It's not just bears who need their caves in the winter. We can have fun with our own, human version.

Our winter wonderland offers fun ways to explore something new, and for a very reasonable outlay, too. The abundant outdoor options, with dining and lodging that is "just right," adds up to a great time.

Here's my day. It was great fun.

Extraordinary Wilderness

This is what I'm talking about:

This vista from one of the snowshoe trails at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves has plenty of "wow factor."

In the summer, this is the only cave attraction in the Adirondacks, but it is an amazing one. The Stone Bridge itself is solid marble, and a marvelous sight in any season.

During the 16th century, Portuguese explorers named this structure Ponte de Dios, or "Bridge of God."

The ancestor of the current owners, Jacob Van Benthuysen, was gifted the site in the 1700s for his Revolutionary War service. Early on, it was the site of a sawmill, powered by the ever-running water that flows through the caves. Lost logs can still be seen inside the cavern.

In the winter, the proprietors open their extensive set of snowshoe trails through the glories of this amazing geologic area. We have a lot to choose from, like the short and scenic route around the waterfalls and cave opening, to the "Experts Only" trails which are located near the top of the mountain.

That's thirty-six trails and fourteen and a half miles -- plenty of territory.

The terrain has more than a skill range; it offers a whole mountainside of sights. There's the Natural Stone Bridge cave opening, frozen waterfalls, and ice flows. The river underground keeps flowing all year. It is how nature created the sinkholes, boulders, and vertical ledges.

There's faster moving natural features too, what the attraction calls "local residents." Look for large fallen trees and pencil-sharpener stumps that indicate beaver industriousness. Small cave dens shelter fox, rabbits, fishers, and pine martins. There are tracks in the snow from deer, bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, and squirrels.

I showed up on a gorgeous sunny day, and rented snowshoes and poles, all day, for only $5.00. This is a real bonus if you don't have our own; my own snowshoes finally gave it up and I have not replaced them yet.

The attraction is open Friday through Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm. We are still in the shorter days of winter, so make sure to arrive early enough to enjoy all this place has to offer. The all-day pass ranges from adults at $13, down to children under five who are let in free.

The many bridges and walkways, the provided map, and the clearly marked trails, all make navigating easy. Even for me, who is somewhat -- challenged -- in that respect.

But even if we didn't bring a compass, we can point our hand, straight out to the side, at the sun. Now we know that is East (in the morning) which means we are facing North, or West (in the afternoon) and we are facing South.

If the sun is overhead, it's lunchtime. Break out those trail goodies and find a bench, log, or rock for some authentic al fresco dining. That's the Adirondack way.

Exploring Made Easy

Snowshoeing is a great way to get out into the snow, from pre-school kids to... people who only feel like kids.

I heartily recommend getting or bringing the trekking poles. They are very useful for negotiating narrow or tricky terrain, and if you are new to snowshoes, it will help you extricate yourself from stepping on your newly acquired clown feet.

This is Bobcat Ledge, a stunning expanse of rock that rose from the earth's depths.

Be sure to bring a camera, too, because we will be offered amazing vistas, huge rock formations, and delightful patterns of sunshine and shade dappled along the forest paths.

Here we see the contrast between the deep shade under the evergreens, and the amazingly sunny forest where the birches and maples live.

Natural Stone Bridge and Caves also offers a fully-guided evening tour on Saturdays. This 2-3 hour guided snowshoe tour offers stories and amazing sights, but if you start running out of steam, you can return to their lodge any time using the Trout Brook Trail. At the end, there is a campfire, marshmallows for toasting, and hot drinks. Those Portuguese explorers wished they had this waiting for them.

If you didn't get to see it all, or would love to come back, just add a season pass for $5, and take to the trails all weekend, or, all season.

A Fine Finish

By this time, I am hungry like a bear. Just fifteen minutes north on scenic Route 9 is my destination for tonight's dining and lodging, the village of Schroon Lake. It is a charming little town on the shores of Schroon Lake, the lake.

I will be having dinner at

Sticks and Stones Bistro. This is a happy, welcoming place, and I hit the first snag of my day: there are so many good things on the menu I really have trouble choosing. Steaks, seafood, wood-fired wings, maybe the fig & goat cheese salad?

But the owner drops by to assure me that he imported his pizza oven from Naples, Italy. And they have gluten-free pizza. While he likes the regular kind better -- "Everyone does," I say with a sigh -- he is proud of all his efforts.

I chose the Meat Your Match, with pepperoni, proscuitto, pancetta, and hot Italian sausage. It is so delicious I have no room for dessert. Must return: the dessert menu features such delectable choices as Adult Root Beer Float (made with vanilla bean ice cream and "hard" root beer), gluten-free molten lava cake, and tableside S'mores. I can bring my own gluten-free graham crackers if it comes right down to it.

After the exertion of the day and this wonderful meal, I am ready for a good night's sleep. In summer, the Caves offer their own cabins, but since it is winter, I have a cute little cabin booked at the Maple Leaf Motel.

I am utterly charmed by my temporary cave. From the stained-glass window in the door to the deer in the forest mural on the wall, from the high beamed ceiling to the wall-inset gas fireplace, it is a warm, dreamy, Adirondack kind of place.

I know that where most people live, motels are frightening places. But not our Adirondack motels. Despite their reasonable price range, they have anything a traveler might want; clean, simple, and with a fridge and microwave to make longer stays more afforable. They have often been in the family for generations, and they usually have the owners on the premises, answering questions and making sure everything is to our satisfaction. There's often a wide range of lodging available such as a cabin like mine, or a suite with a hot tub; just ask.

I washed up with the complementary organic citrus soap, and curled up with my latest book downloaded onto my iPad with the free wifi.
This is my kind of wilderness experience. Just enough wildness, plenty of comfort, and some very delightful caves.

Find your own "cave." Explore all our dining. Go fast on snow at nearby Gore Mountain.

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