Strange as it sounds, unless you are paying attention it’s easy to miss or mix up Lake Placid in Lake Placid.
Sitting high in the Adirondack Mountains, 1,801 feet above sea level, and world famous for twice playing host to the Winter Olympics, Lake Placid is a two-lake village that can be confusing.
“There are many people who visit Lake Placid who think they are looking at Lake Placid lake when it’s actually Mirror Lake,” said Art Lussi, president of the family-owned Lake Placid Vacation Corp.
While the village of 2,300 residents in the High Peaks surrounds the picturesque and often-placid Mirror Lake, it also embraces part of the southern end of much larger Lake Placid. The lakes were massively important to the development of the village of Lake Placid in the 19th century and they remain key components of the region’s tourism economy. But they could not be more different.
Lake Placid, for which the village was named when it was incorporated in 1900, is four miles long and 1.5 miles wide at its widest point, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It has 20.3 miles of shoreline dotted with breathtaking private Adirondack camps, a maximum depth of 151 feet and covers 2,173 acres. Boat tours of the lake by steamers began in the 19th century and now are available on covered pontoon boats.
Melvil Dewey, who devised the Dewey Decimal System for libraries, formed the Placid Park Club in 1895 on the shores of Mirror Lake. He is credited with encouraging the residents to adopt Lake Placid as the name of the village. His resort, which became the Lake Placid Club, helped the community gain national and international stature as a year-round destination. Dewey’s son, Godfrey, convinced the International Olympic Committee that Lake Placid was the ideal host for the 1932 Winter Olympics.
While Mirror Lake may have a more prominent position, it is Lake Placid’s tiny little sister. DEC statistics say it is one mile in length, a quarter-mile wide, has a maximum depth of 65 feet, 2.4 miles of shoreline and covers a mere 128 acres.
Mirror Lake is adjacent to a long stretch of Lake Placid’s busy Main Street, and many restaurants and taverns look out over its waters. It has a public beach in the village park at the south end. Boats with gasoline engines are prohibited and the surface is the domain of human- and wind-powered craft. Originally known as Bennet Pond, after early settlers, it was renamed when a visitor left a poem about Mirror Lake in a hotel register in 1870.
Lussi, whose company’s properties include the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Lake Placid Marina and the three golf courses that make up the 45 holes at the Lake Placid Club, said that during the pandemic summer of 2020, Mirror Lake was especially popular.
“It was a water-recreational paradise for stand-up paddleboarders, canoeists, people in paddle boats or row boats,” he said. “That was a safe place to do it. If you’re riding those things on an open lake and speed boats are going by, it can be fairly disconcerting.”
There are free public carry access sites at both ends of Mirror Lake. From the north, boats can be taken in and out of the water at the end of a two-tenths-of-a-mile path from the DEC launch site next to the Lake Placid Marina. There is a 100-foot carry to the water’s edge at the south end.
It is a bit more difficult to see and experience Lake Placid, though. A small section of the lake, Paradox Bay, is visible from Route 86, which is Saranac Avenue in the village. Lake Placid, primarily surrounded by private property and land owned by New York state, does not have a public beach. There are but two restaurants on the lake. The Moose Lodge Boathouse at the Whiteface Club & Resort is seasonal. The Lake Placid Lodge offers year-round dining.
The public dock at the Lake Placid Marina is a great viewing area for the lake and Whiteface Mountain, one of the Adirondacks’ 46 high peaks and the home of the ski center operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). A challenging adventure available at Lake Placid is to go by boat to Whiteface Landing at the northeast corner of the lake and hike up the mountain.
Rentals of all types and sizes of boats are available from vendors on the lake, and boat access is available at the village launch site on Victor Herbert Road and the DEC launch site on Mirror Lake Drive.
Fishing is popular on both of the lakes. On Lake Placid, DEC suggests trolling for lake trout and fly fishing for rainbow trout — which are stocked annually — during hatching. It also lists brown trout, brook trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead and pumpkinseed as possibilities for anglers. The DEC report for Mirror Lake: The lake is best known as a rainbow trout fishery, but offers some exceptional lake trout that can be found down deep in the summer.
ORDA’s venues in and around Lake Placid, which were sites of competition at the 1980 Olympics, draw thousands of people who visit the massive Adirondack Park every year.
As development began to increase in the Lake Placid region in the later part of the 19th century, entrepreneurs began to offer tour boat rides around Lake Placid. The wooden steamers also supplied provisions to the many camps that were — and remain — accessible only by water. The 60-foot Doris, which could carry 154 passengers, operated on Lake Placid from 1898 to 1950. In 1951 it was replaced by another 60-foot wooden boat, the Doris II, which carried passengers around the lake until 2008.
The Lussi family’s Lake Placid Marina offers boat tours during the summer. The one-hour, narrated tours cost $20 for adults and $15 for children. Since COVID-19 protocols are evolving, people interested in the tours should contact the company. In 2020, the boats operated at 25 percent capacity, reservations were discontinued and seats were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Lussi said that in order to meet demand, the company ran many more tours every day. The natural scenery is impressive, but so are the approximately 225 camps, many of them built more than 120 years ago.
“Part of what makes the tours so special and spectacular at the same time is that the state of New York owns so much of the shoreline,” Lussi said, “so that what you see is what you’re going to get for the next 100 years as well. There’s just no more shoreline available for sale.
“Mostly, what’s happened is people are investing in old camps and and reinvesting in them. Instead of like the tear-down era, we really are lucky to not have that happening so much. People appreciate the historical aspect of the camps, and so they do their best to maintain the historical integrity.”
ORIGIN OF NAME: Changed from Bennet Pond on the suggestion of hotel guest Mary Monel Wait, who left a poem in the hotel register circa 1870.
LOCATION: Essex County, town of North Elba
SIZE: 1 mile long, one-quarter mile wide, maximum depth, 65 feet
CLAIM TO FAME: 1980 Olympics medal ceremonies were held on its frozen surface. Swimming and paddling in the summer; toboggan slide, dog sled rides and skating in the winter.
WHERE TO SWIM: Public beach in village park at south end
WHERE TO LAUNCH: Public carry-in locations at both ends. No power boats.
LAKESIDE DINING SPOT: The Cottage, Mirror Lake Drive
ORIGIN OF NAME: Adirondack mystery. Historians say that name appears on maps from the 1800s.
LOCATION: Town of North Elba, Essex County
SIZE: 4 miles long; 1.5 miles wide; maximum depth 151 feet
CLAIM TO FAME: Home of more than 200 Adirondack camps, many of them first built in the later part of the 19th century.
WHERE TO SWIM: From a boat. There are no public beaches.
WHERE TO LAUNCH: DEC launch site, Mirror Lake Drive; village launch site, Victor Herbert Drive; Lake Placid Marina, 24 George and Bliss Lane
LAKESIDE DINING SPOT: Lake Placid Lodge (seasonal); Moose Lodge Boathouse, Whiteface Club and Resort