The Adirondacks: The origin of the word vacation

Immense mountain range including Lake Placid and numerous lakes.

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Indian Summer in The Adirondacks

The Adirondacks are often referred to as the backyard of New York and Boston. And it is also the largest protected park in the US! I head there during Indian Summer when autumn is at its peak. And yes, this is one of the greatest colour sensations on earth.

The Adirondacks is also known as are The Great Outdoors, or the playground of Mother Nature. Vast forests, hundreds of lakes and typical American architecture from centuries ago. I start fittingly in Boston; this trendy city is becoming increasingly popular for city breaks. The city is remarkably European.

I start at Boston Common, the oldest public park in America. A green oasis in the heart of the city with a rich past. Here I pick up the Freedom Trail, which takes you past all the historic sites. Boston was the birthplace of the American revolution against the British.

My starting point; the city of Boston. ©Corno van den Berg

How exactly did the word vacation come about?

Have you ever thought about it? The word vacation actually comes from the Adirondacks. Why do Americans go on vacation, while the British go on holiday?

I must know more about it, and it seems to be an intriguing story. So I dive once again into the American past to the origin of the term holiday.

“Tell me, what do you do when the summer gets too hot in your hometown of Utrecht,” asks my guide Mitch?

“Then I go to the water, either the sea or a lake,” I stumble. He starts laughing.

Because that’s exactly the same as the wealthy of Boston and New York did more than a hundred years ago in the summer. Mitch: “To exchange the humid heat of the city for the fresh mountain air.”

They vacated the city, or they fled the city. And so came about the word “vacation.”

Exploring the lake. ©Corno van den Berg

And there are other words we know. ‘To recreate’, or reinvent yourself. This is where the word recreation comes from. Another word meaning to ‘flee’.

Yes, a vacation is actually a flight, right? From everyday life. But, where do we flee to? The Adirondacks, a mountain range northwest of the two cities. Unknown to us, but in the United States an established name.

Mother Nature at her best. ©Corno van den Berg

Exploring Boston

I stop at the Old Granary cemetery, where revolutionaries like Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere are buried. The most nostalgic stop yet is the Old South Meeting House, a church where people gathered in difficult times.

This is where the world-famous Boston Tea Party occurred, as the early American settlers increasingly turned against the dominant British. Also of interest is the Old State House, where the British governor resided before the revolution. The past should not be described here, but you should experience it yourself.

Boston is surprisingly green. ©Corno van den Berg

Oh yes, the route takes you past the famous pub from the television series Cheers. It’s Boston in a nutshell. Proud of the past, while embracing today. I end the day at an organic street market. With ecological pizzas, fresh cider beer and more tasty treats.

While I enjoy this great city, I also have a desire to explore more. Boston is nice, but there’s more than a city. I want to visit the Adirondacks. Unknown to many of us, but so very popular here in the US. In the autumn, when the leaves change color and the landscape resembles a colourful palette. I’m now also going to do it, vacate the city!

The Boston City Hall. ©Corno van den Berg

And I do it my way. Walking along meandering trails, kayaking on serene lakes, and also driving on endless roads. As it should, in a brand new Ford Mustang convertible…

Driving through The Great Outdoors

The wind in my hair, the sun on my head. The radio turned on, searching for some appropriate rock music. The first leaves fall around me, I see all kinds of colours. Indian Summer as the Americans call it; The annual colour change of the leaves.

A wonderful road in the Adirondacks. ©Corno van den Berg

Mother Nature is hard to tame. And the dates of this natural phenomenon change every year. So it’s a bit hard to plan exactly. Everything can still be green, or the trees can even be bare. You have about a month’s time to catch the best colours, somewhere between mid-September and mid-October.

Everything depends on the summer, was it hot or not? And how long was it hot? The colours also vary by altitude, so you usually can witness the various colours at different elevations.
This is America, so every restaurant or bar has a TV. The annual fall foliage is even mentioned during the nightly news. With all sorts of colourful weather maps and lots of enthusiasm. ,, The peak is almost here. The coming days will be ‘awesome’. According to the weatherman. Good, then I’m lucky. Awesome ….

