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7 Experiences Your Family Will Love at Adirondack Experience – Episode 142

Adirondack Experience Museum - Adirondack Museum
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

At Adirondack Experience, discover the beauty of the Adirondacks through art, nature, history, and culture. 

Last year, our family had a chance to explore Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake in upstate New York. We documented our first impressions of the Adirondacks through our visit to The Wild Center, a natural museum where you can discover the Adirondacks, connect with nature, and learn new ways people and nature can thrive together through various hands-on outdoor and indoor experiences. We are picking up right where we left off by sharing why Adirondack Experience: Museum on Blue Mountain Lake is a must-visit for families, culture seekers, history buffs, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Formerly known as the Adirondack Museum, Adirondack Experience, a.k.a ADKX, is an interactive museum showcasing life in the Adirondack region. In addition to a variety of exhibits, there’s outdoor hiking and a boating experience.

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00:00 Danielle Desir Corbett Last year, our family had a chance to explore Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake in upstate New York. We documented our first impressions of the Adirondacks through our visit to the Wild Center, a natural museum where you can discover the Adirondacks, connect with nature, and learn about new ways people in nature can thrive together through a variety of hands-on outdoor and indoor experiences. If you missed episode 109 and episode 110, I highly recommend checking them out because we are picking up right where we left off. A year later, we found ourselves road tripping to the Adirondacks again, this time visiting Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake, aka ADKX, a family-friendly seasonal museum committed to preserving and interpreting the diverse stories of Adirondack history and culture, past and present. As a seasonal museum, ADKX is open from Memorial Day in May to Indigenous Peoples' Day in October. The 121-acre campus in the heart of the Adirondacks is home to interactive exhibitions like Life in the Adirondacks, historic buildings like the Log Hotel built in 1876, which helps us imagine the early days of tourism in this region, and so much more. In this episode, discover the Adirondack Experience's newest permanent exhibit, Artists and Inspiration in the Wild, which features pieces of art ranging from paintings and sculptures to woven baskets, all inspired by the Adirondacks. You'll hear how the Adirondacks inspired Denon Wilantis, a contemporary painter who picked up painting in college, and the behind-the-scenes of why this new exhibit is so special from Chief Curator Laura Rice, plus my thoughts on the museum and why it's a must-visit for families, culture seekers, history buffs, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts. I'm Danielle Desir-Corbett. Welcome to the Thought Card Podcast. Welcome to the Thought Card, a podcast about travel and money where planning, saving, and creativity leads to affording travel, building wealth, and paying off debt. We are the financially savvy travelers. Artists and Inspiration in the Wild features four galleries which illustrate how the Adirondacks' natural landscape, light, forests, water, and mountains have sparked creativity. Painters, sculptors, and artisans for hundreds of years. Go see this exhibit featuring 250-plus works of Adirondack art. The collection spans from prehistory to almost yesterday. Here you'll find a variety of landscape paintings, ceramics, musical instruments, and textile art. The common theme? Well, it's all inspired by nature, the landscape and the environment of the Adirondacks. If you haven't visited the Adirondacks, let's take a step back. The Adirondacks is a vast wilderness bigger than Glacier, Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks combined. Land is almost equally privately owned and publicly owned and protected by Forest Preserve. Located in the northeastern part of New York State, here you can find mountains, lakes, dense forests, and small mountain towns. The rugged landscape spans 6.1 million acres. There are 1,500 miles of hiking trails, 30,000 miles of waterways, and 102 small towns and villages. Here, generations can see the same view. Children, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents can all see the same view year after year after year. You really get a sense that preserving the natural landscape and wildlife and ensuring the region remains untouched and wild is important to many people who call this place home. So, first, let's talk about the newest exhibit, Artists and Inspiration in the Wild. Walking in, the Light Gallery explores the way light looks across the Adirondack landscape and how it can change the mood or give meaning, something I hadn't really thought of before. Bringing this concept to life, I really appreciated the interactive display where you can use sliders to change the lighting and see how it affects the landscape painting. The painting changed based on the time of day, season, spring or fall, or weather, sunny versus cloudy. It showed me light can call up peace and tranquility, comfort and healing, but also emotions like sorrow and anger. The Light Gallery really helped connect the dots because earlier, I chatted with a regional artist about his creative process. Part of the Inspired by Adirondacks Artists in Residence program, working on his painting right outside of the exhibition entrance, I met Denon Wilantis, whose favorite subject and the main focus of his paintings are the northern Adirondack mountains, capturing an immediate response to the landscape. He uses paint to suggest the changing light, season, moods of the weather and atmosphere.

