Lovers of the Adirondacks have always gone along with the notion that when Route 30 and Route 28 meet in Hamilton County, something magical happens.
In its 300-mile journey from the Southern Tier to the Canadian border, Route 30 passes some of the most beautiful landscapes and interesting places in New York state. And, during that stretch of the Adirondacks where it shares the road with Route 28, the entertainment options, indoors and out, are wonderfully vast and varied.
Located in the middle of Hamilton County north of Indian Lake and south of Long Lake, the Blue Mountain Lake area is replete with exciting things to do. You can hike, either up a mountain or just into the deeps woods; you can go boating or fishing in Blue Mountain Lake and nearby Raquette Lake or Durant Lake; and you can go swimming in all three. While Blue Mountain Lake and Durant Lake are in the town of Indian Lake, Raquette Lake is in both the town of Long Lake and Arietta.
Lovers of art and history who venture into the area also won’t be disappointed. The Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts is on Route 28 West in Blue Mountain Lake, and as you head north on 30 and 28 a visit to the Adirondack Experience, formerly the Adirondack Museum, often ends up as the highlight of the journey for both the youngest and oldest members of the family.
Adding to the mystical element is the fact that as you reach Durant Lake on that stretch of Route 30 and 28 between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake, the water begins flowing in the opposite direction.
“Blue Mountain Lake is the top of the watershed and you can feel that when you live here,” said Ben Strader, executive director at the Blue Mountain Center, a retreat for artists, writers and activists. “The water from Blue Mountain Lake flows west and then north into the Raquette River, and up to Canada, while the water in Durant Lake flows east to the Hudson, and then Albany and New York City.
“And there is something about those last 10 miles when driving into the area, the deep woods and lack of civilization, that makes the towns up here feel nestled in the wilderness,” added Strader. “It’s a great place for an artist residency, especially for those who are interested in addressing social and environmental issues. These towns stand apart. They can act as a peaceful refuge and sanctuary, but are also entwined with our society and our history.”
The scenic section of Route 30, often called the Adirondack Trail, begins in Wells and goes through Speculator before nearly reaching its halfway point at Indian Lake. As you take a left and head out of the village of Indian Lake, 30 hooks up with Route 28, which comes in from the east and North Creek about 18 miles away. As you head up 30 and 28, Durant Lake is about 10 miles north of Indian Lake, and just three miles farther is the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. From there, 28 West heads about 10 miles to Raquette Lake, while 30 and 28 continue to Long Lake another 10 miles away.
While the Adirondacks offer many gifts to outdoor lovers, the area around Blue Mountain Lake and its two closest neighbors, Raquette and Durant, is indeed special.
For history lovers there’s only one place to begin, and that’s the Adirondack Experience.
“If you’re interested in the history of this area, you start there,” said Hamilton County Historian Earnest Virgil. “There’s an incredible amount of information that you can find there. There are photos and many different displays talking about the history of the region as a whole.”
It was William West Durant who built the first great Adirondack camps in the area in the 1870s, and in 1879 it was also Durant who brought steamboat transportation to Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake.
“The Durant family made their money in railroads, built the great camps in the Adirondacks, and then brought the railroad and steamboat to the area to make it easier for people to get here,” said Virgil, who was a history teacher and administrator in the Lake Pleasant School District and recently retired as superintendent of schools after 43 years working in the district.
“There is fascinating history all around us. The writer, Ned Buntline, lived here for a while at Eagle’s Nest and did a lot of his work here, and Thomas Edison was up here at the Prospect House, which he called the first hotel lit by electric light in the world.”
Originally referred to as the “34 Flow,” Durant Lake was created in the 1930s by the lumber industry to improve the efficiency of moving logs downstream to sawmills on the Hudson River. Between 1933 and 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a dam, and in 1938 the “new” lake was christened Durant Lake by the widow of W.W. Durant and dedicated by the state for recreational purposes for the general public. The DEC campground was opened in 1948.
