Post-Hike Food and Drink in Lake Placid

From the first day snow falls in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, I begin dreaming of winter hiking: traversing snow-covered bogs, scaling icy rock slides, and trying to stay upright in the face of a 40 mile-an-hour snowstorm—who wouldn’t love all that? But as with any High Peaks hike, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing myself for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be SO much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going.

If you’re undertaking a similar journey, here are a few of my favorites to help you make plans:

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

This is a local’s joint boasting three levels for enjoying the brewery’s award-winning beers and surprisingly tasty pub food. On a clear day, the top two floors afford great views of Mirror Lake and Whiteface. The first floor is an Irish pub, known as P.J. O’Neill’s, and a local’s hangout, while the second level, with its stone fireplace, college atmosphere décor, and ample seating, might be better for enjoying a full meal. The third, the Hop Bar, is newer and offers additional seating and a kids’ room.

As far as beer goes, the pub’s Ubu Ale is their standard, and as you leave, you can buy more in cans for another hike’s peak celebration. I especially like their 46’er Pale Ale and new brew Shot in the Dark, a darker IPA sweetened with caramel flavors.

The food here ranges from standard pub grub to craft sandwiches and barbecue. Of special note are the smoked Gouda and roasted red pepper soup, the fried pickles, and the shepherd’s pie—all post-winter hike winners.

Lisa G’s

This locally famous eatery is situated just as you enter town on Rt. 73, and it is the place to go first to experience Lake Placid’s unique food and atmosphere. Lisa G’s website calls itself “a quirky place” offering “comfort food with a modern twist,” and that description is spot on. From their “best burgers in the Adirondacks” and famous Southern fried chicken sandwich to dishes as diverse as Greek style wings, a Thai curry noodle bowl, and a Moroccan burrito (which is awesome), Lisa G’s hits nearly every palate. They even offer spicy Korean shrimp.

Their specialty drink offerings are as inviting as the owner herself, who can often be seen meandering from table to table, joking with the patrons. For winter hikers looking to warm up quickly, the bar will throw down its own version of a hot toddy, or for something different, the Winter Sipper combines spiced vanilla whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, and pineapple juice, shaken and rimmed with cinnamon-sugar. You can taste it now, right?

Smoke Signals

This place rocks for three reasons: barbecue, drinks, and the view. Getting a table in the back along their wall-to-wall window view of Mirror Lake is a must, so it’s best to put in for one immediately, and then hang at the bar or do a little shopping nearby. They will call your cell phone when your table is ready.

Speaking of the bar, they offer many of New York’s best microbrewery beers, including their own and very good Ghost Pig Blonde Ale. However, their whisky list is extensive, and their signature cocktails offer seasonal wonders like a harvest sangria, a pumpkin Russian, rum coffee, and hot spiced cider. All will warm up those cold hands and feet.

Despite these glories, it’s all about the barbecue here: smoke BBQ wings, pulled pork, ADK BBQ Tacos, and killer baby back ribs. Eat up the BBQ and the front-row views of the skating and dog-sledding on Mirror Lake below you.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Brewery and Restaurant

This place may put a slightly bigger dent in your wallet, but it’s well worth it. Despite the first-rate food, with steaks custom-cut from local farms and seafood fresh from the Boston Fish Market, the Great Adirondack has a very homey, unpretentious feel about it. You can cozy up to the fireplace, relax in the casual bar area, or take a window seat to watch the snow fall.

The brewery is directly behind the restaurant, and it boasts some award-winning beers: Its house IPA is the John Brown Pale Ale, and the brewery’s many choices include an addicting Whiteface Stout, which tastes like a blend of chocolate and coffee, and a knock-you-on-your-butt Snoskred IPA (8% ABV). But, it’s the food that is king here: great ribs, tender steaks, melt-in-your-mouth scallops, and chunky clam chowder. The portions are big enough that my wife and I often split a starter and a meal and feel plenty full after.

 

There are too many great places to list here, but these all make a solid start to your Adirondacks’ post-hike food and drink adventures. Do you have any favorites we missed?