06:42 Dennon Walantus So today I'm working on enlarging a small study I did of Arbutus Island down in Newcomb. So this was a plan air study, which is open air painting where I backpacked this small easel out into the trail and just immediately go to town painting whatever I see. So my first painting was really about this small campfire that was out on this island, and I'm trying to enlarge that by opening up the sky on this painting. So I have a really, really cool blue palette and a small bit of that warm campfire light on the island.

07:15 Danielle Desir Corbett Excellent. Okay, so you have a really interesting story about your inspiration and getting started as an artist. So tell us your back story and how you got started with painting.

07:27 Dennon Walantus Thank you. Yeah, I first found oil painting when I went to Clinton Community College. I went there just to get my gen eds completed and I originally thought I wanted to go for environmental science. So I went to Clinton and started taking my environmental science classes and needed some gen eds. So I took oil painting and immediately after I took that class, I switched my major to art and pursued that, which is kind of funny because I took environmental science just because I love to be out in nature. And this plein air painting offers me that same sense of just like meditation out in nature. What about that class, that oil painting class that was like a game changer for you that like changed your whole trajectory and your career? The class itself was really technical. So it was about learning the medium and learning oil paint. And I've tried a bunch of different other mediums, but I always go back to this oil paint. It's where I learned to love painting and I find myself comfortable with it. Is there anything about oil painting that really calls to you or makes it different from the other bases? So, yeah, if you look at my paintings, you really see this thick texture in the paint and that's called impasto. So this buildup of paint is really hard to get with other mediums because I don't really use a solvent to thin my paint out. So I'll use the oil paint straight out of the tube, just mix it right on my palette and apply it with either a brush or a palette knife right to the canvas or wood panel. And the oil paint really holds its color well and that consistency, that buttery consistency well.

09:00 Danielle Desir Corbett So you mentioned that you go outdoors and you're doing this open air and you immediately find something that captivates you. What are you typically looking for or is it something that finds you? How do you know what your subject is going to be for whatever your project you're working on?

09:17 Dennon Walantus So I think the first thing I look for is form in the landscape. So like this one here, I have that island and that would be my main form of subject matter in the landscape. But then second to that, I look for light. So when I'm walking around, I kind of pick out my time of day that I want my painting to be based on. So if I go out in the evening, I'll get that golden glow light on casting wherever I find it. So it's all about like that split moment where I see light hitting something and I'll stop and set up right there. So it's an adventure like looking for that subject to paint. So I think that goes back again to like the form and light because these like rolling mountains and like this deep space that you can get over toward Lake Champlain and the lakes, but also like these mountains that seem to like encompass you and like just be all around you wherever you look. So this northern light that we get in the evening to where it has that red glow, that's something I haven't really found anywhere else, especially when it hits the mountains and you get that red, red glow on the mountains.

10:18 Danielle Desir Corbett I love it. You can see the excitement in your face. So I love that. I love that. All right. So for those who haven't had the opportunity to visit this region, how would you describe the Adirondacks to folks?

10:30 Dennon Walantus So the Adirondacks are considered forever wild. So most of the region is untouched by civilization. Like you can find so many spots where you can just be one on one and connect with nature and connect with that like natural world and just find yourself out there.

