Jump in the car & day trip

A view of Skaneateles Lake. Photo courtesy skaneatelestalk.com.

A view of Skaneateles Lake. Photo courtesy skaneatelestalk.com.

Beat the winter blues with 10 Empire State destinations each within a reasonable trek of the north country

Although the north country offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation in our backyard, as the winter wears on — and on— it’s sometimes necessary to take a day trip or weekend getaway to change up the scenery, shop or enjoy some more competitive outdoor recreation. If you find yourself needing an escape this winter, consider these 13 worthy destinations, all of which are within day-trip distance of most points in the north country and all of which have something to offer for everyone in your party, regardless of age, athletic inclination or taste.

Fort Ticonderoga

This fort on Lake Champlain was the site of the nation’s first major victory during the War of Independence and also a stronghold that helped protect the state and northeast region from a British invasion from Canada and makes a great day trip for history buffs and families alike. While regular tours are only offered from May through mid-October, various special events throughout the remainder of the year make for worthwhile day trips.

Various other events, including a snowshoe hike on Feb. 2, a workshop on building an 18th century tumpline, and the lavish black-tie affair that is the Ticonderoga Ball in early March continue throughout the fort’s off-season. Regular season hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) run May 10 through Oct. 19.

After you get your due dose of history, consider a stop in Lake George en route back to the north country for a good meal or some shopping. Lake George is about 30 miles south on Route 9N.
Fort Ticonderoga, 30 Fort Ti Road, Ticonderoga (518) 585-2821 www.fortticonderoga.org, www.facebook.com/FortTiconderoga.

Ausable Chasm

Though a popular summer destination, Ausable Chasm is like Niagara Falls in that its beauty, though of a slightly colder and more barren ilk, reigns supreme in the frozen months as well. Ausable Chasm is a vertical-walled canyon made of 500-million-year-old, uniquely carved rock and is one of the oldest attractions in the nation.

Tours of one to two hours are offered in the winter months and use snow shoes and/or ice cleats depending on ice and snow conditions. All gear is provided.

You can also adventure on the 30-minute walk to Rainbow Falls or Elephant’s Head, or marvel at what are likely to be 150-foot icicles and rock formations looking regal in their blankets of snow. The winter waterfall walk is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (no reservation required) and is groomed and maintained in the winter months.

Cross country skiing is $10 and adult season passes are $50.

Also on site and a perfect indoor activity after your chilly outdoor adventure is the North Country Underground Railroad Museum, which is managed by the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association and features multimedia displays that tell the stories of fugitive slaves who traveled through Northeastern New York and the Champlain Valley en route to Quebec and Ontario. Although the museum is closed from the end of October through the first Saturday in May, the museum can be opened for private tour by appointment throughout the year; call (518) 834-5180.

Ausable Chasm, 2144 Route 9, Ausable Chasm, (518) 834-7454, www.ausablechasm.com

The Wild Center

Though you might only think of visiting Tupper Lake during warmer times, the Wild Center is open Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the winter. The center offers various live exhibits from rare native trout to hawks, hands-on activities and multimedia shows. Special events this year include Planet Adirondack, which features a giant floating Earth that brings the planet alive and Flight of the Butterflies, an award-winning film that tells the story of the year-long migration cycle of monarch butterflies.

You can also rent snowshoes for free with the price of admission to explore the center’s 31 beautiful acres on your own or via a guided walk.

Tickets to the center are $17 for adults, $10 for youth ages 4 to 14 and $13 for seniors. Tickets are cheaper if purchased online ($2 off for adults and seniors; $1 off for youth).

Next door, you can also downhill ski inexpensively at the throwback community mountain Big Tupper. Lift tickets are only $25.

The Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, Tupper Lake, (518) 359-7800, www.wildcenter.org

New Paltz

While the village of New Paltz has its own ample funky charm and makes a worthy destination in and of itself, the Mohonk Preserve is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Miles of trails for snow showing and cross country skiing snake through regal forests before bringing you to breathtaking hilltop vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, dotted with rugged gazebos that break the wind while you catch your breath.

The preserve manages and protects 8,000 acres of mountains, forests, streams and ponds, and the trails are idyllic places for hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross country skiing. Though not as viable in the winter months, the Preserve is also home to the famous rock climbing site of the Gunks, one of the most visited climbing destinations in North America.

