Summer at the Lake: Saranac Lake

From the June/July 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler

Camp is for kids? Don’t tell that to Florence Short, who has spent the past 71 summers gamboling on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake in northeastern New York. Brisk mornings mean skimming the tea-colored waters by canoe, bathed in the scent of piney islands. Afternoons promise family climbs up kid-friendly Panther Mountain, an accessible hike to 2,250 feet. Rainy days allow for excursions to the Wild Center, a natural history museum on 31 acres that offers a network of trails. “For me, nothing surpasses the subtle panorama of the changing light over the Adirondack Mountains,” says Short. Sunset brings a blissful recline on the slanted slats of a classic Adirondack chair, made in this region.

Though the great camps of the late 19th century, with their timber cabins and towering stone fireplaces, mark a high point in the region’s history, it was Edward Livingston Trudeau’s tuberculosis “cure cottages” that brought Saranac Lake to national prominence. A medicinal cure was developed in 1944, supplanting fresh-air cures, but Saranac Lake’s famous sleeping porches remain as fixtures in the town’s Victorian Queen Annes, many of which have been converted into bucolic B&Bs.

Ursula Trudeau, a Saranac Lake artist who is the widow of the TB doctor’s grandson (and the stepmother of “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau), has mastered some remedies for modern times. “I’m a rower. I love the quiet water, especially in the morning, and it’s a pleasant way to get your head together,” says Trudeau. “You don’t have to worship the wind when you’re paddling—instead, you worship the pond and you go with flow.” The same waters that enticed Albert Einstein and Mark Twain to kick back now inspire a young art brigade and the sort of quirky local characters who bring a new pulse to the lakeside. On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Hobofest is a free, daylong music festival celebrating American train culture, and takes place on the lawn near the Saranac Lake's restored Union Depot. “Are we growing new local characters?” Trudeau asks with a glimmer in her eye. “Possibly. We’ll have to wait and see.”

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