A few years ago I made a very simple commitment that change everything: I decided I wasn’t going to hate winter anymore. Sounds silly for someone who has lived in New England for a decade and a half. If you don’t ski or snowboard, and even if you do, winters in the north east are long, dark and cold without some good outdoor adventures to keep you going. My commitment to find a way to enjoy winter has lead me to winter hiking, spending more time outside playing with my kids and finding family friendly winter adventures that
If you are looking for a long weekend getaway with your family to get out and celebrate winter, head to the Adirondacks in upstate New York. We recently had the pleasure of experiencing all that Saranac Lake, NY has to offer as guests of The Wild Center. Saranac Lake is the perfect destination for a family winter weekend trip. You can see and experience so much in just a few days. Below you’ll find our ultimate winter weekend in the Adirondacks for families with our itinerary for a family spending a weekend in Saranac Lake, New York. While our stay was hosted, all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
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Table of Contents
- Getting There
- Best Time to Visit
- Where to Stay
- How to Dress Warmly for Winter Adventures
- Where to Eat
- 3 Day Itinerary
- 4+ Day Itinerary
Saranac Lake is in the north east quadrant of New York nestled in the Adirondack mountains The Adirondacks are a 5 hour drive from Boston driving north through New Hampshire and west across Vermont, and 5 hours directly north from New York City. The drive leading into the Adirondacks is beautiful if you can drive it during the day, you won’t be disappointed by the winding roads along lakes with mountain views.
If you are traveling from farther afield, you can fly into Burlington, VT or Albany, NY and drive about 2.5 hours from either. Adirondack Regional Airport is located in Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh International Airport is only an hour away on the New York side of Lake Champlain.
Best Time to Visit
November to April is the best time to visit the Adirondacks to experience winter outdoor adventure. January through March will have the best likelihood for solid snow pack for skiing and snowboarding and thicker ice for excursions like ice skating, kicksledding, ice fishing or riding on a dog sled. Time your visit to experience one of the many winter carnivals in the region by checking out the list here. Most winter carnivals take place between January and February. Be prepared for temperatures in the single digits and well into negative degrees with wind chill.
Where to Stay
Saranac Lake is the perfect home base for a winter long weekend in the Adirondacks with your family. Hotel Saranac is the perfect place to stay as a jumping off point for adventures in the surrounding area. Saranac Lake is a small town full of shops, restaurants and parks within walking distance of the hotel. It is conveniently located close to major winter attractions with plenty of its own charm. Lake Placid has the name recognition in the area and it has the tourists and traffic to match. While we certainly recommend spending a half or full day around Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, you should base yourself in Saranac Lake.
About Hotel Saranac – An iconic landmark in the Saranac Lake village built in 1927, the hotel has been thoughtfully renovated while maintaining its historic charm and fascinating architecture – including the Great Hall, inspired by a 14th century Italian palace. The hotel just celebrated it 4 year re-opening anniversary after completing renovations.
Hotel Saranac has 82 tastefully classic rooms in the main building and 20 larger suites in a separate building that used to be dorms for students when the hotel was part of a hospitality training university. Complete with the Campfire Grill and Bar and Great Hall Bar, a hair salon, gym, spa with steam and relaxation rooms and a front office full of games, activity books and planning guides for every aspect of your stay, you can’t go wrong staying at Hotel Saranac.
And we haven’t even started talking about the adventure and natural beauty that await in the surrounding mountains and wilds of the Adirondacks!
How to Dress Warmly for Winter Adventures
Before we get into more details on what you should do on your winter Saranac Lake adventure weekend, let’s talk about dressing appropriately and staying warm so you can actually ENJOY your amazing adventure weekend.
The name of the game is LAYERS!
Start with base layers. Avoid cotton since it holds moisture and can get soaked in sweat leads to rapid body heat loss, especially during rest periods.
My kids wear merino wool base layers from Iksplor that have served us well for two years and countless adventures. You can use the code myadventuregang20 to take 20% off your Iksplor order! If you don’t have base layers for your kids, fleece pjs can be a great alternative.
I wear these Crash Polartec Tights and this long sleeve wicking top, both from Title Nine, as my base layers. The tights are incredibly warm on their own and they have quickly become my daily uniform this winter.
