A scenic drive is made great by a number of factors all coming together: plenty of scenery, perfect spots to stop for a break, and the potential for fun surprises around every bend. Winding north and south through Hamilton County, Route 30 is the ideal fall drive. Picture sparkling lakes, flaming leaves, and jaw-dropping adventures. Here’s how to do it.
Start in Speculator, a charming village on the shores of Lake Pleasant in southern Hamilton County. Speculator is a wonderful spot for boating, hiking, and a relaxing fall vacation. If you're spending time in town, try the hike at Pillsbury Mountain, which is topped by a fire tower offering great views.
The Timberline Cafe & Bakery is a deservedly popular spot for breakfast — their baked goods are swoon-worthy and their homemade quiche is a treat — and for a coffee for the road. You're heading out for adventure, so you might as well rev yourself up. For any last minute purchases, including clothing and souvenirs, stop by the Speculator Department Store. If they don't have it there, you probably don't need it.
From Speculator, drive north on Route 30, through forested scenery. You'll pass Oak Mountain on your right, a ski center that also hosts fun, family-friendly events throughout the year. Route 30 travels through the Jessup River Forest and then, as you approach Lewey Lake, the West Canada Lake Wilderness, one of the most remote parts of the Adirondacks and the second-largest wilderness area. Driving through this area, the blazing leaves contrasting with the dark green conifers is visually dramatic and makes you feel as if the whole Adirondacks is all yours.
About 12.5 miles north of Speculator, the road crosses the small outlet that links Lewey Lake to Indian Lake. Long and narrow, Indian Lake is 12 miles long, 1 mile wide, and covers more than 4,000 acres. It's a popular spot for camping, fishing, and boating. There are excellent hiking options around the lake as well. As a stop on your road trip, I recommend the Watch Hill trail.
The Watch Hill trail, short but sweet, leads to rocky outcrops that provide views of Indian Lake and nearby Snowy Mountain. The parking area for Watch Hill is located just over 16 miles north of Speculator, on the right-hand side of the road, across from Griffin Brook. From here, the trail is 1.7 miles to the end, on the shore of Indian Lake. However, you don't have to go all the way to the end to get in a nice walk and great views. The first open overlook is reached after about a mile of walking, while the second overlook is just one-tenth of a mile farther down the trail. After enjoying the view and taking photos, you can return to your car. Don’t forget that if you continue to the trail’s end, by the shore of the lake, you have a bit of a walk back up the hill.
After enjoying your hike, which goes over an old woods road and a steeper section ascending to the overlooks, you'll be ready and eager to stroll back down the hill to the trailhead to continue your adventure. Continue north on Route 30, near the western shore of the lake, to the village of Indian Lake. Although your legs won't need stretching, the village is a good spot to stop, grab a bite to eat, or simply enjoy the fresh air at Byron Park on the shore of Adirondack Lake. Take a little detour east on Route 28 to Abanakee Studios to shop for local art and gifts, or stay in the village and visit the Indian Lake Museum, which celebrates local history, including the village's earliest permanent settler, Penobscot Indian Sabael Benedict.
For the next part of your adventure, head northwest on Route 30, with the Blue Mountain Wild Forest on your right and Blue Ridge Wilderness on your left. This is rugged, gorgeous country, with the road winding through the forest, with glimpses of creeks, brooks, and wetlands. Watch out for wildlife!
From Indian Lake you'll drive onward to Long Lake, a drive of about half an hour without stops. You'll pass Lake Durant, named after Great Camp designer and railroad magnate William West Durant, Blue Mountain Lake, the similarly-named mountain, and Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. From here, the road rolls up and down over gentle hills, past streams and small ponds, with views ahead and behind. This is my favorite part of the ride, as the leaves are gleaming in their fall colors and you never quite know what to expect around the next bend or over the next hill. It could be an interesting roadside rock formation, a flock of turkeys, or even a coyote.
The last 3 miles of the drive to the center of Long Lake takes along the southern shore of the lake itself, providing excellent views of the lake and the hills overlooking the opposite shore. The lake itself is 14 miles long, one of the longest in the Adirondacks, and part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. You could paddle (and portage) from here to Maine if you were so inclined. Long Lake has excellent shops, including the famous Hoss' General Store, which is filled with housewares, Adirondack-themed gifts, and one of the best selections of books about the Adirondacks I've ever seen.
As much as I am a huge fan of road trips and scenic drives, in the fall one of the very best ways to see the foliage is by air. Fortunately, Helms Aero Service offers twenty minute scenic flights on board a floatplane. The flights take off from the town beach, seven days a week. View remote parts of the lake, rustic camps, hills, and mountains just like birds do. Your pilot can even customize the flight to highlight places you might be especially interested in. This is such a unique way to see the Adirondacks; trust me, you won't regret it.
After your exhilarating flight, walk over to the historic Adirondack Hotel for a hearty dinner. After a day of taking in all that fall has to offer, from lake to sky, and all the millions of trees in between, you deserve it.