Driving in autumn… ©Corno van den Berg

It is a well known image from the movies and many television series. An endless road that winds through the landscape. Over hills, through small villages, rivers and dozens of lakes. It is quiet, occasionally I come across an oncoming car. It’s early in the morning, the sun scatters its warm rays over me. This is pure enjoyment.

The route

My journey begins in Boston, I drive through Vermont on Highway 89, and take the ferry across Lake Champlain, to the historic town of Essex. It is autumn, the trees fade slowly. The skipper peers over the unruffled water. This is the gateway to the Adirondacks.

You can always encounter wildlife. ©Corno van den Berg

Despite his more than twenty years of experience on the boat he still enjoys every minute. “It’s different every day. It is not overrun by tourists. And what could be better than being one with nature?” Yes, the people here do love the outdoors”. That creates a bond.

Driving in America. It’s a hobby of mine. As with many of the Dutch, according to the Annual Holiday Survey. Touring of national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Death Valley in the western US are immensely popular. In the east, this happens much less. What is truly a sin, I quickly learn.

Whichever route you take, there is water everywhere. In many boggy swamps I look for life. Such as moose, black bears, beavers and more. These swamps often turn further into crystal clear lakes. With beautiful names such as Schroon Lake, Indian Lake, Long Lake and Tupper Lake. Along the way I drive past several seaplanes on the water. Yes, that is also a good way to get around.

Travelling by sea plane. ©Corno van den Berg

Just to the north of the Adirondacks is the Canadian city of Montreal, just a bit more than two hours away, but this is the state of New York. Yes, to which the city belongs to, all you have to do is drive five hours south. I stand at the origin of the Hudson River, which ends in New York and is named after the discoverer of the city.

A mandatory stop is Saranac Lake. The splendid colour is unprecedented. All shades of red, yellow, orange, and green. A palette that changes daily. And per kilometer. And per lake. Or per swamp. Per bend even. You almost do not know where to look next.

It is amazingly beautiful. I am speechless. Mother Nature makes a dignified farewell to the summer and autumn. And embraces the upcoming winter. I do as well, in appropriate silence.

Video: This is the Indian Summer

A video tells more than photos. I made this video in the late afternoon. And this is what driving a convertible in autumn looks like:

Lake Placid: The ideal starting point

A small but cozy mountain village. Lake Placid we know from the Winter Olympics in 1980, today it is the base for all kinds of outdoor activities.

De affiches in het Olympisch Museum. ©Corno van den Berg

,,This is the heart of the Adirondacks.” The bearded guy with flashy sunglasses outdoor sports salesman knows for sure. He laughs and looks at me intently. Of course he has a mountain bike for me. And a kayak. And a quad. “Just say the word and I got it! What do you want to do?”

Hmm, that’s a tricky question. The Adirondacks are a living playground for outdoor people. For adventurers, hikers, the very active, etc. The main street of Lake Placid has many shops selling all kinds of rental equipment, outdoor apparel and a variety of restaurants and bars.

The first snow falls. Fittingly, as I see in many places memories of the Winter Olympics. From small stickers on a window, to mega-sized objects, such as the ski jumping towers above the forest. The residents are very proud that their town not once, but twice having had the privilege to organise the Winter Games.

Strangely enough, the biggest winter events in the world made no lasting impression on me. The elderly might remember 1932, but there was no question of Dutch success. I better refresh my memory.

Olympic Games

In the Olympic Museum in town I see lots of memorabilia. Posters, flags and lots of clothing that was worn. Oh and the mascot; a raccoon named Roni. I go in and start searching. In particular for skates, because us Dutch are so good at that, right?

But it turns out that in 1980 the Dutch (I am Dutch) were extremely unsuccessful. For the men it was because of Eric Heiden, the American who grabbed all five gold medals for speed skating. For the women, Annie Borckink won gold in the 1500 meters. That was the highlight for Netherlands. Oh, well.

Suddenly I recall the famous ice hockey match between the United States and Russia in the semi-finals. The guide from the museum begins to talk about it. “What a game!” In living color I hear the honorable unbeatable Russians, who had won all matches so far, were defeated. “By a group of young American amateurs, because back then, professionals were not allowed to compete.”

