In a hamlet by Lake George, a summer playground
BOLTON LANDING, N.Y. - We follow a family of ducks out of the calm waters of the channel, paddling past the sloping lawn and docks of the Sagamore Hotel, to reach the open water of Lake George. In the middle of the lake sits the primitive-looking Dome Island, a rounded forest of trees that as a boy I thought was home to a cyclops or some other monster. Behind Dome is a magnificent view of uninterrupted forest forming a silhouette of mountains against the sky.
This section of the 31-mile-long lake is more like a river, narrow and hemmed in by the peaks, offering vintage Adirondack beauty that once inspired Hudson River School painters to grab their canvases and head north, followed by Georgia O’Keeffe and her camera-toting husband, Alfred Stieglitz.
When I tell people that I find Lake George more exquisite than Lake Tahoe, Lake Powell, or even that wondrous lake to the north, Champlain, they often look at me bewildered. They equate the lake with the honky-tonk village on the southern tip, packed with T-shirt and fudge shops, video arcades, and hokey haunted houses. But all they have to do is drive about 10 miles north on Route 9 to find the charming town of Bolton Landing.
Growing up in Schenectady, we would make the hourlong drive here to reach our sailboat docked just out of town. Now I return every year with my family to visit my father and his wife, who summer here, and treat my kids to a good dose of natural adventure.
We rent sea kayaks on Green Island, best known as the home to the Sagamore, a large wedding cake of a hotel that’s been the lake’s premier address for over a century. The resort was purchased in 1985 by real estate developer Norman Wolgin of Philadelphia and rightfully restored to its Georgian-style grandeur. The hotel changed ownership again this past year, much to the disappointment of my dad who is none too pleased that they closed the glass-enclosed veranda to dancing and drinks.
We paddle in the morning when the water is calm, following the ducks under a small bridge. Several people are trying their luck fishing as we make our way around the island. The kids sing “row, row, row your kayak’’ as the parents do most of the paddling in the back of these tandems. We pass a lone house on an island, and I dream about having my own piece of property on the lake. Sailboats head to the Narrows for the day as we pack it in and return to terra firma.
That afternoon, we take the kids to the relatively new and unique Adirondack Extreme Adventure Center. Set amid the tall pines and maples is an obstacle course hidden in the forest. After a brief introductory talk on safety, we hook into our harnesses and off we go on four courses, each a bit more challenging than the next. We climb rope ladders, jump from section to section, walk across suspended bridges, and zipline side-by-side. The treetop course is an innovative way to get a workout and ride at the same time, so everyone in the family is happy.
A trip to Lake George is not complete without a sail. I’ve been sailing this lake since I was a toddler, or so I’m told. On this late summer day, we have a good wind and head out on my dad’s 22-foot Catalina through the many islands that dot the Narrows to one of our beloved spots on the lake, Commission Point. We find our customary picnic table on a spit of land that juts into the shallow waters, creating the perfect vantage point to view the mountains that rise from the opposite shores. After lunch and a swim, we walk through the woods to Paradise Bay. We stroll on the soft forest floor, moist from moss, past a thicket of birches and evergreens that might have been standing during the days of the Revolutionary War. Pine needles dust the ground, creating a sweet smell.
On our final morning, when the sun pops out from behind the clouds, we take one more walk, this time around the forest and fields of Up Yonda Farm. We pass a sugarhouse and a small butterfly garden before hiking uphill on a short climb through a mixed forest of birches, maples, and white pine. Then we arrive in a clearing, rewarding us with another glorious vista of Lake George.
My son, Jake, tries somersaulting down the field but bumps his head, and his sister, Melanie, starts to hop like a bunny. At times, it seems like their whole life is programmed with school, after-school activities, and then camp in the summer. When vacations roll around, it’s nice to have some degree of adventure, spontaneity, and silliness. Bolton Landing’s natural splendor provides the perfect playing field.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels .com.