EXPERIENCE: Ausable Chasm. As you squeeze through walls of rock in an inflatable raft on a chute of whitewater, you might experience the nirvana that tourists did back in the '70s -- the 1870s, that is -- when larger wooden boats were pulled back into place through an elaborate pulley system. You can see the rusty remnants as you travel down rough and calm water (FYI: you will get wet). The boats may have changed, but the grandeur has not and it's certainly worth the 40-minute drive from Lake Placid. If you've got only a couple of hours, opt for the "Classic Tour" $28.95, which includes access to the one mile intermediate trail that descends into the chasm and a one mile river raft ride. Open all year, boat and tube rides seasonal. Snowshoe tours in winter.
VISIT: North Star Underground Railroad, Ausable Chasm. After trekking through Ausable Chasm, stop in to the small house next door (this museum shares a parking lot) to learn about the part this region played in the Underground Railroad. Exhibits showcase one fugitive slave, John Thomas, who made the arduous journey on foot through Philadelphia to Troy, N.Y., on his way to the U.S. border. Like many runaway slaves, Thomas stayed in upstate New York due to the generosity of one man -- the abolitionist Garret Smith, who gave away 120,000 acres to more than 3,000 escaped slaves, granting them the land-ownership required to vote in New York. Thomas not only succeeded in working the hardscrabble land but, unlike most of his brethren, prospered and bought 200 acres here. In 1872, Thomas wrote a letter of gratitude to Smith, which was lost for over a century and just recently rediscovered. Open daily May-Oct 9-5. Free, but donations appreciated.
DRIVE/HIKE: Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway. Pay the toll, and then climb the first road to honor American Veterans, a Works Project built during the Roosevelt administration and dedicated by FDR in 1935. Follow a long, riffled-tarred road with pullouts from which to ogle a more than grand tableau, but save your best ogling for the summit of Whiteface, the fifth highest peak in the Adirondacks. Park near the tourist center then walk through a 427-foot long dark, wet tunnel to a 27-story elevator that goes right through rock to the tippy-top of the mountain. Mid May to Mid October 9-4, $10 for car and driver, $7 for each additional person.
VISIT: High Falls Gorge. This stunning attraction-that-could was destroyed twice in 2011 (once due to excessive snow melt, then months later from Hurricane Irene). Back better than ever, marvel at the force of water down and through rock on a half-mile multi-level series of paths, stairs and bridges. Afterwards, sample local wines at the new beer and wine bar in back of the gift shop. It's only $3 for three one-ounce sips. May-Oct Daily 9-5, Dec. - March daily 9-4:30; $10.95 adults, $7.95 kids. Winter Waterfall & Snowshoe Package $26 adults, $16 kids including offsite rentals all day.
VISIT: John Brown Farm and Gravesite. Though John Brown spent only a few weeks in Elba, N.Y., before traveling to Kentucky to join his sons in their fight against slavery, and then put to death for his role in the raid on the U.S. Arsenal in Harper's Ferry, Va., he asked to be buried "by the big rock" on this bucolic property. Brown's headstone is inscribed: "Executed, Charleston, VA, Dec. 2, 1859," and he is buried with his sons Oliver, killed during the raid, and Watson, wounded and died as "John Doe" 18 hours later. Open May1-Oct 31 Wed-Mon (closed Tues) 10-5. $2 adults, under 12 free. Grounds and grave open year round during daylight hours.
VISIT: Historic Saranac Laboratory, Saranac Lake. When Dr. Edward Trudeau contracted tuberculosis in the late 1870s, he moved to the brisk-aired mountains of the Adirondacks to die. But strange thing is -- he didn't die, and so believing that he had stumbled onto a cure, Trudeau enticed those with the disease up to Saranac Lake in 1884. This first Sanatorium eventually became a town-wide industry; thousands of young adults (average age 18 to 35) came for "the cure" and stayed an average of two years. In the 1890s, Dr. Trudeau established the first laboratory to study the insidious disease. With no electricity when it was built, architects relied on large windows to allow for maximum light, and now, this is what is most striking about the tile-walled lab, refurbished to the way it would have looked at the turn of last century and opened as a tourist attraction in 2009. The Trudeau Institute (currently located elsewhere in Saranac Lake), continues to break ground in medical research. Dr. Edward Trudeau's son and grandson, both doctors, carried on his work in town and his great-grandson, the Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau, still visits Saranac Lake on occasion. Open year-round Tues-Fri. 10am-3pm. $5.
