By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
The destination was Vermont for a fall tour. Lake George, N.Y., was the bonus stop on the way that paid off as a worthy autumn destination in its own right.
Would you believe a $1 trillion payoff? Yes, but with a very large asterisk attached – more on that later.
A lack of appealing flight options to Burlington, Vt., prompted a Plan B flight to Albany, N.Y., on Jet Blue, which had a direct flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., arriving in late afternoon. From there it was a 55-mile drive to the town of Lake George on the southern short of its namesake lake, a Long, skinny body of water that extends 32 miles to Ticonderoga at the northern tip.
A picturesque setting in the Adirondack region, Lake George is known as a summer destination, and a very popular one about a six-hour drive from New York City.
The New York Post ranked it at No. 2 on a list of North America’s Top 100 Summer Destinations a few years ago. The Wall Street Journal touted Lake George as one of the eight best family travel spots in the country.
While that is great for the local economy, the degree of popularity is an indication of a crowded hotspot, at least in prime tourist season. The hotels and other types of tourist lodging report more than 3 million visitors a year, and much of that is concentrated in the summer, when it is necessary to book a room months in advance.
The fall is a different story, accommodations cheaper and more readily available. It was easy to get a choice room at the Fort William Henry Hotel, arguably the premier Lake George Village property – an upgraded lake view king suite with electric fireplace – for $116 (plus taxes, resort fee).
The view was spectacular with the lake ringed by autumn colors in the foothills of the Adirondacks. The full moon rising over the mountain and casting a shimmering nightlight on the lake made for an enchanting evening.
The town is much quieter in October – far fewer denizens of the night howling at the moon – which we found appealing. Because, let’s face it, Lake George Village is a tacky sort of tourist outpost with an abundance of T-shirt and fudge shops, and the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum the centerpiece attraction on the main drag of Canada Street.
The honky-tonk vibe is mainstream Americana, and that is evident in the crowds that flock there during family vacation prime time. We couldn’t resist a stop in one of the game arcades a couple doors down from Frankenstein’s for some Skee-ball, pop-a-shot and shooting gallery mindless fun, with no waiting for any game of chance to catch your fancy.
And what a deal: Five dollars worth of quarters yielded enough prize coupons to cash in for a very realistic looking trillion dollar bill.
For dinner, the Adirondack Brewery was the right choice even with a 40-minute wait, which was indication enough that the food was good, and it went down well with house brews such as the Fat Scotsman, Bear Naked and Beaver Tail Brown Ale.
Too bad we were a couple weeks early for the brewery’s Punkin Chunkin event, which offered a chance to catapult the great gourd at the presidential candidate of your choice.
The steamboat and shoreline cruises were still operating, and are highly reviewed. Had we planned more than an overnight stay on the way to Vermont, we would have taken one. There was time for a quick tour of Fort William Henry adjacent to our hotel.
The fort was a focal point in the struggle for control of the region between the British and French prior to the American Revolution. The French siege of the fort and subsequent Indian “massacre” of British soldiers, women and children received a distorted fictional retelling in James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans” that is required reading in many high school English lit classes.
A visit to the restored fort is an opportunity to gain some clarity on what happened there and what it was like for those involved during the turbulent 1750s. But getting to the root of historical reality is always challenging and elusive.
As we poked through the museum store, a young boy examining the toy soldiers had one question.
“Who won the battle?”
Without hesitation, his father replied, “the Americans.”
One fact not in dispute, then and now, is the natural beauty of the area.
The drive up Route 9N, hugging the western shore proved to be a scenic and worthwhile detour en route to Vermont. Once again, fall offered an advantage, not only for the show of autumn colors but for making steady progress. Traffic congestion can be abysmal in the summer on the two-lane road.
For those turned off by the touristy aspect of Lake George Village, Bolton Landing offered a pleasant stop with considerable more charm for browsing quaint shops, assorted restaurants as well as beaches and a luxury resort, The Sagamore.
For fans of forts, the bookend installation at the north end of the lake is Fort Ticonderoga, which figured prominently in the French-British conflicts as well as the Revolutionary War.
As well as serving an important role in preserving history, the glimpse they provide into Eighteenth Century life underscores the good fortune of being a traveler today as opposed to then.