THE ADK GREAT CIRCLE ROUTE:
The following route is recommended as an introduction
Adirondacks for those who have time restriction. If you can spend several
weeks in the mountains, there are many side trips you should try as well.
The best scenario is to visit during the different seasons, especially
mid-summer, winter, and when the fall colors are at their peak (late-September
Since this is a big loop, it really doesn't matter where you start.
I am beginning the grand tour in Lake George
, since it is easily
accessible from Albany via I-87 (The Northway), and it is a circus tourist
town, and you might want to get that out of your system early.
1. Lake George:
The village sits at the southern end of the
lake of the same name. You are inside (by a few miles) the famous "blue
line" of the Park, but you would never know it here. This place, perhaps,
best represents the contradictions of the Forever Wild
Forested mountains and nice hiking trails are nearby, but this place belongs
to the tourists. Traffic jams in the summer season rival those in major
cities, and there is a Times Square flavor to the town (well, there is
if you have a good imagination). Lake George does have a significant historic
site worth visiting, Fort William Henry
This British fort fell to the French and their native allies, inspiring
some of the famous scenes in James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the
As a geographer, you should asků
Why was this fort significant
during the French and Indian War? For a clue visit the Human Geography
, and the discussion of strategic points. When Burgoyne made his
fateful invasion of New York via Lake Champlain, should he have continued
down Lake George to this site instead of the alternate route he chose?
2. Drive up the west side of Lake George
on Rte. 9N. The views of this beautiful lake are worth the extra time. You
are sitting in a graben
, which is the geological term for a block
of the earth's crust that has fallen, while other blocks (called horsts
were pushed upwards. As was the case in many other places in the Northeast,
this valley was deepened by glaciation, and filled with water when the
Ice Age ended. Lake George drains to the north via Ticonderoga Creek, which
logically passes through its name-sake village on its way to Lake Champlain
is probably the most famous historic place in
the Adirondack region. Of course, a visit to the Fort
recommended, especially if you are traveling with children. Military drills
and cannon-firings are a regular part of the tour. Try to imagine an 18th-century
invasion force sailing down the lake from Canada. Do you think they could
continue without taking out this fort? The answer is best discovered by
driving back into the village, and following the signs up to Mount Defiance
. When you see the cannon sticking
out of the hillside, park the car. The view you will see is pictured on
the left. Fort Ticonderoga is to the right of the red arrow (which, of course,
was drawn on to this photo). Beyond Lake Champlain is the State of Vermont
(the home of Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys, who captured the fort from
the British in 1775). The fort sits on a peninsula of Lake Champlain. When
Burgoyne's artillery took command of Mt. Defiance in 1777, the Americans
were forced to abandon Fort Ticonderoga.
Why was this retreat
necessary from a military (and from a geographic
When you return to the village, look for the park along Ticonderoga Creek
. There are some nice walking
trails to a waterfall. Remember that the creek is the outlet for Lake George,
which is a couple hundred feet higher in elevation than Lake Champlain.
Hence, the waterfall found here. This would require a portage, and therefore,
this would have been a very important strategic location.
4. Leave Ticonderoga on Rte. 22 north along the shoreline of Lake
Champlain. You are sitting in another graben. About ten miles from Ticonderoga
you will see the sign for Crown Point
the site of another historic fort from the 18th century. Like Ticonderoga,
it was originally built the French, and it was captured by the British in
the French and Indian War. Crown Point, now a New York Historic Site, is
Why has this fort suffered
the passage of time worse than its sister fort to the south? Does it have
a lesser tourist value than Ticonderoga? (A visit to the Visitor Center
might supply you with some clues).
5. Continue the drive up Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh
You will pass through several towns that originated as iron mining towns
in the 19th century. This was the section of the Adirondacks that first
opened up to "civilization." This should make sense, since this valley was
accessible to the rest of the state by the lake and the Champlain Canal,
which still connects this region to the Hudson River near Albany. Plattsburgh
is the commerical hub of Northeastern New York. It was also the site of an
important naval victory for the Americans in the War of 1812. (see the Human Geography
for more details). This was the last attempt by the British to
subdue "the colonists" by an attack from Canada.) A monument to this victory
can be seen near Plattsburgh Harbor.
