Editor's note: Every winter visitors are invited to participate in three unique Camp Santanoni Winter Weekends. As we are quickly coming up on the second one of the season, we thought it appropriate to rerun this blog that details with first-hand accounts what you can expect to encounter on one of these family-friendly weekends. (Originally published: February 2017)
It's a history museum, a unique winter trek, and a social occasion like no other. It's a Camp Santanoni Winter Weekend.
Camp Santanoni is a famous Great Camp/Farm Complex that has become a unique backcountry attraction. Now known as Camp Santanoni Preserve, it hosts three winter weekend events where people can ski in, enjoy the many activities, and celebrate an extraordinary Adirondack landmark.
I found a couple of friends who have made these weekends a regular part of their winter activities.
The Carriage Road
The aptly named Carriage Road is the only clear access to Camp Santanoni. It starts at the Gatehouse, and runs approximately five miles to the Main Camp. This trail is on gently rolling terrain, considered an easy ski for anyone with more than beginner cross-country skills. Even children participate, as attendee Tate makes clear:
Our family loves cross-country skiing. The first year we skied into Camp Santanoni as a family was when my son was five years old. We knew that he probably wouldn't make it the whole 10-mile trip and had a plan for that. The great thing about doing the Newcomb Lake Road into the great camp is the variety for a kid, and the interesting things along the way as you head to the camp. The kids anticipated the farm complex and then were on the lookout for bridges and trail signs. As we told them about different things along the way they were engaged, beyond just kicking, and gliding. This combined with a wide gentle trail and lots of other skiers allowed for a fun time.
A young skier sets out on the Carriage Road. Tate had a backup plan for little ones who might tire more easily than the adults:
Having a chance to duck into the warm artist studio for a lunch break was great for warming up and chatting with folks. That first year we pulled pulk sleds in with sleeping pads and bags. The kiddos enjoyed a fun ride out while the parents got a workout.
"Pulk sleds" are designed for hauling supplies, and tired children.
A new activity has been started for families and children "of every age." Staff from SUNY ESF Adirondack Interpretive Center had a "Winter Animal Tracking" workshop on a recent Winter Weekend Saturday afternoon. It's about teaching everyone, especially children, how to be a track detective and spot the clues that animals have left behind. This also started from the Gatehouse complex — so no one had to hike into the Great Camp to participate. It was hands-on activities during a short walk, and then a chance for the children to try out their new tracking skills on the return hike.
Participants learn what tracks in snow are made by which Adirondack animals.
Great Camp Santanoni
The Great Camp itself is a year-round place of interest. Sarah learned about them during a previous visit.
I actually found out about the winter weekends in the fall while I was on the horse-and-wagon ride event. The guide mentioned they opened the camp and served hot chocolate during three special weekends each year (MLK, President's Weekend, and then one weekend in March). After all of the recent snow we got, President's Weekend was the ideal time for us to attempt it.
During the summer you can take a wagon ride into camp, which is the only time people can take advantage of something powered; in this case, horses. No motorized vehicles are allowed anywhere in the Preserve. So, in the warmer months people hike and mountain bike into the complex, and in the winter months they ski or snowshoe.
A horse-drawn wagon can take guests in the summer.
The Carriage Road to Santanoni has long been a popular backcountry trail enhanced by a delightful destination: the extraordinary collection of original buildings of great architectural interest. Per Tate:
The ski trip into Camp Santanoni is a popular ski without the winter weekends. The event gives it more of a community feel. We first learned about it online, and I think it's a great outreach for the organizations involved. The first year we started out with 8 people, including three kids. The three boys were five and three. This year we may have up to seven kids, including a few under two years old, who will be bundled up in sleds.
Cross-country skiing provides a level field for adults and kids to have a good time together. My eight-year-old is now strong enough to ski the whole trip and can keep up with a beginner adult skier. I think he enjoys the opportunity to be on par with them. This trip is a great family activity and it also gives me a chance to be out with other skiers and users of the Forest Preserve. Skiing is my favorite winter activity and I love being able to introduce people to it ,or help someone expand beyond skiing a groomed trail.
The art studio with a forest of skis in front of it.
Sarah returned this year because she and her companions had such a good time, here are some things she noted:
TONS of people were there. The parking lot was full by 10am when we got there, but it didn't feel crowded on the trail.
It's a pretty flat trail with gradual hills which make for a somewhat arduous ski. If you're just starting out on XC skis, it might not be the ideal trip for you to attempt alone. With the temps being warmer, you would have to be pretty familiar with wax, and what kind to use, and how to apply it so you didn't stick.
Bonus, it's dog-friendly, which is always good.
Dogs are welcome everywhere on these weekends.
The great camp complex provides a great introduction to the public about the Forest Preserve. As people disconnect from the electronic world and enter the forest. Santanoni and its buildings allow people to transition to a simpler time in the largest wilderness in the Adirondacks. I think it provides a part of the recreational opportunity spectrum, which allows everyone a chance to connect with nature.
The Camp was a work in progress from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a vision of Robert C. and Anna Pruyn. They wanted a place to entertain guests and find refuge from city life, and as they became enchanted with the great outdoors around them, they continued to add to the complex, developing it into guest houses, a lakeside studio, and even a working farm to supply the camp with milk, meat, and eggs from livestock on the premises.
Today, the buildings are empty, and some of the more than forty-five separate structures have been lost to fire. However, this also supports the vision of the architects who, knowing they were building wooden structures in an inaccessible place, created multiple "rooms" which had distance between them.
Arrive to hot chocolate
Once you arrive at the art studio, there are hot beverages and fun activities.
The Artist's Studio, near the Main Lodge on the shores of Newcomb Lake, is open as a warming hut, with a woodstove.
Many of the buildings will be open only during the three Winter Weekend events, such the Gate Lodge and the Main Lodge buildings. There will be interpretive tours with Adirondack Architectural Heritage staff. Bring your own cup!
Tate appreciates these events as a chance to get together with old friends and make new ones.
Skiing is a lifelong activity and affords endless opportunities to get out and explore the forests. I look forward to my kids looking back on our family ski trips fondly. Just as I look back at my trips growing up.
Sarah was thrilled to expand her Camp Santanoni interest into other seasons:
I'd have to say my favorite part was finally finding a spot down by the boathouse that was "uninhabited" - meaning no one else had found it yet, so we actually had a place to sit and eat and relax in the sun. We just bathed in the sun for a bit in the quiet and watched people ski across the lake. Then some more people started coming down and we met a few nice folks, two of which had traveled up that morning from the city. Everyone was excited for the beautiful day. I was in a tank top by the time we got back to the car. Amazing how 50 degrees in February feels like a heat wave, but 50 degrees in October feels like a cold snap!
Here in the Adirondacks, we still have the ability to surprise you.
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