Want to know the most extraordinary place to stay in the Adirondacks? It’s got nothing to do with thread counts or executive chefs or spa treatments. It’s got everything to do with mind-blowing scenery and accessibility to some of the finest hiking in the park, the likelihood that you’ll encounter a loon, heron or eagle within 30 minutes of your stay, and the fact that as soon as you get to the 12,000-acre private preserve, your head is spinning to the next time you can come back, to how this wild paradise has already seared a spot in your heart.
Elk Lake Lodge, on pretty Elk Lake, with the Colvin Range, Nippletop, Dix and Macomb crowding the sky, has been open for business in one form or another for 140 years, but it’s still probably one of the best kept secrets around. At any time during the lodge’s season—from the beginning of May through Columbus Day—eight cottages and six lodge rooms can accommodate up to 50 people. And most of those guests return generation after generation.
As a true wilderness resort, Elk Lake Lodge has no cell service and limited Wi-Fi, no televisions, no five-star dining (though the food is good and abundant), no sing-alongs or swim lessons or staff serving cocktails on the beach. Here, down a five-mile dirt road in North Hudson, guests sleep in basic, rustic rooms, dream to loon yodels and wake to endless choices for exploring a pristine, protected hunk of park: a preserve that includes Elk Lake, Clear Pond, part of the Boreas Range and Boreas Mountain, and a stretch of the Branch River.
People who stay here “get it,” says Elk Lake Lodge general manager Mike Sheridan, who has worked at the preserve since 2000. Guests—“from blue collar to blue bloods”—appreciate the beauty, the simplicity and the quiet (broken only by the dinner bell), exploring terrain so vast it’s unlikely they’ll ever bump into anyone else. “People go all over the world to find unspoiled beauty,” he says. “It’s right here. This is as good as it gets.”
He adds, “This would be a different place without the Ernsts.”
John and Margot Ernst are the reason the Elk Lake–Clear Pond property along the southern High Peaks hasn’t been carved into parcels with sprawling mansions and looming boathouses. The Ernsts are conservation heroes who have continued the legacy of John’s family, who made history in 1963 when they gave the development rights of Elk Lake shoreline and its islands to New York, protecting that land and its stunning mountainscape by creating the state’s first-ever conservation easement. In 2012 John and Margot donated the development rights on approximately 12,000 acres of their preserve to the state in another conservation easement. Their generosity means everything to those who love the Adirondacks, who care about its future.
Moose, bears, otters, bobcats, belted kingfishers, black-backed woodpeckers, Bicknell’s thrushes as well as white water lilies, gentians, pitcher plants, cranberries and all sorts of fragile flora and diverse fauna thrive on the preserve. The night sky is dark and brilliant. The fishing, whether it’s for heritage brook trout, lake trout or landlocked salmon, is an angler’s heaven. You can call this resort real, or rustic, but it’s really ecotourism at its best: a lodge and outbuildings with an incredibly light touch—no expansion plans or wear on the land, a comprehensive recycling program, environmentally-friendly cleaning products, produce and other goods provided by local farms, staff mostly from area hamlets and towns.
And, minus the occasional cottage facelift, things don’t change much here, which is the way Elk Lake Lodge’s customers like it. Except the seasons. In late spring the fish really bite; summer means epic paddling and swimming; fall brings a new landscape—“the most dynamic” at the preserve, says Margot. “The colors in the forest are just spectacular. You get a sense of what that season is all about when you’re in such a wild setting.” She describes October as one of “the best times to hike … it’s crisp, but not freezing. There are no bugs. When the leaves fall off the trees you can see forever.”
Learn more about Elk Lake Lodge at www.elklakelodge.com or by calling (518) 532-7616.
THE ELK LAKE HIT LIST
As a former infantry soldier with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, caretaker of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Johns Brook and Lake Colden outposts, a rafting guide and, now, general manager of Elk Lake Lodge, Mike Sheridan knows his stuff. And he knows every bit of the preserve in his charge. Following is his must-do list:
to the Swinging Bridge and finish on the Boot trail for an easy tour.
Richards Fen to Lightning Hill and return via Slims trail and the West Shore trail.
around Clear Pond, then climb Clear Pond Mountain or Grandpa Pete’s.
Sunrise Mountain or Boreas Mountain, both “big” treks and “both more bang for your buck hikes with stellar views of the High Peaks.”
up Elk Lake’s West Inlet for a picnic lunch at Wagon Wheel Landing.
the East Inlet, as far as you can, then do a short bushwhack up the brook to the Crowfoot Junction.
across Clear Pond to Jones Beach for an afternoon of swimming.
on the dock, take in the view and swim, swim, swim.