If you’re looking for the perfect winter getaway, you should absolutely visit Lake Placid in winter.
Lake Placid, NY, had the distinction of hosting the Winter Olympics not once, but twice. (I mean, if you’ve built ski jumps, you might as well use them, right?) In both 1932 and 1980, the world gathered to compete in upstate New York, and since then the Olympics have defined Lake Placid’s identity as a winter destination.
Perhaps the most famous event that occurred in Lake Placid was the “Miracle on Ice,” when the US Men’s Hockey team beat the then-Soviet Union team during the 1980 games. (I suggest watching the movie Miracle if that’s not ringing a bell.)
Tucked away in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, this small village has winter for about six months out of the year, so it makes a great location for winter sports. It was also a great place to grow up!
Winter is an excellent time to visit, and while there are fun things to do in Lake Placid at any time of year, there is something just magical about the place when it snows.
Lake Placid has been able to continue using many of the buildings and facilities that were built for the Olympics. It is also the home of one of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers, which opened two years after the 1980 Olympics.
Athletes continue to train and compete on the ice rinks, luge and bobsled track, and ski jumping complex. These are also open to the public to visit, and even use!
However, some of the best things to do in Lake Placid during the winter aren’t related to the Olympics at all. Things like the toboggan run (that shoots onto the frozen lake) harken back to simple, winter fun activities that will make you feel like you’re inside a Christmas card.
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- By car: Lake Placid is about a six-hour drive north of New York City and a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Montreal, QC. The drive from I-87 into Lake Placid is one of my favorite scenic drives.
- By plane: The closest airport is the Adirondack Regional Airport, located about 20 minutes outside of the village. Starting in Spring 2022, Cape Air flights will operate between JFK Airport in NYC and Adirondack Regional Airport in Saranac Lake, NY. You can then rent a car from there, but make sure to book it in advance. Other larger airports in the area include Burlington, VT, and Albany, NY.
- By bus: Greyhound/NY Trailways does stop in Lake Placid, but the ride is long, no matter where you’re coming from. (Speaking from experience, as I took many a bus ride home during college.)
A car is really the best way to reach Lake Placid. It is tucked away so remotely that public transportation is limited. Plus, a car allows you to explore the trails and mountains in the area.
However, use extreme caution when driving around Lake Placid in the winter months! Main roads are usually well-plowed, but rural roads can be icy. If renting a car, I highly recommend using one that has all or four-wheel drive.
Where to Stay in Lake Placid, NY
- Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort: Located right on Mirror Lake, the Golden Arrow will clear off a small skating rink if the ice is thick enough!
- High Peaks Resort: Take a dip in the indoor pool then go for a bite at the onsite restaurant.
- Crowne Plaza Lake Placid, an IHG Hotel: You’ll love the stunning views from the Crowne Plaza of the lake and surrounding mountains.
- Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa: One of the premier hotels in the area, Mirror Lake Inn is both swanky and charming. Plus, their holiday decorations are some of the best in the area.
The Best Things to Do in Lake Placid in Winter
Visit Whiteface Mountain
Whether you are a skier or not, one of the best things to do in Lake Placid is to visit Whiteface Mountain. It’s the fifth highest mountain in New York State and offers up some spectacular views!
During the 1980 Olympics Whiteface Mountain was used for all of the alpine skiing events. Now it continues to be a popular skiing destination. The Whiteface ski area has over 90 trails varying in difficulty from green circles (which are the easiest) to double black diamonds (which are for experts only).
However, if you’re like me and skiing isn’t your thing, it’s still worth making a trip up the mountain!
While you can drive to the highest peak via the Whiteface Memorial Highway during warmer months, if you’re visiting Lake Placid in winter, the roads may not be open. I highly recommend driving to the Whiteface Mountain skiing area instead and taking the Cloudspitter Gondola.
This fifteen-minute gondola ride will bring you to the peak that skiers take off from. However, you can just take in the views of Lake Placid and the surrounding Adirondack Mountains for as long as you’d like. Then take the gondola back down.
Go Ice Skating
Skating is one of the best things to do in Lake Placid during winter. If the weather has been cold enough that the ice is safe enough to skate on, you’ll probably see folks out on Mirror Lake, the lake located in the downtown area.
Hotels on the lake usually clear a spot for skating near their property, and a pond hockey rink is cleared off in front of the beach house. The village also occasionally clears off a whole loop around Mirror Lake.
Skates can be rented from Locker 5 on Main Street, which is a short walk away from the beach.
Note: If skating on the lake, you’ll be skating on ungroomed ice which can be bumpy, slushy, and uneven. (Also note: ice is considered “safe” enough to skate on at 4-6” thickness, but proceed with caution!)
The Speed Skating Oval
If you’d rather skate on groomed ice, head over to the Speed Skating Oval. (Don’t worry, you can skate as slowly as you want on it!) Newly renovated this year, the Oval sits outside the Olympic Center, exactly where it did during the 1980 Olympics.
Tickets and rental skates can be paid for at the Oval entrance. (Skate rentals run about $10.) Check the schedule before you go, as the Oval is usually only open for public skating in the afternoon and evenings.
Skate literal (counter-clockwise) circles around your friends!
The 1932 Rink
Also known as the 1932 Jack Shea Arena, the 1932 rink within the Olympic Center has been newly renovated and is available for indoor public skating. Skates can also be rented inside.
Make sure to check the rink schedule to make sure a special event or competition isn’t going on.