10:47 Danielle Desir Corbett Moving from the forests to the water gallery, I started to notice a theme here. How painters, photographers and sculptors sparked an interest in tourism to this region, whether romanticizing the wilderness for leisure or inspiring those looking for a rough-ready adventure, camping or hunting. As a travel content creator, this really resonated with me because I inspire people to visit destinations using digital media like this podcast, my blog, sharing videos and photos on social media. However, in the mid 19th century, none of this existed. Curious to learn more, I'm joined by ADKX's chief curator, Laura Rice, responsible for collections, exhibition content, lectures and more.

11:46 Laura Rice It's kind of hard for us to think of a time where we weren't bombarded by images. You know, we have television, we have radio, we have our phones now, we have posters and books and brightly colored everything. You know, it's really easy for us to see what the top of Mount Everest looks like. I'm never going to go there. Don't play on it. But I know what it looks like. And so, you know, in the mid 19th century, that wasn't the case. And so the only way you could really see an image was to make it yourself or to see something somebody else did. So the paintings that you see, the landscape paintings are important because a lot of them were turned into prints and engravings. And they were published in newspapers and periodicals, magazines. And that's how those images got disseminated. That's how a lot of people became familiar with what the Adirondacks were like, what you might expect if you came here as a tourist. And there's a lot of interplay, too, because when photography came along, it kind of took on that role. At the same time that you had these really popular guidebooks being written about the place. So the art and these images really, really shaped the way people looked at the Adirondacks, understood nature and understood how they would relate to nature, what kind of experience they would have if they came here as a tourist. So the Adirondacks is a unique place. It's six million acres of largely wild forest. But it's also a place where people live and work. So it's this hodgepodge of public and private land. But if you come to the Adirondacks, you can hike, you can boat, you can go to a high end resort, you can have your wine at the end of a dock. You can ski, you can snowmobile. You know, there's just so much to do here. And it's such a beautiful place. If you just want to sit and look at the view, you can do that, too. You know, the thing with a lot of art museums or art exhibits is that it's sort of treated like a temple almost. You know, be very quiet, you know, running around. And for kids, that's really boring. There's nothing for them to connect to. It's hard for families. And the thing with art is that, you know, it's this amazing act of creativity and we all have that spark inside us. Some of us lose some of that as we become adults. But art's a wonderful thing. It's a great thing. It's fun. Some of it is really beautiful and you just want to sort of stare at it and sort of take it in one on one. But, you know, it's for people of all ages and it's a very tactile thing. So the act of making anything, whether it's a painting with oil paints on canvas or ceramics or you're working with glass, you know, there's a tactile element to it. And I think that's an important part of the process. Understanding who these artists were, what they were thinking about, what they were trying to communicate, what their process is, is really interesting.

