I picture cute cottages, pontoon boats, trees stretching into the sky. My memories of childhood trips to the far reaches of upstate New York are faint, but this is what comes to mind as I plan a late-summer trip to Lake Placid. Then, after hours of driving, my wife by my side and my two small children strapped into their seats in back, I pull into the roundabout entry to the Whiteface Lodge and stop under an antler chandelier. For a moment, I’m transported, a bit lost; am I in Switzerland or Vail or perhaps a remote Northern California retreat?
No, the Whiteface Lodge is not a mirage, and as I discover a few weeks after my return to Real Life, when I run into Alain Ducasse at a party in Manhattan and he tells me that the area is a favorite getaway of his, Lake Placid is hardly a secret among luxury-favoring jet-setters. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the experience I was about to have: three days and nights of fun, discovery, great food, nature and as much relaxation as a parent of two energetic kids could hope for.
It’s worth noting that Lake Placid, perhaps best known as the site of two 20th century Winter Olympics (and the famed Miracle on Ice in 1980), leads a double life. In the summer and autumn, it’s a sought-after destination for kayakers, hikers and foliage enthusiasts. In the winter, it’s a wonderland for skiers, skaters and maybe the occasional bobsled team. As luck would have it, I arrived just after the peak summer season but right before Labor Day, when the nights can get cooler but the days still offer enough heat to encourage plunges into that magnificent, beautiful lake. Or pool, though Whiteface’s is indoor/outdoor, with a swim-through connection between the two (which quickly became a favorite amenity of my four-year-old daughter).
My room, which was more of a two-bedroom condo really, looked out on the concrete slab that for much of the year is an outdoor ice rink. An ex-hockey player and avid skater, I gazed longingly at it, wondering how picturesque the grounds must be in December. Still, I could hardly complain as I took a paddleboard ride out on the lake from the hotel’s nearby Canoe Club while my kids played in the sand.
We didn’t go hungry at Whiteface Lodge: The hotel features a fine-dining restaurant, Kanu, and a lounge that is more of a casual restaurant and bar, both on the second floor of the lodge’s main building. Like everything else in this retreat, wood craftsmanship is the most noticeable element, but the restaurants feature sleek design touches, from impressive taxidermy to more of those antler chandeliers. The menus, by CIA grad David S. Haick, who can often be found in the kitchens — even down at the grill at the Canoe Club during lunch — span inventive seasonal dishes like Alaskan salmon with seaweed oatmeal and kale to kid-friendly basics like pasta or a wood-fired pizza that could compete in the Manhattan market. The lodge rewards those with a sweet tooth as well: There’s a nightly s’mores campfire and an underground ice cream parlor with scoops and sundaes featuring ice cream from the excellent Adirondack Creamery.
The Rooms: There aren’t any rooms at the Whiteface Lodge. Instead, you get a suite, varying in size from 700 to 2,300 square feet, each featuring a full kitchen, king size beds, flatscreen TVs and porches or patios featuring — what else — Adirondack chairs. The accommodations here are a perfect hit of homey (thanks to the wood) and luxury (the fixtures and furniture).
We stayed in one of the larger suites, a duplex with a spacious living and dining area, a master bedroom and an upstairs loft with two single beds arranged along a sloped wall — an alluring shelter for my daughter, who settled in immediately. The suite easily could sleep four adults and four children, but for us, the extra space afforded us room to spread out; or, in the case of my one-year-old son, to dash among the rooms or climb the stairs while giggling uncontrollably.
The larger suites are in the clubhouse, away from the main building, where the rooms may be smaller but the porches and balconies feature stunning views of the forest and the well-landscaped grounds. The clubhouse also houses the pool and spa, which features three hot tubs — two of which are outdoors, and one of which is adults-only. The swim-through portal makes the pool swimmable in any season and adds a clever surprise for young swimmers.
The Look: As I’ve hinted, the woodwork here is unbelievable. It feels as though the lodge were constructed for a movie set, but it’s too grandiose for that. The wood was harvested from around the Adirondacks, and while the whole property is less than a decade old, there’s a timeless feel that adds to its considerable charms. Down at the Canoe Club, a short shuttle ride away, the lodge’s private beach is in a picturesque inlet of Lake Placid. The vintage boathouse has perilously low ceilings, but once you navigate into a canoe or kayak, you’re soon paddling away into a pristine mountain setting that is nothing short of stunning. I personally took the paddleboard for a spin and was thrilled to float off into the lake without having to contend with boat-generated wake (though I’m sure this is an issue in peak season). The lodge’s paddleboats were in the repair shop when we visited, but that only compelled my wife and daughter to go for a ride in the two-person kayaks. Later, we took a chartered spin around the entire lake in the lodge’s pontoon boat, which is spruced up with high-end furniture and high-caliber engines unlike anything I’ve seen on these usually modest vessels.
The Area: We rarely left the lodge or its beach club during our stay, owing to the surprisingly high quality of the food (though I’d suggest forgoing the breakfast buffet and ordering from the menu) any time of day, but when we did, the results were equally as pleasing. Our waitress at dinner during our first night tipped us off to the area’s not-so-best-kept-secret, the Wild Center, an 81-acre indoor and outdoor collection of trails and exhibits in nearby Tupper Lake, whose main attraction is Wild Walk, a series of walkways above the canopy, including staircases inside a tree and a giant floating spiderweb that inspires young and old to jump in. The center’s website teems with rave reviews from reputable sources, but I’d say the actual experience of visiting trumped the lofty expectations. For kids and adults alike, the Wild Center is worth a considerable detour.
Our only culinary foray away from Whiteface Lodge was also a success. We dined al fresco at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, a sort of Adirondack variation of a gastropub with a patio overlooking Mirror Lake (a smaller neighbor of Placid) and ate burgers while drinking IPAs (well, not my kids). The multi-level establishment is a short walk to the main village of Lake Placid, a quaint collection of ice cream shops, clothing boutiques and Winter Olympics memorabilia outlets. The Winter Olympics museum is also nearby, though we didn’t have time to visit.
Those in search of dining options either in a more intimate or more extravagant setting have options. A food-obsessed pair dining near us at the Kanu dining room one night insisted that Caffe Rustica, in a shopping center across the street, had the area’s best Italian food. And just down the road and directly on the lake is the Lake Placid Lodge, which has the lakefront fine-dining restaurant Artisans and a gastropub, Maggie’s, both of which were highly recommended to us (though again, we didn’t have time to visit). This property, one of Condé Nast Traveler’s World’s Best for 2015, has an established reputation that I’d imagine Whiteface aspires to and may soon achieve. When I asked M. Ducasse where he’d stayed in the area, he cited Lake Placid Lodge by name, with a tone that suggested, where else?
Still, I could hardly be jealous. Not only did I enjoy my time at Whiteface, but it impressed my wife and it gave my kids perhaps their first revelation ever that vacations trump Real Life any day.
The Whiteface Lodge
7 Whiteface Inn Lane
Lake Placid, NY 12946
October rates start from $312