Saranac Lake is a hidden gem small town in the Adirondack Mountains where outdoor lovers will never run out of things to do. The town and surrounding areas are forever bustling with year-round attractions for explorers of all ages, abilities, and activity levels. From the historic downtown offering some shops, restaurants, and museums, to the raw natural beauty of the lakes and mountains. Saranac Lake is at the heart of the true Adirondack Experience. If you’re not sure where to start your upstate getaway, here are some of our favorite places to visit in Saranac Lake divided by summer, winter, and year-round activities.
Best Time to Visit Saranac Lake, NY
- Summer: Do you love the outdoors, water sports, beer tasting on a patio, and farmers’ markets? Then summer is a great time for you to visit Saranac Lake.
- June is quieter here and thus some businesses may be closed, so call ahead!
- July and August are more bustling.
- Winter: We LOVE winter in Saranac Lake! While January/February are the coldest months of the winter season, they are the perfect months for walks over a frozen lake, winter sports, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and much more winter wonderland-related fun.
- Don’t miss Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival, the first week or so of February.
- If you want to see the Ice Castle, just be sure to visit before it gets warm and starts to fall!
- As long as you are wearing the right clothing, winters can be a ton of fun in the Adirondacks.
- Fall: September is one of the BEST months to visit Saranac Lake if you love the outdoors. Travelers hoping to catch fall foliage should arrive by the end of September to the beginning of October for the full effect of the season.
- This is also a wonderful time to hike and bike without overheating while you explore the colorful landscape.
- Spring: Flower lovers will find late April and early May to be the most beautiful, with blossoms and wildflowers bursting all around. This is also the start of concert season and live music at local establishments. Early June can be “buggy” so if you’re going outdoors, dress accordingly.
History of Saranac Lake, NY
Saranac Lake has a rich and unique history. The area was first inhabited by Native American tribes who would naturally hunt and trap throughout the Adirondack Mountains. Logging and fishing started a slow growth of settlers beginning in the 1800s. Paul Smith opened his grand hotel on Lower St. Regis Lake that brought in a host of notable guests, including Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. At the end of the century, Saranac Lake was known as a world-famous health resort home to the Trudeau Sanatorium, the center for treating and researching tuberculosis.
SUMMER THINGS TO DO IN SARANAC LAKE (SUMMER ONLY)
Keep scrolling for Saranac Lake activities during other seasons. Since it’s currently, summer, we’re starting summer places to visit in Sarana Lake!
Visit the Iroquois Cultural Center ★
Immerse yourself in the rich ancestral history of the Adirondacks by visiting the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center only 20 minutes from downtown. This fantastic museum and cultural center is open from July to August to the public and through September by appointment. Travelers can peruse over 3,000 artifacts, entrance themselves into storytelling lectures, or find a new handmaid treasure at the gift shop; all products reflect the beauty, values, and philosophies of the indigenous communities of the Adirondack Mountains. With a special focus on the Haudenosaunee culture (“people of the long house”), the center also educates visitors about the environmental sensitives the six nations possessed in preserving their homeland.
It was honestly a highlight experience for me to connect with the indigenous heritage of this region, meet with Dave Fadden (the owner), hear stories about the Native Americans who still live in the region. I was truly touched and changed by this experience. I recommend it to everyone who loves decolonial history and supporting cultural heritage preservation.
Go Kayaking or Stand Up Paddle Boarding ★
Your summer adventure in Saranac Lake would not be complete without kayaking or stand-up paddle boating through the lakes and rivers of the region.
- Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters is your one-stop shop for rentals, gear, and access to self-guided or guided tours of the waterways. We did the Lower Saranac Lake + Bluff Island guided tour with Rich. It was a beautiful experience that took us to places we would have never known to look out for. Their rates range from $60 to $150+. They are located right by the downtown area.
- St. Regis Canoe Outfitters is another paddle boarding mecca, offering 38 years of experience to aspiring boaters. They feature two outfitted bases on the water, with 35 different boat rentals and guides, including boating, fishing, and natural history. If you’re looking to make your adventure more than a day trip.
- Adirondack Hamlets to Huts offers 3–5-day trip packages featuring boating, wildlife exploration, and a mix of bike terrain. Want to stay local? Launch your paddle boat into Lake Flower for a relaxing day exploring the area.
Go Hiking! ★
Saranac Lake 6er Challenge consists of 6 hiking trails in the region. Olympic athletes are known to use these trails for training! So they are no easy feat.
Baker Mountain: The shortest one is Baker Mountain at around 2 miles round trip. But don’t be fooled by the length. The hike is still considered one of the toughest by locals. We were scrambling and sliding our way up and down this mountain. At the very top, between the branches, you’ll get a beautiful view of Saranac Lake and Lake Flower. It is currently an extra buggy trail due to its proximity to the pond, so bring protection from bugs.
