by Steve Jermanok
Most people associate Lake George in upstate New York with the honky-tonk T-shirt and fudge shops of Lake George Village. That’s unfortunate, because the rest of this 31-mile-long lake has far more of the Adirondack appeal. Waves of rolling summits form a silhouette against the sky that, due to the lake’s narrow width, tower over you from both shores.
It’s a scenic spot I know well, having sailed these waters since I was a toddler, or so I’m told. Growing up in these sylvan surroundings, I took its beauty for granted; the verdant mountainside that slopes to the lake’s edge on either side, the pine-studded islands that provide perfect anchorages for boaters, the narrow width that’s easily mistaken for a long rambling river. Years later, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of America’s most noted lakes, like Tahoe, Powell, and Superior. Given the choice, however, I’ll take Lake George on a weekday (on summer weekends, the influx of motorboats and jet skies make the lake seem a lot smaller). The cool waters and green hills serve as solace for my weary urbanized body.
Set on a 70-acre island near the village of Bolton Landing is the Sagamore, the premiere resort on Lake George. In fact, this large wedding cake of a hotel has been the lake’s top address for over a century. Dilapidated in the early 80s, when it was commonly referred to as “Sag Some More” the resort was purchased in 1985 by real estate developer Norman Wolgin of Philadelphia and rightfully restored to its Georgian-style grandeur. Perched on a small hill, you walk into the glass-enclosed patio and peer down at one of the most striking sights of the American landscape, inspiring Hudson River School painters to grab their canvases and head north. Georgia O’Keeffe and her camera-toting husband Alfred Stieglitz would soon follow, summering at a home in the southern part of the lake throughout the 1920s.
Steps from the patio lead past the manicured lawn to the Sagamore’s shores, offering views of Dome Island, a large round uninhabited forest of firs that looks almost tropical, a place that King Kong would find homey. On the opposite shores of this long rambling lake, never more than three miles wide, is an uninterrupted carpet of trees that soon rise to 2,000-foot mountains. The serenity of the lake stems from a decision by civil engineers not to extend the road more than eight miles on the eastern shores. So when you reach the Sagamore, a little less than halfway up the lake, there are no signs of civilization on the other side.
The Sagamore takes advantage of this beauty strip to offer swimming, boating, kayaking, sailing, parasailing, banana boat rides, fishing, a luxury dinner cruise on their boat, The Morgan, a large indoor pool and fitness center featuring aerobics classes and yoga, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and summer camps for the kids. Depending on the time of day, there are seven places on property to dine, including the latest, the Pavilion, at water’s edge. So, by all means, jump in and have fun!
Our Editor Loves
- Resort is set on a 70-acre island
- Supervised children's program
- Extras, like campfires, horse-drawn carriage rides and barbecues
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Sagamore has 350 guest rooms spread around the property. There are 100 rooms in the main hotel, with almost half those rooms being suites. However, for families, I prefer the rooms in the Adirondack-style buildings called The Lodges that overlook the lake, forest, and gardens. On our last trip, we stayed near the rec center and had a private patio bordering an exquisite lily pond. The room was a two-bedroom duplex with a king bed and bathroom upstairs, and a pullout queen bed downstairs for kids. Both floors had flat screen televisions. The kitchen had an oven, fridge, dishes, but surprisingly, no microwave or toaster. Get provisions at the grocery store, Grand Union, a two-minute drive from the property.
The duplex arrangement may not be toddler-friendly, especially with the upstairs bathroom, so ask for a floor plan that fits your family needs. There are also one and two-bedroom condominium units on the property that are often available for rentals. So if the lodges are sold out, inquire about these units.
All rooms are air-conditioned and come with free wireless Internet. Most units also have balconies or private patios. There's a daily cleaning service at both the hotel and the lodges, and room service wherever you stay.
We recently stayed at the Sagamore with our extended family. We stayed in one of the lodges. When we arrived they upgraded our rooms to lodge suites. These rooms were excellent for gathering together as a large family in one space. We were visiting with young children and enjoyed the rec center and the activities it included. We enjoyed our stay and are looking to come back in the near future.
I admit I was a bit apprehensive after reading some reviews, so I made sure to stay in the main hotel. I called ahead with special requests and was very pleased when I arrived to see all had been done just as I asked! Every member of staff with whom I interacted was warm, friendly, and helpful - true hospitality. Chris and Josiah stood out.
The resort itself is beautiful; the lake and surrounding mountains serene and calm. Loved the charm of this grand old dame (down to the crystal door knobs!), she has been lovingly upkept. The entrance of the hotel is striking - warm fireplace to your left, a grand piano placed in front of large windows that look onto the veranda and stunning view of Lake George.
We had dinner at La Bella Vita and the food was excellent! Top choices were the Brussel sprouts and polpette - yum! All other restaurants were closed as this was off season, but am looking forward to trying them as well.
Despite being owned by Opal, seems like this place has retained that family feel (Chris and Tom can attest to that, yes?) and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. And yes, am already planning to come during the summer.
Thanks, Sagamore - it was lovely!
If your kids are like my kids, they won't want to leave the property. Children's programs in the Teepee Club are available every day in summer, from July 1st through Labor Day. It is also open during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and President's Week. The half-day ($40 per child, lunch not included), full-day ($80, lunch included) and evening programs ($65) lead kids ages 3 (must be potty trained) to 12 on nature walks, down to the beach for a swim and castle competition, a pirate picnic, and fun surrey bike rides. Older kids can head to the rec center to play video games, catch up on their emails on the computers, play indoor racquetball and tennis or simply watch some TV with other teens.
