The hidden fun in Lake Clear
Aug
21
2017

I'm telling you a secret. I love Lake Clear.

This tiny town, only 10 minutes north of downtown Saranac Lake, has many treasures to explore.

Part of the beginning

This was a major hub when visitors came to the Adirondacks by train. Even now, it is where people fly in at the Adirondack Regional Airport. The popularity of this area sprang from two factors. One is that this is a particularly gorgeous place, even in a place known for its gorgeousness. The other is Paul Smith and his wife, Lydia.

Both came to hotel management through various life experiences. Paul Smith started as a boatman on Lake Champlain at the age of 16, and after 7 years of experience as a guide in the Loon Lake area he rented a house there in 1848, which he ran as a small hotel for his guiding customers.

At left, Apollos (Paul) Smith, while on the right is his wife, Lydia Martin Smith. Together they were hugely influential in developing the Adirondacks as a visitor destination.
At left, Apollos Austin ("Paul") Smith, while on the right is his wife, Lydia Martin Smith. Together they were hugely influential in developing the Adirondacks as a visitor destination.

Lydia Martin was an AuSable Forks native whose parents moved the family to Franklin Falls to manage the hotel there, known as the Franklin House. By this time Lydia had graduated from the first women's higher education institution in the United States, Troy Female Seminary.

One fateful evening, they met at a dance in Loon Lake, danced the night away, and would form a powerhouse couple for the next four decades.

This boat launch on Upper St. Regis Lake gives a hint of the lake system that beckons boaters.
This boat launch on Upper St. Regis Lake gives a hint of the lake system that beckons boaters.

By 1858, the couple was in a position to build a hotel suitable for Paul's hunting and fishing clients to bring their wives. Lower St. Regis Lake, 12 miles southwest of Loon Lake, was chosen as a location, with the famous "water highways" that were the most popular way to explore the area in those early days.

Paul Smith's Hotel opened in the summer of 1859 and was an instant success. Paul was a charming storyteller with a famous sense of humor and Lydia, recently married, showed herself to be the detail-oriented person in the operation. Soon their enterprise brought the rich and famous to the area via stagecoach, and later, an electric railway connection that carried visitors to the very door of the hotel.

He and Lydia would donate the land for Paul Smith's College, known for its forestry, hospitality, and culinary programs.

Getting to the gorgeousness

Lake Clear has an option for any kind of nature exploration. This particular place is known for a wide variety of terrain despite its small area. Every kind of Adirondack environment, except high alpine, is represented here.

Take to the trails on horses with Emerald Springs Ranch. These horses have been raised and trained on the ranch with loving kindness, and know the trails on the property better than any human.

The horses carry you through the ranch's own trail system.
The horses carry you through the ranch's own trail system.

I went on a fun trail ride for the blog, The Horse Knows the Way.

Put on your boots for the 25 miles of exquisite hiking trails at the Paul Smith's College VIC. This complex has some very easy trails for the oldest and youngest hikers, and the challenge of its own summit, Jenkins Mountain.

Everyone has fun at the Visitor Interpretive Center, which also has an art gallery, great room, and small natural history museum.
Everyone has fun at the Visitor Interpretive Center, which also has an art gallery, great room, and small natural history museum.

Find out why I always say, "The VIC: it's luxury hiking."

Paddle the incredible 50-plus ponds and lakes in the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area.

Embark on the historic Seven Carries canoe journey for a paddle through many different ponds.
Embark on the historic Seven Carries canoe journey for a paddle through many different ponds.

I paddled one of its most historic routes and wrote about it in One Magic Canoe, the Seven Carries.

The flat areas near Gabriels let you enjoy the scenery as it goes by very fast with Farmhouse Go-Carts. Tucker Farms supply much of the fresh vegetables in local dining spots, and hosts the The Great ADK Corn Maze from early August into fall.

Dining delights

At first glance you might not realize the range of dining that is available there. Like so much of Lake Clear, what is wondrous often lurks beneath the surface.

At the ADK CAVU Cafe, the team of Josh and Clair are alumni of Paul Smith's College, where Josh graduated with a culinary arts degree. Here you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and homemade baked goods.

I do mean enjoy. One of the finest burgers of my life came from this cafe.

The CAVU Cafe (which stands for Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited) lets you enjoy fresh Adirondack dining as soon as you arrive!
The airport CAVU Cafe (which stands for Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited) lets you enjoy fresh Adirondack dining as soon as you arrive!

From fun and casual we can go to a full dinner with Rathskeller at the Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat, on the shores of Lake Clear's namesake lake. From heritage tours with beer and food tastings and cooking demonstrations, to a full Camp Dinner with all the trimmings, this is a place that knows how to put the so-fine in fine dining with a fresh and healthy focus.

Watch the food being prepared to learn (and taste) the freshness.
Watch the food being prepared to learn (and taste) the freshness.

Local favorites are Packbasket Diner for a hearty breakfast or lunch, and the Shamrock Bar & Grill takes over for dinner. Both are handy to the snowmobiling trails, and a must-stop to fuel up in winter or summer.

Ice cream stands in the Adirondacks are something like high school sports teams. Everyone has loyalties to their local favorite, but then sometimes there is a team which transcends all boundaries. That would be: Donnelly's. Since 1956 this stand has dedicated themselves to ice cream and nothing else, to the point that it has become internationally famous. Celebrities, political figures, and ice cream aficionados from all walks of life put a trip to Donnelly's on their must visit list.

Donnelly's: all you need to know to order like a pro.
Donnelly's: All you need to know to order like a pro.

This is no ordinary ice cream stand. While the ordering process is not as rigorous as that of the Soup Nazi, and of course they will never turn anyone away if they can help it, it is good to know how it's done. We need to get ready before we go in because we don't want hold up the line, which can extend into the parking area and put a bit of pressure on the designated point person.

Bring your cash, know the day of the week, and establish the sizes the party wishes. Vanilla and chocolate are always available, but the special flavor has been chosen because they only have the one machine which is available for that. You can get the flavor of the day in a hot fudge sundae, which is my favorite way of enjoying Donnelly's. They also sell fresh eggs and dairy products!

Recently, a challenger has appeared. The Cone Cabin is at the other end of Lake Clear, and offers such hi-tech amenities as crushed Butterfinger candy bars to top the sundaes, and a full grill with burgers, dogs, fries, and wings. The only thing to do is try as many as you can. This is how you can join in the ice cream discussions that might come up.

I think you can now see why this place is a favorite place.

Soak up that special Lake Clear atmosphere with lodging at White Pine Camp, Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat, or Charlie's Inn, which was once the stagecoach stop. Seek reservations for an incredible experience with Paul Smith's College culinary students. They will prepare and serve an elegant lunch (St. Regis Cafe) or dinner (The Palm) at certain times of year.  Read our blog about Six Nations Indian Museum, Six Nations, First People.

Author:Pamela Merritt
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