Lake George, nicknamed “The Queen of American lakes,” is indeed a crown jewel of the Adirondack Park, and a wildly popular destination for tourists and locals alike. In fact, the Lake George area has close to six million annual visitors for overnight stays and day visits. The months of May through August bring in close to five million of these visitors.
Perhaps some of the lake’s appeal is that there are activities for people of any age, interest and skill level, and a plethora of businesses ready to serve customers with a wide range of vacation budgets. Whether you’re on the water, in it or over it, the natural beauty of Lake George and the surrounding areas makes it a splendid place for a day trip or extended vacation.
TAKE A DIP
Swimming in the lake is particularly pleasurable because of the how clean and clear the water is. In fact, Lake George consistently places on lists of the cleanest and clearest water in the world, thanks to The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a joint research collaboration with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research and the FUND for Lake George that has collected an unprecedented amount of data on the lake with the goal of furthering water protection around the world.
“The lake protection organizations around the lake work to ensure its enduring water quality,” said Amanda Metzger, marketing director for the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce.
One of the easiest ways to experience this uber-clear, clean water is to take a swim from the shore. The 32-mile-long lake with 109 miles of shoreline has several free public beaches, but you might pay a parking fee. The largest of these is Million Dollar Beach, named for the price tag to build it. Visitors will find showers, lockers, a concession stand and lifeguards on duty. No dogs are allowed, but dog owners can take their four-footed friends for a dip at the nearby Lake George Dog Beach, situated between Million Dollar Beach and the Lake George Steamboat Co.
The lake’s southern end is home to Shepard Park Beach off Canada Street in the middle of the village. “It’s extremely popular,” said Lake George Village Mayor Robert M. Blais, who holds the record for the longest currently serving mayor in the United States, having been elected to the post in 1971. If you’re relaxing at the beach on a Saturday morning, you can hear the famous mayor on his radio program, “Ask the Mayor,” on the just-launched Lake George Radio (FM 93.5). A good beach for the kiddos is the small, quiet Lake Avenue Beach, also off Canada street less than a mile north of Shepard Park. The water there is shallow. Canoers and kayakers can also launch from this beach.
Delong-Usher Park in the town of Lake George is open to the public, offering restrooms, tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas and two rentable picnic pavilions.
Other public beaches are the town of Bolton’s Rogers Memorial Park and Veterans Memorial Park; Hague’s large town beach off Route 9N; Washington County Beach at Huletts Landing; and Shelving Rock in Fort Ann.
ON THE WATER
There are myriad possibilities for being out on the water itself, alone or with others, while engaging in a wide variety of activities. Options range from personal watercraft such as paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, all the way to a tour on the 190-foot-long cruise ship Lac du Saint Sacrement and everything in between. Here are some highlights.
- Cruises range from one-hour sightseeing outings to six-hour private tours on the water. Companies like the Lake George Steamboat Company or Shoreline cruises offer several variations with different themes: lunch, dinner and even fireworks.
- For those who don’t favor crowds, there are some companies that will take private parties out on the lake. For example, Boating with Bob takes groups of up to eight out to places where big boats can’t go. Indian Pipes Captained Charter Cruises accommodates up to 18 people on a 36-foot luxury trawler yacht that docks at the famed Sagamore Hotel. For those who enjoy pontoon boats, Lake George Boat Tours, LLC operates a 25-foot luxury pontoon boat that seats up to 12 people for customized tours. For those in a tropical mood, Tiki Tours takes groups of up to 12 out on a Tiki boat.
- If you’re up for more than just sightseeing, a number of businesses offer customizable outings where passengers can swim or snorkel from the boat, go tubing, have a picnic on an island, fish and cliff jump, to name a few activities. One of Lake George Island Adventures’ excursions even includes a hike to a waterfall. If you want to go out on the lake on your own, several companies rent boats. Metzger advises those who want to go this route to make arrangements early. “Some are first-come, first served, so you have to arrive early in the morning to get one,” she said.
- Boat-rental businesses brief renters on legal and safety considerations to help them avoid getting a ticket or venturing into areas where they could damage a boat’s propeller and end up paying for it. In addition, renters must watch a six-minute boating safety video before launching, a requirement of the Lake George Park Commission, an entity which also limits the number of motorized rental boats allowed on the lake at one time to 552.
- Those who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with the lake can charter a captained boat and not worry about navigating. “They can have their cocktails, they can eat their food, have a fun swim and they don’t have to worry about it,” said Justin Mahoney, a United States Coast Guard certified master captain who operates Highliner Charter Fishing. “They have a designated driver that’s fully certified in first aid [and] CPR, and a licensed guide.”
- Jet skis are another option for on-the-water recreation. Free-range rentals aren’t allowed on Lake George, but guided rides are available from companies such as Devocean.
- For those who want to get up close and personal with the water, a number of companies rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. Paddleboards are a popular option, according to Tom and Julie Eigo, owners of Lake George Kayak Co.
UNDER THE WATER
Lake George is a great place to fish, and charter fishing boats take people out to find lake trout (some can get up to 20 pounds), salmon and large- and smallmouth bass. Customers can even have their catch filleted and bagged, ready to eat.
OVER THE WATER
For an adventurous view of the beauty of this grand Adirondack lake, parasailing might be the answer. While the wind is blowing your hair and your feet are dangling from the seat of a parasail swing, you can take in the sumptuous views of the pristine body of water. Parasailing came about in the mid-1970s, and for the past couple of decades it has been one of the three most popular activities on Lake George, next to a cruise on the Minne Ha Ha and summiting Prospect Mountain on foot or by car.
Parasailing doesn’t require any special skills, just the willingness to be hooked up to a harness and take a seat in the parasail’s swing on the back of the boat. The parachute inflates aft of the boat, and slowly the captain speeds up, unwinding a winch so that the tow rope extends about 300 feet. From that calming and relaxing vantage point, there are stunning views of the lake and its environs. When coming back to the boat, there’s even the option to be dipped in the water.
If you’re planning a visit to the lake, check out The Jefferson Project’s advanced weather map, available at www.lakegeorgechamber.com.
However you choose to experience the lake, it’s beauty and magnificence will draw you in for a great time.
“Lake George has always held a special kind of magic,” Metzger said. “Look through history and you’ll find numerous quotes admiring its beauty, including Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote. He called it ‘without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.’ ”
ORIGIN OF NAME: The earliest known name of Lake George is “Andia-ta-roc-te,” a Native American name which means “lake that shuts itself in.” Then it was called “Lac du St. Sacrement” by Father Issac Joques, who gave it that moniker in the 1600s. Today we call it “Lake George,” a name given by Sir William Johnson in 1755 for England’s King George II.
LOCATION: Warren and Washington counties, southeastern Adirondack Park
SIZE: Length: 32 miles; maximum depth: nearly 200 feet
CLAIM TO FAME: A few movies filmed scenes at Lake George, including “Lolita” (1962), “Radium Girls” (2016) and most recently, “Spy Intervention” (2020).
WHERE TO SWIM: There are several public beaches around the lake, including Million Dollar Beach, Shepard Park Beach and Usher Park Beach. Some hotels have their own private beaches.
WHERE TO LAUNCH: Million Dollar Beach has a public boat launch, and there are many private marinas on the lake as well.
LAKESIDE DINING SPOT: Lakeside dining opportunities abound all around the lake. Some favorites are The Algonquin, Blue Water Manor, The Boathouse, King Neptune’s The Lagoon, Lake George Beach Club and the famous Sagamore Resort.