Presenting the history of a region that includes northern New York’s vast Adirondack Park, The Adirondack Experience: The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake (ADKX) explores the relationship between people and the Adirondack wilderness, whether looking at the past or present, or envisioning the future. At this engaging museum, visitors from outside the area can gain insight into this beautiful region known today for its forests, lakes, and recreational opportunities. ADKX is also a resource for the local community, supporting education for all ages and offering special events and exhibits. Since the 1950s, the family-friendly museum has grown to 23 buildings—both historical structures and modern galleries using the latest interactive technology—on 121 acres. Visitors can even take a paddle on a mountain-ringed pond.
Despite the pandemic, ADKX keeps moving forward. Scarred Landscape: The Adirondack Photographs of J. Henry Fair, a temporary exhibit opening July 1, highlights aerial photographic prints that show landscape damage due to mining, lumbering, and recreation. In 2023, a new permanent exhibition, Artists & Inspiration in the Wild, will open in the Lynn Boillot Art Galleries. Items from the art and decorative arts collections will be displayed in themed interactive galleries—light, forests, water, and mountains—representing elements that have inspired Adirondack artists and artisans.
Beginning and Growth
The museum is the result of the dedication of people who cared about the Adirondacks. In 1948, William Wessels, who owned the Blue Mountain House hotel in Blue Mountain Lake (which is both a hamlet and a lake), and Harold K. Hochschild (1892–1981), a wealthy business executive who summered in the area and collected Adirondack objects, established the Adirondack Historical Association. One goal was building a museum on the property of Wessels’s hotel, overlooking the lake. In 1957, the Adirondack Museum opened, due in large part to Hochschild’s vision, generosity, and love for the region.
What began as a collection focused on the Blue Mountain Lake area now includes objects from around the region, many donated by residents. In 2017, for its 60th anniversary, the expanding museum adopted its current name, Adirondack Experience: The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. This name reflects the interactive nature of its offerings, such as Life in the Adirondacks, which opened that year.
Exploring the Adirondack Experience
Lively, immersive, and great for families, ADKX’s 23-building campus provides a terrific introduction to the region. It’s within an hour’s drive of many popular destinations in the large park. Visitors should allow four hours for some highlights, but it’s easy to spend a day or several days here during the late-May to mid-October season. For an overview—ideal for those with limited time—the 19,000-square-foot Life in the Adirondacks exhibition fills a building with Adirondack objects from daily life and work, videos and historic photos, and hands-on activities.
One gallery in this exhibition, “The Peopled Wilderness,” presents objects and art created by the Mohawk and Abenaki peoples, who inhabited the area before European settlers, and provides insight into these cultures. The “Roughing It” gallery explores ways people lived in or visited the area. Among these are the “great camps” built by wealthy families in the late 19th century, the sanitoriums that served tuberculosis patients, and auto-based tourism. The log cabin of Anne LaBastille (1933–2011), an influential writer and ecologist, is on display, along with vintage carriages, furniture, photos, and more. “Our Adirondack Park” offers the stories and views of people involved with the more than 6-million-acre park. Established in 1892 on private and public land to provide recreation and to protect the forests and waters, the park has always seen tension between development and preservation.
Cold winters, mountainous wilderness, and limited ways to make money have long created challenges for Adirondackers. Today fewer than 125,000 people are permanent residents within the Adirondack Park’s boundaries. The “Adirondack Tough: Working in the Wilderness” gallery in Life in the Adirondacks looks at the legacy of industries like mining and logging. Visitors can use a tool to break up a virtual logjam or try on thick mittens used by workers in winter.
Permanent exhibitions in three other buildings provide deep dives into key topics. Boats & Boating, vital in a region with 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, displays watercraft from canoes to guideboats, a type of vessel created for the Adirondacks. Work in the Woods brings to life the people and traditions of logging, once one of the state’s key industries, and Woods & Water looks at the history of outdoor recreation.
Not to be missed on ADKX’s attractively landscaped grounds are the historic buildings moved on-site and the museum’s modern Boathouse. Vintage buildings include the furnished Buck Lake Club, a log cabin used as a hunting camp; the Artist’s Cottage; and the Log Hotel (original to the site; closed in 2022). Visitors can climb the Whiteface Mountain Fire Tower for a view of Blue Mountain, or hike a family-family, forested trail to Minnow Pond. The pond’s Boathouse has vintage canoes and guideboats that visitors can take out for a short paddle.
Community and the Adirondack Experience
There’s always plenty happening at ADKX, and the museum ensures that it’s accessible to year-round Adirondack Park residents by offering free admission to them on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Among the virtual program series is 2022’s ongoing, free “Adirondacks for All: Identity & Environmental Justice in the Adirondack Park,” with topics such as Women in the History of the Forest. In summer, artists, including Indigenous people, demonstrate their artistic process at the museum. ADKX also supports regional artists and artisans at three one- or two-day markets held on-site: the Adirondack Artisan Festival, the Mohawk and Abenaki Art Market, and the Rustic Furniture Fair. The calendar has updated information.
Besides daily family-oriented activities, ADKX offers a variety of field trips for students; these are free for any school in a county that is part of the Adirondack Park. Museum educators can also bring materials to classrooms, and virtual programs for kids from elementary through high school are another option. The Adirondack Experience Library, the library-of-record for the Adirondack Park, is open by appointment several days a week to anyone doing research on this beautiful region.
Picnic areas on ADKX’s grounds make it a good place for an alfresco lunch. The on-site Lake View Café serves snacks and sandwiches such as Blue Mountain pulled pork, and has terrace views of Blue Mountain Lake and nearby mountains. Beer, wine, and coffee are available.
Linda Cabasin is a travel editor and writer who covered the globe at Fodor’s before taking up the freelance life. She visited ADKX in 2019 and 2022. She’s a contributing editor at Fathom. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @lcabasin.
Top Photo: The visitor center includes a good shop with Adirondack items and books, as well as an exhibit about the museum’s history.