These stunning retreats were once private and hidden. Now they’re open to visitors looking for recreation and recuperation away from hectic city life.
When 20th-century titans of industry wanted to get away from it all, they retreated to their Adirondack Great Camps in the boondocks of Upstate New York. Roughly a century later, the Adirondacks remain breathtakingly wild—a six-million-acre state park larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon national parks combined. They contain a mix of state-protected preserve, teeny hamlets, privately owned land, and a loose web of ribbon-like roads that weave up and over mountain passes, through old forests, alongside streams, and around a seemingly endless number of sparkling lakes.
Seeking refuge from ever-more-industrialized cities, the glittering elite of the Gilded Age had a genuine romance with wilderness. They bought enormous tracts of land in remote areas to ensure their privacy and then built sprawling hideaways with local stone and wood to blend in with the natural surroundings. Even their lodges’ interiors celebrated nature with exposed logs, rough granite fireplaces, and furniture crafted of branches.
A century ago, the Adirondacks were difficult to get to, which was very much the point. Families would make the trek in early summer along with entourages that included butlers, laundresses, nannies, and maids, often arriving at their camps weeks later. They stayed the entire season, enjoying respite from the urban jungle with a raft load of lake and leisure activities, from fishing to swimming and canoeing.
Many of the original three dozen Adirondack Great Camps are not open to the public, but you can stay at these six historic gems.
It doesn’t get any more exclusive than The Point, a great camp built by William Avery Rockefeller on 75 acres of Saranac Lake shorefront nearly a century ago. It’s not exactly the kind of place that invites you to pop in for a drink and a look around. There’s no signage off Route 30 for this plush Relais & Châteaux resort, and upon reaching the end of the five-mile, single-lane entry road through the woods, you arrive at a closed gate and a no-nonsense sign in all caps: “THE POINT IS RESERVED FOR GUESTS ONLY . . . NO VISITORS.”
Yet beyond that gate is a luxurious all-inclusive retreat that’s chock full of antique furnishings, fine art, and a staff ready to attend to your every whim. (They’ll even fetch you from the airport if you arrive by private plane, as many guests do.) It’s also a surprisingly intimate haven, with just 11 rooms, each with a lake view and a fireplace. The property re-opened in May after a multi-million dollar renovation.
Open May-March. All-inclusive rates for two from $1,700 per night, with carte blanche use of sports equipment and facilities, all meals, afternoon tea, wines, and spirits.
Great Camp Sagamore
From 1897 to 1954, the palatial Great Camp Sagamore was the summer home to the family of Alfred G. Vanderbilt, great grandson of the shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Today, this National Historic Landmark is a stunning flashback to the heyday of the great camps. At the turn of the 20th century, the Vanderbilts’ three-story summer place was a modern miracle with running water and flush toilets, set on a self-sustained compound complete with workshops, barns, servants’ quarters, and over a dozen other outbuildings.
The camp offers all-inclusive packages on select summer weekends for $398 per adult and $199 per child. Rates include two nights’ lodging, all meals, a free tour, water sports, lawn games, and other activities.
White Pine Camp
Built in 1907 by a wealthy Cincinnati and New York banker, White Pine Camp has changed hands many times since. In 1926, while under the ownership of Irwin and Laura Kirkwood, publishers of the Kansas City Star newspaper, White Pine Camp became famous as the one-time Summer White House of President Calvin Coolidge, whose journey included a 16-hour train ride from Washington, D.C., followed by a five-hour carriage ride through the woods. Newspapers marveled at the camp’s “electric lights, sunken baths, showers, deep-cushioned couches, easy chairs, fine rugs and furniture.”
Today you can stay in the lodge or one of 13 cottages, each of which can accommodate between two to seven people and features handcrafted Adirondack-style furniture, stone fireplaces or wood stoves, and scenic views. You can even reserve the President’s Cabin, where Coolidge slept. There’s an indoor tennis court, bowling alley, and two boathouses, as well as a much-photographed Japanese teahouse that sits on a peninsula jutting into Osgood Pond.
Open year round. There is a seven-day minimum in July and August, and a two-day minimum the rest of the year. Summer rates run $165-$435 per night.
Blue Mountain Lake’s most famous camp was built in 1880 by Civil War hero and corn starch magnate Hiram Duryea. For decades, Duryea happily flaunted his wealth at his camp with European-style decorating, tennis courts, and a newfangled motorboat, while at the same time refusing to install electric lights or indoor toilets. After his death, the property was sold to the caretaker of the Great Camp Sagamore, who transformed Duryea’s camp into The Hedges in 1924 and soon added electricity, plumbing, and over a dozen cabins.
You can stay in a room or suite in one of four lodges, or in any of 15 cabins that range in size from one to four bedrooms.
Open Memorial Day to mid-October. American plan rates for two people start at $265 per night, including breakfast and dinner.
Elk Lake Lodge
The charming Elk Lake Lodge was built in 1904 for paper manufacturer Finch, Pruyn company, then the largest landowner in the Adirondacks. The eponymous elk had been hunted out of the vicinity less than two decades later, but happily the lodge has survived. This intimate resort offers six guest rooms in the main lodge and eight cottages scattered around the 1,200-acre property.
Open May-October. All-inclusive rates are $125 (per person, per night) in the main lodge and $225 in a cottage.
If you weren’t a robber baron, the other way you might come to own a great camp was to build one yourself. In 1904, master carpenter E.J. Martin built the handsome main house at The Waldheim on the northern shore of Big Moose Lake.
Friday Cottage Feature: Crows Nest Crows Nest is a two bedroom and one bathroom cottage, with a queen bed in one room and two twin beds in the other. It has a nice little kitchenette for your use and a full size refrigerator. This cottage is set back a little bit, so the privacy is perfect! When you are relaxing on the upper porch, it feels as if you are in a tree house! The vibrant green surrounds you! Cool fact! Crows Nest was where Aunt Vera (Howard Martin's sister-in-law) lived for many years. The downstairs was open to the air and was used for wood storage. The upstairs comprised of one bedroom and a bathroom. In the early 2000's, Jason and Kelly renovated the cottage. Adding a bedroom upstairs and closing in the downstairs to make a living room with and fireplace and kitchenette. They spent many summers living there with their boys! #thewaldheim #bigmooselake #adirondacks #upstateny #northeast #wildernessculture #iloveny #beautifuldestinations #bestvacations #threemealsaday #travelandleisure #newyorkstate #themountainsarecalling #chooselakes #comestaywithus #natureaddict #uniquenewyork #linkinbio
Over the years the Martins expanded their camp with 16 water-facing cottages, each with one to five bedrooms and at least one bathroom. Today the 300-acre Waldheim is run by E.J. Martin’s granddaughter and retains a yesteryear vibe.
Open July-September. In July and August, Saturday-to-Saturday stays for two people start at $1,360 in the main house or $2,124 for a cottage. From Labor Day through the end of September, two-night minimum stays for two people start at $472 in the main house or $732 for a cottage.