Lynne Kylish has struck gold.
Not literally, but Kylish, the mom of three from New Jersey, thinks her family found vacation nirvana at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, N.Y. And for a busy family looking to create happy vacation memories, that is like finding gold.
"A wonderland for kids," she said. For grown-ups too.
"As soon as you walk through the door, it wipes all your worries away," said Peter Klemm, here with his wife and sons from Connecticut.
I like to see a resort get it right and, I think, the Whiteface Lodge does. The 94-suite resort is spread out over 40 acres reminiscent of the historic "camps" of the Adirondacks with rough-hewn logs, big stone fireplaces, oversized leather furniture and whimsical décor evoking the outdoors. Kids especially like the bear in the canoe hanging high above the dining room.
There are also expansive condo units in the lodge with kitchens but with all the amenities of a topflight resort, even a spa. "We have our own space but someone else takes care of everything so I can relax," said Kylish.
The only complaint I heard was from a guest from Los Angeles who was disappointed there weren't blue cheese stuffed olives for his martini -- and at most places I hear lots of complaints.
The added plus is that whatever the season there is so much to do here in the Adirondacks, which is bigger than Yosemite, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and the Great Smokey National Parks combined. (New York state has a new Path Through History website to help you plan an Adirondacks trip and elsewhere in N.Y. State.) Lake Placid also offers:
-- A wonderful interactive museum about the animals and environment in nearby Tupper Lake that is a great introduction to the region, The Wild Center.
-- The Olympic Complex (two winter Olympics were held here, in 1932 and 1980) where you might be able to watch a skating competition or hockey game or climb into a bobsled for the ride of your life down an Olympic track.
-- Outdoor adventures for every season -- hiking, golf, kayaking, canoeing and fishing in summer and fall; skiing on Whiteface Mountain, snowshoeing and ice skating all winter.
We drove up the historic Veteran's Memorial Highway to the summit of Lake Placid, to take in the huge lake we'd explored by boat the day before. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, supported building the road in the early 1930s because it made the mountaintop accessible to those with disabilities, which it still does.
Once there, we walked through a 426-foot tunnel carved into the mountain to board an elevator up 27 stories -- the easiest summit I'd ever reached -- to sprawl on the rocks looking at the spectacular views from the 4,867-foot-high peak.
That night, as we enjoyed a terrific dinner at the Brown Dog Cafe and Wine Bar overlooking Mirror Lake in the village of Lake Placid, watching as locals paddled up in canoes and kayaks -- one guy on a paddleboard with his dog -- to listen to a free concert by the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, called the orchestra of the Adirondacks.
"The town is like it always was -- old-fashioned in a good way," said Karen Klemm, who spent summers here as a child.
I thought so too when I visited recently with a friend and Massou Traore, a 14-year-old girl from the Bronx, who we met courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund, which sends inner-city kids to spend time with families up and down the East Coast. Massou pronounced her visit to Lake Placid and particularly, The Whiteface Lodge, "the best three days of my life!"
Other kids we met felt the same. "There's really something for everyone to do here," said Margo Rosenberg, 13, here with her family from New Jersey.
Sure Whiteface Lodge is expensive in high season -- a two-bedroom unit that sleeps six in peak season can be upwards of $900 a night -- but extended families often book one unit and say that it's worth the freight because of all the activities that are included, which can run into hundreds of dollars at other resorts.
At too many upscale resorts, families are charged for everything from s'mores to the kids club to DVDs to valet parking. Here, I can't even count everything that's included -- the kids' clubs for kids 3 to 12 years old (the younger ones were busy hunting for butterflies and frogs the morning I was there), the excellent breakfast, the indoor-outdoor heated pools and hot tubs, the game room with old-fashioned shuffleboard, foosball, pool and ping pong and the valet parking. Another nice touch: The complimentary library of kids' books and movies.
Did I mention the bowling alley complete with shoes and balls? The movie theater that shows three different movies a day? The fire pits where s'mores are dished up every night. The stocked fishing pond full of 200 trout where even the worms are supplied, the tennis courts, basketball, fitness classes, the fly-fishing demos and the visits of naturalists. (Want to hold a bird of prey?)
In summer, the water sports are at the Canoe Club a half-mile down the road on Lake Placid -- 14 miles around with three islands in the middle -- paddleboats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are yours for the asking. "So fun!" said 12-year-old Colleen Joyce, after kayaking and paddle-boarding for the first time.
In winter, kids don't want to leave the huge ice rink on the property. Parents watch them while keeping warm in front of the fire, sitting on a couch in a cozy lean-to. "Absolutely this is a good place to come any time of the year," said Lynne Kylish.
That's good news for those of you who can't afford this place in summer. Prices drop considerably come fall and winter. (A unit that sleeps four could be under $300 a night certain times.) Because of the complimentary all-year-round kids' club, this is a good bet for a fall getaway with preschoolers; It's also a good bet for a couple's getaway.
The Joyces from New Jersey started coming up for Thanksgiving, Patrick Joyce joked, to get away from family.
"Now they're following us here."
I can see why.
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.