Whiteface: The World’s Most Perfect Mountain?

IMG_6730You have company from out of town. You want to show them what makes your region special. You want to impress them!

Where do you take them?

For 25 years, living in Buffalo, NY, we took people to Niagara Falls.

Now, we take them to the top of Whiteface Mountain.

Whiteface Mountain, in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, is, to my way of thinking, the world’s most perfect mountain.

What would make a mountain perfect?, I hear you cry!

It’s simple. These things:

A great mountain needs to provide a great view from the top. Whiteface Mountain has a bald and rocky top with a 360-degree view. From its peak, you can see east to Lake Champlain (I can see my house from here!) and Vermont, north to Quebec and Montreal, south to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, and west to wide open spaces.


Lake Placid, reflecting the sky

While many mountains boast great views, Whiteface has the added attraction of providing a view of an Olympic village. Lake Placid was home to two Winter Olympics—you can see the town and the ski jumps from the top of Whiteface.


Look hard at the lower right quadrant–the ski jumps are behind the low, lighter-colored structure there!

And, if you’re really in to winter sports, Whiteface is a mountain you can ski. The downhill ski events in the Olympics were held at the slopes here and 22 miles of ski terrain provide lots of options for skiers today.


Ski where Olympic champions skied!

Another element that makes Whiteface so fabulous as a mountain is that it is so accessible. Do you like to climb a mountain and be challenged? Whiteface is the 5th highest mountain in the Adirondacks and, while the Adirondacks are geologically old and mellow as mountains go, the climb will still make you feel all the muscles in your body (or so I’m told—I haven’t climbed it myself)!

But if you aren’t inclined or able to climb a mountain, you still have the opportunity to go up the mountain. One option is to ride the gondola at the ski resort but, if you want to go to the very top of Whiteface, your answer is the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway.


Twisty-turny road

This paved road snakes its way up the mountain, complete with hairpin turns, rising 2,300 feet in five miles. The road has been re-paved recently so the hair-raising frost heaves are gone but the views along the way provide their own thrills.

The road up Whiteface leads to a choice. When you come close to the summit, you arrive at the Castle, a stone structure with a restaurant and other amenities. You park there and decide to a) hike to the summit or b) take the elevator!

DSC 0055

Part of the climb, with the weather observatory and elevator shelter on top

Those who choose to hike the remaining 267 feet (129 meters) need to be aware that these are not “sidewalk miles,” as folks say up here! Climbers are still climbing a mountain, just a short one. It means scrambling over large stones and being careful of footing, albeit with the help of some steps and handrails. I find the need to stop frequently to “admire the scenery” (and catch my breath!) when I choose this option.

But for the person who doesn’t want to or is unable to climb, the elevator is an amazing experience in its own right. The elevator shaft is cut into the middle of the granite mountain and to reach it takes a walk through a 425-foot (about 130 meters) tunnel. The tunnel is lit, but not brightly—no claustrophobes need apply!

IMG_6749To me, the perfect way to experience this perfect mountain is to hike up the trail—breathe hard, get a taste of climbing a mountain—and take the elevator down. Walk the long small space, smell the damp and rock, and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

All of these ways to experience the mountain lead to another aspect of what makes Whiteface such a great mountain—it has a great back story. Local entrepreneurs came up with idea of a road up the mountain over 100 hundred years ago. The road was actually built in the 1930s, an amazing construction feat in the era. The project was dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was governor of New York and he came back 6 years later, as President of the United States, to cut the ribbon on the road. You will recall that FDR was wheelchair bound himself and it was at his request that the elevator be added, to provide summit access to others.

Whiteface has it all. It’s high enough to make your ears pop but not so high as to affect your breathing, It has photo ops galore, for updating your Facebook page in style.


And it looks good in every season!

I know most of will never choose to use your hard-won time and money to visit this particular part of the world. But know, should you visit, that a perfect mountain awaits you!

49 thoughts on “Whiteface: The World’s Most Perfect Mountain?

  1. I would love to take the trail in the fall when the trees add their splendor! Nature sure knows how to display a breathtaking show.

  2. It is certainly a beautiful place. I really like all the stories too. And who can forget the Miracle on Ice hockey players and Sonja Henie won an Olympic gold medal in 1932. I think she skated outdoors!

    • I read that figure skating was held outdoors in the Olympics until 1956. If you go to Lake Placid in the winter, you can skate outdoors on the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won all his medals!

    • You can drive Mt Washington, too, right? I think I’ve done that! It must be very difficult for you, when fall comes, to not have the changing leaves . . .

  3. Ha Kerry – They should hire you to write the tourist enticement brochures 🙂 It sounds like the perfect type of mountain to visit – all ages and fitness levels catered to! I particularly like the final set of photos showing the different seasons, it is very beautiful!

    • The accessibility of the mountain is a huge issue in my mind. Being at the top of a mountain is such a thrill, to feel like a bird and see the world from that angle. But it’s denied to people with mobility concerns. Yet, at Whiteface we can all have the thrill!

    • You’re the only person who commented who has been there! I’m glad you had the opportunity. I hope you went to Lake Placid and explored around there, too–such an appealing (posh!) small town.

  4. Oh what beautiful countryside and what a nice way to show it to friends. A perfect outing with some exercise, a view, some history and a convenient restaurant. If ever in upstate NY again, I will visit there!

  5. Okay, if I pack this afternoon, fill up with gas, I think I can get there by…..This will surely go on my “want to visit” list. Thanks! Have you considered travel writing?

  6. I’m pretty keen on mountains: there is no view which is not improved by having a mountain lurking in the background, and there’s nothing more satisfying than throwing yourself down in some flower-strewn highland meadow, exhausted from the effort of hauling yourself up there. I think I should put Whiteface Mountain on my ‘to visit’ list.

    • The whole Adirondack range would appeal to you! They’re not huge, as mountains go, I guess–the highest is only about 5000 feet. But they are wild and wonderful, and there are some very nice small towns, like Lake Placid, interspersed!

  7. Looks impressive. I do have a fear of heigths, and I am not particular fond of small places and spaces, but I think this view may be worth it 🙂 Especially the picture taken in autumn looks stunning.

    • I don’t like some heights but the mountain feels very steady beneath you and there’s no sense of standing on an edge (unless you go looking for an edge!)

    • It IS civilized! Little kids love it but anyone can get up there and enjoy. I was up there one day when it started off clear and then banks of clouds rolled in–crazy!

  8. Oh wow, that first photo is simply breathtaking. And then the ones with the autumn colors. Love! I’ve been to Niagara Falls and judging form the pictures, I think Whiteface might blow it out of the water!

  9. Looks a wonderful part of the world Kerry – I always love mountains and the views from Whiteface look stunning! Am so glad too to see the fugitives from the prison were apprehended recently – must be such a relief all round! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos 🙂

  10. Pingback: Maine in Late October: Good Planning and Good Luck | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  11. You have a lovely blog. So many wonderful pictures. I grew up in western New York so reading your blog reminds me of my home. We went to Whiteface Mountain as children on our New York summer vacation. But I have to admit I mainly remember the Land of Make Believe and the North Pole nearby. I probably have the names wrong but I remember driving little antique cars around for an hour since I had gotten ‘lost’ from my parents and the people in charge kept me entertained until they caught up to me! I always take visitors to Letchworth Park if I am in NY since that was near my home. I love the woods there with all the moss and of course the falls.

    • Thank you so much for this nice comment! I lived in Buffalo for about 25 years and know and love Letchworth, too! And I remember both Santa’s Workshop (which I believe is still in existence) and Land of Makebelieve, which is long gone but fondly remembered.

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