Ampersand Mountain Trail: Tucked away in the wilderness of the High Peaks, the Ampersand Mountain Trail is one of the prettiest hikes in the Adirondacks This 5.4-mile out-and-back hike is not easy! It peaks at an elevation of 1,765 ft with panoramic mountain views from the summit. Sights on this trail are gorgeous, so you may want to pack a lunch and make a day out of exploring the rocky terrain and local wildlife.
In the winter, the Ampersand Mountain Trail is also lovely for hiking and snowshoeing, making it an all-year-round joy. You can bring dogs as long as they are on a leash. Beware of road closures leading to the trailhead in the winter months.
Visit the Saturday Farmer’s Market
Farmers from around Saranac Lake gather every year to sell their labors of love at the Saranac Lake Village Farmer’s Market. The Adirondack Park community supports all the small farms and is committed to keeping them going strong even in the cold season. This bountiful gathering is held both indoors and outdoors, depending on the time of year.
The Summer Market is held in Riverside Park on Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, starting in June and running until mid-October. The Fall Market is held at Hotel Saranac on Saturdays between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and runs through the end of December.
Adirondack Riverwalking & Forest Bathing
There is always a new way to connect with nature in the Adirondacks, and this attraction is probably one you haven’t tried yet. The Adirondack Riverwalking & Forest Bath offers travel enthusiasts a way to connect deeper with nature by combing sensory immersion and relaxation in guided forest meditation sessions. Travelers can slow down the pace and recharge through forest bathing, a snowshoe walk rediscovering the magical wonder of winter. In the warmer months, you can wade through the rivers, listening to the intricate sounds of the wildlife on land and in the water. Participants can book online to plan their day for connecting to the wild.
Saranac Lake has become quite the hub for Adirondack cyclists– there are so many options to choose from! Not sure where to start? There are three popular loops in the area you may want to try first.
- Three Lakes Loop is a 31.4-mile ride with an elevation peak of 1,961. The ride is perfect for those looking to make stops as it passes Donnelly’s Ice Cream, Paul Smith’s Collect, and several wildlife spotting posts.
- The Norman Ridge Loop is just slightly longer but not as high, with rolling roads catching stunning views and plenty of chances to spy on local wildlife.
- Finally, the Moody Pond Loop is a short 3.6-mile trip with only a 211-foot elevation gain and the perfect ride to fit in before setting off to other attractions. This loop goes beyond the downtown area and circles a flat trail around Moody Pond.
Cyclists can access the Norman Ridge, and Moody Pond trails from Main Street and the Three Lakes Loop from Broadway.
Thursday’s at the Waterhole
If you like live music with your beer, Waterhole Music Lounge is your spot. Waterhole sits right on Main Street and is a favorite among locals. It features an awesome balcony and patio setup for music shows. It also has one of the region’s largest selections of craft beer. Every Thursday in the summertime, they have a live music event starting at 6:00 PM.
Donnelly’s Ice Cream (Historic Ice Cream Stand)
No summer day is complete without a cool sweet treat! Donnelly’s Ice Cream is an iconic, historic establishment in Saranac Lake. This quaint soft-serve joint has been a favorite since 1953 for its sensational flavors.
They are unique from other ice cream shops because they only serve one flavor a day. That’s right– just one! Each week, the shop posts its flavor schedule on its Facebook page.
YEAR-ROUND THINGS TO DO IN SARANAC LAKE (rain or shine)
For winter activities in Saranac Lake, scroll down to that section below. Here are places to visit year-round, regardless of snow, rain, or sunshine.
Check Out the Breweries
- Hex & Hop Brewery: Hex & Hop is one of the most popular breweries in the Adirondacks, with a tasting room and farm co-op right on Broadway. This brewery provides high-quality beers, meads, and ciders made with local ingredients in a cozy atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy their drinks with bar food in a pet-friendly environment. Sometimes they have fire pits and live music.
- Ray Brook Brewhouse ★: Hands down one of the best breweries in Upstate New York. I loved almost every beer that I tried here. Get the flight of 6 beers for $12. They produce both traditional and adventurous brews. From a lager to a strawberry beer with probiotics! And the chicken wings were AMAZING! Order the buffalo sauce + garlic parm mixed flavors.
- Blue Line Brewery: The Blue Line Brewery is interesting to see because it used to be a former car wash. They have been brewing beer for over 20 years. Locals love their pizzas.
Saranac Lake Riverwalk + Lake Flower
The Saranac Lake River Walk is about 1 mile long and starts on Church Street in downtown Saranac Lake. This walk encourages visitors to explore the history of the area by foot. The Riverwalk connects with several small bridges to navigate the town and features a brick-paved path beside Saranac River with access to the downtown. There are tons of places to stop along the way to get locally made goods, gifts, and some dining options. It’s handicap accessible from both entrances and boasts a perfect view of the changing foliage if you visit in the fall.