If you’re looking to make your visit to New Paltz a weekend affair and truly unplug from the grind, consider a stay at the Mohonk Mountain House, which has 259 quaint guest rooms, a spa, gourmet restaurant, open air ice skating rink and truly picturesque location.

Mohonk Mountain House, 1000 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, (855) 833-3798, www.mohonk.com

Corning Museum of Glass

Though seemingly translucent, the world of glass is incredibly complex and fascinating and will appeal to anyone with an interest in art, history, culture, technology, science, craft or design. The museum was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) and houses everything from the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to contemporary sculptures, as well as live glassmaking demonstrations, hands-on exhibits and the Rakow Research Library filled with scholarly work on glassmaking.

If you’re still in need of a holiday gift or something to add some sparkle to your house for an upcoming New Year’s party, the museum also has a shop, the GlassMarket, in which you can buy everything from intricate ornaments to lamps from a selection of 15,000 pieces of jewelry, accessories and collectibles in every price range, made by more than 200 artists. (You can also shop online: www.glassmarket.cmog.org).

Corning Museum of Glass, One Museum Way, Corning, (607) 937-5371, www.cmog.org

Lake Placid

If you’re a skier, or really any kind of outdoors enthusiast, Lake Placid is the place for you in the winter. Whiteface Mountain boasts the greatest vertical drop east of the Rockies, 283 acres of ski-able terrain from beginner to expert, 86 trails and 11 lifts. If you’re going to Lake Placid explicitly for a ski getaway, the village offers a variety of Ski and Stay Packages with area lodges, including Alpine Country Inn & Suites and the Best Western Adirondack Inn, which will allow you to dine and relax without breaking the bank after a long day on the slopes.

Two great places to dine are the View restaurant at Mirror Lake Inn for a wonderful French toast or pancake breakfast or smoked rainbow trout dinner, and the pub at Interlaken Inn for mouthwatering offerings such as bison meatloaf.

Lake Placid is also a great place for cross-country skiing—the Jackrabbit Trail traverses from Keene to Paul Smith’s by way of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. You can pick up the trail and ski parts in the distance of your liking from any of the four XC ski centers along the trail.

If you’re not a diehard skier or journeying with family, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts has a vibrant slate of shows, including films, concerts by the Adirondack Wind Ensemble, dances and the Met Opera Live in HD.

You can also bobsled and experience Lake Placid’s Olympic facilities, stroll the family-friendly, 2.7-mile trail around Mirror Lake or shop the village’s bustling Main Street for fun souvenirs, Adirondack furniture or designer clothes.

Whiteface Mountain, 5021 New York 86, Wilmington, (518) 946-2223

Lake George

A similar Adirondack destination about 75 miles south, Lake George is about 30 miles from the family-friendly ski area Gore Mountain in North Creek, where you can also snow tube at the mountain’s Ski Bowl. Tubby Tubes in nearby Lake Luzerne also offers a full 10 different snow tubing runs, as well as a warming lodge, and is a perfect place to take young children. Another family friendly activity is indoor skating at the Lake George Forum in the village, where you can rent both hockey and figure skates. The rink also has open freestyle ice time for advanced skaters.

Other popular outdoor activities include ice fishing on the lake or a stroll of Battlefield Park, which played a role in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, and is within easy walking distance of Lake George Village. The site has an educational path and incredible vistas of the surrounding landscape.

Perhaps worthy of a special trip especially in the dead of the north country’s winter, Lake George hosts a month-long Winter Carnival every weekend in February. The celebration includes a polar plunge every weekend, free helicopter, hot air balloon and tether rides, tubing, ATV wagon rides, wood carving demonstrations and opportunities to enjoy the best in winter comfort food, like marshmallows toasted on bonfires and chili cook offs. A full schedule of events can be viewed at www.lakegeorge.com/winter.

Lake George Village, Ottawa Street, Lake George, www.lakegeorge.com

Cazenovia

Only about 20 miles southeast of Syracuse, Cazenovia is a quaint town situated on the shores of Cazenovia Lake and, coupled with its historic architecture, is somewhat comparable to Sackets Harbor.
Chittenango Falls State Park at 2300 Rathbun Road is open year-round and is home to a famous 167-foot waterfall made possible by glacial sculpting over 400 million year-old bedrock. The north end of the 1,164 Cazenovia Lake is a popular site for ice fishing for black crappie and bluegill.

