Lake George, in New York’s Southern Adirondacks, was once considered an exclusive summer retreat for New York City’s upper class. Wealthy businessmen, bankers and politicians would escape the oppressive city heat with a trip to the land of mountain air and cool waters. They came with their families by boat, stagecoach, and later, train to stay at luxurious hotels and lakeside mansions.
The rise of the auto industry changed that. Families of all income levels could load up the car and make the drive. Today, tens of thousands visit the region year-round, some with the shallowest of pockets. The Lake George Examiner crew, none of whom are well-heeled bankers or captains of industry, is always on the lookout for inexpensive things to do in Lake George. Here is a roundup of what we’ve found.
1) Dance to live music in the park
Shepard Park is in the heart of Lake George Village. Its amphitheatre is the site of free concerts and shows all summer long. The show schedule follows a pattern. Magical Musical Mondays feature a musician and live music act. Tribute Tuesdays feature Elvis and Beatles tribute artists.
Wednesday evenings bring the Lake George Arts Project’s Summer Concert Series. The Art Project attracts national acts from a wide range of genres — Latin, Cajun, Americana, Celtic and country, to name a few. Most Thursday nights throughout the summer, the Shepard Park stage is given over to the Lake George Community Band. Thursday night performances are followed by fireworks over the lake.
Fridays at the Lake Bands & Brews features two bands and a festival-like atmosphere with a beer tent, food trucks and bounce houses for the kids. Super Sunday offers live music geared towards families. Sandwiched between all these shows are music festivals including the Community Band Festival, the Lake George Music Festival and the Jazz at the Lake jazz festival. All these shows are free. Shepard Park is a smoke-free, dog-friendly park.
2) Sample wines, brews and spirits
Lake George has a lively craft beverage industry, and local producers offer tastings priced between $5 and $10 at their Canada Street establishments. The Adirondack Pub and Brewery is at the South end of the Village across from the Charles R. Wood Park. They offer a craft beer sampler of six five-ounce tastes of their brews, which you can enjoy on their outdoor patio (pictured in the feature photo.) The Pub also holds events throughout the year, many with no admission charge, such as the November Pumpkin Chunkin and the Coming out of Hibernation Party in May.
The Adirondack Winery tasting room is across the street from Shepard Park. There you can sample a flight of seven wines for $7. They regularly have special tastings with discounts and freebies. Just up the street from the Winery is the Lake George Distilling Company Tasting Room. Here you can sample their Adirondack Wildfire Whiskey and Apple Pie Moonshine.
3) Take a spin on a carousel
… or crash around in a bumper car and make a splash in a bumper boat. The Funa’rama Fun Park on the corner of Beach Road and Canada Street is a mini amusement park just off the sidewalk. Play on the bumper cars or boats for $5 a shot. A ride on the merry-go-round is $3. There are also spinning teacups and a tower ride for the kids.
4) Play games
With a pocket full of quarters, you’re good to go in one of the three Lake George arcades. Along with classics like skee ball and Pac-Man, you’ll find driving simulators and shooting galleries. Do well, earn tickets, and you’ll walk out with a prize. On Canada Street, look for Fun World and Leonelli’s Playland. On Beach Road find Funa’rama Fun Park. Lake George Lanes & Games is just south of Lake George Village and offers bowling, laser tag, arcade games and an indoor playground for kids; each meets the $10 or less budget.
5) Commune with nature
If you’re in Lake George, you’re in the Adirondacks. If your goal is to climb every mountain, visit the Adirondack Mountain Club Member Services Center just off Northway Exit 21. They will put you on the right trail.
If you are just seeking a leisurely stroll through the forest, you will find gentle woodland trails at the Lake George Recreation Center. These cross-country ski trails serve double-duty as hiking trails during the snow-free months. The trails connect to the Berry Pond Forest Preserve, which offers additional hiking opportunities. Find trail maps posted on the kiosk at the edge of the Rec Center parking lot.
The South side of Charles R. Wood Park is a nature lover’s destination that is right in town. The property, which was once home to the Gaslight Village theme park, has been transformed into an environmental interpretive center with one-half mile of trails looping past marshlands and ponds. There are benches and educational signs along the way. This trail is handicapped accessible. Find it on West Brook Road adjacent to the Festival Commons.
6) Work on your golf game
Around the World/Around the USA in 18 holes are two challenging courses on Beach Road. In addition to building your putting skills, you can practice your geography knowledge. Try and guess which state or country you are approaching based on the obstacle.