14:59 Danielle Desir Corbett And I think it really helps you connect with what you're seeing in the gallery space. And I think that's what I loved about being able to chat with some of the artists on the campus, because everything you said, like just seeing them create their art, being able to ask some questions and learn about their stories, like so, so, so inspiring. Across the campus, we next walked over to the Life in the Adirondacks exhibit, which serves as an intro to the Adirondacks. What it's like to live, work, travel and play here. We learned about the various groups of people who have lived here, both people native to the land and those who came to the Adirondacks for work or leisure. This left my mom and I wondering, what brings us back to the Adirondacks? To me, the Adirondacks is a multi-generational destination where you can bring your family. It's becoming a place where baby Kay, my mom and I can visit to spend quality time together, unplug and enjoy the natural beauty. It's where, as an author, I can clear my mind and write books, be inspired, capture awe-inspiring travel content, and take in fresh air away from the hustle of my normal life. While the towering mountains make me feel small, the lakes and waterways make me feel expansive, reminding me to let go and go at the flow more. Whether you're looking for a challenge, restorative self-care, or want to call this place home one day, there's lots of reasons to come to the Adirondacks. I hope you plan your trip and answer this question for yourself one day soon. How does the Adirondacks inspire you? I love this quote by David Rockwell, which goes like this, Every time I drive up to the Adirondacks, I feel a sense of calm, overcoming me as if all the weight on my shoulders is being lifted. Overall, there's a lot to do at Adirondack Experience, like way more than you think you would when you're first walking through the doors. Visiting with an 18-month-old baby, we loved the three-quarter mile hike to Meno Pond. As you can imagine, baby Kay pointed at everything and wanted to stop at every stream and pick up all the rocks and tree bark. I will say, if planning a hike with your baby, bring sneakers, bug repellent, and sunscreen. You want to plan to leave your stroller at the registration desk, I definitely recommend bringing a carrier with you so it's easier on your shoulders and back. The trail is clearly marked and there are plenty of seating areas to stop along the way if you need to take a break. So it's a great beginner trail. While baby Kay and my mom relaxed on the dock, I took the liberty and opportunity to paddle in a vintage guide boat. So for the first time using a guide boat, I'm like really proud of myself. I got the rowing technique down eventually, maybe pretty quickly. I would say eventually. The boating staff was really helpful and they were really patient with me because I had a couple questions since I never rode in a guide boat before. Out on the water, the scenery and the views were magnificent. To see all the photos from this trip and the full write-up of additional things to do at the museum, visit our website at thoughtcard.com slash Adirondack Experience. Again, that's thoughtcard.com slash Adirondack Experience. The link will also be in the show notes. Again, there's so much to see here that I recommend actually spreading out your visit over two days. You want to take time and soak it all in. So take a map and see where your interest takes you. Visit one of the largest collections of authentic Adirondack guide boats and canoes at the Boats and Boating exhibit. Or you can learn about the history and traditions of logging in Work in the Woods exhibit. Oh, and before I forget, the patio views overlooking the Blue Mountain Lake from Lakeview Cafe, it's unreal. It is so breathtaking and undoubtedly one of the best Instagram spots on the campus. We left the Adirondack Experience with a deeper appreciation for the region and a better understanding of its people and how they've lived over the centuries. A special thank you to Adirondack Experience for hosting my family and special guests, Denina Willantis and Laura Rice, for joining me on this episode. So be sure to visit the adkx.org to plan your trip to the museum and also learn more. The link, as promised, will be in the show notes. Until the next adventure, financially savvy travelers. you

How To Plan The Perfect Visit To Adirondack Experience

Adirondack Experience - Adirondack Blue Mountain Lake

Here’s what you can expect at ADKX.

Overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, the 120-acre campus in the heart of the Adirondacks features 23 buildings (some historic) and a variety of exhibits exploring all things Adirondack, past and present.

As a seasonal museum, ADKX is open daily from Memorial Day (May) to Indigenous Peoples Day (October).

Adirondack Experience Address: 9097 NY-30, Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812

Children under 4 years old and active military personnel can visit the museum for free, while admission for adults ($22), youth from 5-17 ($14), and seniors over 65 ($20).

Check the events calendar for special events, like guided nature walks, painting classes, fairs, concerts, and more — some events are free while others are paid.

There’s plenty of free parking at ADKX and electric charging stations, first come, first served.

With something to do for all interests, there’s so much to see here that I recommend spreading out your visit over two days.

Since you can easily spend a few hours exploring the exhibits, plan to spend at least 4 hours at the museum. Take your time and soak it all in. Whip out your map and see where your interests take you.

Since there’s a lot of walking outdoors, I recommend bringing comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, snacks, and water. Just it case it rains, you may want to pack an umbrella or raincoat.

ADKX is easy to navigate with a stroller or wheelchair, except for Minnow Pond Trail, which is inaccessible to neither.

While we cherished so many moments at the museum, these are seven of our favorite experiences enjoyed by our entire family: baby, grandma, and myself.

1. Artists and Inspiration in the Wild Exhibit

Artists and Inspiration in the Wild is the newest permanent exhibit, which features four galleries illustrating how the Adirondacks’ natural landscape – light, forests, water, and mountains has sparked creativity in painters, sculptors, and artisans for hundreds of years.