The history of Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake, which are connected by Marion River, goes back even further. Not forgotten by the locals is the story of the Native Americans who were there before them, but the summer of 2020 was unlike any other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sue Montgomery Corey, however, president of the Town of Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the negative impact wasn’t as bad as you might think.
“People were still interested in getting outdoors,” said Montgomery Corey, who owns the Indian Lake Theater in the village. “We still had a lot of people up here, local and visitors, who were doing outdoor activities. There’s a lot to do up here without having to go inside, but places like my theater and the Blue Mountain Center were closed for much of the year. That hurt, but we are optimistic about this summer.”
Further west on Route 28, the Pohl family, owners of the Raquette Lake Navigation Company, is looking forward to a successful summer. While not technically a steamboat, their boat, the W.W. Durant, offers that same kind of experience with all kinds of different cruise options. The season opens June 5. And don’t forget to check out the great camps just a few miles south of the hamlet of Raquette Lake.
At the Blue Mountain Center, Strader and his guests know how to appreciate the beauty of the region.
“Each month we take our writers and artists for a paddle from Raquette to Blue,” he said. “The beautiful, curvy Marion River that connects the lakes creates a sense that you have to earn your way into these towns. It’s a journey to get here, and you sense the reward as you sit by a lake after arriving, arms aching and back sore, and look across the water to the mountains hovering over the opposite shore. And when you take that plunge into the water to cool off, well, it’s a special feeling.”
THE ADIRONDACK EXPERIENCE
With so many outdoor activities available, who would want to spend any part of a beautiful summer day inside? There is an indoor option, however, that shouldn’t be missed.
The Adirondack Experience, known as the Adirondack Museum before changing its name in 2017, is truly one of the jewels of the Adirondacks. Try to take it all in during one visit and you might miss something, but you won’t be disappointed regardless of your age.
This summer the museum has a new exhibit on display, “From Wilderness to War Front: The Adirondacks and World War II.”
Chief curator Laura Rice said the exhibit was made complete by a huge contribution from the public.
“We put out a call to the community when we started the project and we were overwhelmed by the response we got,” said Rice. “People got excited about it, and we were happy to have so many people so willing to share with us their family stories.
“We take a look at the men, women and children living here who contributed to the war effort, both on the home front and overseas,” continued Rice. “The exhibit puts a real emphasis on individuals and what it was like to go through a period like World War II in the Adirondacks.”
The museum also has a series of permanent exhibits on display, including “The Buck Lake Club,” “Life in the Adirondacks,” “Living with Wilderness,” “Boats & Boating” and “Work in the Woods.”
The Adirondack Experience opened Aug. 4, 1957. According to founding director Robert Bruce, the museum’s mission was “ecological in nature, showing the history of man’s relation to the Adirondacks.”
The Adirondack Experience opens today for members, and opens to the general public July 1. During the season, the facility is open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for those 65 and over, and $12 for youth (6-17) and students with valid ID.
Blue Mountain Lake
Location: Hamilton County in the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake, at the eastern end of the Eckford chain of lakes
Claim to fame: In 1881, Frederick C. Durant built the Prospect House, the first hotel in the world to have electric light in every room.
Surface area: 1,334 acres
Shore length: 8.5 miles
Maximum depth: 100 feet
Public camping and day-use areas: There are six individual campsites for “primitive camping,” all accessible by water only.
Main attraction: The Adirondack Experience
Location: Hamilton County in the town of Indian Lake
Claim to fame: Named in honor of William West Durant in 1936
Surface area: 327 acres
Shore length: 5.5 miles
Maximum depth: 20 feet
Main attraction: DEC campground (65 tent and trailer sites) and day-use area with a boat launch
Location: Hamilton County in the towns of Long Lake and Arietta, about 10 miles west of Blue Mountain Lake
Claim to fame: William West Durant built the first of the “great camps,” Pine Knot, on Raquette Lake in 1877.
Surface area: 4,924 acres
Shore length: 99 miles
Maximum depth: 95 feet
Public camping and day-use areas: Golden Beach and Brown Tract Pond camping and day-use areas; Tioga Point campground
Main attraction: Raquette Lake Navigation Company