Our family escape: Driving to a luxury resort in upstate New York
There’s something special about the mountains.
Looking up, we realize just how small we are. And from the summit, we can grasp how large the world is.
They help us reset and put things in perspective. Suddenly, that urgent work report doesn’t seem as important as another dip in the pool with your daughter or a family movie in front of the fireplace.
Growing up, I spent my summers at camp in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. There I learned to appreciate nature, hiking many of New York’s highest mountains which surround the Olympic town of Lake Placid.
So when The Whiteface Lodge invited my family and me to check out the resort, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve had my eye on the hotel for some time. It’s close to skiing, dog sledding and other winter activities. In the summer, there is plenty of hiking nearby. But it’s also luxurious enough that you can just stay on the resort grounds, eating good meals and being pampered at the spa. (Please note: This isn't a full review of the hotel since the management knew we were coming.)
Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter.
A mountain escape
The resort is a modern take on the historic Adirondack Great Camps — the luxurious-yet-rustic-feeling family compounds that the Gilded Age wealthy used to retreat to during summers.
Picture timbers, stonework and taxidermy paired with cozy beds, plush robes and heated bathroom floors.
With 96 rooms, the hotel is just big enough to have all the resort amenities you would want, such as a spa, three restaurants and even a movie theater, bowling alley and winter ice skating rink. (More on those later.) But it is also small enough that you feel like you are sharing the space with a few dozen other groups.
Rates start at $525 for a superior one-bedroom suite and $1,095 for a three-bedroom suite. Holidays and peak periods can be higher. A search of rates for July Fourth weekend was showing $795 for the one-bedroom suite and $1,725 for the three-bedroom suite, before taxes. Note: These are not small rooms. The one-bedroom suites are 700 square feet and the three-bedrooms are 2,300 square feet.
The public spaces are filled with lots of comfy corners to just sit, relax and unwind. Even in the age of COVID-19, I never felt crowded in the lobby. And during warmer weather, there are plenty of outdoor spaces to gather in small groups. (See the photo gallery above.)
We saw plenty of other families during our stay but also some couples on a romantic escape. It all depended on the hour. When breakfast started at 7:30 a.m., I wasn't the only dad bringing in a kid still in pajamas.
For me, it is always the little touches that make or break a hotel.
I appreciate having a wood-burning fire in the lobby, stacks of free newspapers nearby and a theme that carries throughout the hotel. In the basement level, which is home to the game room, theater and ice cream parlor, there is historic ski artwork and hiking trail signs.
My wife, daughter and I didn't need this much space, but the hotel wanted to show off its large spaces. With three beds, plus a pullout sofa, these suites are great for large families or two smaller ones traveling together.
Over the years, I've stayed in many hotel rooms. That's included tiny rooms where the bed folded into the wall and large villas with multiple wings. This two-story suite was somewhere in the middle. What I really liked about it was the simple layout.
On the hotel's third floor, it had a nice entrance area with a bench and plenty of hooks for jackets. There was a full kitchen with dishwasher, dining room table and a living room, which led out to the balcony. There was also a full bathroom and bedroom on the first floor.
Upstairs was the master bedroom with an en suite bathroom. Next to it was another bedroom and bathroom. The second bathroom included a washer and dryer if you needed to clean all those ski clothes or muddy hiking gear. (The hotel also has a guest laundry room in the basement.)
Did I mention the heated bathroom floors?
The master bedroom had two chairs facing the fireplace, the perfect spot to read before bed. There were plenty of robes and slippers and I honestly could have just curled up there for a few days.
My family still isn't eating at indoor restaurants, so I won't spend much time here since we didn't get a real sense of the food options and service.
But I must start with the breakfast buffet.
At first, the thought of a buffet in the age of COVID-19 freaked me out. But then we arrived for breakfast. The hotel had two people (gloved and masked) working behind ropes, serving one guest at a time. My daughter eyed the eggs, bacon, French toast, muffins ... you get the point. Her favorite: the Reese's Pieces pancakes our first morning.
Guests were given either a plate or a to-go container to bring back to the room, along with mini bottles of maple syrup. We also were given a shopping bag to carry back the food. Yes, we let my daughter indulge in a little of everything.
