illustrations by Mike Reddy
For most Adirondackers, a trip to the local soft-serve stand is a ritual filled with nostalgia—summer isn’t complete without that cold, creamy cone. Last year, wearing elastic-waistband shorts, I took on a mission to visit soft-serve stands across the park. What I found were iconic landmarks with quirky charm, often the heart of their communities, and, of course, delicious ice cream. Join me—and the 10 pounds I gained in the name of research—on my sweet tour.
Custard’s Last Stand, Long Lake
This retro stand—operating since 1956—scoops out creamy deliciousness and has the nicest staff. After 10 minutes of trying to decide on a flavor and my family growing exasperated with me, the woman behind the counter said, “Can I help you decide?” She seemed to genuinely want to help, and we came up with the perfect selection—Dole Lemon Whip. My family and I ate our treats and, as we drove away, agreed that Custard’s really is what small-town charm is all about.
1138 Deerland Road, Long Lake
Northern Lights Creamery Inc., Inlet
Northern Lights, with its neon sign beckoning, is at Inlet’s epicenter and should be a stop for anyone passing through or, better yet, after a hike up nearby Bald Mountain. My kids and I dug into our ice cream, then, licking our fingers, walked to Arrowhead Park and took in pretty Fourth Lake. The mural on the convenience-station wall says, “Take nothing but memories, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints.” So that’s what we did.
162 Route 28, Inlet
315-357-6294, on Facebook
Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream, Saranac Lake
The plaque outside this beloved soft-serve stand on Route 86 says Donnelly’s is on the “Register of Very Special Places.” That makes total sense. First of all, from here there’s an incredible Harrietstown Hill view, recently protected by the Adirondack Land Trust. And then there’s Donnelly’s creed: “We pick the flavor, you pick the size.” This solves my greatest dilemma—what to choose—when visiting these places. Donnelly’s sells one flavor a day and it’s usually twisted with vanilla. That’s right. One. Don’t think you’ll like Maple? Lemon? Honey-cinnamon? Pistachio? Try it anyway. The silky-smooth texture of the soft serve will win you over.
1556 Route 86, Saranac Lake
Skyline Ice Cream, Tupper Lake
Skyline offers a classic Adirondack ice-cream stand experience. The afternoon I went there, I stood in line with people wearing bathing suits, flip-flops and hiking boots. Canoes and kayaks adorned the tops of the cars and trucks in the parking area. Just behind the ice-cream stand are cute pocket-sized, powder blue vacation cottages. Chaotic signs advertise homemade jams, fudge and whirly pops, among all sorts of ice-cream flavors and creations. Once my kids and I made decisions and had cones in hand, how best to celebrate such a summer moment? A photo op on the gigantic Adirondack chair.
1976 Route 30, Tupper Lake
518-359-7288, on Facebook
Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery
Emma’s is a closet-sized scoop shop on Main Street in Lake Placid. Inside, there’s an overwhelming patchwork of signs listing seemingly endless offerings, including ice cream, but also whoopie pies, macarons, bubble tea and everything in between. You’ll leave this place with something tasty and then you can do as we did: plunk down in the grass at Mid’s Park, eating your ice cream while watching swimmers train for the Ironman and kayakers meander along the shores of Mirror Lake. Ah, summer.
2507 Main Street, Lake Placid
The Wind–Chill Factory, Ticonderoga
My kids and I took full advantage of our trip to the Wind-Chill, singing loudly in the car, playing word games, and pulling over to take in the Ticonderoga area’s many sights and reading its historic roadside signs. This ice-cream shop isn’t like the typical stand—it’s more a rustic-style building with a grill menu that far exceeds your average foot-long and French-fry fare. And on a beautiful day you can sit outside with your sweet or savory treat in the company of happy chainsaw-carved wooden bears.
794 Route 9N, Ticonderoga
Whitebrook Dairy Bar, Wilmington
Full disclosure: Whitebrook has been my hometown ice-cream stand since I moved here almost 20 years ago, and I have visited the life-sized hot dog man who stands in front of the building more than a few times. This is my family’s go-to after spending the day at Wilmington Beach or hiking one of the surrounding trails. I like a small soft-serve twist with chocolate sprinkles, and to enjoy it on one of Whitebrook’s Adirondack chairs tucked under the pines.
5660 Route 86, Wilmington
518-946-8383, on Facebook
The Village Scoop Ice Cream Shop, Northville
This cute white clapboard shop stands along Northville’s Main Street and provides the perfect place for delicious soft serve, shakes and even ice-cream nachos. It’s also the primo spot for people-watching. We saw a group of hikers gearing up before starting the 132-mile Northville-Placid Trail, its trailhead adjacent to the Village Scoop, and witnessed a couple of teenagers in an intense light-saber battle. As evening fell, couples arrived with blankets, ready for a cone and to take in an outdoor concert at the village’s Waterfront Park.
142 South Main Street, Northville
518-863-4555, on Facebook