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Old-fashioned family fun in Lake Placid

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Media Services
A view of Mirror Lake from the boathouse at the Mirror Lake Inn
A view of Mirror Lake from the boathouse at the Mirror Lake Inn
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lake Placid -- home to two Olympics -- is an iconic old-fashioned vacation spot
  • With 6 million acres, Adirondack State Park is the largest state park in the United States
  • Lake Placid has 3,000 residents, but that number gets close to 10,000 in summer
  • Lake Placid has a variety of resorts to choose from, including some dog-friendly choices
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Editor's note: This story is part of Eileen Ogintz's Taking the Kids series. Follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

(Tribune Media Services) -- No one cares that the water is cold. The kids splash at the lake's edge, play on the small sand beach as older, daring ones splash in the water and peddle kayaks, rowboats and paddleboats. Our pup eyes them all curiously.

Lake Placid, New York -- home to two Olympics -- is that iconic old-fashioned vacation spot that works as well for 21st-century families -- and their pooches -- as it did a century ago for families and millionaires who came here to the Adirondacks with their family and friends.

With 6 million acres, Adirondack State Park is the largest state park in the United States, larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks combined. It boasts more than 3,000 lakes and 2,000 miles of hiking trails and offers kayaking, canoeing, fishing and mountain biking. (The Whiteface Downhill Mountain Bike Park features 27 downhill and cross-country mountain bike trails that run between the ski trails, through streams and woods.)

Lake Placid, a town where everyone seems to be an athlete, or at least an outdoors enthusiast, has only 3,000 residents, but that number swells close to 10,000 in summer.

Main Street overlooks Mirror Lake and it's lined with ice cream and coffee shops, all variety of restaurants (sushi, Mexican, steaks, a brewery, even a creperie, some with outdoor patios) and stores selling New York state maple syrup, local chocolate, antique ski posters, local wines and cuddly stuffed moose. Families stroll up and down Main clutching kids' hands, pushing them in strollers, hanging on to dogs, picnicking in front of the lake at the outdoor band shell. (Simply Gourmet is the spot for first-rate sandwiches and cookies for your hikes and picnics.)

"The kids love it because it's so safe we can let them go out on their own," said Louise McEachran, here with a group of young freestyle skiers from Ontario who practice their tricks by jumping into an icy pool at the MacKenzie-Intervale Ski Jumping Complex. (You can test your mettle at the Olympic Sports Complex and ride a wheeled bobsled, or check out the view of the Adirondacks from the top of the 26-story Olympic ski jump. Come July 4 and watch the 50th annual ski jump competition.

"Whatever the season there is something for the kids to do," adds Suzanne Boger, an attorney from Saratoga Springs, New York, who comes here often -- winter and summer -- with her two kids, husband and two dogs. We meet them hiking and splashing in Lake Placid along the Peninsula Trails that run for miles. Our puppy, Trooper, happily joined in. "Even when the weather is bad, there are things to do." (Bowling anyone?)

There's even some Civil War history when you visit Abolitionist John Brown's farm and gravesite. But what sets this place apart -- besides the natural beauty and Olympic history, as if that weren't enough -- is how genuinely friendly people are. It couldn't be more kid friendly, Boger said.

Pooch-friendly too. We learn that first-hand at the 166-room Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which has an idyllic location on Mirror Lake (smaller than Lake Placid and ideal for young families). The Holderied family has run the Golden Arrow for more than 30 years, attracting families who return again and again. "We love the family-style management and the kids loved pretending to work behind the desk," said Lisa Tinker of New Jersey. Her family visits twice a year -- winter and summer.

Besides having fun, the kids might learn a thing or two about vacationing greener. The resort is the first, and so far only, one in the United State to achieve 5 Green Leaf Rating from the Audubon Society for its green initiatives.

There are small touches like the paper shopping bags in each room to encourage guests to recycle cans and bottles. There is an allergen-free floor, bamboo flooring, a blooming green roof and sand, even small-framed placards placed around the hotel pointing out the green features. (Kids are invited to take a "green quiz," getting a Mr. Green coloring book, with suggestions on what they could do at home to be more earth friendly (recycling one aluminum can conserves enough energy to run a TV for three hours.)

"We want kids especially to realize they can help," says Jenn Holderied, the youngest of the three siblings now overseeing the hotel, which was first bought by their parents, who spearheaded the green initiatives. "The things you can do aren't difficult," she says. "Our goal is to get people thinking about it."

That extends to the resort restaurant, Generations, where the family is set to harvest dinners, inviting farmers to showcase their wares. Eventually, Holdleried, the mom of two young children, hopes families will be able to visit the area farms and see first-hand where the food on their plates came from.

Some families who come here might prefer a cabin or condo, though, and there are certainly plenty to choose from at every price point. If you're coming with grown kids and want a laid back but luxurious respite -- or want to feel like you were one of those millionaires from a century-ago, check out the 30-roomLake Placid Lodge, which was rebuilt after a fire to resemble a traditional Great House. The Lodge, however, doesn't welcome kids under 12 (unless you book the entire place), but will pamper your dog.

The Mirror Lake Inn touts itself as summer camp-plus. It's located on a lake with swimming, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. But there's also a spa, three gourmet restaurants and, they promise, serenely comfy beds. The Summer Savings Package starts at $299 per couple per night and kids are free. Book two nights by June 21 to take advantage of this special rate and also receive a $50 resort credit.

The Whiteface Lodge on the other hand has got everything a family could want. Though not on the lake, it maintains a private beach a half-mile away with the requisite canoes, kayaks and more.

This is the kind of place that offers the convenience of deluxe condos in the woods with the amenities of a first-class resort. (Look for deals with substantial resort credits.) There's a big heated pool, fitness center and spa where even tweens can get massages or facials with mom. There's an old-fashioned two-lane bowling alley, tennis courts and a stocked pond (yes, they even supply reels and bait), an ice cream parlor and game room equipped with everything from fooseball to pool to Ping-Pong. Make s'mores every night in front of an outdoor fireplace, watch movies in the theater downstairs or just stargaze.

Parents will appreciate that the Whiteface Lodge also offers complimentary organized activities for kids as young as three and this summer Whiteface has expanded its activities to outdoor programs for tweens and young teens. How about learning orienteering with the Adirondacks as your playground?

"It may be touristy," laughed Suzanne Boger. But then she gestures across the spectacular lake, with Whiteface Mountain in the distance. "There are plenty of places to get away from the crowds."

With the kids -- and your dog, of course.

(For more on Eileen's visit to Lake Placid, read her trip diary at http://www.takingthekids.com/ and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)

© 2010 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.