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Lake George or Lake Placid? Your Ultimate Comparative Guide

If you were to ask a native New Yorker about the best Adirondack vacation destinations, the locations of “Lake George” and “Lake Placid” are usually said in the same breath. But that certainly doesn’t mean they are exact carbon copies of each other.


Both are located in the breathtaking six-million-acre expanse of New York’s Adirondack Park. Both are based beside some of the Northeast’s most stunning bodies of water. And both offer plenty of attractions, from outdoor recreation to picturesque downtowns brimming with shops, eateries, and cultural attractions. That’s why it’s only natural to feel torn between the two destinations of Lake George and Lake Placid when considering your next Adirondack getaway. Still, there are plenty of nuances between the two. Consider this your guide to determining which lakeside outpost should be the landing place for your next Adirondack vacation.

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LOCATION & ACCESSIBILITY

Both locations are easily accessible via Interstate 87, the main highway also known as the “Adirondack Northway.”

How to Get to Lake George?

Nestled in the southern Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York (four hours north of New York City), the greater region of Lake George is easily accessible by car with Interstate 87 running parallel to the lake, allowing for convenient access for visitors coming from either the north or south. The town of Lake George – set at the southernmost tip of the lake – is also located right off the interstate, however, to reach popular points of interest in the area (such as the charming hamlet of Bolton Landing), you’d exit the interstate and travel 9N, which skirts the entirety of Lake George’s western shoreline. The closest major airport is Albany International, 55 miles away.

How to Get to Lake Placid?

Situated in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks in Northeastern New York (five hours from New York City), Lake Placid is also accessible by car via Interstate 87 and then Route 73 (for those coming from the south). However, unlike Lake George, the town is located 20 minutes from Adirondack Regional Airport, offering regional flights on commuter lines like Cape Air. There’s also the Lake Placid Airport for those with access to private or corporate aircrafts who want to fly directly into town.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Fort William Henry, just south of the Lake George Village, is a reminder of the region’s role in the French and Indian War.

What is the History of Lake George?

The history of Lake George began with Native American inhabitants, followed by the colonial era where the region served as a vital trade route and military outpost, eventually playing a pivotal role in both the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and the American Revolution (1775–1783). With the rise of steamboat travel in the nineteenth century, the greater region became a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors with its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, resulting in the establishment of hotels and resorts along its shores – including The Sagamore Resort on Greene Island in 1882. Today, Lake George remains a popular destination for tourists, offering a blend of historical sites, outdoor recreation, and charming small-town atmosphere.

What is the History of Lake Placid?

Much like Lake George, prior to the early pioneers, the first residents of the Lake Placid region were the Iroquois and Mohawk Native Americans. During the nineteenth century, the area gained prominence with the advent of logging and mining industries. However, it was the hosting of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and again in 1980 that truly put Lake Placid on the map. These events transformed the town into an internationally recognized winter sports destination, leaving a lasting legacy of athletic excellence and community pride. Today, Lake Placid continues to thrive as a year-round tourist destination, offering outdoor recreational activities, stunning natural scenery, and a vibrant cultural scene, all while preserving its rich heritage and Olympic legacy.

DOWNTOWN SCENES

The view of Lake Placid, looking north up Main Street from the recently renovated Olympic Center. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Regional Development Authority

What is the Town of Lake George Like?

Set beside the eponymous lake, there’s plenty to do in the greater Lake George region with downtown Lake George serving as a walkable destination with a buzzy beach-boardwalk vibe. The village’s bustling main artery, Canada Street, is stocked with local shops, arcades, mini-golf, restaurants, and pubs, while, at the edge of the shore, steamers ferry vacationers on sightseeing tours and dinner cruises. While fun, it can be a dizzying, tourist-packed experience, so for those looking for a more relaxed downtown, Bolton Landing, located no more than a scenic 20-minute drive on 9N, is something like the quieter, more upscale cousin. While its walkable “main street” spanning a section of Lake Shore Drive may be short, at less than a half-mile in length, it sure is sweet, with charming boutiques housed in cottages and Adirondack-inspired buildings.

What is Lake Placid Village Like?

Set just beside the tranquil Mirror Lake, the village of Lake Placid may be no more than a mere 1.5 square miles in size, but it’s packed with a plethora of things to do. Resembling a scene that looks like it could have been plucked from a Norman Rockwell painting, the town’s single-lane Main Street is lined with charming, well-preserved buildings that reflect the village’s history and architectural heritage, while also serving up a nice mix of name-brand outlets and uniquely Lake Placid boutiques and shops, ideal for a day of shopping and browsing. Famous Olympic sites are also scattered around the edges of the town, including the recently renovated Olympic Center (on the southern end of Main Street) and the Ski Jumping Complex (no more than mile outside of the village).

TOP ATTRACTIONS

What is There to Do in Lake George?