“Purely on willpower they came from behind in the third period with a 3-2 deficit, turning it into a 4-3 win. While the crowd counted down the final seconds, the commentator called it the “Miracle On Ice”. The best hockey game ever! According to the Americans. But in Russia, they definitely have another opinion.

The match can still be seen on an old television, just like the one in the eighties. I’m going to sit and watch the funny scenes. Several men are pointing to their wives, though they have more of an interest in the shirts of the players that are hanging there. 

Around the town there are more relics of the past. I should go check on the Olympic bobsleigh run.

This is a sport that has always intrigued me. Suddenly there is noise and someone comes whizzing by. So fast, I did not even see it. Serious practice by young new talent.

Tourists can also go down in a bobsleigh. However, with a guide, because it is quite dangerous to go alone. In winter on real ice, in the summer in a bobsled on wheels. But even on wheels, you should have nerves of steel. The speed is unprecedented. Yes, as the adrenaline runs through your body…

The Olympic bob sled track in Lake Placid. ©Corno van den Berg

Whiteface Mountain

Whiteface Mountain, I’m right in front of it. According to the experts the best ski area in New York State. In name anyway I think it’s wonderful. Today it is mainly a hiking area. For couples in love holding hands, groups of runners and avid photographers. I have to come back here again in the winter, that’s obvious.

I want to go out again. Clouds hang between the mountains. It’s early in the morning. This is Heart Lake (What’s in a name). It is situated in the wilderness, but I’m just outside of Lake Placid. This is America, as I often say. Or Canada, just a stone’s throw away.

Geese on a lake just outside of Lake Placid. ©Corno van den Berg

Canadian geese make themselves heard on their way south. Otherwise, it is silent. The kayak floats on the calm water. My paddling disturbs the peace, or so it feels. I explore with great ease any of the hundreds of lakes here. Peace and quiet, rough and rustic.

Hiking in The Great Outdoors

You have to feel the Adirondacks. In your lungs, your legs, actually through all of your senses. So I’m going to walk, or rather ‘hike’ as it is called here. More of a mix between walking and mountain climbing.

A popular activity; hiking with your dog. ©Corno van den Berg
It always sort of triggers me when I visit such areas. Mountains, lakes and forests; you need your walking shoes. There is no shortage of choice of hiking trails in the Adirondacks. From easy to advanced, from an hour to several days. First, I want to start with some smaller mountains that are known for their views. An easier start is always good.

Americans give everything a catchy name. So you can cycle on the Lake Champlain Bike Ways. I choose the walking trails: the Champlain Area Trails. The wind rustles through the trees, leaves falling everywhere.

My eyes wander over Lake Champlain, which is southeast of the Adirondacks. It is immense: 1130 square kilometers, 180 kilometers long and 19 kilometers wide.

From all sides I hear that I need to be on the look out, because this is home to a mysterious aquatic animal. Today he is seen only sporadically. Well, except for t-shirts, coffee cups and other souvenirs.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who struggles here.

The mythical creature is affectionately called Champ. It’s like the Loch Ness monster in Scotland; you must believe in it. As much as I look, I see nothing. Except water. Lots of water.

Lake Champlain

The view when I’m looking back. ©Corno van den Berg

Many of the trails here lead to a vantage point, and sometimes several. Such as the one at Mount Severance. A wonderful point to take a break. And enjoy the postcard views before my eyes. At least that’s what we called it in the past, nowadays we call it wallpaper.

Huh? Suddenly my brains rattle. Do I hear a rattlesnake? It appears to be a chipmunk. A mischievous little animal that makes noise to let me know that he has seen me. And I, now him. He skips merrily ahead, with both thick cheeks full of acorns. Everything is preparing itself for the long, cold winter ahead.

And I’m getting ready. For Algonquin, the second-highest mountain in the Adirondacks. It lies just outside the town of Lake Placid. At 1559 meters, Algonquin does not seem that high, but because of its northern location, the top does have an alpine climate.

