Lake Placid's intrigue begins in town, where Mirror Lake-undisturbed by any gas-powered craft-laps softly at the edge of the business district. Shoppers stroll from shop to shop on Main Street or pause for food-with-a-view at the many lakeside lunch spots. Across the water looms what's left of the once-proud Lake Placid Club, built in 1895 and an anchor of the local economy until its decline in the Eighties, now sadly derelict and arson-ravaged. In between, Town Beach is where the action is, and also the headquarters of the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team, whose athletes knife the calm waters in high-tech racing hulls alongside tourists in rented paddleboats.
From the north end of the lake, it's a short portage to much-larger Lake Placid, where powerboats rule-especially mahogany-hulled classics. Its waters and their extraordinary depths (up to 180 feet) have yielded many trophy lake trout, while its shores are lined with the rustic-opulent Adirondack camps that define the region's aesthetic. Board the Lady of the Lake for the real estate tour. You'll glide past towering Pulpit Rock, from which preachers once sermonized to boaters and where the original Lady of the Lake met a mysterious fate. Young Mrs. Mabel Douglass set out canoeing in 1933 and disappeared until 30 years later, when divers found her body, eerily preserved by the cold water, an anchor rope around her neck.
Boat campers can tent on Moose Island, but if it's wilderness you seek, Lake Placid is merely a gateway to the incomparable Adirondack Park. Navigating its 6,000 miles of river, canoe and kayak campers lose themselves for days in this 6 million-acre wilderness.
Lake Placid is an egalitarian place. Whether you're just looking to get your feet wet or in search of soul-awakening adventure on wild water, you'll find your kind of fun.
Lake Placid Visitors Bureau (800-447-5223; www.lakeplacid.com ); lakeside camp rentals: The Wilkins Agency (518-946-2101); boat rentals and fishing supplies: Jones Outfitters (518-523-3468).