The Adirondacks are, frankly, the most wonderful place in the world for a walk or a hike. We have the options for either, from a stroll through fragrant woods on level ground to breathtakingly steep ascents of big mountains. From downtown Saranac Lake you can get to numerous spots simply perfect for this and in just a few minutes. If I could choose just one fall adventure on foot, I'd go to the Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center, which features beautiful trails ranging from one to nine miles in round-trip length through a variety of habitats. Some of the trails are wheelchair accessible, so everyone can enjoy the woods.
All trails at the VIC essentially originate close to the center building, which hosts educational programs, film presentations, art exhibits, and a gift shop. The staff and volunteers at the VIC are friendly and can help you select the best hike for you.
My personal favorite is the Boreal Life Trail, a one mile loop that features an extensive boardwalk through a boreal forest and bog. It's the perfect place to view and appreciate a number of species of birds and plants, including the carnivorous pitcher plant, which ingests small insects. The Boreal Life Trail also features tamaracks, the only needle-bearing tree in this region to lose its needles. In the fall, tamaracks turn bright yellow and fiery orange, and whether the needles are still on the trees or on the trail, you'll be enchanted by the sight.
The VIC is a great place for viewing wildlife, particularly birds, but there are also plenty of other creatures to watch for. One fall walk I happened upon a totally adorable baby snapping turtle. I helped it across the path and enjoyed watching it make its way through fallen leaves and pine needles.
On the road again
I’m a total sucker for a road trip. I grew up on them. For me, there is something really lovely about being out on the road, enjoying the passing scenery, watching for farm stands and other interesting spots to stop at and explore. Saranac Lake has lovely roads for even a short scenic ride and fall is one of the best times to hit the road. Here is a short drive that will be worth your time and offer you great views of our remarkable foliage.
Jones Pond - Gabriels Loop
From downtown Saranac Lake, drive north on Route 86. Past the junction with Route 186, watch for a pull-off at the top of the hill on the right. This is an outstanding spot for taking in the views of the adjacent peaks, including Whiteface, McKenzie, and Moose mountains. From this gorgeous vantage point, the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area is in the foreground, and you’ll have an unobstructed view of nearly 40,000 acres of wilderness, much of it covered in bright, changing leaves.
Continue on Route 86 through the hamlet of Gabriels, once the site of a tuberculosis sanatorium. The old Grange Hall contains an antique shop and if that’s your kind of thing, it’s worth the stop. At the adorable stone and wood Brighton Town Hall, turn right on Jones Pond Road. You’ll soon start seeing the pond itself and about 2.5 miles after your turn, you’ll see a dirt road on your right.
This road leads to free camping sites, but for a scenic stop, simply park near the road and walk down to the pond. There are numerous short paths leading to views of the pond. The views are great and so is the lovely, fresh air. The walk through fragrant pines and beautiful changing leaves is a sweet stop. You might even have the whole pond to yourself!
Continue on Jones Pond Road to the T-junction with Route 60 (Gabriels-Onchiota Road) and then turn right. This will take you back to Gabriels, where you continue south back to Saranac Lake.
Down by the water
For over a century, Lower Saranac Lake has been a popular spot for the ideal Adirondack vacation. The sparkling water and mile after mile of surrounding forest make it wonderland for anyone interested in a rugged, classic Adirondack vacation. The lake was the site of one of the first hotels in the Adirondacks — known locally simply as Martin's — and around the turn of the century, expansive camps were built along the shore for wealthy families to take their fashionable summer vacation. Today, you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy Lower Saranac Lake, you just have to have a sense of adventure.
Rent a pontoon or fishing boat at Saranac Lake Marina to explore large stretches of the lake, or rent a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard for a quieter adventure on the water. Lower Saranac Lake is big, covering more than 2,000 acres, but it's all scenic. The lake is dotted with islands of a variety of sizes. Watch for loons, eagles, historic camps, and, if you're close to shore, mammals including mink and otter. As you paddle the lake, your views will always be amazing and the mixture of green conifers with changing deciduous trees will delight your eyes.
It is also possible to camp on one of the many islands on the lake or along the shore; reservations should be made online ahead of time, but if you stop in you might get lucky. The sites on Lower Saranac are beautiful and ideal for a cozy campfire and snuggling in a warm sleeping bag. Fall camping tends to be quieter but the scenery is probably even nicer than in the busier summer months. Wake up to the sound of birds, the sight of mist on the water, and savor the scent of the forest in fall. You've gone to Adirondack heaven.
Fall is a very special time of year to treat yourself to a vacation or mini-break in the Adirondacks. While you're here enjoying the foliage, be sure to pop in to one of our great foodie destinations or a fun attraction. We have a lot of unique things to do in Saranac Lake!