Next, add a mid layer. Your mid layer can be a fleece, down jacket, polartec sweatshirt or some other lightweight wool or synthetic layer. My kids wear a fleece pull over or sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants when it is extra cold. I wear this polartec hoodie, again from Title Nine, and my husband wears his regular old daily sweatshirt.
Your outer layer should be a waterproof jacket and snow pants or snowsuit for kids. My boys wear these insulated snow bibs and jackets from LLBean. I can’t speak highly enough of these Snow Slayer pants from Title Nine. From winter hiking, tubing, or playing outside in the snow with my kids for hours, these pants are comfortable, easy to move in and keep me dry and warm all day.
Don’t forget the mittens, neck gaiter, wool socks and a hat!
Good waterproof winter boots are a must. If your children’s boots tend to leak or let their feet get wet in slushy snow, you can put their feet in a plastic grocery bag before putting their boots on. It is not glamorous but it is surprisingly functional. I wear these Keen Greta waterproof boots all winter whether we are playing in the snow for the afternoon or I am hiking 15 miles in the mountains without my kids.
Hand and toe warmers are a great way to provide extra heat to your extremities. Bring them even if you don’t think you’ll need them. They are activated as you open them so be ready to use them once you tear into the packaging. You should not put the warmers directly on your skin. Place toe warmers on top of your toes over wool socks and wear glove liners if you are using hand warmers. They generally stay warm for 6-8 hours so one pack will last you most of the day.
If you plan on hiking (which you should!) consider bringing microspikes or snowshoes for traction when hiking on icy or snowy trails. We have used these kids microspikes for our boys for a few years and they are great at providing traction and staying on little boots. My husband and I use these Kahtoola microspikes for hiking.
Where to Eat
Please keep in mind that I am not a food blogger so take my pictures with a grain of salt (wink wink, see what I did there?).
Campfire Adirondack Grill + Bar – located in Hotel Saranac, Campfire serves breakfast and dinner. The buttermilk pancakes are light and fluffy and come with REAL maple syrup. The eggs are locally farm raised and the pure maple syrup is also produced in New York. If you have time for a leisurely breakfast, get the Tortilla Espanola! Make sure you go back for dinner and get the s’mores board for dessert. It is a must, the restaurant is named Camp Fire after all.
Origin Coffee 77 Main St – Opens at 7 am (8am on Sundays), This simple modern cafe has pour overs, turmeric lattes and Vietnamese iced coffees along with baked goods and a small selection of made to order food like paninis and avocado toast. Origin Coffee is the perfect mid morning stop for a cup of coffee and pastry. Highly recommend the snicker doodle if it is available, one of the best versions of that cookie ever!
Nori’s Village Market, 138 Church Street – Nori’s has both an organic co-op style market with everything from health products to grocery staples and a grab and go cafe with tons of vegan and vegetarian options.
Raquette River Brewing This charming small batch brewery has a great atmosphere, wide selection and a food truck out front cranking out some really delicious pies. The margarita was perfect and devoured by my boys and the more adult white pizza with spinach, mushrooms, red onions and salami was the best!
Blue Moon Café, 55 Main St – Quaint diner feel with a full menu for breakfast and lunch, you need to eat here at least once during your time in Saranac Lake. We loved our Mediterranean scramble with spinach, feta, olives and tomatoes and the pancakes were light and fluffy, exactly what you want from a diner breakfast.
Blue Line Brewery Pizza & Pub, 555 Lake Flower Ave, Saranac Lake, NY – Open for breakfast Tuesday through Sunday starting at 6 AM. Choose from breakfast sandwiches, eggs, omelets and griddle options.
Titus Mountain – Make your visit to Titus Mountain an easy full day affair by grabbing lunch at Moon Valley Grill, located on the main floor of the lower lodge, offers table-side service with a variety of menu options. There is also an upper lodge cafeteria with plenty of grab ‘n go offerings.
3 Day Itinerary
Check into Hotel Saranac and relax to be ready for your adventurous winter weekend in the Adirondacks with your family ahead of you.
Start your morning with coffee and breakfast from Campfire located in the lobby of Hotel Saranac.
