakes and ponds and 30,000 miles of lakes and streams, the Adirondacks are indeed an angler's paradise.
"Some of the best places are best kept secret," says Nemjo. Everyone is welcome at the annual Adirondack Paddlefest Kayak Fishing Tournament each May, where the winner gets a brand new fishing kayak.
If you want to paddle or fish water that's been private for more than a century, there's the Essex chain of lakes, recently acquired by the state of New York. "They were off-limits to the public for more than a century because they were in private hands," Brown says. "They're all connected by streams, so you can paddle without portaging through six of the eight lakes. Except for an old hunting camp, it's wild and the hunting camp is going to be torn down. It's scenic and serene."
However, if you prefer to portage to your own private pond, those are ubiquitous too.
"You can go pond hopping," Brown says. "They're connected by portage trails. Every little pond is different, so you never get bored. I also like paddling wild rivers and streams. Around each bend is something new."
If you want a day away from water, there's a buffet of other fun. "The Adirondacks are an outdoor enthusiast's playground. There are hundreds of hiking and bike trails are within easy reach of our stores," Nemjo says. The Black Fly Challenge Mountain Bike Race is the longest point-to-point race of its kind in New York. The Adirondacks are also popular with rock climbers, trail runners and peak-baggers. In winter, there is plenty of skiing and snowshoeing, and even cross-country ice skating.
The town of Old Forge is at the center of it all, Nemjo says. "It's is a great destination for summer family fun, providing a nice blend of nature and more creature comforts." Inlet, New York, 13 miles away, is a bit quieter and has a great lakeside park for summer recreation of all types. Other Adirondack towns include Raquette Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Big Moose Lake which have been popular destinations for over a century.
And of course, there's Lake Placid too. "Lake Placid and Old Forge are the two big towns in the Adirondacks," Crimmins says. "Lake Placid is more tuned for tourists and Old Forge is more of a mix of folks."
However, being a "big town" in the Adirondacks is a relative thing. "People liken it to Alaska here in Old Forge," Crimmins says. "We're five hours away from the most happening town in the world, but the folks here remind me of Midwestern folks; kind, hardworking, and hospitable."
Speaking of hospitality, you'll find plenty at area hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, Nemjo says. "The Moose River House in Old Forge is a great little bed and breakfast and is located right on the Moose River. The Woods Inn in Inlet is a beautifully restored 100-year old great hotel on Fourth Lake. The Great Pines will be a great luxury resort with all the amenities one would expect to find in a facility of its caliber."
There are also more than 1,500 state camp sites within in the park. Nemjo is partial to Nick’s Lake Campground in Old Forge, and Old Forge Camping Resort for more developed campsites with cabins, RV and tent sites available.
Wherever you choose to stay, it's hard to go wrong in the Adirondacks.
"Lake Placid is the most popular tourist destination," Brown says. "They hosted two Olympics. It's a mountain village on a lake with gorgeous views and great restaurants. I live in Saranac Lake, which is another great village. It's got a lot of artists and people who love the outdoors. Pretty much wherever you are, fun is a few minutes away, whether it's climbing a mountain, launching into a river, or fishing," he says.
"Most importantly, the forest preserve is protected by the state constitution, so it will be forever wild."
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