You know, the thing with a lot of art museums or art exhibits is that it’s sort of treated like a temple almost. You know, be very quiet, no running around. And for kids, that’s really boring. There’s nothing for them to connect to. It’s hard for families. The thing with art is that, it’s this amazing act of creativity. We all have that spark inside us. Some of us lose some of that as we become adults. But art’s a wonderful thing. It’s fun. Some of it is really beautiful and you just want to stare at it and take it in one-on-one.

Laura Rice, ADKX Chief Curator
Artists and Inspiration in the Wild - Adirondack art exhibit at Adirondack Experience.
Artists & Inspiration in the Wild Forests gallery.

This exhibit features 250+ works of Adirondack art, spanning pre–history to almost yesterday.

Here you’ll find a variety of landscape paintings, ceramics, musical instruments, and textile art. The common theme? It’s all inspired by nature — the Adirondacks landscape and the environment.

At the Light Gallery, explore how light looks across the Adirondack landscape and how it can change the mood or give meaning.

Bringing this concept to life, I really appreciated the interactive display where you can use sliders to change the lighting and see how it affects the landscape painting. The Adirondack painting changes based on the time of day, season (Spring or Fall), or weather (sunny vs. cloudy). 

It showed me light can call up peace and tranquility, comfort and healing, but also emotions like sorrow and anger.

Part of the Inspired by the Adirondacks Artists-in-Residence program, working on his painting right outside of the exhibition entrance, I met Dennon Walantus, who’s favorite subject and the main focus of his paintings are the northern Adirondack mountains capturing an immediate response to the landscape.

Dennon uses paint to suggest the changing light, seasons, moods of the weather, and atmosphere. Click here to learn more about Dennon Walantus.

The first thing I look for is form in the landscape. So like this one here, I have that island which would be my main form of subject matter in the landscape. But then second to that, I look for light. When I’m walking around, I pick out my time of day that I want my painting to be based on. So if I go out in the evening, I’ll get that golden glow light. It’s all about that split moment where I see light hitting something. I’ll stop and set up right there. It’s an adventure looking for that subject to paint.

Dennon Walantus, Painter

Throughout July and August, be on the lookout for regional artists working on their craft right outside of the exhibit daily. Feel free to spark up a conversation and ask them what they are working on.

Understanding who these artists were, what they were thinking about, what they were trying to communicate, what their process is, is really interesting.

Laura Rice, ADKX Chief Curator

The Adirondacks themselves are a vast wilderness, larger than Glacier, Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks combined. With 6.1 million acres of mountains, lakes, forests, and small towns, the region offers endless opportunities for exploration and inspiration.

The Adirondacks are home to 1,500 miles of hiking trails, 30,000 miles of waterways, and 102 small towns and villages. The preservation of this natural landscape is of utmost importance to the people who call the Adirondacks home, and the Artists and Inspiration in the Wild exhibit beautifully showcases the deep appreciation and respect for the environment that is ingrained in the region’s culture.

2. Have lunch at Lake View Café

With both outdoor and indoor seating, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat at Lake View Café.

Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., grilled cheese and other grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, soups, yogurt, juices, pastries, and other snacks are all available.

The patio views overlooking Blue Mountain Lake are breathtaking! I can only imagine how beautiful the views are in the Fall.

Blue Mountain Lake - views from Adirondack Experience. Adirondack Museums.
Blue Mountain Lake

Undoubtedly one of the best Instagram spots on campus!

3. Life in the Adirondacks Exhibit

Life in the Adirondacks is a 1,900-foot exhibit that introduces the Adirondacks and what it’s like to live, work, travel, and play here. The museum recommends visiting this exhibit first for an overview of the region.

Browsing through the collections and interactive exhibits, we learned about the various groups of people who have lived here: people native to the land and those who came to the Adirondacks for work or leisure.

At interactive stations like ‘Roughing It,’ children can build log cabin houses or pretend to fry fish after a fun day of camping in the wilderness.