Bundle up before starting the Bug Crawl, an art scavenger hunt around the village of Saranac Lake. There are 7 bug sculptures created by Larry Robjent with objects donated by the Saranac Lake community. The bug crawl is a fun innovative way to experience the village of Saranac Lake.
After picking up lunch at Nori’s Village Market, head over to The Wild Center. Give yourself at least a 3 hours at The Wild Center to take advantage of everything on offer. Depending on your children and the weather, you could easily spent the majority of a day here.
The Wild Center has so much to offer adventurous nature families.
Inside – The natural history museum of the Adirondacks is 54,000 square feet of engaging exhibits on the flora and fauna of the region including weather patterns, mushrooms, beetles, a large climate crisis exhibit that will open in about a year, and animal exhibits including turtles, trout, sturgeon, ducks and the stars of The Wild Center: 5 river otters!
Don’t skip the gift shop as hard as it may be to reign in your children when they start to ask for every stuffed animal. They have a robust selection of educational books for animal loving kids. We picked up a wonderful book on raptors that may now have our 5 year old asking for a pet falcon.
Outside – Winter Wild Walk is one of the main attractions of The Wild Center and is wheel chair accessible. Walk and play 30 feet above the ground in the trees to get a new perspective and way to connect to the world around us. Climb through the snag, the giant tree big enough for a spiral staircase inside. Suspend yourself in the spider’s web, a net system with a giant spider sculpture laying in wait where kids and adults alike can test their balance and sider senses. Check out the bird’s nest to get the highest eagle’s eye-view of the surrounding mountains.
Check The Wild Center website before your visit to find the Creature Features schedule if the otter outdoor play yard or falcon displays are running.
Behind the building there is an exhibit of large scale welded steel outdoor sculptures juxtaposed with forest music, a gentle soundtrack meant to shift your perspective of both the art and natural environment.
“The exhibit is accompanied by a newly commissioned five-piece instrumental composition created by musician and educator Eric Sturr, who published music under the moniker Whatever Penny. The album, entitled “Iron Harvest,” draws direct inspiration from Bellinger’s work. The piece, installed in The Wild Center’s Forest Music immersive sound trail, mixes metallic sounds and instruments with natural sounding harmonies of marimba and violins.” (pulled from The Wild Center website)
Pick up a pair of snowshoes or a kicksled at the Winter Rec Center near the Outdoor Classroom and explore the trails on the 115-acre campus. The trails are groomed to make it easy for families to explore.
We strongly suggest staying until sunset to get the full experience of Wild Lights when thousands of lights illuminate the grounds. The effect the rainbow lights have reflecting off the snow coupled with the forest music and welded steel sculptures by Barney Bellinger is pretty magical, even if your kids are starting to melt down for dinner.
Grab pizzas and beer for dinner from Raquette River Brewing under 10 minutes away from The Wild Center. You can either eat and drink at the brewery or buy your dinner and cans to go.
After a leisurely breakfast at Blue Moon Cafe, head about 50 minutes north of Saranac Lake to Titus Mountain for tubing, skiing and snowboarding. We are not yet a skiing or snowboarding family although we are on our way so tubing provides a great alternative to those downhill activities. Tubing tickets are good for either afternoon session from 11:00a-4:00p or evening session from 5:00-9:00p. We had a blast! There are plenty of single or double tubes to speed down any of their three chutes and a magic carpet to ride back up to the top. We spent a few hours squealing with glee as we flew down the hill in our tubes. Make sure to reserve your tubing ticket in advance.
Titus Mountain has 13 Skibanas, a ski in cabana, complete with a private kitchenette, bathroom and lounge area for your group to enjoy comfort in the privacy of your own mini cabin on your family ski day.
Depending on how long you spend at Titus Mountain, you can spend your afternoon relaxing at the hotel, walking around Saranac Lake village or hiking on of the many local trails.
Dinner at Campfire Adirondack Grill – Inspired by the fabled Adirondack Great Camps that the Vanderbilts and other Gilded Age royalty called their summer homes, Campfire Adirondack Grill + Bar combines a warm, sophisticated atmosphere with a deep appreciation for our Adirondack heritage. High-quality, locally sourced comfort fare and a selection of craft beers and signature cocktails await all guests. We recommend ending your night on a sweet note with the S’mores Board to roast and build your own dessert at the table or outdoor fire pit, weather permitting.
