Lake Placid is steeped in Olympic history. After hosting the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980, it became one of the few cities in the world that has had the privileged of hosting twice. The people in these parts live and breathe winter sports and Lake Placid itself has become a world renowned training ground. It is really fascinating to visit these facilities and see the athletes training or competing. There is so much to do in Lake Placid in the winter. We spent three nights here and didn’t have time to see it all!
When we left central Massachusetts, it was a warm April day. A flock of robins hopped around the front yard looking for worms. As we made the five hour journey to Lake Placid, it was like driving through the seasons. By the time we reached the Adirondacks, it was a full blown blizzard. The cold front from British Columbia provides a seemingly endless supply of snow.
Guide to Winter Activities in Lake Placid
1. Olympic Center & the Olympic Museum
The Olympic Center is a large sports complex which is home to the Olympic Museum as well as several ice rinks. I highly recommend starting your visit to Lake Placid at the Olympic Museum. It will give you such a great background to the area and help you better appreciate the sights you will see. We loved learning about the history of the winter Olympics in Lake Placid and there were some hands-on experiences for the kids to enjoy. They got to sit in a bobsled and see what it would be like to shoot down a mountain. We had a guide for the museum and I would also highly recommend this if it is available. We got so much more out of the experience.
We also watched a short documentary about the Miracle on Ice. This ice hockey game during the 1980 Winter Olympics was played between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In one of the most dramatic upsets in sports history. The underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeated the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team. At a time when U.S. power seemed in decline, the Miracle on Ice enabled millions of American viewers to imagine a different future, in which the United States, with its courage, and tenacity, triumphed over the Soviet Union. It was so much more than a game.
After exiting the museum, head to the Herb Brooks Arena, which is where the Miracle on Ice game was played. I got the chills just walking into the arena. Be sure to visit Locker Room 5, where Herb Brooks gave his famous speech:
“Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight.“
Another area of importance at the Olympic Center is the James B. Sheffield Olympic Skating Rink where Eric Heiden won an astounding five Olympic gold medals in 1980! Located outside the Olympic Center, the rink was built for the 1932 Olympics. This outdoor speed skating oval hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic speed skating competitions and served as the Olympic Stadium of the 1932 games, and hosted the opening ceremonies of those games.
2. Olympic Jumping Complex (Skyride Gondola & Glass Elevator)
At the Olympic Jumping Complex, you can take an 8 person gondola to the base of the jumping towers. From there, you can walk back to a scenic glass elevator that will whisk you up 26 stories to the sky deck. On a clear day, you will have a panoramic view of the Adirondacks. If you aren’t bothered by heights, go outside and walk up the last metal staircase to where the skiers clip in and begin their jump. I could barely stand on the platform, let alone ski down it and sail the length of a football field through the air.
There was no jumping on the day that we were there, but it was still a very cool experience. It is just beyond me that people can hurl their body through the air and not get hurt.
3. Mt. Van Hoevenberg
This state of the art facility was a highlight for us. There is a very nice cafe where we enjoyed our lunch. There was a bobsled competition going on, so we walked up to check it out. When you reach the first access road, you can wait for a taxi to bring you up to the starting line. I would recommend doing this because it is a far steep climb. You will be picked up in a black escalade so just keep an eye out for them.It was great fun to watch the athletes start on their course.
I would also recommend walking to the finish line from the base of the mountain. Along that walk way, there are some great view points. It is incredible to see how fast those sleds travel around those corners. The sleds go up hill to get to the finish line. This is to help slow them down. We watch one sled stop and go back down the track backwards!
Mt. Van Hoevenberg also has cross country skiing, an indoor rock wall as well as skeleton races (think bobsled without the sled, it’s just bob). I would recommend checking out what competitions are going on the day you are there. If you are really brave, you can sign up for the bobsled experience. For $125, you can get the thrill of a lifetime zooming down the mile long track at speeds over 50 mph.
The Toboggan Chute in Lake Placid has been in operation since the 1960s. A 30-foot tall converted ski jump trestle sends toboggans down ice-covered chutes onto frozen Mirror Lake. Depending on weather conditions toboggans can travel over 1,000 feet once they reach the frozen lake surface. The Toboggan Chute tends to open around the first full weekend in January. Mirror Lake has to have 10-12 inches of good solid ice to ensure the safety of sledders. This activity is weather dependent, so check the website to see if it is in operation during your visit.
