Indian Lake in Hamilton County — located partially within the town of the same name — offers a little something for everyone.
Indian Lake was once a resort community with the Indian River, Arctic and Cedar River Falls hotels, which were later joined by Commercial House, Forest House and Ordway Hotel, according to the Hamilton County Historical Society. It still boasts several family resorts where people can vacation and enjoy all the lake and its surrounding communities have to offer.
SWIMMING, BOATING, RAFTING
Indian Lake is actually a reservoir, built in 1898. It eventually flows into to the Hudson River and is part of the eastern Indian Lake town line, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It’s a large lake — nearly 50 miles long — and allows power boats, rowboats, kayaks and canoes alike. Boats can be launched at the Indian Lake Marina on Lake Shore Drive and the state boat launch at the DEC Indian Lake Islands Campground and Day Use Area.
Most of Indian Lake consists of private beaches. However, nearby Lake Abanakee Town Beach does feature a small public beach off Route 30, which is free to visit and offers not only a swimming dock but public restrooms, a covered pavilion for picnics, and a net and court for volleyball.
Lewey Lake Campground and Day Use Area, also operated by the DEC, features more than 200 campsites, a picnic area with fireplaces, flush toilets and hot showers, boat rentals, sandy beach, swimming area, bathhouse, boat launch and hiking trails.
For those who prefer more water adventure, Indian Lake is also known as the “whitewater capital of New York state” — trips through Hudson River Gorge often begin on Indian Lake.
“The dam now standing at the north end of Indian Lake was constructed for logging,” said Darrin Harr, director of the town of Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Today it is owned and operated by the Hudson River Black River Regulating District for the dual purpose of downstream flood control and upstream recreation.”
And if you don’t have your own whitewater rafting equipment, don’t worry: Outfitters can be found in town and can provide you with a state-licensed guide, all of the necessary equipment and appropriate instruction for a full day of rafting.
CAMPING ON INDIAN
Indian Lake is a beautiful place to camp; wild forest islands offer travelers wilderness camping and many opportunities for recreational boating.
The Indian Lake Islands Campground and Day Use Area is located on the southern shore of the 4,365-acre lake. All the campsites offer privacy and are large and well forested. Campsites are accessible by boat only; those interested in camping on the islands can register at the boat launch adjacent to the Lewey Lake Public Campground off Route 30, where some campsites are also available. If you want to stay at the campgrounds you will need to make reservations via ReserveAmerica.
HIKING AND CLIMBING
People traveling to the Adirondacks for hiking and nature trails will not be disappointed by the Indian Lake region. There are more than 300 miles of hiking trails in the area, including several historic and restored fire towers. There are five in Hamilton County — Blue Mountain, Owls Head, Pillsbury Mountain, Snowy Mountain and Wakely Mountain. All fire towers are open to the public and offer scenic views. And for those looking for photo opportunities, there is a scenic hike to OK Slip Falls to see one of the highest waterfalls in the Adirondacks.
“Hiking is a huge tourist attraction,” said Harr. “Several years ago, the Chamber started our own hiking challenge and offers a comprehensive hiking map for tourists.”
In addition to fire-tower climbs and OK Slip Falls, there are several options for those who want the beauty and rustic scenery but not the challenge of climbing Adirondack mountains. For those travelers, the area offers places such as Cathedral Pines, located in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest. Cathedral Pines is a short, tenth of a mile hike that loops through old and virgin-growth pines.
For those who want more of a challenge there is Snowy Mountain with a fire tower at the peak. At 3,899 feet in elevation, Snowy is one of the more demanding hikes in the region and is one of the 100 highest peaks in the Adirondacks.
Families looking for ways to keep children busy can also take advantage of the DEC Junior Naturalist Program. While the program is offered at several state parks at Lewey Lake, children ages 5 to 12 can take part in activities marked in a journal that is filled in and, once completed, can earn a Junior Naturalist patch.
The town of Indian Lake is often referred to as an “authentic Adirondack community.” It features several country stores to browse and many nearby restaurants in which to dine.
“Indian Lake, like other Adirondack towns, is busiest during summer,” said Harr. “We are fortunate to have two gas stations, a golf course, a unique hardware store called Pine’s Country Store and Kim’s Country Store, a gift and décor shop — all in the middle of downtown.”
INDIAN LAKE THEATER
Trying to find something to do on a rainy day or something to entertain the kids? Look no further than the Indian Lake Theater right on Main Street in town, which shows everything from Disney movies to independent films, and everything in between.
The theater, built in 1937, had been a summer-only moviehouse for many years, according to Sue Montgomery Corey, its current executive director. But by 2006, the owners had put the historic building up for sale.
“The community was concerned that, being on Main Street, the building might become something other than a theater,” she said.
A group got together, and in three months’ time managed to raise $165,000 to purchase the building and create a nonprofit to run it. The Indian Lake Theater became a year-round, multiuse venue, offering new and classic films as well as concerts and other special events — although currently, due to the pandemic, the theater is mainly focusing on showing movies.
During fall and winter, the theater is open just four days a week, but in July and August, Montgomery Corey said, it’s open seven days a week with shows at 7:30 p.m.
“It is really a great place,” she added. “It has retained its 1930s flavor and it’s just really a fun place to come, hang out and see movies.”
In addition to attractions in the town of Indian Lake, Harr said there are many nearby cultural options, and tourists can make a whole day of it — or stay even longer.
“Indian Lake Theater, Adirondacks Lakes Center for the Arts and Adirondack Experience, and the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake will all be open this summer and will be ready to visit,” Harr said.
SIGNIFICANCE/ORIGIN OF NAME: Indian Lake is actually a large reservoir built in 1898 that is the source of the Indian River. It’s fed by the Jessup River and drains into Lake Abanakee.
LOCATION: Hamilton County
SIZE: 50 miles long and 80 feet maximum depth;
covers 4,365 acres
CLAIM TO FAME: The lake was the inspiration for the 1960s hit single “Indian Lake” by The Cowsills.
WHERE TO SWIM: There are no public beaches or swim sites on Indian Lake. The nearest public beaches are at Lewey Lake Campground and Day Use Area, and Lake Abanakee Town Beach on Chain Lakes Road.
WHERE TO LAUNCH: Within the Indian Lake Islands Campground and Day Use Area, overseen by the state DEC. Within the Indian Lakes Campground you can launch from the lake access off Route 30, 14 miles north of the village of Speculator and 12 miles from the town of Indian Lake. There is a hard-surface ramp with parking for 50 cars and trailers.
LOCAL DINING SPOT: The Indian Lake Restaurant and Tavern, in the town of Indian Lake, offers an extensive bottle selection and local beers on tap, and is a well-known “Happy Hour in the High Peaks” 46er destination.