Want to spend a weekend exploring rugged mountain peaks, hidden back roads, and a small village dedicated to the Winter Olympics? Let’s journey to Lake Placid, New York, the beautiful centerpiece of the High Peaks Region in the Adirondacks and one of our favorite small-town vacation spots for families.
Spending a weekend in the Adirondacks is one of the best ways to connect with nature, and you can’t beat Lake Placid’s fall foliage! We’d love to take you on a little weekend road trip through this part of the Adirondacks.
Just off the Adirondack Northway (I-87) in upstate New York, a back road winds through spectacular mountain passes, along scenic rivers, and past towns and villages just begging to be explored. Take exit 30 off the highway, and embark on a weekend journey of outdoor adventuring. Route 73 is known as the High Peaks Scenic Byway, and it’s a gateway to the six-million-acre Adirondack Park — the largest publicly protected land in the contiguous United States.
October is a magical time to explore the Adirondacks and this awesome scenic byway, but it’s definitely a four-season destination. Here’s a little overview of what I’d consider a perfect weekend itinerary, complete with beautiful day hikes, great food, a visit with wolves, and one of the most beautiful lodging options in the area. A visit to Lake Placid in the fall is exactly the vacation you’ve been looking for!
The Perfect Lake Placid Itinerary for Fall
While this itinerary includes spending a lot of time in Lake Placid, we also do some exploring in nearby Keene and Jay. You can choose to stay in the village of Lake Placid for more walkability or stay at this incredible vacation rental in nearby Au Sable Forks.
A note about Lake Placid restaurants: Because we spent a lot of time in our super amazing vacation rental during our Lake Placid trip, we also cooked a lot of our own food. We do mention a few restaurants in the below itinerary, but you won’t see suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. That’s because we want to recommend restaurants that we’ve actually been to and we only visited a few during our stay.
Ready to explore the Adirondacks? Here’s a map of all the places we’ve covered in this post.
Day 1: Spend your afternoon in Keene, New York and the Adirondack High Peaks
Start your weekend by embracing the outdoors in the town of Keene. Located in the heart of Adirondack Park, Keene is a mecca for hikers, climbers, and anglers. 15 of the 46 High Peaks are within the town limits, and there are more miles of trails in Keene than there are residents. Meandering around town won’t take long — be sure to check out The Mountaineer, which is one of the best outdoor gear stores we’ve ever set foot in. They have a great selection of topographic maps, which may come in handy for the weekend ahead.
If you’re looking for quirky Adirondack gifts and furniture, will also need to pay a visit to Dartbrook Rustic Goods. They’ve been crafting wood in the traditional Adirondack style since the 1920s, and the store is beautiful and fun to explore.
For weekend provisions, pay a visit to Cedar Run Bakery, where you’ll find a nice selection of local beer, good chocolate, and fresh-baked bread.
Take an Easy Day Hike up Owl’s Head in Keene
If you make it to town before 3 pm on Friday, I recommend the short hike up Owl’s Head to take advantage of some spectacular views. I make this recommendation with some reservations, however — this gorgeous hike offers a whole lot of view for very little effort, and it has been just about loved to death by locals and visitors alike. To remedy the situation, the trail is now closed on weekends, from 4 pm Friday to 7 am Monday. It is located on private property, but the owners have agreed to keep it open, provided that hikers follow the rules.
The Owl’s Head trail is quite eroded and well-worn. It’s .6 miles to the top, where you’ll find unobstructed views in every direction. The summit tops out at 2,120 feet, but the ascent is less than 500 feet. To get to the Owl’s Head trailhead, take route 73 north 3.2 miles out of Keene, and turn left on Owl’s Head Road. The trailhead is in .2 miles.
The whole hike shouldn’t take you longer than 45 minutes, making it a great stop for leg stretching and amazing views.
Visit the Jay Covered Bridge
If you have time, make a quick stop at the Jay Covered Bridge in the little hamlet of Jay. This was very close to our lodging at Adirondack Star Ridge, and we couldn’t resist, but it also makes for a great photo opp, and there is a small park nearby for walking. If you’re visiting in the summer, this is also a favorite swimming hole with the locals. The Jay Bridge is one of 29 covered bridges in New York State. The bridge was built in 1857, repaired in 1953, and closed to automobiles in 1997.