Indian Head: Fjord Country in the Adirondacks

The Adirondacks see up to 10 million visitors annually. During the summer and fall, popular spots like Old Forge to the west and Lake George Village to the east become overrun with summer vacationers, and even more remote areas like Lake Placid and the surrounding High Peaks can feel mobbed by weekend warriors and day-trekkers. But, hidden down a four-mile trail that begins in the minuscule town of Saint Huberts is a hike to an overlook that offers some of the Adirondacks’ most stunning views—one that might make you believe you’ve been transported to northern Norway’s fjord country.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Getting There

The trailhead to Indian Head is actually part of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, a tract of privately owned land on the High Peaks’ east side. The trails and signage are maintained by the Ausable Club, which owns the AMR, and they’ve posted strict rules, including no dogs, that hikers must follow. But, they otherwise allow hikers onto the land, which offers access to Indian Head and nine different High Peaks.

If you are coming up from the south, take I-87 to Exit 30 (Rt. 73) and head west toward Keene Valley and Lake Placid. Soon after Rt. 73 and Rt. 9 separate in a crazy intersection dubbed “Malfunction Junction,” look for signs to the Giant Mountain Primary Trailhead. You will see one for Roaring Brook Fall Trailhead on your right, and almost exactly across from that is Ausable Road, a narrow dirt path leading to a hikers’ parking lot just after the intersection. If you miss it, continue looking on your left, because it actually loops by the Ausable Club and spills back onto Rt. 73 further up the road.

Either way, take it to the parking lot designated for hikers only. Plan on arriving early during the summer or on holiday weekends, because the lot is small, and hikers are not permitted to park anywhere near the Ausable Club itself.

From the parking lot, walk a half mile down Ausable Road toward the clubhouse to reach Lake Road—a left turn between tennis courts. If you look back across the golf course, you’ll see the majestic Giant Mountain rising above Rt. 73.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Once you turn onto the 3.3-mile Lake Road, you will see the beautiful AMR gate and the hiker registration station. After signing in, you will just walk along what everyone refers to as “the road,” from which trailheads branch off on both sides to various High Peaks.

The Hike

The hike to Indian Head is really a loop that can be done in either direction, but we always take the Gill Brook Trail on the left about two miles up. It follows the beautiful Gill Brook to offer closeup views of a dozen waterfalls along the way. This trail then ascends gradually for a mile, until the sign “To Indian Head” sends you up a more strenuous climb. There, you will scramble up the last 0.7 miles to the overlook.

Just before reaching the rocky promontory, you will see a three-way split. The path to the left heads to Fish Hawk Cliffs—an overlook that also hangs over Ausable Lake and offers a sideways view of Indian Head, revealing its namesake likeness.

After visiting Indian Head, some continue onto these cliffs for another gorgeous view. Here, the right-hand path heads straight down to the end of Lake Road; for an alternative route, take this path on the way back instead of retracing your steps to the Gill Brook Trail.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

For now, continue straight ahead through this intersection to where it goes first to a higher rocky opening and then descends to the lower overhang. Each offers eye-popping, wide-open vistas of both Lower and Upper Ausable Lakes, with the Lower Great Range on one side and the Pinnacle Range on the other, both jutting out and dropping down into the water below.

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and even a couple of craft beers or a bottle of wine to fully enjoy this unique spot. Note: There have been numerous reports of a mama bear with cubs roaming this spot in recent weeks, so explore at your own risk.

Returning

After you have your fill, head back to the intersection, and take the left-hand path 0.6 miles down to Lake Road and just walk the 3.3 miles back to the gate. Before you do, you might want to walk the short distance to the road’s end to see Lower Ausable from its shore—another stunning view. Straight across from where you come out onto the road is the bridge and path to Rainbow Falls, just a few hundred feet away and also well worth the short trip.

The walk out can be tedious, as is the additional 0.5-mile hike to your car, but this is a destination you will likely want to visit again…and again.

Indian Head is equally beautiful in any season, but the Ausable Lakes surrounded by the mantle of fall colors is a blow-your-mind vista. With another fall approaching, this might be the best time to take a road trip to the “fjords” of the Adirondacks.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Instagram’s @userwiththatnamealreadyexists.


5 Tips for Introducing a Newbie to the Adirondack High Peaks

For many of us, one of our biggest passions is peak-bagging in the Adirondacks or winter hiking in the Presidential Range, and there are few feelings better than sharing that with a co-worker, family member, or new love interest. But unfortunately, many of these newbies think hiking is like strolling through the neighborhood mall or sticking to the tame trails at the local park, which we all know definitely isn’t much like climbing a 46er Peak. Still, sharing your love of the wilderness with the uninitiated can end in success if you follow these five simple tips.