Right by the downtown area, also by Church Street, is the cute Lake Flower. You can extend your River Walk by walking with Lake Flower. You can stop to take some beautiful photos or just sit on the benches to admire the view (pictured above).
Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery
Another must-see attraction settled right in the historic downtown of Saranac Lake is the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery. Open since 1997, this gallery participates with the local art community all year round to display stunning collections of art inspired by the serene beauty of the Adirondacks. The Guild operates as a co-op, with several members pitching to support one another. New exhibits are available for the public to pursue every month.
This is an easy stop between shopping, strolling, or dining on Main Street. Winter and Summer hours vary slightly, so make sure you check the gallery schedule on their website before visiting. Original artwork is available for purchase both in the gallery and online.
Saranac Lake Artworks
This non-profit is a local collaboration of artists, cultural organizations, galleries, and other creative businesses who work together to market and promote the creations of Adirondack artists. It features fine art and musical presentations in a variety of galleries and events. ArtWalks, Studio Tours, ArtMarkets & the 14th Adirondack Plein Art Festival are their most notable shows scheduled throughout the year. Saranac Lake Artworks strives to support the region’s creative communities, connecting audiences with the brilliant artists and musicians it’s home to. Its mission is to make Saranac Lake the go-to art destination of the Adirondack Park. You can find a full list of events hosted by the gallery here.
Saranac Laboratory Museum ★
The Saranac Laboratory Museum is one of the best places to visit in Saranac Lake for history buffs! Built in 1894, the laboratory was originally started as a research hub for tuberculosis, where historic discoveries and treatments were made. Permanent exhibits educating visitors on scientific research and patient care are available in the main laboratory while rotating exhibits on various local history topics can be viewed in the John Black Room. Visitors can also watch short films to learn more. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. If you’re visiting during the week of the Winter Carnival, the museum offers special events to enjoy. Be aware that parking on site can be limited, but downtown on-street parking and municipal parking are also available.
I didn’t know what to expect visiting a carousel as an adult. But I was pleasantly surprised. The old-fashioned Adirondack Carousel conveniently operates right in the downtown area. Rides are $2.50 or you can purchase multiple rides at discounted rates or by purchasing a two-day “Happiness Pass.”
Fun fact: The animals were handmade by a local woodcarver.
Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum
If the name of this attraction sounds familiar, you may be an avid reader! Robert Louis Stevenson– the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island– stayed in this cottage in the winter of 1887 in hopes of recovering from tuberculosis. While he was there, he wrote The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale. The cottage was eventually renovated into a museum where visitors can see the world’s first and largest collection of memorabilia from this beloved author. The museum opens to the public in the summer (Tuesday to Sunday). At other times throughout the year, is available by appointment only. Admission is $10 per person.
Adirondack Loon Center
Loons are iconic birds found among the lakes of the Adirondack Mountains. Their majestic songs and calls echo through the valleys, catching the attention of all within earshot. Created by the Adirondack Center for Loon Conversation, the Adirondack Loon Center is dedicated to promoting the conservation of these amazing creatures. Loons in the region are being threatened by climate change, pollution, and human disturbance from elevated tourism. Visitors to the center can learn more about how to protect the loons through interactive exhibits, field experiences, and lectures from friendly staff. The facility is located on Main Street and has a loony gift shop for those looking for unique takeaways!
WINTER THINGS TO DO IN SARANAC LAKE (WINTER ONLY)
When the lakes freeze up, many locals get out their ice fishing gear! Ice fishing is a relaxing winter pastime in Saranac Lake, and there are more than enough lakes nearby to do it.
- Lake Colby is one of the most reliable ventures full of perch trout, landlocked salmon, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and more.
- Black Pond on the property of Paul Smith’s College VIC is another fantastic spot, with access to northern pike, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed.
Snowshoeing is making a major comeback, and Saranac Lake is full of trails for snowshoe-thusiast visiting the region.
- Dewey Mountain Recreation is a short drive from downtown with twisty, gentle slopes for snowshoeing. They offer rentals and even permit dogs on their 4-km of well-groomed trails. The east and west trails have access to the Dewey Mountain summit providing views of the Saranac Chain Lakes. They even host a campfire snowshoe event with lit trails in February!
- If you’re looking for a quieter trail, the VIC Center in Paul Smiths is a hidden winter gem for snowshoeing too, with 40K of snowshoe trails ranging in difficulty depending on your level of experience.
