Explore The Adirondacks By Car: Accessible Sights, Attractions & Activities In The Northern Region
The Northern Adirondacks have some of the best scenic drives in the entire park. Tucked among the winding roads are incredible sights you can view right from the road. We've also sprinkled in sights that are just a short stroll from the parking lot. Follow these routes and check out some must-see stops along the way:
Lake Placid to Wilmington
Start your trip off in Lake Placid and head east on Route 86 toward Wilmington. As you pass through the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area, you'll be driving alongside the Ausable River. When you reach Wilmington, turn left onto Route 431 to begin ascending the mountain. Along the way, make stops at:
Home to four waterfalls on the Ausable River, High Falls Gorge is an incredible sight if you're up for some light walking. To access the falls, there are three paths ranging from a quarter to 1 mile long. The easiest route is a half mile round trip and takes around 45 minutes. The path to the main falls is accessible for all abilities. Admission is $11.95 for adults and $8.95 for children.
A parking area is located just across the bridge from The Hungry Trout. Park and walk up to the bridge to get a view of the upper section. If you want to see more, walk across the bridge, carefully cross the road, and follow the trail less then one tenth of a mile downstream. There is also the option to view a beaver pond and rapids along the West Branch Ausable River from the River Trail, which is hardened to be accessible for those with mobililty disabilities.
The summit of Whiteface Mountain provides 360° views that reach as far as Vermont and Canada on a clear day. Skip the hiking and drive up the winding five mile highway. When you reach the top of Veterans Memorial Highway there are two options to reach the summit: take the elevator or climb the stairs and drink in the amazing views. The toll road costs $15 for the driver + vehicle and $8 for additional passengers over the age of 6. Veteran's Memorial Highway is open during the summer and fall.
To return to Lake Placid, you can trace the same route back or opt for more great views. As you descend Whiteface, make a left onto County Route 18. You'll follow along Franklin Falls Pond which offers an incredible backdrop of McKenzie Mountain. In Bloomingdale, make a left on Route 3 to head into Saranac Lake. From there you can pick up Route 86 to return to Lake Placid.
Jay Mountain Wilderness
Kick off your drive from I-87 Exit 31 in Elizabethtown. You'll follow Route 9N into Keene, Jay, Ausable Forks, and Keesville before it becomes Route 9 and brings you to Ausable Chasm.
On the brief stretch where Routes 9 and 9N overlap sits the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown. Here, you can learn all about Adirondack life and culture. You'll also be able to experience a fire tower without having to climb a mountain first. Fire towers are an iconic piece of Adirondack history, and the museum is lucky enough to have one on-site. The fire tower at the Adirondack History Museum was constructed in the early 1990s using portions of the towers that previously sat atop West and Kempshall Mountains, making it an incredibly unique artifact. The museum is open May through October.
The Ausable River has two sections that come together in a small hamlet known as Ausable Forks. You can see the fork for yourself behind the Hollywood Theatre on Main Street (Route 9N). This is a quick little stop, but makes a great spot to grab a snack or lunch in town.
At the foot of Clinton Street in Keeseville, you'll discover a foot bridge dating back to 1888. While some may call it a swing bridge due the movement as you walk it, that is a misnomer. This suspension bridge gives great views of the Ausable River and the old mill. This bridge and two others in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the more adventurous, take a tour of the Ausable Chasm and get an unparalleled view of Rainbow Falls. The Classic tour is a one-mile walk before you hop onto a raft or tube and float down the Ausable River. This waterfall can also be seen from the Ausable Chasm Bridge where US Route 9 crosses the chasm. It's open to both cars and pedestrians. Ausable Chasm is open year round, however, reservations are required in the winter.
For your return trip, you can follow Route 9 back down to Elizabethtown, or hop onto the Northway (I-87) at Exit 34 after coming back through Keeseville.