In my mind, there is something about autumn and history that go together like peas and carrots! It might be that the kids are back in school and already looking forward to class field trips. It might be that the distinct smell of fall triggers some childhood memory of visiting the Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. Or it may simply be that the cooler days lead me away from swimming and on to exploring. But, whatever causes the interest, I don't fight it! Instead I simply follow the urge to get out to visit some fascinating historic sites.
One of the awesome perks of living in the Adirondacks is that history is all around us. You don't have to travel far to visit a historic site, follow a historic trail, or see a unique exhibit. Here are five fun ways to explore history this fall. Odds are you might just find me at one of these locations.
1. Visit a museum
The Adirondacks is home to a number of wonderful museums designed to preserve the history of the Adirondacks. In Hamilton County, you will find an assortment of museums which will surely engage everyone in your traveling party.
Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake
In Blue Mountain Lake you will find one of the largest museums in upstate New York: Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. This beautiful 22-building campus is the mecca of Adirondack history. Their extensive collection of permanent and rotating exhibits will connect you to the way people have lived, played, and worked in the Adirondacks since the 19th century. Spend hours wandering in and out of the beautiful modern galleries and historic buildings. While you explore the exhibits you can take in the fall foliage from the many beautiful vistas on campus. Two of the most notable locations on campus to spot fall colors are from Whiteface Mountain Fire Tower, on display and open for climbing, and the Lake View Dock, near the museum's cafe.
In addition to the world renowned Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake, there are also a variety of smaller hometown museums that focus on preserving the history of individual communities. The Adirondacks is composed of six-million acres and over 100 different hamlets, each holding their own identity. Indian Lake, Speculator, and Inlet are just a few of the communities that have their own heritage museum. I highly recommend that while you are traveling through the Adirondacks enjoying the fall foliage, that you stop into one of these museums and gain a better understanding of the town you are visiting.
Recently I popped into the Indian Lake Museum and was amazed by the number of artifacts they had on display. There was something for everyone's interest, from letters written by some of the first residents of Indian Lake to a variety of signage that once adorned some of the original hotels in the area, even one of French Louis' sleds were among the collection.
2. Take a historic wooden boat tour
Just a short distance south from the Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake, you will find the Blue Mountain Lake Boat Livery, where you can enjoy a historic tour of Blue Mountain Lake, Eagle Lake, and Utowana Lake via a 1916 wooden boat. Whether you are a history buff or not, you are guaranteed to enjoy this historic tour. Your tour captain Crabby Bob — a.k.a. Bob Booth — is an authentic Adirondack storyteller. As he fearlessly guides you though the Eckford Chain of Lakes, he mixes his commentary on historic landmarks with fun stories about the people who were first to season here.
This summer I took the Blue Mountain Boat Livery tour to explore the waterways shaped by the Adirondack's Gilded Age's Great Camps, steamboats, and railroads. I learned that Blue Mountain Lake was the location of the first hotel in the United States to be powered by electricity — who knew? Our tour followed the historic trail built by figureheads like William West Durant, J.P. Morgan, and Collis P. Huntington.
Crabby Bob operates the Blue Mountain Boat Livery with his family and staff from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. So take the opportunity to get out on the water this fall while the colors are as rich as Bob's storytelling!
Note: If you are traveling with children and are looking to give them a great fishing experience, Blue Mountain Boat Livery is the perfect spot to let them test the waters. Crabby Bob and his crew allow families to fish right off of their docks, and our secret sources say that this is an excellent fishing hole!
3. Discover the mystery of Kunjamuk Cave
The history behind Kunjamuk Cave in Speculator is truly an Adirondack mystery. Historians and visitors alike do not know exactly how or when it was formed. Is it a natural cave? Was it carved by Native Americans? Was it the home of a lone miner? These questions go further back than any historical records do. So the fun of this historic site is getting there and deciding for yourself.
There are many ways to get to Kunjamuk Cave. You can canoe or kayak to ~quarter mile from the cave. You can snowshoe or cross-country ski there in the winter. But in the fall, I would highly recommend biking in.
Kunjamuk Cave is about 150 feet from the Inner Loop "Kunjamuk Cave Loop" of the Speculator Loop Trail System. This well marked, 7.2 mile trail offers excellent biking for most skill levels. The trailhead is at the Speculator Chamber of Commerce, located at the four corners of Routes 30 and 8. There you can find a trail map and additional information. After you finish the loop, the trail will take you in through the village of Speculator, where you can stop and grab lunch at one of the area restaurants.
Note: The loop does feature some steep climbs that may be challenging for beginner riders.
4. Hike to a historic fire tower
Hiking is always one of my favorite fall activities. There is nothing quite like taking in the colorful vista from an Adirondack mountain top. In Hamilton County, there are five peaks which feature a fire tower open to the public. They are:
- Blue Mountain
- Snowy Mountain
- Owls Head
- Wakely Mountain
- Pillsbury Mountain
- Bald Mountain is also close by
- As is Kane Mountain
- And Goodnow
These historic fire towers helped protect the Adirondacks from forest fires for over 60 years. Take a hike back in time and see the view, which rangers once oversaw to help preserve our beautiful forests for decades with great success.
Note: If you are up for a challenge, consider hiking all five mountains to earn your Hamilton County Fire Tower Challenge patch.
5. Tour a Great Camp
Take a trip back to the Adirondacks' Gilded Age by touring one of Durant's Great Camps.
Great Camp Sagamore
Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake is William West Durant's largest Great Camp. Construction on the 27-building complex began in 1897 and from 1901-1954 it was the wilderness estate of the Vanderbilt family. Today, you can tour this National Historic Landmark daily through Columbus Day. The two-hour tours begin at 1:30 p.m. and include a slideshow presentation and an hour-and-a-half walking tour.
Note: If you are looking for a relaxing weekend, you can stay right at Great Camp Sagamore with a "Simply Sagamore" accommodations package.
Great Camp Pine Knot
Great Camp Pine Knot, also known as "Camp Huntington," was the first of Durant's camps built with the Adirondack Great Camp style architecture. This magnificent estate on Raquette Lake is now operated by SUNY Cortland as an outdoor recreation facility, and unlike Great Camp Sagamore it is not always open to the public. During September, however, there is still a chance to tour Camp Pine Knot. A water taxi to the camp is provided by the W.W. Durant, operated by Raquette Lake Navigation. This excursion includes lunch aboard the W.W. Durant. Reservations are required.