There has been a movement
to declare Lake Champlain a "Great Lake." Is this justified from a geographic
point of view? What advantages might be gained by such a momentous proclamation?
6. Backtrack south along Rte. 22 (or take I-87). Look for the signs
for Ausable Chasm
. This is a good
introduction to the scenic wonders of the Adirondack region. It is privately-owned,
and it is touristy, but a walk down this beautiful gorge (and the boat ride
at the end), is worth the price of admission. The Ausable River originates
near the slopes of Mount Marcy, as does the Hudson, although on different
sides. The chasm is the last major drop in the river before it enters Lake
Champlain. You will now follow this river on Rte. 9N into the Keene Valley
, one of the great jewels of the
is one of the northeast
trending valleys that criss-cross the mountains. They are remnants of plate
collisions that started over a billion years ago. And, of course, in more
recent geologic times, they were deeply glaciated during the Ice Ages,
giving them a U-shaped profile, similar to the Finger
. You will pass through the village of Ausable Forks, where,
logically, the north and south branches of the river meet, and Jay
, where you take Route 86 to Wilmington
is not the highest peak in New York, but it is the only one that you can
reach by car. As you climb the mountain, you should notice a change in the
dominant vegetation. Down in the valley near Wilmington, broadleaf (or
deciduous) trees are most common. When you reach the 2500 foot level, however,
evergreen (or coniferous) trees take over, indicating a harsher climate.
When you get close to the summit, you will pass through the krummholtz
a miniature forest with very stunted trees. At the top itself, you will find
yourself in an alpine tundra, although it has been somewhat impacted by
human activities. This short drive is the ecological equivalent of traveling
two thousand miles north on level ground.
Of course, you want to enjoy the view, which is amazing and almost
indescribible. Look for evidence of glaciation. Several narrow ridges
) stand out in profile, separated by deep, bowl-shaped
). If this sounds like Switzerland, you are on
the right track. They are the remnants of alpine glaciation, that lasted
to the very end of the Ice Age. You will also see the rounded profiles
of other mountains, further evidence of an ice invasion. You will see
dozens of lakes. It should be easy to locate Lake Placid
, shaped like the letter "H". On
the upper left corner is the village of Lake Placid
, which you will
in an alpine tundra, overrun by excited tourists. What impact do you think
all this attention (climbing the large rocks and throwing smaller ones) is
having on the tundra? Is this another case of "loving the wilderness to
8. After enjoying your visit to the rooftop of New York, drive back
down to Wilmington
. At the main intersection, turn right on to Rte.
86. You will be following the North Fork of the Ausable River. Soon you
will notice a bridge over the river with a parking lot (of sorts) adjacent.
Stop! Get out and explore.
You are at the Flume
(see photo on the right
is a great place to look at the ancient rocks of the Adirondacks. The river
has cut a narrow canyon (or flume) through weaknesses in the rock, exposing
the turbulent past of these mountains. The colored patterns on the rock walls
testify to plate collisions that occurred so very long ago.
As you continue along Route 86 you will pass by the ski resort of Whiteface
Mountain, the home to the downhill competitions of the 1980 Olympics.
Even in the off-season you can enjoy this resort and take the ski lift
high up the slopes of the mountain.
Soon you will pass through a break in the mountains, known as the Wilmington Notch
. This pass, like similar
passes in New Hampshire, owes its existence to glacial erosion. Nearby is
another tourist attraction, the High Falls Gorge
You cannot view this properly from the road, you have to pay the admission
fee and walk down the trail. The waterfalls and the rock formations are
worth the dent in your wallet.
9. As you approach Lake Placid, you will see more evidence of its proud
Olympic past (two Winter Games - 1980 and
1932). On your left, beyond
the golf courses, you will see the two ski-jumping towers.
As for the village itself, you will need to go to the next page!