Small towns in Upstate New York become snowmobiling playgrounds when the snow falls, and Saranac Lake is no exception. Farmhouse Snowmobiling, set between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, has exciting wilderness trails perfect for beginners and experienced riders looking for something new. There may be parking restrictions to be mindful of so plan.
I loved the snowmobiling at Charlie’s Inn. It’s not cheap, but the trail is breathtaking. I felt transported to another planet surrounded by white powdery snow and frozen ponds.
Lake Clear Lodge Speakeasy Experience + Sleigh Ride ★
Lake Clear Lodge is home to one of the most unique winter attractions: The Sleigh Ride and Speakeasy Dinner Experience! Visitors can start by hopping into a horse-drawn carriage to explore the grounds of the Adirondack Lodge on a lantern-lit trail. Then, if you’re over the age of 21, whisper the secret password through the door. You can also explore the beer cellar, savor a three-course 1920s dinner to die for while playing trivia, and/or rent their skis for free.
Sleigh rides can be booked with the Speakeasy Dinner or booked separately in a group where all ages are welcome.
Winter Carnival ★
Every winter, people come from around New York to partake in the excitement of the Winter Carnival. This annual celebration is the pride and joy of the season and a wonderful opportunity to support the community of Saranac Lake.
The crown jewel of the whole event is the construction of the annual Ice Palace. Since 1898, Saranac Lake locals and noteworthy architects have been harvesting ice from Lake Flower to form ice masterpieces on its shore. It’s free to enter the ice palace, but the entrance will depend on the weather, so keep that in mind.
The carnival lasts 10-days, featuring parades, performances, firework displays, games, and a ton of food!
Mt. Pisgah Ski Center
Mt. Pisgah Recreation Center is a small-town ski retreat providing slope lovers with a classic take on an All-American ski getaway. Mt. Pisgah has 14 skiable acres, including gentle downhill slopes for beginners and a vertical rise of 329ft. Prefer to snow tube? There are also two runs available for inner tube “races” so you can find out who’s the fastest out of your friends.
If you really want to go low-key, try out the 3.5 kilometers of snowshoe trails for some alpine scenery or hang out in the lodge with some snacks and hot beverages.
Hours of operation are still dependent on Covid restrictions. Check the website for updates before you arrive.
WHERE TO EAT IN SARANAC LAKE
- Fiddlehead Bistro ★: This is, hands down, one of the best restaurants in Upstate New York. Period. The plates here are delicious and the flavors are perfectly balanced. The dishes are inspired from around the world with fresh ingredients from local farms. Don’t miss the beautiful paintings! Please note that their menu changes every day.
- Bitters & Bones: This rustic Adirondack favorite is known for its burgers, flatbreads, and wraps. They have fun weekly specials like Taco Tuesday and Trivia Night and Wine Wednesdays with half-priced bottles. The fish tacos are super popular here but they were sold out when I went.
- Lakeview Deli: Locals love the sandwiches here. This is an easy spot to grab a quick lunch by the lake.
- Ray Brook Brewhouse: This is known as the ultimate Adirondack beer experience. They craft a host of traditional and wild brews using local and exotic ingredients. The atmosphere is warm and rustic; plus, they serve a full menu of delicious appetizers, flatbreads, burgers, and sandwiches.
- Origin Coffee: Origin Coffee is another gem to visit on Main Street offering specialty coffee and a friendly spot to gather with family and friends. There is also a seasonal menu of toasts, paninis, and baked goods made with ingredients sourced locally.
- Nori’s Village Market: If you’re looking to stay in and cook on your vacation, this local market has been offering organic products for 30 years. Nori’s has everything from farm-fresh products, meats, and cheese, as well as a Grab & Go Deli with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
- Campfire Adirondack Grill and Bar: This restaurant is located inside Hotel Saranac. It’s a perfect mix of comfort and gourmet. I really liked that they offer clean, gluten-free, and vegan options here. Get the wild mushroom soup.
- Left Bank Cafe: Temporarily closed but we heard great things about this place!
Where to Stay in Saranac Lake
Hotel Saranac is a mix of history and modernity. Guests will step back into time starting in the Great Hall, surrounded by meticulously restored architecture and rich designs dating back to the 1920s. Amenities here include a spa, gym, fantastic gift shop, and a restaurant and bar with an outdoor terrace.
Lake Clear Lodge
The Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat is a unique lodging experience packed full of amenities and activities for visitors. It runs on the idea of building community among its guests. It’s home to the Fireside Speakeasy and the Great Camp Tradition horse carriage rides in the fall. The lodge also offers cooking demos, food tastings, history demos, and many seasonal recreational activities right on Lake Clear.
After a day of lake exploration, stay at The Point by Upper Saranac Lake. This wilderness resort, full of luxurious amenities and picturesque lake views, will leave you rested and relaxed for another day of maritime fun.