Where to Eat
If you are staying in Ausable Forks at Adirondack Star Ridge, then you should definitely check out Ice Jam Inn & Restaurant in Upper Jay before heading “home” for the night. The menu is upscale American with a few unique dishes thrown in for good measure. I was excited to try the Banh Mi with tempeh and the seared sea scallops were served over sweet potato and corn hash.
Day 2: Explore Lake Placid
Start with a morning hike to get your heart pumping, followed by some explorations in downtown Lake Placid.
Take a Hike up Mt. Jo
No visit to the High Peaks Region would be complete without embarking on a few hiking adventures. Truly, there are hundreds of trails to choose from, but we were looking for relatively short and relatively easy, so our next recommendation is Mt. Jo in Lake Placid.
If you are looking for something more challenging, or just want to explore more trails, I highly recommend the book, Trails of the Adirondack High Peaks by the Adirondack Mountain Club. Need a map? Check out: Lake Placid/High Peaks by National Geographic. You can get both of these at the Mountaineer in Keene, but my links are to Amazon.
Back to Mt. Jo. — The trail is a moderately steep 2.1-mile loop with fantastic views of the High Peaks. There are two trails to the summit, but we recommend taking the short, steep route up and the longer route back down — the total elevation gain is 700 feet.
Don’t be discouraged by all the cars in the parking lot and along the road. After seeing the hundreds of cars and hikers, we almost turned around. Turns out there are a lot of trails to explore, and while the Mt. Jo trail is a popular trail, we encountered about 20 people on the whole hike. If you have more time, you can hike around Heart Lake or to Rocky Falls before heading back to your car.
To get to the Mt. Jo trailhead, follow route 73 (north from Keene or south from Lake Placid) to Adirondack Loj Road. Follow the road to the end, and park in the lot ($10 fee) or on the side of the road (free).
Exploring Lake Placid and the Winter Olympic Sites
By now you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite and are more than ready to explore the bustling village of Lake Placid. As you may know, Lake Placid was home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and is still the training site for winter athletes.
Two of our favorite Olympic sites in Lake Placid are the Lake Placid Olympic Museum (currently under construction, but the Exhibit Gallery is open on the 2nd floor), which is right downtown, and the Olympic Jumping Complex. During our fall visit, we took the chairlift and elevator to the top of the jump and were lucky enough to watch some young skiers training, which was so incredible. The cost to ride the lift is $11 per person, worth it for the views alone!
There are plenty of other Olympic sites you can tour during your fall visit to Lake Placid. If that’s your goal, be sure to pick up the Olympic Sites Passport for $35.
Downtown Lake Placid is a fun town to explore, with a nice combination of boutique shops and galleries, touristy gift shops, and Adirondack kitsch. I’m not a huge shopper, but I do love a good Main Street. Here are some of the shops that I enjoyed during our visit.
- Adirondack Trading Company: Located on Main Street, this is the place to go for your Adirondack-themed gifts to bring home to your dog sitter. Plan on spending some time here – they’ve got three floors of stuff!
- Where’d You Get that Hat?: I love hat stores, and this one has a lot of headwear that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s located at 2569 Main Street in Lake Placid.
- The Village Mercantile: This is a community-owned shop with a heart. Featuring local artisanal crafts, jewelry, clothing, pottery, and more, the Village Mercantile is a fun place to shop for gifts or for yourself! It’s located at 97 Main Street.
After you’ve meandered around town a bit, relax with some dinner and take in the view. Many of the Lake Placid restaurants are located right on Mirror Lake. We were quite happy with Lake Placid Pub & Brewery – be sure to try the Ubu Ale — they’re famous for it.
Day 3: Paddling and Wildlife Adventures
We’ve got more outdoor adventures for you today. Paddle Mirror Lake and visit the wildlife at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center.
Paddling Mirror Lake
Getting out on Mirror Lake gives you a whole new view of the village of Lake Placid. From the water, you’ll have a fantastic view of the High Peaks. This 124-acre lake is perfect for a short morning paddle. More than half of the lakeshore is undeveloped forest, and you may even share the water with the local loons.
Bring your own human-powered boat, or rent one from Mirror Lake Boat Rental, which offers hourly rentals on kayaks, canoes, SUPs, paddle boats, and even hydro bikes!