Spend the morning hiking one of the many family friendly trails in the area.
Here are three great hike options in Saranac Lake for your family to check out.
Bloomingdale Bog Trail – Route 86, Saranac Lake, NY. From downtown Saranac Lake, take Route 86 west, heading toward Paul Smiths. After about 2.5 miles, look for a black silhouette cutout of a man on a tractor. It’s on the right side of the road, next to a dirt road. Take that dirt road and you’ll immediately see a parking area on the left, a yellow metal gate, and a brown and yellow DEC sign marking the trailhead. Since the entire trail follows an abandoned railroad corridor — don’t worry, the tracks are long gone — it provides easy access to a scenic bog and all of the birds, beavers, conifers, and unique plants that call it home. Along the way there are wide-open views of surrounding mountains intermixed with dense, lush, boreal forests. The flat terrain makes for great for cross country skiing or pulling a sled.
Pine Trail – Pine Street, Saranac Lake, NY. From the intersection of Route 3 and Route 86 in Saranac Lake, follow Route 86 toward Lake Placid. After about 0.5 miles, stay straight onto Brandy Brook Road as Route 86 turns hard right (the NBT intersection). Take a left at the Y, and almost immediately you will see a wooden sign marking The
Pines; park off the road. While the trail system has a few access points, this is the easiest to find. The Pines are an interesting network of trails over a relatively small area. It is a lovely area for the entire family to use and an excellent dog walking destination.
Baker Mountain – 189 Forest Hill Ave, Saranac Lake, NY. For this time of year, don’t forget your snowshoes, microspikes or other traction device. Part of the Saranac Lake 6er Challenge, the Baker Mountain hike is short and easy, just a 1.8 mile round trip. The climb begins almost instantly from Moody Pond, so the trail is somewhat steep. The trail splits into two loops – left is less difficult, right is steep with ledges. Both routes lead to Baker’s summit, where you will get spectacular views of the Village of Saranac Lake, McKenzie Mountain, and the Adirondack High Peaks.
After your hike, head to downtown Lake Placid for a ride on a dog sled before heading home.
Thunder Mountain Dog Sled Tours 2405 Main St, Lake Placid on Mirror Lake – about 17 minutes from downtown Saranac Lake. Park on the street and walk down the boat ramp to Mirror Lake. There are no advanced tickets and they are cash only at $20 per person, regardless of how many people you pile onto the sled. Check their Facebook page for updates about whether or not they are running the tours that day. Was this a pricey excursion for the amount of time we spent waiting in line compared to the amount of time you are actually on the sled? Absolutely! Was it worth it for us to have this experience? 100% yes! There might be better options for a half day dog sledding experience in Montana or Alaska, but if you are looking to have a dog sled experience for the first time with young kids Thunder Mountain Dog Sled in Lake Placid is a great option.
4+ Day Itinerary
There is no shortage of winter fun to be had if you want to spend 4 days to spend in the Adirondacks with your family on your winter adventures.
You could easily spend a day enjoying all Lake Placid has to offer. Rent ice skates at Lake Placid Skate Rentals located at 2573 Main St.
If you didn’t get to kicksledding at The Wild Center, you can rent a kicksled for $30 per day from Human Power Bike Shop on Main St in Saranac Lake. They also rent fat bikes and nordic skis.
Put your adventurous spirit to the test by going down the Toboggan Chute onto Mirror Lake. It is a 30 ft tall converted ski jump that can send its riders up to 1000 ft onto the ice of Mirror Lake after speeding down the slide.
Snowmobiling – Saranac Lake has hundred of miles of well maintained snowmobile trails just waiting for you to ride. You can organize a snowmobiling tour through Snow Tours Inc or C&C Adirondack Snowmobile Tours.
Winter Carnivals – The Saranac Winter Carnival is the oldest event of its kind in the US! This year it runs form February 4th to the 12th.
Click here for a full list of all the winter carnivals in the Adirondacks.
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