It wasn't as much fun as stacking up plates of food yourself. You know what I mean: There's something magical about the unique placement of each food item on the plate and then discovering yet even more items as you walk further and further down the buffet. But let's face it: This was safer for our health and our waistlines.
For dinner, we picked up a to-go meal from Peak 47, the resort's more casual restaurant. We placed our order, picked up a free s'mores kit from the front desk, went outside to make them and then got a cellphone call when it was time to pick up our meal. And yes, we did dessert before dinner. Don't judge; we were on vacation.
I had the steak frites with chimichurri sauce and it was really tasty, especially considering I was eating it out of a takeout container at least a dozen minutes after it was cooked. I'm sure this isn't what the chef had in mind, but I finished every last bite. My daughter had chicken fingers and fries from the kids menu (how can you go wrong?) and my wife had a really good burger.
This is where the Whiteface Lodge really shines.
Each morning, we received a list of that day's activities slid under our door.
During our two-night stay, we managed to go ice skating, bowling, make s'mores and go swimming in the indoor pool — with a really cool swim-through tunnel leading to the outdoor heated pool.
The vast majority of the activities were free.
I know that sounds silly when paying hundreds of dollars for a luxury hotel. But there are plenty of others out there that still charge $30 for s'mores kits or tack on exorbitant resort fees. It's much better to just build all the "extras" into the room rate. Guests appreciate and remember that. The last thing you want to do is look back at a $4,000 vacation and note that it was $20 extra to go bowling.
Speaking of bowling, the hotel has a cute two-lane bowling alley. Due to COVID-19, it had to be reserved in advance, but it was limited to one party at a time. My daughter loved our time there.
There's also a small movie theater with popcorn. Titles during our stay included "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."
There's a gym, game room, fire pit for daily s'mores, snowshoeing and, to top it all off, an ice cream parlor.
This is where the photos speak volumes, so take a second to scroll through the images below.
Winter in Lake Placid
Lake Placid sits in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains and was home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.
That legacy remains strong today.
Hockey fans will appreciate visiting the arena where the "Miracle on Ice" game took place, the epic 1980 victory where the U.S. team defeated the four-time defending Olympic gold medalist Soviet Union team.
Skiers can race down the one-time Olympic course at Whiteface Mountain, which boasts the largest vertical drop of any East Coast ski resort. There's a chance to ride down the bobsled track or stand atop the ski jump towers.
One of the unique winter activities is a toboggan chute that dumps you out on the top of a frozen lake.
There's also fun shopping on Main Street, just a few minutes' drive from the hotel.
Summer in Lake Placid
In warmer weather, the region is great for hiking, biking, fishing, swimming and boating.
I have fond memories of climbing many of the "High Peaks" in the region, the highest mountains in New York state. For those who want to be rewarded with a great view at the end of their hike, I highly suggest Cascade Mountain. It's a relatively short — but very steep — climb.
If you don't want to put on hiking boots, there's a calmer walk around Mirror Lake downtown.
And for an even more "placid" activity — sorry, I had to — consider the summer boat tours of the lake. It's the only way to get up close and see the remaining Great Camps, plus get spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.
Just because it is summer, it doesn't mean that there aren't Olympians training. Cross-country skiers can often be seen on roller blades, carrying poles, working their way up and down the hills. Skiers still go off the big jumps. Instead of snow, they glide across wet plastic bristles.
And aerial skiers still do flips in the air but land in pools. It's a great activity to watch, with zero chance of getting frostbite.
Below are some photos I took a few summers ago.
The Whiteface Lodge offers a luxury escape that can be easily reached by car from New York City, Boston, Montreal and other points in the Northeast.
It doesn't come cheap, but you do get what you pay for.
And Lake Placid has long been one of my favorite spots that remains popular, but not overrun, four decades after the town hosted the Olympics.
Most of my travel has been jetting off to various spots around the world. But in the last year, the pandemic has forced me to slow down, appreciate those things close to me and maybe stop and just unwind for a bit.
Maybe it's time to find an Adirondack chair and start a new book.