The snow roller was one of my favorite artifacts. Bigger than expected, this device packed down the snow on the roadways, creating a nice smooth surface allowing horse-drawn sleighs to travel across.

I also enjoyed learning about, how throughout the late 19th century, wealthy families set up luxurious “Great Camps” as summer wilderness retreats. Learning about what it took to prepare these seasonal homes and the subsequent depletion of natural resources was fascinating.

In addition to reading the displays, watch the short videos and re-enactments for different multi-media perspectives. And if you have any questions, ask the staff. They have a great deal of knowledge to share.

Adirondack Experience Museum - Adirondack Museum

4. Hike Minnow Pond Trail

If you love to hike, paddle, or just sit and enjoy the views, you’ll enjoy the short hike on Minnow Pond Trail to the Boathouse.

Visiting with an 18-month-old-baby, we loved the ¾ mile hike to Minnow Pond. As you can imagine, Baby K pointed at everything and wanted to stop at every stream and pick up all the rocks and tree bark.

Bring sneakers, bug repellent, and sunscreen if you plan to hike with your baby. Plan to leave the stroller at the registration desk, and I recommend bringing a carrier so it’s easier on your shoulders and back. 

The trail is clearly marked, and there are plenty of seating areas to stop if you need to take a break.

If you prefer more of a challenge, the Blue View Trail offers a more vigorous route for experienced hikers.

The Adirondacks is known for its breathtaking landscapes, and being able to witness them firsthand is a truly magnificent experience. Whether it’s through boating or simply taking in the views from the museum’s patio, you will be in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds you.

5. Glide across Minnow Pond on a vintage guide boat

The trail will take you to the ADKX Boathouse, where you can borrow a vintage guide boat, rowboat, or canoe. If you’re wondering, yes, borrowing a boat is part of your museum admission, so there is no need to pay extra. Visitors have to be 6+ years old to be able to participate.

Personal flotation vests are provided as well as clear, waterproof pouches for your phone and other valuables.

While Baby K and my mom relaxed on the dock, I paddled in a vintage 1920 guide boat.

As a novice rower, I’m really proud of myself. I got the rowing technique down with the help of the boating staff who were friendly, helpful and patient with me, answering all of my questions.

Out on the water, the scenery and views were magnificent. The self-guided paddling experience is a must-do! Overall, there’s a lot to do at the Adirondack Experience, like way more than you would think when you first walk through the doors.

6. Kid’s Cabin

There are a variety of outdoor exhibits kids will love, like Reising Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1907. Today, it serves as a family activity center offering games, toys, and crafts.

Toddlers and younger children can play on the swings and Kid’s Cabin, a kid-sized wooden cabin featuring a play kitchen, dolls, and an old-fashioned laundry system.

Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.

7. Relaxing by the pond

For some relaxation, gather around the pond, lounge on an Adirondack chair where you can watch the trout jump for dragonflies, people watch, or admire the ducks nesting. Don’t miss the daily trout feeding at 12:30 pm.

The Adirondack Experience -

Despite spending two days at the museum, there’s still so much we didn’t get to see like viewing the largest collection of authentic Adirondack guide boats and canoes at the ‘Boats and Boating’ exhibit or learning about the history and traditions of logging in ‘Work in the Woods’ exhibit.

In summary, we left the Adirondack Experience with a deeper appreciation for the region and a better understanding of its people and how they’ve lived over the centuries. There’s a lot to do at Adirondack Experience, for all ages, like way more than you might think when you first walk through the doors.

The Adirondack Experience is definitely worth visiting for anyone who appreciates nature, history, and art.

Catering to all types of interests, I’d recommend visiting whether you’re in the area or even if you’re further out and want to focus your trip around the museum. Plan your visit and discover why ADKX is a must-see for yourself.

A special thank you for Adirondack Experience for hosting our family. All opinions shared are my own.

Looking for more fun things to do in the Adirondacks, press play to learn more about the Wild Center.

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