TOUR: Lake Placid Boat Tour. Tours leave from the only public and fuel dock on Lake Placid, and covers nearly all of the five-by-two-and-a-half-mile lake. The narrated one-hour trip features stories about the surrounding topography, Adirondack architecture (slight Japanese influence with rooflines like pagodas and use of natural materials), seasonal homeowners, and the "camps" that are camps the way Harry Winston is a jewelry store. Mid May to Mid October - see website for schedule; $15 adults, $10 kids.
EAT: Eat 'N Meet Grill and Larder, Saranac Lake. Can you find culinary genius in a '50s-style corner grocery store? Yes, if it's in Saranac Lake, where you'll find John Vargo charring Brussels sprouts ($4) to crispy-creamy perfection. Order these morsels of deliciousness, along with other twists-on-standards (like the Vegetarian Burger Reuben $10, huge enough to share), and if possible, call ahead -- this is good slow food, so expect to wait at least 30 minutes.
EAT: Liquids and Solids, Lake Placid. Getting through the beer list is an endurance test, but a joyful one in this roadside café where craft brews with names like Mother's Milk Stout and Deveiant Dale's IPA get their own "tasting notes." Chefs lavish farm-to-fork attention on menu items that change daily and "are smaller than most Americans are used to," says one server. In other words, just the right size. So, "Tempura Asparagus" ($11) consists of several whole lightly battered spears lying on a bed of piquant fresh garden greens.
EAT: Freestyle Cuisine, Lake Placid. A stellar addition to the culinary scene, the restaurant is split in two dining rooms -- one colorfully stylized to the max, another, with rustic booths facing an open kitchen,where verdant greens, artfully presented dishes, and creative victuals like Lobster Corn Dog ($14) and Foie Gras Burger with Truffle Mayo ($17) are garnering rave reviews.
STAY: Dartbrook Lodge, Keene. As a rule, you won't find boutique design in rustic roadside cabins. But The Dartbrook Lodge, which elevates "classic rustic design" to boutique hotel standards, breaks that rule entirely. Right on Route 73, current owners Steve Pounian and Jay Haws, with backgrounds in design, completely remodeled each cabin in Great Camp style and reopened the lodge in 2009. While sourcing locally made furniture and accessories, Pounian and Haws established relationships with Adirondack artisans and began to collect and sell their products at the neighboring shop Dartbrook Rustic Goods -- a terrific balsam-scented emporium. Because of the lodge's roadside location, you'll pay a fraction of what you'd have to fork over for a comparable space a few miles away on Lake Placid. Ask for the apartment-sized Halcyon House; log plank walls, Sleep Number bed, rustic/luxe and beautiful décor extends to the slate floor bathroom; the glass and bluestone double rain shower is downright glorious and could find a home in any upscale hotel. All this for less than $200 per night. Cabins $175-$195 per night.
STAY: Interlaken Inn, Lake Placid; Tucked on a side street uphill from Mirror Lake, the Interlaken is that great blend of casual elegance, phenomenal food, unsurpassed bar and comfortably classy antique-stuffed rooms that don't cost an arm and a leg, even "in season." Owners Mary and John Nealy believe that guests should enjoy luxury without having to pay outlandish rates. What is bliss? It's being served your favorite wine while being warmed by a huge blazing fireplace as snow falls outside the window, and knowing that your room is just upstairs. $175 to $275 per night.
For more recommendations on the best attractions, restaurants and lodging in the Northeast USA, trust in the Getaway Mavens!