I thought I was moving to Saranac Lake for the mountains. I wanted easy access to trails, and to be able to find precious solitude at a moment’s notice. I dreamed of spending my free time exploring every inch of forest, marveling at the plants and creatures who dwell there. And that’s all true — those things were exactly why I moved to Saranac Lake. But once I left the forest, a strange and unprecedented thing happened.
I remember the first time I saw Saranac Lake. I had decided to take a scenic drive through the Adirondacks during a long trip from Buffalo to Plattsburgh, and it was dark and rainy. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I couldn’t see anything past the foggy glare of my headlights. So I just kept driving, completely oblivious to the fact that Lake Flower and some of the Saranac Lake 6ers were right there, just beyond the dry confines of my old, sputtering station wagon.
I revisited Saranac Lake several years later, when I made the one-hour trip from Plattsburgh to check out Hobofest, a free outdoor music festival that happens Labor Day weekend. The music was varied and great, and by the end of the evening everyone was dancing in front of the stage, bare feet stomping up little dust clouds as the Biscuit Rollers absolutely killed it. This was my kind of scene — mountains, music, and a little friendly mayhem.
Since that initial impression my wife, Anna, and I have come to know and love Saranac Lake. Yes, we moved here for the nature, but what we’ve found beyond the pines is a very special place that attracts an eclectic blend of people. There’s a reason so many people we’ve met have moved here from other areas. Here are my four favorites.
1. It’s OK to be weird
I like strange things — sci-fi movies, plant identification, genre-bending music, and books about parasites — and I am drawn to people who feel the same way. That’s not an issue in Saranac Lake. The community is a heaping blend of intellectuals, do-it-yourselfers, travelers, and creative types, so much that sometimes all of those attributes are rolled into one overly ambitious person. Everyone here is accepting and genuinely interested in whatever oddly unique things pique your interest, so casual conversations are never dull. Seriously. Next time you visit, head to the coffee shop downtown and introduce yourself to a stranger. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Art and music are everywhere
This is pretty obvious if you visit during one of the ArtWalks, which happen the third Thursday of every month in the summer. You’ll hear music in the street, you’ll see people making art in the street, and you’ll get a true taste of the people who make Saranac Lake so special. Don’t feel bad if you miss it, though. There’s a lot of free music here, with concerts happening at least twice a week in the summer — Wednesday nights at Berkeley Green and Thursday nights at Party on the Patio — and there are usually live bands on the weekend, too. You can catch funk, punk, jam, folk, or rock, some of it local and some of it hailing from much bigger places like Brooklyn. The downtown art galleries are open year round and there are frequent shows and events at BluSeed Studios. And if you like theater you need to check out Pendragon. The performances there are worth every penny.
3. A downtown I can get behind
I mentioned art and music, right? Saranac Lake is by far the smallest town I’ve lived in, but as much as I love nature I also love big cities. It’s odd, but somehow Saranac Lake has managed to inject a bit of an urban vibe into its small downtown. Maybe it’s the way the people dress, or maybe it’s the exuberance that seems to burst from every storefront, but it’s there and it’s comforting to me. There are some awesome shops to check out — I already mentioned the coffee shop; there’s also a great little bookstore, a music shop, a community-owned-and-operated department store, a thrift store, and plenty of outdoor dining. It’s a surprisingly busy little place that’s surrounded by peaceful forests and waterways; the best of both worlds in my mind.
4. The mountains, of course!
In summer, the days are long and warm, and the nights are cool and tinted with the smell of campfire. People laugh out loud — that’s the mountains talking. Whether I’m heading to a concert, driving to work, hammering something into the side of my house, or on my way to the grocery store, they’re there. McKenzie greets me as I pull out of my driveway, Baker Mountain peeks between buildings downtown, and Scarface says “See you soon” as I head to Lake Placid for work. I’ve hiked them all many times, and there’s no doubt I’ll revisit each of them soon. I have to because, in all honesty, I owe it all to them. My love of the mountains drew me to this wonderful place, and my love of Saranac Lake kept me here.