Gooney Golf is a classic. It has a slightly surreal feel with weird animals and clowns gracing the greens. This course is built on a hillside, which really tests your skills at sinking the ball. A little trivia: Gooney Golf was a shoot location for the 2009 film “Love Conquers Paul.”
Pirate’s Cove puts you in a landscape of waterfalls and caves. This course is easier than most making it a good pick for kids. Magic Castle on Canada Street is an indoor 18-hole mini golf course making it the thing to do in Lake George on a rainy day.
7) Hit the beach
You don’t need to book a stay at a lakefront resort to access the silken waters of Lake George. There are several sandy beaches open to the public free of charge all summer long.
Lake George Beach (Million Dollar Beach)
This state-owned beach is open Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and the end of June. June through Labor Day, it is open seven days a week. It has a bathhouse with restrooms and lockers. A concession stand serves up hotdogs, hamburgers, soda and ice cream, which you can enjoy at an umbrella-shaded table on the dining patio. There is no admission charge to the beach or bathhouse. All-day parking is $10 per car in the adjacent parking lot.
Shepard Park Beach
Located in the heart of Lake George Village, Shepard Park Beach is convenient to the shops and restaurants on Canada Street. It has public restrooms and a children’s playground. The adjoining park is the site of many live concerts and festivals. There is no admission charge. While dogs are not allowed on the beach, they are welcome in Shepard Park.
Delong – Usher Beach
This small beach, owned by the Town of Lake George, is on the East side of the lake. It is part of the Usher Park property, which has restrooms, a children’s playground, picnic tables and barbecue pits. Parking and entrance to the beach are free.
The “Dog Beach”
The strip of beach on Beach Road between the Steel Pier (Where the Lake George Steamboat Company ships dock) and Million Dollar Beach is open to dogs. Swimming and wading by people is prohibited, but the swimming ban doesn’t extend to dogs. The beach is owned by New York State and maintained by The Dog Cabin, a doggie boutique on Montcalm Street in Lake George Village.
Rogers Memorial Park Beach
Located in Bolton Landing, this beach has restrooms, tennis and basketball courts, picnic area with grills and public docks. There is a $5 charge for parking.
Veterans Memorial Park
Just North of Rogers Park in Bolton Landing, this beach has public docks and a kayak launch, a children’s playground, restrooms basketball court and a picnic area with grills. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
8) Bring out your inner artist with wax
Pick your colors, pick your shape and pick a scent to make your own candle at Wax ‘n’ Wix on Montcalm Street. The process does not require any special skills, just the ability to chop up wax to fill a mold or container. After filling your mold, the shopkeeper will add your chosen scent and melt your masterpiece to form a candle. The melting and cooling process takes about a half hour, giving you time to explore Lake George Village before picking up your finished product. Prices vary and are based on candle size. There are several options that meet the $10 or less budget.
9) Take in the 100-mile view from Prospect Mountain
For $10 a car load, you can drive the winding Veterans Memorial Highway up Prospect Mountain. With an elevation of 2,030 feet, Prospect Mountain commands a spectacular view of Lake George and the distant Green Mountains of Vermont. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation maintains the road and operates a Day Use Area on the mountain with picnic facilities. A short, albeit steep, hike or shuttle bus ride, from the parking lot ends at the peak, which offers a 360-degree panorama of the Adirondacks.
Prospect Mountain was once the site of the Prospect Mountain House and the world’s largest cable railroad. Visitors may follow a self-guided nature trail to these historic remains.
Veterans Memorial Highway, also known as Prospect Mountain Highway, is off State Route 9 in Lake George. The road is open Memorial Day Weekend through October. In recent years, the state has reopened the road the weekend nearest Veterans Day and has waived the per vehicle fee.
Note: For this trip, you need to leave your canine friend at home. New York State Day Use Areas do not allow dogs.
10) Step back in time
Before Lake George became a favorite vacation destination, it was the site of Colonial battles as the French and English Empires clashed in the Adirondack wilderness. Battlefield Park on Beach Road is the site of the 1755 Battle of Lake George. You can take a self-guided tour of the grounds along a path marked with monuments and interpretive signs.
The Lake George Historical Association maintains a museum of local history in the Old County Court House on Canada Street next to Shepard Park. The museum’s displays tell Lake George’s story from a time when only Native Americans lived in the region through the colonial wars and the rise of the tourism industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no admission fee to the museum. Donations are accepted.