Once the playground of the Rockefellers, New York’s Adirondack Park is not just for magnates anymore. In fact, the notion that the great outdoors should be accessible to the common man was gaining momentum in the late 19th century when New York designated nearly one-fifth of the state a park and “forever wild.” Today, the six-million-acre expanse of public and private land has become a model for how nature and humans can coexist—a theme explored in the innovative Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, dubbed the Wild Center, located near Tupper Lake. Among the park’s 2,000 named mountains, 3,000 lakes and ponds, and more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails, are picturesque villages, historic great camps, and cozy inns.
Ampersand Bay Resort & Boat Club
Mark Twain had a soft spot for Lower Saranac Lake, with its unspoiled mountain views, miles of shoreline, and magnificent sunsets from Ampersand Bay. Today, the “Lake of the Clustered Stars,” as it was known to Native Americans who once lived here, is still pristine. Take it all in from your own traditional cedar log cabin or cottage at the Ampersand Bay Resort, where there’s “ample provision for outdoor sport and recreation,” as the New York Times reported in 1906, including bass fishing and easy nature hikes. From $150.
Mirror Lake Inn
With its big stone fireplaces, leather chairs, and great collection of books, the library at the 131-room Mirror Lake Inn may be hard to leave. But the private beach—a rarity in these parts—is waiting, for a dip in the crystal-clear water or ride around the lake in one of the inn’s kayaks or canoes. Amble a few blocks into the village of Lake Placid; hike the 2.7-mile lake loop; rejuvenate with a maple- sugar scrub at the inn’s spa; or hunker down in one of the Colonial House suites with a private porch overlooking the lake. From $330.
Elk Lake Lodge
Tucked into a 12,000-acre privately owned forest in the shadow of some of the park’s highest peaks, the Elk Lake Lodge evokes the heyday of the great camps. The main lodge, built more than a hundred years ago, features six guest rooms, original logs, a fieldstone fireplace, Stickley furniture, and a vista of the Elk Lake. For an even more remote experience, opt for one of the eight secluded cottages that dot the property. Anglers can fish for brook trout in the 600-acre Elk Lake. Hikers have 40 miles of private trails to themselves or they can strike out for one of the park’s 46 peaks. From $120, with meals.
This 94-suite lodge takes the great camp motif into the modern era: 28-foot cathedral ceilings, locally handcrafted furniture, and cast-iron fireplaces are unmistakably Adirondack, but luxe touches, like radiant-heat floors and Jacuzzi tubs, go beyond rustic. Sitting on the edge of Lake Placid, the lodge is strategically located for water recreational opportunities and features a winter skating rink, nightly bonfires, and a family game room. From $390.