Newbie Hikers

Tip 1: Curb Your Ambitions

You may love the straight-up verticality of Mount Colden’s Trap Dike, but many newbies will find it daunting, if not demoralizing or downright impossible. So, keep the mileage reasonable, but also realize that distance is not always the most important consideration: I’ve had fellow hikers turn around twice on the relatively short three-mile trip up Giant Mountain due to its immediate verticality and steep slides.

On the other hand, guiding new hikers on much longer treks with more gradual inclines ended in success every time. There’s a reason Mount Marcy is the most-accomplished first peak for 46ers.

Newbie Hikers

Tip 2: Choose a Climb With a View

As an aspiring 46er, I no longer need a spectacular view awaiting me at the end of every trail. Just stepping into a wilderness with the smell of pine or the trills of an early morning thrush are enough to put me in a good place. But those new to hiking usually expect one thing: a monster view. And, it had better deliver. Fortunately, the Adirondack High Peaks are rife with great mountaintop views without having to hike 12 miles and 3,000-plus feet in elevation to find them. And, summit scenery goes a long way toward getting your companions to come back for round two.

Tip 3: Take it Easy

You might be a trail runner or simply used to a pace that allows the bagging of three to five peaks in a day. But, today is not about that: It’s about making sure your newbies feel as comfortable, secure, and just plain happy as possible. Let them set the pace and, if possible, do so with the impression that this is your usual speed. I’ve had friends express the uneasy feeling that they were “slowing the group down” or that “everyone had to wait for me,” and that anxiety really dampened their enjoyment. Make them feel like hiking with them is no different from your usual excursions in the wilderness: easy conversation, frequent breaks, and lots of laughs.

Newbie Hikers

Tip 4: Make Sure They Bring “The Right Stuff”

Or better yet, bring it for them. If you and your new hiking pals are staying together the night before, supervise their packing of food, water, and gear. Don’t be afraid of being a know-it-all: They will thank you later. If you are meeting at the trailhead, advise them beforehand with a specific list of do’s and don’ts (this one might be a good place to start), and then have an extra set or two of everything in your car anyway. They may hear your warnings against denim and cotton T-shirts, but some will still likely show up with just a 12-ounce water bottle, cut-off jean shorts, and no backpack. I always throw extra fleeces, socks, head lamps, and lots of snacks in my car before heading out.

Newbie Hikers

Tip 5: Celebrate

Make an event out of the experience. Take some fun selfies along the way and plenty of dramatic or inventive captures on the peak to share later. Finally, when hiking in the Adirondack High Peaks, I often cap the adventure with a fun dinner in Lake Placid, where we can drink a celebratory beer, replenish carbs, and laugh about the most grueling or surprising moments of the day.

After that, they’re sure to share your love for those mountains.


Photo Essay: Hike Yosemite's Half Dome

Ten years ago, my wife and I took our daughters on a West Coast trip that included Yosemite. Although we did some strenuous hiking, we did not attempt the iconic Half Dome hike.  With our daughters now grown and flown, we decided to revisit Yosemite to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial with an attempt of the 16+ mile, nearly 5000 foot elevation hike up Half Dome.  Although our initial attempt to acquire the necessary permit to hike the cables failed back in April, we were lucky to “win” the daily lottery two days before our climb.  

That morning, we arose at 4:30, entered the park by 5:15, and arrived at the trailhead sign before 6:00 a.m.  We had a long, challenging day ahead of us.

At the Trailhead

The first part of the trail was paved, but the Mist Trail we took leading to Vernal Falls was steep and a little treacherous with mist-covered steps that climb along a gorge.

Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

On the Mist Trail by Vernal Falls

Next came the stunning Nevada Falls, seen here from the John Muir Trail, which we took on the way down to avoid the steepness of the Mist Trail.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

Above Nevada Falls, the trail finally leveled out for a time as it followed the clear Merced River. Even though a violent waterfall was less than a mile down river, this water was very inviting.

Merced River

As we worked high into the Sierras, we found ourselves surrounded by Redwoods.  This alone was worth the hike.

Lin hiking through the Sequoias

We finally reached a clearing on a plateau just below the sub-dome and Half Dome itself.  We enjoyed the spectacular views and a brief rest before climbing the last mile and 1000 feet in elevation.

View of Little Half Dome

After handing the ranger our permit, we were allowed to head up the very steep, winding steps of the sub-dome.  This might have been the most exhausting part of the hike.  Fortunately, the views of the High Sierras were awe-inspiring.

