Adirondack State Park is 6 million acres big. About the size of Connecticut. Which means nobody can see it all in a weekend, even a long weekend.
So when the Adirondacks come to mind for a visit, think specific. There are more than three dozen mountains to climb -- some of the highest east of the Mississippi -- hundreds of trails to hike and about 1,400 lakes within the park boundary, and you can't swim in all of them.
Veteran travelers who head this far north in New York plan their destinations and vacations ahead of time. A resort holiday in bustling Lake George, perhaps, with amusement parks, beaches, steamship cruises and immense mountain scenery. Or mountain trail trek with one of the many wilderness outfitters. Or the Olympic sites and shopping in Lake Placid.
The park, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a public recreation area this year, also is home to 130,000 people who live in more than 100 towns and villages within its boundaries. As part of the birthday party, a number of fairs and festivals, nature workshops, lectures and art exhibits are planned. For a complete list of events, call the Centennial Information Line, (518) 327-3080.
In recent decades, the state park has drawn tourists from all parts of the country, but in the late 19th century it was mainly rich industrialists and millionaires who populated the grand hotels in the Adirondacks. Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Morgans mingled in so-called "great camps," long since gone.
Not a grand camp, but an impressive resort in the region is the Sagamore in Bolton Landing, a few miles north of Lake George. There are a couple of hundred rooms and suites, which gives it a rather Catskillian air. But the view of the lake is awesome, and the amenities -- golf, tennis, pools, spa, shopping arcade, tasteful restaurants -- make the Sagamore the class act of the Adirondack resorts. In summer, rates start at $158 for a double room (with a meal plan -- breakfast and dinner -- the price is $232 per couple); (800) 358-3585.
Saranac Lake, the "little city in the Adirondacks," was once the hub of the region, and it's celebrating a centennial birthday this year. A stop worth making is the Hotel Saranac, in the middle of town, which is run by students of the Paul Smith's College School of Hotel Management. These hoteliers take good care of their charges, and the prices are very right, with bed-and-breakfast packages starting at $35 a person per night. Lydia's restaurant at the hotel also is recommended; (800) 937-0211.
Lake Placid, 9 miles from Saranac, was the site of the winter Olympic Games in 1932 and 1980, and most folks think of ski slopes when they think of Lake Placid. But there are plenty of summer options, including a drive to the summit of Whiteface Mountain or the Olympic Tour, a self-guided visit to the game sites. Information on events is available at the visitors bureau, 90 Main St., Lake Placid, N.Y. 12946; (800) 447-5224. Hotels in the neighborhood include the Lake Placid Hilton, (800) HILTONS, where July-August rates start at $108, double, and the Lake Placid Manor, (800) 822-8579, $55 to $120, double.
Do-it-yourself backpackers can get trail maps and wilderness information from the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany, (518) 457-7433.
For those seeking a more sedate experience, the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake features exhibits on culture, nature and leisure in the Adirondack region. The exhibits are open daily in summer from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children ages 7-15.