Speed Down the Toboggan Chute
If you have a need for speed, try the toboggan chute on Mirror Lake. Climb up the stairs to the 30-foot platform and then shoot down an iced slide on an old-fashioned wooden toboggan. (This is one of the winter Lake Placid activities that is not for the faint of heart!)
Depending on ice conditions, your momentum could carry you over 1,000 feet onto the surface of Mirror Lake!
Strap on Snowshoes
The best thing about snowshoeing? It’s just walking! You just have to pick your feet up a bit higher.
(If you grew up in the Lake Placid area, sometimes gym class would include snowshoeing days.)
What’s the point of snowshoes? They distribute your weight more evenly so that when you walk through the snow you don’t sink down as far. They allow you to walk on the top layer of snow rather than have to trudge through it.
Traditionally made from rawhide and wood, snowshoes are now made of lightweight metals and synthetic materials, with metal cleats on the underside for traction. They might feel a little funny at first, but you’ll get the hang of it very quickly!
Snowshoes can be rented from High Peaks Cyclery in town, but if you’re staying at a hotel or resort, ask if they have any available on-site.
Some great spots for snowshoeing in Lake Placid include Heaven Hill Trails and John Brown Farm.
Ride in a Dog Sled
Did anyone else watch the 1995 animated film Balto? I loved it as a kid! (We even got a harness for our family dog because he was part Alaskan Malamute…but he couldn’t be bothered with it.)
If you ever wondered what it’s like to go for a dog sled ride, you have your chance to do so in Lake Placid during the winter. When the ice is thick enough on Mirror Lake, you can see one or two teams of dogs running around the lake. It’s definitely one of the most popular Lake Placid winter activities.
It’s not as tight a squeeze as you may think if you ride with another person or two in the sled, but you’ll need the extra warmth as you’re whisked around the lake!
(Fun fact: Sled dogs are incredibly strong; depending on the breed, one dog can pull over 100 pounds just on its own!)
Be assured that these pups are a) well-taken care of, b) don’t mind the cold, and c) have a lot of energy and put it towards running as a pack.
Sip Hot Chocolate at The Cottage
One of my favorite restaurants in Lake Placid is The Cottage. Part of the Mirror Lake Inn, this little spot lives up to its name with its cozy ambiance and fantastic views of Mirror Lake.
Step into The Cottage and warm up with a hot chocolate or other hot beverage. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to grab a seat next to the windows and look directly out over the lake!
Or if you’d rather, outdoor seating is available, even in the winter, inside recycled ski mountain gondolas.
Try the Bobsled Run
If you are feeling particularly brave, try going down the bobsled run at Mt Van Hovenburg! The Lake Placid Bobsled Experience allows you to use the same track that athletes still use for bobsled, skeleton, and luge.
Get your adrenaline pumping as you take the sharp, icy turns down the track! The experience price includes two people to ride behind the professional driver, but there is an additional fee for a third rider.
(Note: You will have to sign an Assumption of Risk form online before you ride.)
Hike High Falls Gorge
When the Olympics were held in Lake Placid, the surrounding area was also used, including the town of Wilmington. Located just a short drive out of Lake Placid, Wilmington is home to Whiteface Mountain and many other beautiful hiking trails.
Also located in Wilmington is High Falls Gorge. The gorge is stunning any time of year, as the Ausable River cuts through with impressive force. Visitors can take a short walk around the gorge using paths, bridges, and metal walkways to admire it from every angle.
High Falls Gorge looks magical during the winter, with giant icicles, snow-covered bridges, and frosted tree branches!
During the winter months, you will be given some snow tracks for extra traction. (The staff will help you put them on your boots.) If you want to explore further you can then rent snowshoes to explore the nearby one-mile-long nature trail.
Look down from the Ski Jumps
Of all the winter sports athletes, I think ski jumpers have to be either the bravest…or the most foolish. Who wants to launch themselves into the air at a high speed only to give in to gravity and hopefully land on their feet?! Maybe it’s as close as humans will get to flying.
If you want a taste of what it must be like to be a ski jumper, take the Skyride gondola up to the taller of the two ski jumps (the 120-meter) that were built for the 1980 Olympics. From the viewing deck, you will have beautiful 360-degree views of the village of Lake Placid and the Adirondack Mountains.
Luckily, you can take the Skyride back down and will not have to jump! You can visit the ski jumps year-round; check out the view during the summertime as well.
- The 1980 Olympic Cauldron: Across the road from the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex you can find the cauldron that held the traditional Olympic Flame. In 1980, two “goodwill” ambassadors from each US state relayed the Olympic Torch to Lake Placid, with the final runner being Charles Kerr, a psychiatrist from Arizona. Today, the cauldron still stands and is relit during every Winter Olympics.
- Cross-Country Skiing: If downhill skiing seems a bit much, try cross-country skiing! It’s still an excellent cardio workout. Some great places for cross-country skiing in Lake Placid are Mount Van Hovenburg, Cascade Cross Country Ski Center, and The Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Center at Whiteface Club and Resort.
- Olympic Museum: Although it is undergoing renovations, Lake Placid has its own Olympic Museum which includes multimedia and memorabilia exhibits about Lake Placid’s Olympics and village history.
Winter in Lake Placid is such a fun time to visit (despite the freezing temperatures)! It has such a unique blend of natural beauty and Olympic history that there’s something for everyone to do. I hope you feel inspired to hit the slopes or the ice and discover this beautiful village for yourself!
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