Up the Sub Dome Steps

Up the Sub Dome Steps

Reaching the flat stretch at the top of the sub-dome, many hikers take a long break before continuing up the cables to the top, and more than a few chose to turn back.  Here, the hikers on the straight-up climb look like ants.

Half Dome Photoessay

The 400+ feet of cable trekking seems never-ending and is more straight-up than most photos can show.  It was not that crowded, but some risk-takers still chose to go up and down on the outside of the cables.  One mistake and you are tumbling and bouncing to the valley floor, 4,000 feet below.  Just watching the occasional lost Nalgene bottle take the plunge was daunting enough.

Climbing the Cables

We worked our way to the edge after we fought to catch our breath from the climb up the cables. You don’t want to get too close to that 4,000+ foot straight-down drop without a full rest.

On the top of Half Dome

Half Dome Photoessay

Lin, like many, chose to go backwards down the cables while I worked it sideways.

 

backdown cables

The challenging cables were over, but a steep 8-mile hike back down lay ahead of us.  The High Sierras were stunning.

Walking down the steep Sub-Dome

Seeing Half Dome from the valley floor that evening made it seem impossible that we were actually up there. We were very tired after the 17-mile, almost 12-hour hike, but we were more grateful for the opportunity. Who knows when we’ll be able to visit this gem of a park again.

Half Dome from Valley Floor


Shoulder Tops to Mountaintops: Father’s Day Memories Born from Hiking

When my youngest daughter, Margaret, now 22, began outgrowing the stroller and child-carrying backpack, she struggled to make the smooth transition from getting a free ride to using her own two legs, especially when it came to hiking, something our family did frequently. Lifting her up onto my shoulders sufficed for the occasional neighborhood walk or stroll along a beach, but when we were struggling up Estes Cone in Rocky Mountain National Park or working our way down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, I wasn’t always keen on adding another 40 pounds of loose, wobbly weight for more than a few hundred yards.

Whether we were battling boulders and a current on Zion’s River Walk or working a dusty trail in Yosemite, eventually Margaret would begin tugging on my arm, begging for another ride. “I’m tired,” she would say.

“Margaret,” I would reason, “I hauled you for half a mile this morning. You are just too heavy to carry.”

Always one for the dramatic, she would flop down on the trail and cry out, “But I’m too heavy to walk!” Her older sister, Katherine, would then roll her eyes in disgust.

[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
Margaret eventually grew into her “trail legs” and trudged along behind her big sister up Glacier Point in Yosemite, around hoodoos in Bryce, and along narrow cliffs in Acadia. In 2008, Katherine headed off to St. Lawrence University, and our extended family vacations to national parks came to an end. All that was left were memories and reams of photos filling cardboard boxes, photo albums, and computer files.

But as they grew into adulthood, both now living eight hours away in Boston, at least one other thing remained: a love for adventure and exploration. My wife is fortunate to have a family home in the Adirondacks, and it is a blessing to be able to meet up with both of them and head into the High Peaks region for some wilderness adventures. Like my wife and me, Katherine and her boyfriend Doug are aspiring 46ers, and while Margaret is still somewhat of a reluctant hiker, she’s usually willing to head out on the trail with us when she can.

A recent excursion to Tabletop Mountain near the Adirondack Loj produced stunning views of peaks rising like stark, bluish-green islands above a sea of clouds, and an April trip up Esther Mountain after a heavy, late spring snowstorm offered breathtaking vistas of Whiteface’s peak in a winter wonderland. The obvious thrill in both those moments was the visual beauty. But, the precious gifts occurred the night before, when we shared in the inventorying of gear, the loading of backpacks, and the prep of trail food. By 10 p.m., the car was jam-packed for adventure. And after eight to 12 hours of battling boulders, bugs, and fatigue, we trudged out of the woods for a laugh-filled meal somewhere in Lake Placid before heading back to the house at Lake George.

With everyone’s separate and busy lives these past few years, I can’t always spend Father’s Day with my daughters. Often, I have to be satisfied with only a brief phone call from each and a card. But this Father’s Day, I will cherish the memories of family treks into the wilderness and the hope for more adventures with my daughters in the future. Standing above the clouds on Tabletop last fall, I watched Margaret, now a grown woman, stare out at the regal Mt. Marcy towering above the clouds. These days, she is definitely too heavy to lift up onto my shoulders, but I am happy to carry the weight of that moment and the memories of all our adventures together for many Father’s Days to come.

[Photo: Stephen Pierce]
[Photo: Stephen Pierce]