This was another memorable experience for our kids. We were walking through the downtown when we saw the sled team on Mirror Lake. They were set up behind Players Sports Bar. We didn’t have a reservation, it is a first come, first serve policy. It is only $20 per person, which is very affordable considering I have seen prices over $500. We went on a short loop around Mirror Lake which lasted about 10 minutes. It can be cold and windy for the kids so it was a perfect amount of time to try it out. The dogs were so friendly and clearly loved.
We rode with Thunder Moutain Dog Sled Tours and they were wonderful. There is also another team that leaves from the Golden Arrow Resort. This is a another weather-dependent activity. The Mushers (guides) will determine daily if the ice is safe and conditions are suitable.
6. Ski Whiteface Mountain
The 13 mile drive up to Whiteface Mountain is an experience in itself. The scenery can’t be beat. Whiteface Mountain has 90 trails, including the greatest vertical drop on the east coast. It is also famous for The Slides. A series of steep, narrow chutes, this is expert-only terrain. This double-black-diamond wilderness skiing is accessible by hiking from the top of the Summit Quad. There’s no snow-making on The Slides, and it only may only be traveled at the discretion of Ski Patrol. Skiing The Slides demands skill and concentration. In one area, there’s a frozen waterfall beneath all that snow.
7. Stroll downtown Lake Placid
Downtown Lake Placid is a classic ski town. It was a short walk from where we were staying at the Mirror Lake Inn. Boutique shops and restaurants line the waterfront. Lizzie loved making a necklace at Just Bead It. Big Mountain Deli & Crêperie had the best sandwich I have ever eaten, The Bookstore Plus was a fun place to peruse, and Imagination Station was the boys favorite stop. Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery is famous for their Instagrammable shakes and hot chocolates.
The John Brown Farm State Historic Site includes the home and final resting place of abolitionist John Brown. It is located on John Brown Road in the town of North Elba, 3 miles southeast of Lake Placid, New York, where John Brown moved in 1849 to teach farming to African Americans.
On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and his followers assaulted the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, planning to use the captured arms in an extensive campaign for the liberation of the slaves in the South. Brown was captured on October 18, 1859, imprisoned at Charlestown, Virginia, tried by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and hanged on December 2, 1859. His body was returned to North Elba and was buried in front of his home on December 8, 1859. The remains of several of Brown’s followers, who fought and died at Harper’s Ferry, were moved to this small graveyard in 1899.
The house is only open from 10 AM to 5PM May – Oct., but the grounds are open all year. We peeked in the window of the house and head down to the barn where we were able to watch a short documentary about John Brown.
High Falls Gorge is a 22-acre, nature park with four waterfalls. The 1 mile loop trail is generally considered an easy hike and takes about a half hour to complete. The walkways lead you over the river close enough to feel the mist. In the winter season, High Falls Gorge is open from December through March. It then closes down for maintenance until May.
10. Ice skating
In the winter, as conditions allow, the village prepares a beautiful skating loop on Mirror Lake. If the lake is not frozen, head to the James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval for outdoor skating. If you prefer indoor skating, there is also public skating available inside of the Olympic Center.
11. Take a winter hike
There are many beautiful trails in and around Lake Placid. We did the Peninsula Nature Trail which walked along the bank of Lake Placid. Since it was winter, we saw snow shoers and cross country skiers. My children love Geocaching and were very excited to see that there was a geo on this hike. It gives them a goal to reach. This is also a dog friendly area.
Although the Wild Center is about a half hour drive from Lake Placid, I can’t not mention it. The Wild Center is an incredible natural history center.
Walk up a trail of bridges to the treetops of the Adirondack forest. Visit a four-story twig tree house, swing on bridges, clamber over a spider’s web or climb to the full-sized bald eagle’s nest at the highest point.
Inside The Wild Center explore 54,000-square-feet of exhibit halls, meet one of our many animals at an animal encounter, join them for a live show, or watch one of many amazing films.
Lake Placid is steeped in Olympic history and is just a fabulous place to visit for winter sports. There are so many outdoor activities in Lake Placid during the winter. Whether you want a challenging ski trip or just a leisurely stroll in the woods, there is something for you. I also highly recommend staying at the Mirror Lake Inn. It is a beautiful place with an indoor pool and incredible food.