The Lake, Of Course

The 32-mile-long Lake George – once affectionally referred to as “the most beautiful water I ever saw” by Thomas Jefferson – not only is it considered to be one of the clearest and cleanest large lakes in the world, but these crystalline waters are rife with recreation. That wide-range of water activities includes everything from parasailing adventures and jet-ski rentals to fishing excursions to angling hotspots of “The Bays.” And, of course, there are several different types of historic and scenic steamer cruises with  The Lake George Steamboat Company (for more intimate and private tours, guests of The Sagamore Resort get access to the property’s 72-foot replica of a nineteenth-century touring vessel, The Morgan). There are also six public beaches sprinkled around the lake, including Million Dollar Beach in Lake George Village and Usher Park on the eastern shore.

Arts & Culture

The Sembrich, in Bolton Landing, is both a museum, historic site, and nature preserve that dazzles art and culture lovers.

Between the 4,000 works of art by masters like Botticelli, Rembrandt, and Renoir at the Hyde Collection; the ever-convincing war reenactments at Fort William Henry; and free concerts at Shepard Park, entertainment and activities in the form of arts and culture isn’t hard to come by in the Lake George region. One of the favorite ways to spend a culture-filled afternoon is The Sembrich in Bolton Landing – a former teaching studio and woodland retreat of opera singer Marcella Sembrich – that is home not just to a renowned Summer Festival, but a 4.5-acre nature preserve woven with public walking paths and trails.

Lake George Restaurants

In the Lake George region, dining options range from elegant fine dining establishments such as Bistro LeRoux and The Chateau to unique eateries like the iconic hot dog house of New Way Lunch. But perhaps Lake George’s tightest concentration of vast and varied restaurants can be found at The Sagamore Resort. In fact, in-season, there are up to eight different dining outlets, including lakeside Italian at La Bella Vita, towers of chilled seafood at the open-air Pavilion, gourmet burgers in BRGR Kitchen & Bar, and poolside dining at The LakeHouse

What is There to Do in Lake Placid?

Live It Up on the Lake – Two Lakes, Actually

Lake George may be larger than the five-mile-long Lake Placid, but Lake Placid tends to be a bit more, well, placid. That’s because there’s no road access other than one public boat launch (whereas the perimeter of Lake George is lined with several). That said, you can certainly enjoy watersports like wakeboarding, kayaking, and boat tours (ADK Aquatics is the main outfitter). And when you’re a guest of Lake Placid Lodge, you get access to intimate tours on the lodge’s 35-foot mahogany Hacker Craft, Christie.

There’s also nearby Mirror Lake, of which the village of Lake Placid hugs the western edge. No motorized vessels are permitted on this body of water, just canoes and kayaks, and there’s also a small sandy beach at its southernmost point. Come winter, when this lake freezes over, thrill-seekers of all ages take advantage of two unique experiences: dog sledding and tobogganing across the frozen surface.

Explore Lake Placid Olympic History

Find wall-to-wall rare Olympic memorabilia in Lake Placid’s Olympic Museum. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Regional Development Authority

The former Olympic facilities and venues built for the 1932 and 1980 games are just as significant as they were during the Olympic years. Lovingly cared for and collectively known as the Lake Placid Legacy Sites, these historic venues comprise the Olympic Center, Olympic Jumping Complex, Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and Whiteface Mountain and are available for touring. We highly suggest the Olympic Center right in the village as it’s home to a recently renovated and comprehensive Olympic museum containing rare memorabilia like the goalie net, a piece of the rink wall, and hockey uniforms from the legendary 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”

Lake Placid Restaurants

For a small village in the heart of the Adirondacks, Lake Placid offers an impressively diverse range of dining options, from sports bars like Players Waterfront Eatery and breweries like Big Slide Brewery & Public House to farm-to-table dining at Salt of the Earth bistro. However, to experience Lake Placid’s most celebrated dining experience, you’d need to make a reservation for Artisans at Lake Placid Lodge. In fact, this intimate fire-lit restaurant with a carefully curated menu helped to earn this property its acclaimed Relais & Châteaux distinction.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Where to Stay in Lake George?

Set on a private 70-acre island on the western shore of lower Lake George, The Sagamore Resort is a sprawling Victorian-era escape that has been welcoming visitors for more than 140 years. The 300-plus lakeside accommodations are vast and varied including traditional luxury guest rooms and suites in the main historic hotel; inviting lakeside lodges with modern kitchens and comfortable living rooms; bi-level suites housed in an a nineteenth-century carriage house, and on-site private homes, like The First House and The Castle. As for what to do on-site, there’s award-winning dining, an 18-hole Donald Ross-designed golf course, a 10,000-square foot recreation center, and all spoils of that big beautiful lake from fishing to boating and beyond.

Where to Stay in Lake Placid?

The only hotel set directly on the tranquil waters of Lake Placid and just a five-minute drive from the downtown Olympic village, Lake Placid Lodge is a Great Camp-inspired retreat offering a secluded escape unlike any other. Layered in one-of-a-kind features and furniture handmade by local craftsmen – think towering hand-carved wooden beds, rough-hewn chairs and tables, stacked-stone fireplaces, and other Adirondack adornments – 30 luxurious guest accommodations are scattered across the sprawling property, including 17 secluded stand-alone lakeside cabins. A slew of on-site activities are right at your fingertips, including lake kayaking or cruising aboard the resort’s 36-foot mahogany Hacker-Craft, fishing, and hiking the property’s various trails (and that’s just the warm-weather activities!).

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