The Best of Lake Placid Through the Eyes of a 7th-Generation Adirondacker
He’s been called “the Adirondack guide nonpareil” by Forbes Life Magazine for good reason. Because there’s no one who knows this six-million-acre forested wilderness quite like Ed Kanze, leading twice weekly nature sessions and hikes out of the Lake Placid Lodge. And we’ve got his top Lake Placid (and beyond) highlights to prove it.
Formerly working as a National Park Ranger, Ed Kanze has lived near some of the world’s most beautiful natural places: Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine; Gulf Islands National Seashore straddling the Gulf barrier islands between Florida and Mississippi; he even spent nine months camping and traveling 25,000 miles across Australia with his wife. Still, there is just something about the Adirondacks that has always called to him.
“I grew up in Westchester County, outside of New York City, but my family’s connection to the Adirondacks date back to 1795, when my great, great, great, great grandparents – that’s six generations back from me – first settled near the Sacandaga River in the southern part of the park,” says Kanze, who, as a boy, used to religiously visit his grandfather for two-week summer stints where the duo would retreat into the woods for fishing trips. “I’ve always felt that ancestral connection and it grew stronger each time I visited.”
So, it should come as no surprise that Kanze and his wife ended up settling here full-time in 1999, in a small community hamlet about a 30-minute drive away from the Lake Placid Lodge. And as a lover of the diverse landscapes that call this region home (think mountains, lakes, rivers, bogs, fens, and boreal forests), it should come as even less of a surprise that he ended up starting an Adirondack guiding service not long after. In the process, he’s not only become one of the leading Adirondack naturalists in the country (maybe the world?), he’s also developed a robust list of favorite to-dos within the communities and villages that pepper this six-million-acre forested wilderness covering more square miles than Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon national parks combined.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN LAKE PLACID
With a single-lane Main Street no more than a mile in length and lined by quaint A-frame cottages and unpretentious boutiques, the town of Lake Placid is certainly suggestive of the quiet serenity conveyed in its name, says Kanze. Thanks to its Olympic heritage, having hosted the Games in ’32 and again in ’80, this village of 2,300 is a place that lures those who seek more than just a “miracle on ice,” but a wonder in all the top things there are to do here, from nearby hiking trails to high culture.
Lake Placid Aboard the Christie
Kanze is no stranger to Lake Placid Lodge: For the last several years, he’s partnered with the lodge to offer nature sessions/hikes through the Mckenzie Mountain Wilderness, one of the most remote and wildest parts of the Adirondacks – and also the area Lake Placid Lodge borders.
“As we’re skirting along the lake on our walks, I always tell guests that they must take advantage of the lodge’s beautiful Hacker Craft,” says Kanze, referring to the 35-foot mahogany Christie available for one-hour-long, guided tours of the five-mile-long lake. “The lake is divine and you get to putter past all these Adirondack-inspired great camps for a very up-close and personal view.”
Rather hear the history of the lake through Kanze? His hikes – regularly scheduled for Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting at 10 a.m. – always begin with a one-hour fireside chat before heading out into the woods.
Owen and Copperas Pond Hikes
The Lake Placid area is home to scores of hikes, catering to hardcore peak-baggers and complete novices and everything in between. However, one of Kanze’s favorites is this 4-mile round-trip hike just 20 minutes from Lake Placid Lodge that skirts along not one, but two beautiful glacial-formed ponds in the Sentinel Range Wilderness.
“It’s not a mountain hike, but a valley hike nestled between the peaks, which usually means it’s easier, but there is also more opportunity to spot wildlife at these lower elevations,” says Kanze. In fact, this particular loop is a hotspot for beaver activity, including highly visible beaver dams. “Sometimes, you might even see them swimming.”
Lake Placid Center for the Arts
Don’t be fooled by Lake Placid Center for the Arts’s quaint vibe, located a stone’s throw from Lake Placid’s Main Street. Because it serves up some of the region’s highest caliber and diverse arts programming year-round in its 355-seat theater and Gallery @ LPCA, showing 10 rotating exhibits each year. (There’s also a second gallery, Gallery 46, in the alpine mall on Main Street featuring work by local artists who live or create in the Adirondack Park.)
“There is always something going on: art shows, plays, film, ballet troops that come in from New York City,” says Kanze. “They even do livestreams on their big screen of programs from The Metropolitan Opera.”
The Bookstore Plus
The Main Street Lake Placid shopping opportunities are more than plentiful, but one store that speaks volumes in Kanze’s book? This family-owned independent bookstore that has been serving the area for 40 years. “It’s hard not to walk out of there without a book,” he says. “You can tell it’s run by people who actually read the books and have carefully curated the selection to really grab you.” (He would know, too, as Kanze himself has published a host of books and has even won the prestigious John Burroughs Award for his nature writing.)
So what does the “plus” in the name mean? “They also stock a selection of art supplies – canvases, paints, and brushes – to cater to the local artist community.”
Just a couple stores up Main Street from The Bookstore Plus, this quaint, brick-lined bakery punctuated with a black-and-white penny tile floor is home to what Kanze says is the best cinnamon bun you will ever taste. “My mother was a wonderful baker and I dabble a bit myself,” he reveals. “The key is that they make their buns with active yeast – not baking powder – and that’s the authentic way to make it. I feel like I’m eating one of my mother’s cinnamon buns every time I bite into one.”
Not in the mood for a bun? They offer a slew of baked goods, everything from a never-ending selection of different flavored scones, muffins, and macaroons; bear claws; strudels; pies; and, of course, coffee.
TOP THINGS TO DO NEAR LAKE PLACID
While you could spend your whole vacation exploring just Lake Placid alone, the surrounding towns – most notably Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Keene – also offer scores of other Adirondack-inspired activities worthy of a drive.
About a 40-minute drive from Lake Placid, in the small village of Paul Smiths, The VIC (which stands for “Visitor Interpretive Center” as it was originally built as a tourist information center) is now a 3,000-acre gem of a trail system managed by the local college.
“You can get deep into the beautiful, rugged wild country, yet you’re walking on these beautifully maintained trails that are graded and woodchipped, plus well marked. It’s hiking in the wild, but you don’t have to constantly study your feet in case of rocks and roots,” says Kanze. And with a diverse variety of ecosystems and habitats – wetlands and bogs, deep evergreen forests, meadows, even a mountain – packed into the 25 miles of trails, the last thing you’ll want to be doing is looking down.
Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake
This iconic museum – consisting of more than 20 buildings across a 120-acre campus overlooking Blue Mountain Lake an hour and 20 minutes from Lake Placid – is very near and dear to Kanze. That’s because so many of the thoughtful, well-constructed exhibits focus on the history and early settlers of this region: trappers, loggers, teamsters, farmers, and more.
“I feel like I’m going through my family attic every time I visit because so much of it ties to my family history,” says Kanze. “That’s another part of what makes the Adirondacks different from others: When other parks were created, Native Americans and early non-native settlers who were located within the boundaries were required to move. That never happened here, so we have this rich history that others do not.”
Stroll Saranac Lake
Saranac Lake, located about 20 minutes from Lake Placid, has undergone something of a revitalization in the last few years, transforming this small town into one with big-time appeal. This historic village is packed with unique independent storefronts, art galleries and studios, and restaurants that Kanze says are always worth a stroll.
Not to mention, it has become a bit of a year-round musical mecca with a variety of venues and sounds, from roots rock, bluegrass, blues, and funk tunes at Waterhole to underground swing jazz, gutbucket blues, and Parisian cabaret at Lake Flower Landing.