Hiking the Algonquin. ©Corno van den Berg

Algonquin hike

The ‘hike’ in the book is categorised as challenging. The main reason; a large part of the path follows a stream. Correction; it is the stream. At least at the place where rain water whooshes down. Whooshes yes, because it is incredibly steep. Now the stream is relatively dry, though there is enough mud to play in. Climbing and clambering, I make my way to the top.

Strikingly, there are many owners with their dogs. I count no fewer than 47, it seems like a national pass time to go up with your pet. Occasionally the dogs need to be lifted up because of the massive boulders. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who struggles here.

Hiken op de Algonquin. ©Corno van den Berg

I finally look beyond the trees. To be honest, I am getting a bit tired of all the trees. The top of the mountain is a rocky plateau. With a 360 degree view. And strong winds. It is remarkable to see that some mountain valleys are full of colourful trees and others have not yet turned. It depends on the height, the wind and the water.

A woman looks at me. “I don’t want to see any more mud,” she sighs. Well, I feel the same about the boulders that I encounter. Millions of them, or so it seems. But the euphoric feeling overcomes my fatigue. Although my muscles absolutely disagree.

The four seasons

The Adirondacks are a typical mountain preserve where every season is different. You can always visit. Actually, you really must visit. Here is a quick overview.

The view from one of my Bed and Breakfasts. ©Corno van den Berg

You know them from American movies and television series. The wooden cabins in a forest, idyllically situated on a lake. That’s my sense of The Great Outdoors, or real outdoor living. 

And here in the Adirondacks there are plenty of opportunities. I must try it myself. Like a hundred years ago, as the wealthy people did, when they invented the vacation.

Or camping in a tent. In the middle of the wilderness. It really appeals to me, camping with a campfire and hunting for your own food. I probably make this all more idyllic than it is. 

But, we do not really know this in the Netherlands. And that is unfortunate, because I would love it.

It’s one of the questions you ask yourself when planning a trip. When should I go? Of course it depends on your own situation, family and work. But also the number of holidays, the prices of airline tickets, etc.

And, as in an area like the Adirondacks, what do you want to do? I talked during my trip with various people and incorporated their tips below.


Spring is the time to hike here, though you can also bike and kayak (or canoe), for example. The numerous trees and shrubs sprout while there are strikingly colourful flowers appearing. And the animals come to life, with many young animals being born. For example beavers, moose and even black bears are spotted more often in their quest for food.

A Maple Leaf in water. ©Corno van den Berg


The summer temperature is often a major factor in determining the ‘best’ time. The weather is often sunny. Temperatures average over twenty degrees Celcius, but can extend to over thirty degrees. The days are long and everything is green.

The water temperature is very pleasant (around 20 degrees), so swimming in the many (clean) lakes is a great option. This is also the time of many festivals, concerts, and summer theatre – often bringing Broadway talent from New York City up to the Adirondacks.


I was there in the fall, actually one of my favourite seasons. Particularly around the Indian summer, when the leaves fall, you’ll see a unique range of color combinations. There are also far fewer tourists. Note that some attractions have limited opening hours or may be closed.


The Winter Games were held here no less than twice. Winter is a playground for active travelers. You can ski on several mountains, including the most famous: Whiteface Mountain with 35 km of well groomed slopes.

But there is more: From dogsleds in the snow to snowmobiles. Additionally, you can cross country ski, but also backcountry ski. That’s in the wilderness with a guide. For that reason alone, I want to come back … Also unique is the Saranac Winter Carnival, where an ice castle is built on the middle of the frozen lake.

A unique place

The Adirondacks is no less than 6 million acres in size. This makes it the largest State Park in the entire US. And relatively unknown to us. About 55 percent is owned by the government, the rest by private individuals. The park was founded in 1892 to protect the landscape and culture. The area has 46 mountains over 4,000 feet. Which sounds more impressive than it is; 4,000 feet is 1,200 meters. But it is unprecedentedly wild. In the Adirondacks you will find more than 2,800 lakes and swamps. During your trips you can encounter no less than 55 types of mammals, 218 types of birds and 86 types of fish.


Driving in autumn. ©Corno van den Berg
Colors are everywhere. ©Corno van den Berg