Adirondack Park, New York
Though they sit just four hours north of New York City, the Adirondacks spend their summers living – sadly and paradoxically – in the shadow of the Hamptons' beaches. Recent efforts to revitalize tourism to the north country, including the Adirondack Challenge white-water race championed (and won) by Governor Andrew Cuomo, have centered around reminding city folk about the region rather than rebranding it for the simple reason that nothing much has changed since the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers treated the area as a vast backyard. That constancy is a good thing. Adirondack Park, an outdoorsman’s paradise spread out over 6 million acres of publicly protected land in upstate New York, is larger than the Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks combined, and has a proportional number of adventures to offer.
Scattered among the Adirondacks' many charming towns, 3,000 lakes and ponds, 2,000 miles of trails, and countless raging rivers is an almost unlimited number of great hikes, fishing spots, and lodges. The hard part is knowing where to start. Just a four-hour drive up I-87 from Manhattan, the town of North Creek is a great base camp. The woods around the compact downtown contain a host of great hotels, including the Alpine Lodge and Copperfield Inn, as well as a number of more-than-sufficient culinary and dining options. The Fry Daddy (beer-battered haddock and chips) from Basil & Wick's stands out in particular, as does the general outdoorsman’s ambience at Trappers Tavern – where you should ask at the bar for local microbrews like Davidson Brothers and Saranac.
A number of local outfitters, including the inimitable Becky Pelton's North Creek Rafting, offer day and overnight white-water rafting trips on the Indian, Boreas, Hudson, and Moose Rivers; their varying degrees of difficulty (mostly Class III and IV rapids) are dependent on weather and the frequency of dam releases. Fishing excursions to the upper Hudson River Gorge can be organized through Beaver Brook Outfitters in nearby Weverton, and for those eager to give fly fishing a shot, lessons can be arranged through the Adirondack Fly Fishing School in downtown North Creek. If you're trying to stay dry for the day, the immediate area also offers a can't-miss maze of hiking trails, and the scenic gondola ride at Gore Mountain provides visitors with an unbeatable view of the High Peaks and Southern Adirondacks.
Arguably though, the true appeal of North Creek, and the region as a whole, lies in its peacefulness. The Adirondack Park contains an unparalleled amount of undeveloped public land – for the East Coast, anyway - and offers the sort of seclusion that can be hard to come by near a big city. Seclusion might not be for everyone, but for those looking to slow down a bit (while also doing some rafting and fishing), the Adirondacks are hard to beat.
More information: The rafting season runs from April through October, so be sure to visit within that window if you're looking to experience the ADK white water. City dwellers without cars can reach North Creek from Saratoga Springs via the rustic if unimaginatively named Saratoga & North Creek Railway after riding north on Amtrak from New York's Penn Station.