Upon hearing the name Old Forge, throngs of millennials will immediately sing “Enchanted Forest Water Safarriiii, where the fun never stops (dun dun.)” The Pavlovian response is deeply embedded within the psyche of those raised in upstate New York, where Old Forge was synonymous with school and family trips to said water park, but the charming town, tucked in an isolated portion of the Adirondacks on Route 28, is more than just water slides.
It is lakes and restaurants and wineries and old-timey hardware stores, too.
The hamlet of Old Forge is within the town of Webb, a central point within the Fulton Chain of Lakes network of eight connected lakes, with nearly 200 other lakes surrounding the area. A 2019 population count lists the hamlet as home to just 479 year-round residents, down from almost 800 in the 2010 census. That population surges is the summer, when seasonal locals return to camps and cabins to partake in this water-sport wonderland.
The main attraction here is the water, whether that’s sailing, kayaking, fishing, motorized boating or testing your nerves on one of the thrilling water slides and raft rides at Enchanted Forest Water Safari. Campsites and rental cabins are plentiful, many directly on the water, and public boat launches are easy to access.
Old Forge has plenty to offer on dry land as well, and this historic town is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it oasis on the borderlands between the Tug Hill Plateau and the Adirondack Mountains. There are few roads that bring you to Old Forge and you cannot access it by highway, so plan for a leisurely few days with plenty of time allocated for travel, and don’t blame us if the aforementioned jingle is stuck in your head all summer long.
You don’t need to own a boat to enjoy all the glory of Old Forge’s waterways. Rentals are plentiful in the area from local marinas. Pontoons, power boats, kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and more are available. The choice is yours.
Dunn’s Boat Service: www.dunnsboats.com/rentals/locations/fulton-chain
Rivett’s Marine: www.rivettsmarine.com
Clark’s Marina: www.clarksmarina.com
Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Old Forge is one of the few towns that is listed on this water trail, which is 740 miles long and extends from New York through Canada and ends in Maine. Known as the water version of the Appalachian Trail, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail hosts the annual 90 Miler, a renowned canoe race, each September. www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/
Maple Ridge Hiking Trail for McCauley Mountain
This moderate hike allows for beautiful lake and mountain views, but it does not need to be all work to get there. The Maple Ridge trail (which can be confusing, so bring a trail map) is parallel to the McCauley Mountain ski area, and for $6 in the summer you can ride the chairlift up, take in the vistas and hike your way back down the mountain. McCauley Mountain is popular for mountain biking as well, so stay alert while on the trail. www.alltrails.com/trail/us/new-york/maple-ridge
Enchanted Forest Water Safari
Built in the 1950s, the original fiberglass nursery-rhyme-and-fairy-tale structures through a landscaped forest remain. As you walk in, a giant Paul Bunyon statue greets you, which you can see from ground level or from above, in a sky tram. Traditional carnival rides like the tilt-a-whirl and bumper cars are available for those who wish to stay dry, but the extensive water park is ranked one of the best in the country. There are few better ways to beat a hot summer day. www.watersafari.com
Old Forge Hardware Store
When people say general store, this is what they mean. The cornerstone of Old Forge, the eponymous hardware store takes the term “general” to new levels, offering a resounding smattering of this and that. Need Pendelton-style bed sheets for your camper? Old Forge Hardware Store has that. Need a cream hold or cannoli mold? Old Forge Hardware Store has that. Need duct tape and rubber cement? Old Forge Hardware Store has that. The store has an array of housewares, clothing, gourmet food, toys, furniture and, yes, hardware, as well as a book selection related to the Adirondacks. We recommend picking up “A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly and “Murder in the Adirondacks” by Craig Brandon, which both tell the story of Grace Brown, a pregnant central New York woman who was murdered by her lover and now haunts Big Moose Lake, part of the lake system surrounding Old Forge.
This 100-year-old theater still shows first-run movies for the bargain price of $6 for matinees, $7 for evening shows. The glaring dichotomy of the marquee’s neon glow against the serene Adirondack mountains is worth at least a walk-by at night, even if the evening’s movies do not entice. https://strandoldforge.com
The Goodsell Museum
Upstate New York is commonly known as the birthplace of the Women’s Rights movement in America, and the Goodsell Museum, housed within the town of Webb’s historical society, keeps record of how women helped settle and build Old Forge. From female anglers who formed Old Forge’s fishing heritage to the first woman fire observer in New York, the museum gives women due credit for their contributions to the town. Newspaper clippings offer remembrance of a local woman who sailed on the Titanic for her honeymoon and was widowed in its sinking. (She went on to remarry and sail to Panama and then Egypt.) Restorations efforts at the museum include an ice house, guide boats and the town’s jail cell.
Old Forge Farmers Market
Old Forge routinely breaks New York’s records for coldest temperatures, but somehow keen and cunning farmers are able to eke out a bevy of produce from the rocky soil surrounding Old Forge. The Old Forge Farmers Market, open Fridays from June 18 to Oct. 8 behind Old Forge Hardware Store, is a must-stop for weekend sundries and fodder, including hearth-baked bread, local cheese, wine, honey, produce, cookies and desserts.
Billy’s Italian Restaurant
Currently open for takeout only, rely on Billy’s for a classic red sauce, New York-Italian dinner. The stuffed mushroom caps feature housemade sausage, and two versions of Utica-area classic chicken riggies are sure to replenish your calories after a day of paddling on the lakes. https://billysrestaurant.org
Like chili? You can get it at this classic diner in red or green varieties during lunch. This no-fuss restaurant is a great option for people who don’t like too many options. The menu is short and tidy, with simple choices. https://waltsdiner.com
Ozzie’s Coffee Bar
Looking for a breakfast to go, maybe to enjoy on the water? Stop by Ozzie’s, which has a cozy cabin vibe like most seasonal homes in the area. Opt for a coffee and one of the Ozzie’s breakfast sandwiches, such as the one on an everything bagel with New Jersey-style pork roll. www.facebook.com/OzziesCoffeeBar
Keye’s Pancake House
Any trip to Old Forge must include a stop at Keye’s for breakfast — it’s nearly mandatory. The buckwheat pancakes are a highlight on the menu, but other specialties (like the bacon waffle) are equally noteworthy. https://keyes-pancake-house.business.site
Tony Harper’s Pizza and Clam Shack
There is something for everyone at Tony Harper’s, whether that’s a pot of steamers, chicken wings, a Philly-style cheesesteak sandwich or a signature pizza. Start with the steamers, split across your table, then try a variety of pies such as the “fiery pepperoni,” the “city folk” or the “flat lander.” https://tonyharpers.com/menu
Brewside Grill and Test Kitchen
Looking for something a bit more upscale? This new kid in town swings high and low, offering seared duck breast and steak frites alongside street-style tacos. If you are looking for a weekend-date-night vibe, this might be your place. www.facebook.com/Brewside-Grill-Test-Kitchen