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How To Plan a Weekend in the Adirondacks or the Catskills
February 04, 2019
When you're in NYC, winters can be a little depressing. The snow is sort of dirty, when it's there, and it's often more of a hassle when there is snowfall. The thought of downhill skiing, or even cross country skiing, seems so far away. But in all honesty, it's actually well within your grasp—on almost any budget! The Adirondacks—a mountainous region in New York just a few hours away from the city—are easy to get to and jam-packed with winter (and summer) fun. If you're in the mood for a weekend adventure, you can do much worse than heading to somewhere like Lake Placid or the Catskills.
If you’ve got a car, you’re in luck: most of the drives are around four hours, so it’s a pretty easy weekend trip (or three day weekend, if you want to get the most bang for your buck). Alternatively, Amtrak from NYC’s Penn Station has stops in Lake Placid and the Catskills, so even if you’re car-free in the city, you won’t be in trouble.
All of the mountains have ski and snowboard gear available, but if that’s not your thing, look for an AirBNB option that has snowshoes or cross country skis included in your stay. It's a pain to keep snowshoes in NYC (though honestly, some snowy days, they sort of come in handy!), so realistically, it's unlikely you'll have a pair on hand.
Both the Catskills and Lake Placid have plenty of mountain hotel options, for those with pretty extensive travel budgets. If you’re looking for a weekend of all-skiing all-the-time, that may be your best option, but finding an AirBNB room (ranging anywhere from $40-500) is also a good, possibly more economical option. Or if you're staying in Lake Placid, you can opt for the National Sports Academy ($50-75/night depending on the time of year) to be near a whole bunch of like-minded, athletic people in a pretty great space—but while it’s great for ski bums, don’t forget that it is dorm-room style, so don’t expect it to be like the Hilton.
Stay Close: The Catskills
If you want to keep your driving or travel to a minimum, aiming for the Catskills versus the Adirondacks is likely the smarter choice, since Plattekill Mountain is: A) awesome and B) only three hours away from the city.
Family run and owned, Plattekill Mountain is a great ski destination for newbies and veterans alike, and their snow machine technology (just updated this year) means that even when the weather conditions aren't perfect, there's still plenty of snow on the ground. There are 38 trails with a full range of difficulty levels, including a two-mile long beginner trail.
When you get bored with the slopes, Catskill Park offers 300 miles of marked, maintained hiking trails on public Forest Preserve land, so it's perfect for long hikes (or snowshoes) if skiing isn't your thing, or if the snow just isn't that great.
Bonus: if you want a break from the outdoor recreation and want to feel like a hippie for a day (or just eat some really great food), the town of Woodstock is right at the edge of the Catskill Mountain park area, and it's well worth the stop.
Travel To: Lake Placid
For a winter town that has a little bit of everything (it is, after all, home of the 198o Winter Olympics) from sled dogs to skiing to ice skating to bobsledding, Lake Placid is the perfect winter destination. And it doesn’t hurt that the small town is as charming as a story book—albeit often crowded in the winter months—and full of great food options and some excellent shopping as well. If you prefer something a bit more remote, you can find that in Lake Placid as well, while keeping town close enough for supply shopping.
Whiteface Mountain is the primary ski destination at Lake Placid, though cross country skiers will find plenty of trails around the outskirts of town as well. If you’re feeling adventurous, they even offer "be a biathlete" experiences, so if you love cross country skiing and/or shooting, this can be a pretty different way to pass the day. For only $55, you get a trail pass, rental and lesson, plus time on their biathlon shooting range. If that’s not your style and you’re sick of downhilling, Whiteface also offers ice skating and plenty of seasonal events.
However, while the skiing may be what prompts you to plan a weekend in Lake Placid, we'd recommend bringing hiking and running equipment, since the town is full of great non-skiing trail options as well, and truthfully, some years in the Adirondacks, the snow just isn't that impressive. But if you do hike, make sure you get a good view of High Falls Gorge—it's beautiful in the summer, but the massive ice formations transform the rocks and cliffs into works of art when temperatures drop.
If you want to get even more adventurous, Lake Placid is known for its rock climbing in the summer months, but almost better known for its epic ice climbing in the winter. If you're going to do this, though, unless you're ultra-experienced with ice climbing, axes and crampons, consider hiring a professional guide—there are tons available for any winter sport you may want to try out while you're there.
Far, Far Away: Ellicottville
For sweet mountain biking in the summer with minimal crowds, rad swimming holes and a small town vibe, Ellicottville is the perfect destination, though it's the farthest away from NYC (and the tiniest of the mountain towns). But in the winter, those MTB trails make way to a massive ski hill that’s just waiting to be skied—or snowshoed or hiked, if you’re not a skier or snowboarder. It’s a few hours from the city, so it’s a bit further than the Catskills or Woodstock, but if you don’t love crowds, and prefer to settle down in a tiny neighborhood restaurant with the locals, it’s a great choice. Want a taste of what to expect in Ellicottville? Holiday Valley has a real-time webcam so you can see the conditions (and the fun) firsthand.
So when the big city beats you down this winter, make sure to head to the mountains for a wonderful winter escape.
Written by Molly Hurford for Knockaround.