Breakfast: Whether you’re craving sweet or savory, you will find so many unique offerings at the Breakfast Club. Banana Nutella French Toast! Bacon Waffles! Biscuits and Gravy! The Breakfast Club is located at 2431 Main Street.
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center
Get up close and personal with the wildlife at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge.
Many of the animals are permanent residents of the refuge, due to injuries or illness, while others will be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Visit with the animals and take a stroll around the 1-mile trail to visit the other critters.
The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center is located on Springfield Road in Wilmington, New York. It is open from 10-4, Thursday through Monday. A suggested donation of $10 per person will help offset the cost of feeding and caring for the resident animals.
FAQs About Visiting Lake Placid in the Fall
Before we dig deep into our Lake Placid itinerary, here are some frequently asked questions about visiting Lake Placid and the High Peaks region of New York State.
When is the best time to see fall foliage in Lake Placid?
While it’s not an exact science, fall foliage in the Adirondacks usually begins in mid-September and continues until late October. Peak fall foliage around Lake Placid starts around the last week of September and lasts through the first week of October. Of course, beautiful fall colors can be seen early and later than those peak times, you just may have to look a little harder to see them.
What’s the best way to get to Lake Placid?
Lake Placid is within a few hours of several major international airports, including Albany, NY, Burlington, VT, and Montreal, Quebec. To get the full fall foliage experience in the Adirondacks, I recommend renting a car or bringing your own. The actual village of Lake Placid is quite walkable, and if you stay right in town, you will be able to access shopping, restaurants, and attractions without a car.
Will I enjoy Lake Placid if I don’t like to hike?
The Adirondacks are known for their amazing hiking opportunities, but you don’t have to be a hiker to love this area! The village of Lake Placid is a bustling little place with all kinds of great attractions, restaurants, and shops. The Olympic sites alone could keep you busy for days, and there are other small towns nearby that you can check out.
What’s the weather like during the fall in Lake Placid?
In one word – unpredictable! Be prepared for rain and cool weather. Merino wool layers are great for the shoulder seasons, as they regulate your body temperature whether it’s warm or cool. Our favorite brand for the softest wool layers is Woolly Clothing Co., which is also one of the most affordable brands selling merino wool activewear.
Where should I stay in Lake Placid?
That depends on whether you want to be in Lake Placid Village, where you can walk to everything, or if you want your own private space. During our visit, we stayed at Adirondack Star Ridge in Au Sable Forks near the town of Jay. Click on the link above to see all the photos of this gorgeous vacation rental.
If you want to stay right in Lake Placid, you can’t go wrong with the Crown Plaza, which features gorgeous lake views, an indoor pool, and luxurious accommodations. Oh, and did I mention that it’s pet friendly?
Our favorite resources for planning a weekend getaway in the Adirondacks
- Lake Placid – We used the official Lake Placid website for planning much of our itinerary.
- Whiteface Region – The Whiteface Region website has great tips for family attractions and outdoor adventures in the region.
- Alltraills – We love the Alltrails app for helping us choose hikes when we travel. We’re able to find hikes that fit our ability level and our time frame.
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Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.
Wednesday 16th of February 2022
What a gorgeous area! I have family 4 and half hours from Lake Placid. This would be a great place to visit, when I'm with them.
Tuesday 31st of October 2017
One thing I regretted while living in NYC is not exploring much of upstate NY. The view from Mt. Jo is spectacular even though it was a bit cloudy. The fox and wolf at the wildlife refuge are adorable!
Tuesday 31st of October 2017
Those covered bridges look so quaint definitely a great photo op there. The Olympic museum sounds like it would be full of great history. The ski lift looks fun my kids enjoy that sort thing
Tuesday 31st of October 2017
New York state really impresses me with how much there is to see and do. I had never heard of Lake Placid (except something about a horror film, right?) but it looks wonderful. I would definitely want to visit the Widlife Refuge.
Monday 30th of October 2017
Oh my gosh, that fox in your seat is amazing! What a great capture! I also love the colors and scenery in the Heart Lake photo. We have yet to travel this part of the US, we really need to make it a priority! It looks incredible and sounds amazing through your photos and write up.