The Cazenovia Public Library is home to a 100-year-old museum with a collection that covers more than 2,000 years of civilization, including ancient Egyptian artifacts and a mummy, early Native American tools, Native American beadwork and rare books and amps. Donations are suggested, but admission is free. The library also houses an art gallery with work by local artists and artists with tied to the local community.
Circa Restaurant at 76 Albany St. is a great spot to get a delicious meal made with fresh local meats, cheeses and produce. Brewster Inn at 6 Ledyard Ave. is another good option if you’re looking for gourmet dining and boats a bar with a stunning panoramic view of the lake.
Cazenovia Lake, Route 20 and Route 13, Cazenovia, (315) 655-3041, www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/60506.html

Baseball Hall of Fame

Another great option if you’re seeking refuge from the cold is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, about two and a half hours from the north country, which features “just under 40,000 three-dimensional items, three million books and documents and 500,000 photographs,” according to its website.

The three-story museum is open year-round, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily in the winter months. The experience includes multimedia presentations, time lines and history galore, two exhibits on Babe Ruth, information on women and African Americans in baseball, 135,000 baseball cards, the Hall of Fame with 297 bronze plaques for all inductees and much more on virtually everything conceivable baseball.
Admission to the museum is $19.50 for adults, $12 for seniors 65 and older, $7 for children ages 7 to 12, $12 for members of veterans’ organizations and free for active and retired military and children ages six and younger. There is also group rate admission.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 25 Main St., Cooperstown, (607) 547-2044, www.baseballhall.org

Strong National Museum of Play

You’re never too old to play. So reigns the theme of one of Rochester’s best attractions, which caters to all age groups. The museum includes 15,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits, including the beloved pretend Wegmans (it’s a Rochester thing), the National Toy Hall of Fame, educational programs, a carousel from 1918, an indoor butterfly garden, the Strong Express Train and many more opportunities for fun and creative games.

The museum is open year-round, Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. General museum admission for children ages two and older is $13.50 and free for children for children ages two and younger. The museum also offers discounts for afternoon admission and active-duty military personnel.

After you get your fill of play, stop by Rochester’s Park Avenue neighborhood for a bite to eat or to stroll the street’s unique shops and boutiques. Magnolia’s Deli and Café, 366 Park Ave., is among the district’s best bets and has a tomato and artichoke soup that’s out of this world (Barack Obama thought so too, as he stopped here for lunch this summer on a speaking tour upstate, so you can’t really go wrong).

Strong Memorial Museum of Play One Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY (585) 263-2700, www.museumofplay.org

Skaneateles

About the same distance to the south west of Syracuse, Skaneateles offers another historic downtown district and a number of cozy inns and B&Bs that make for a nice weekend escape. Mirbeau Inn and Spa is a great option for a relaxing place to stay, with a 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art spa, 15-person Jacuzzi, exercise classes and luxurious rooms.

A perfect excuse to make the pilgrimage is the annual Winterfest, a three-day bash of entertainment, food, community service and fundraising slated for Jan. 24 through 26 this year. The event begins with a Winter Walk past more than 20 ice sculptures lining the village on Friday evening, starting from the Skaneateles Library at 49 E. Genesee St. or the Creamery Museum at 28 Hannum St. The festival continues Saturday with a Polar Bear Plunge at 12:30 p.m., a taste of more than 50 beers, chocolate, baked items and other foods from the best of Skaneateles-area restaurants, a scavenger hunt, an ice fishing derby and more. Search Skaneateles Winterfest on Facebook for a full schedule of events.

If you can’t make it that weekend and stroll East Genesee Street’s boutiques, antiques shops and restaurants solo, don’t miss the John D. Barrow Art Gallery, named for a Skaneateles-born painter, The Creamery, a renovated creamery now home to the Skaneateles Historical Society and Museum, and the Skaneateles Bakery for some delectable sticky buns and fresh olive oil bread.

Mirbeau Inn and Spa, 851 West Genesee St., Skaneateles, (877) 647-2328, www.mirbeau.com