This trip probably takes the award for one of the best experiences we have ever had. We’ve been to hundreds of places in New York State, so that’s saying a lot. I’m still overwhelmed by the incredible beauty, the energizing atmosphere, the utter tranquility of Whiteface Mountain. It’s one of the most beloved peaks of the Adirondack range, and no wonder. Let me first tell the story to you in photos.
Spectacular, isn’t it?
Whiteface Mountain, elevation 4,867 feet, is one of the “high peaks” (and the fifth highest point in the state) in the mighty Adirondack Mountain Range. It is unique in that it stands alone, outside the ring of high peaks that are clustered to the northeast. Therefore, Whiteface offers a panoramic view of the entire mountain valleys below. The mountain is the only mountain so high that you can drive up and take an elevator to the peak. There’s a 0.2 mile nature trail that you can take up or down, as well. Here’s our story.
Down the the valley (valley so low, low, low — er, never mind), you check in at a little Alpine-decorated toll booth off Route 86 in Wilmington, a small town north of Lake Placid. From that point, it’s several miles up winding roads to a parking area at the 4,600-foot mark. The car ride up is breathtaking, and it was very difficult to restrain myself from constantly stopping and snapping photos. You can stop — the road has numerous parking areas with picnic tables to splurge on the views — but I wanted to get to the summit and spend most of my time there.
Once you reach the parking area, parking attendants direct you to available spots. You have many options here — stroll the pedestrian sidewalks and enjoy incredible views, peruse the Whiteface Castle and get a bite to eat or use the restrooms, walk the 267 feet up to the summit, or take the elevator to the summit.
The castle is built from granite that was excavated for the construction of the highway.
We got a kick out of the framed letter written by the Chief Engineer of the project, Frederick Stuart Greene.
As I mentioned before, Whiteface Mountain is the most accessible, highest point in the state. Part of it is due to the 5-mile road up the mountain and the other part is the wheelchair-accessible elevator and observation deck. The official Whiteface Mountain website says this:
Pre-dating the ski area by about 20 years, the road to the summit was dedicated by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1929, and opened, in 1936, by the same Roosevelt, though this time with a different title: President. Natural wildflowers grow roadside, a living museum of forest ecology. Anorthosite bedrock boulders, over a billion years old, stand by. Along the way up are nine designated spots where you are encouraged to stop to enjoy the view and discover more about the mountain surroundings from the posted information signs.
Workers had bored a 424-foot long tunnel into the mountain and created an elevator shaft that rises 276 feet (27 stories) to the summit. The elevators open into a lovely, enclosed observation tower with enormous windows, informational plaques, and a sweet Alpine decor. Open the doors and walk out onto the deck or venture onto the rugged summit for a “cliff hanger” view.
Guess which we did?
I sat there for hours. It was so wonderful. The clean air filled my lungs, and I felt so healthy and full of energy. The sun was shining but the winds were chilly. I loved it, but some of the kids said they were cold. TIP: bring a jacket, no matter how warm it is in the valley.
Very few plants grow at this classified “alpine” elevation. There is a very delicate balance between the few plants that do grow up this high (mostly lichen), and visitors are asked not to wander outside the obvious trails or they may trample the tiny alpine gardens that grow here.
Sadly, we had to return to civilization. We took the “Nature Trail” down, the 267-foot rocky path leading to the Castle and the parking area. The trail is much more rugged than I presumed, and I found it a little precarious carrying two big cameras and trying to manage the path. Some areas of the slope were a little slippery. TIP: Don’t wear sneakers, wear rock-gripping hiking boots.
In some areas down the trail, it seemed like we were on the edge of the world. I loved it! The views were spectacular and I felt to strong and healthy at this elevation.
We lingered a while at the Castle, enjoying the views again and taking in the final gulps of Alpine air before we returned to valley life.
On the way through the Castle corridor, we spotted this ingenious concrete mixer. On skis! Haha, only in the Adirondacks!
Going over the photos makes me desperate to return. This was truly one of the best places I have ever been in my life. If there’s one thing you must do, visit Whiteface Mountain. And just so you know, our trip was sponsored by the NYS Olympic Regional Development Authority. Many thanks to their exceptional hospitality and graciously giving my family the experience of a lifetime!
NYS Olympic Regional Development Authority
2634 Main St.
Lake Placid, NY 12946
Tel: 518-523-1655 / Fax: 518-523-9275
Olympic Center Box Office: 518-523-3330