Near the rec center are the outdoor tennis courts and a 20-minute nature trail that heads through the pines on a bluff overlooking the lake. The resort also rents bicycles to cruise around the island or venture into Bolton Landing, a five-minute pedal, to shop or dine. There's also croquet on the front lawn, backed by the large hotel and surrounded by colorful gardens in mid-summer.
The large indoor pool with Jacuzzi, a floor above the fitness room, is popular with families at night and during those overcast days. But most likely, you'll be spending your day down by the water. Lounge chairs line the waterfront on a long narrow strip of beach. Sand is also found on the bottom of the shallow pool, which is really nothing more than lake water surrounded by docks. Older kids will want to jump into the deeper section of the lake a short walk away.
The waterfront is hopping during July and August. Much like a Caribbean resort, there's an activity kiosk where guests can choose to ride on the back of a banana boat or parasail above the waters in no time. You can also grab a pole and go fishing for trout, bass, and perch off the large dock or charter your own motor boat for the day and escape to a quiet island for lunch.
One of my favorite activities at the Sagamore is to rent double kayaks with the kids and take an hour-long paddle around Green Island, home to the hotel. There are no better views of the sprawling resort than at sea. You rent kayaks from Lake George Kayak Company located on the other side of the island. The lake is also popular with sailors. Try your hand at the tiller on a 2 1/2-hour leisurely cruise offered by the resort's sailing center, located next door to the kayak rentals. They use Colgate 26s, a sturdy rig with a cockpit so spacious an instructor has room to maneuver around his students. Cost is $100 per hour (minimum two hours), including an instructor.
A shuttle brings guests inland to try their luck on the serpentine fairways designed by golf course architect Donald Ross in 1928. In winter, the course offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and ice skating, weather permitting.
A gluttonous breakfast buffet is served every morning at The Sagamore Dining Room, just off the main lobby of the hotel. Expect fresh-baked muffins, croissants, and Danishes, cereals, a vast assortment of fruit, bagels, smoked salmon, pancakes, waffles, French toast, honey-cured bacon and sausage, and omelettes prepared any way you like them.
For lunch, kids will enjoy dining at the casual Cabana down by the waterfront. Snacks include pretzels, pizza, hot dogs, chips, and Italian ices. Parents might want to slip away and snag one of the tables found on the steps that lead down to the waterfront. Sandwiches and salads are offered with glorious views of the lake and mountains.
There are a slew of options for dinner. Downstairs from the main lobby is the family-friendly Mr. Browns Pub. Kids can opt for nachos and mozzarella sticks while mom and dad munch on a pear and blue cheese salad and salmon as an entree, washed down with a Sagamore ale. Save room for the chocolate cake or peanut brownie torte desserts.
Trillium offers fine dining, from lobster succotash to a grilled lamb with sour-cherry reduction. They also feature a kids menu if you want to bring junior.
Make sure to spend one night on the water's edge at the resort's newest restaurant, the Pavilion. They feature a lobster bake, with steamers, chowder, and apple pie for dessert. If you really want to get out on the water, take a three-hour dinner cruise on the resort's luxury boat, The Morgan. There's no better way to appreciate the beauty of the Adirondacks than being out on the lake surrounded by the peaks. The meal includes beef tenderloin and crab cakes.
Planning & Tips
With movie nights on the lawn in the summer, barbecues, campfires for cooking s'mores, horse-drawn carriage rides, even an ice cream truck arriving outside the main lobby some afternoons, the Sagamore goes the distance to make kids happy.
Rates include the fitness center, pool, beach area, free Wi-Fi, and bicycles. The Teepee Club and all water sports are extra.
Be sure to visit longtime piano player Ray Alexander, tickling the ivories at night in the Verandah. When I told him my son plays piano, he let Jake play a Thelonius Monk song called "In Walked Bud." From that moment on, any time Jake walked near the Verandah, Ray would break into several stanzas of "In Walked Bud." We renamed the song "In Walked Jake." Ray can play any type of music, as evident by the loyal collection of locals who love to come here and dance, including my parents.
Also stop by the gift shop, which unlike most resorts, is not ridiculously overpriced. On our last trip, we purchased a large umbrella and fluffy towels.
Obviously, July and August are the busiest months of the year. If you have young children or live in other parts of the globe where school is over and you can take off in June, it's worthwhile to avoid the high summer to get cheaper rates. September is one of my favorite months on the lake. The trees start to turn color, but the water remains warm so you can still swim. Not to mention, the lake becomes a placid retreat with little boat traffic after Labor Day.
If you really want to appreciate Lake George without the crowds, head up to the Sagamore in winter. You can go cross-country skiing, sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing at the golf course and there's a free shuttle service that takes you to the nearby ski areas of Gore and West Mountains.
Albany Airport in upstate New York, an hour drive away, is the nearest airport.
For Mom and Dad
The resort also offers babysitting at $15 an hour per one child and $5 per hour extra for each additional child. Many of the babysitters are the same counselors your child saw in the day time at the Teepee Club. So take advantage of this option and get out of there! Board the dinner cruise on the Morgan, head into Bolton Landing and grab dinner at one of the restaurants in town like Frederick's, known for their good drinks. Or better yet, drive 30 minutes to my favorite restaurant in the lower Adirondacks, The Grist Mill. Located in Warrensburg, overlooking the rapids of the Schroon River, the Grist Mill is housed in a genuine working mill built in 1824. Yet, this is no museum. It's a popular restaurant for foodies in the know who travel from as far as Saratoga in the summer months. The consistently tasty food includes sesame-encrusted ahi, center cut filet, and rack of lamb.
Earn your dinner by hiring a babysitter an hour earlier than usual and renting a double kayak to paddle around Green Island. Paddling in unison is the best form of marriage therapy.