My family’s RV adventures look nothing like they were supposed to this summer. We had planned an epic trip to the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 along with a healthy sprinkling of beach and mountain getaways. However, a few months ago we made the difficult decision to cancel all of those plans and reimagine what safe and responsible RV travel might look like as our country struggles to control the spread of COVID-19.
Our new goal was to find some nearby destinations that would offer great campground options and lots of outdoor activities. Camping close to home is a simple way to minimize risk and still enjoy the great outdoors this summer. We live in New Jersey, so I focused on the Adirondack region of Upstate New York which encompasses more than 6.1 million acres and—according to the Adirondack Park Agency—is larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon national parks combined. The area has endless opportunities to get outside and hike, fish, bike, and swim far from any crowds. We ended up booking two RV trips—Memorial Day weekend in Lake George and a longer 4th of July getaway in Lake Placid.
A Model for Tourist Destinations
The Lake George RV trip was largely a success. We packed all of our own groceries and used the RV bathroom while en route from home to the campground, avoiding restaurants, grocery stores, and public restrooms. We found hidden places to swim, and explored less popular hiking trails. However, there were definitely some challenges over the course of our visit. We noticed a wide discrepancy in mask wearing and social distancing policies throughout the downtown area. At the campground, management was not enforcing the closure of certain public areas like the playground and entertainment pavilion. Although we were able to navigate these issues and still feel safe, better communication and enforcement would have been appreciated.
Much to the entire family’s delight, our time in Lake Placid was a very different experience. From the moment we arrived at the campground, safety guidelines were clearly communicated and consistently enforced. Information on what attractions were open was readily available. And the downtown area had clearly gone to great lengths to be “open for business” while aiming to keep the local population, and visitors, healthy. It really felt like Lake Placid was offering up a model for how a popular tourist destination could reasonably operate under these extraordinary circumstances. Of course, only time will tell how these efforts will help us mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus. But for the time being, these are the things I appreciated about our Lake Placid experience in the time of COVID-19.
1. The campground we stayed at was taking safety precautions seriously.
Staff and customers wore masks at all times in the camp store, and children had to be accompanied by an adult. Hand sanitizer was available throughout the campground. There were limited bathhouses open so staff could more regularly and properly disinfect them. Management was limiting the number of people in the pool according to state and local guidance, and the mini golf course was completely closed. During our visit we actually witnessed a walk-through by the county health inspector. While likely a strain on the campground management, as guests we found the oversight reassuring.
2. Attractions that couldn’t be enjoyed safely were still closed.
Lake Placid made the difficult decision to keep attractions closed if they couldn’t be safely opened. I personally love the Olympic attractions in this town, and was deeply disappointed that we wouldn’t be enjoying the Scenic Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride at Whiteface or the Olympic Jumping Complex Tours. However, I’ll look forward to a return visit when we can once again enjoy all those experiences.
3. Things were open that could be safely enjoyed with modifications.
The Adirondacks is full of outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed while social distancing. We avoided popular hiking trails—including the beautiful but crowded Mount Jo—and tried a few more remote summits like Baxter Mountain. We swam in the Ausable River and spent many hours each day jumping from cliffs. Boat rides on Lake Placid were running with reduced passenger numbers and mask requirements. SUP and kayak rentals were available with advance reservations to limit crowding at pick-up and drop-off.
4. There was clear, friendly signage on all shops and in all public gathering places.
We ventured into downtown Lake Placid, where we were impressed by local efforts to support a safe visitor experience. Stores and outdoor areas all had large, visible signage reminding people to wear masks and practice social distancing. The beach area of Mirror Lake—on the south end of downtown Lake Placid—had 6-by-6-foot areas marked off with orange cones, and town employees were limiting the number of people allowed in the guarded swimming area. None of these restrictions kept us from enjoying a couple of beautiful afternoons swimming and paddling in the crystal clear water.
5. Every business was enforcing the same policies so expectations for visitors were clear.
In this ever-changing landscape of post-quarantine travel, one of the greatest challenges is a lack of standardized policy. Not true in Lake Placid. Employees were standing at shop doorways with smiles and squirts of hand sanitizer. Every single person was expected to wear a mask while indoors. There were jars with freshly disinfected pens for signing credit card slips. My personal favorite innovation was the no-touch QR code menus available at restaurants offering takeout. Overall these small but significant efforts, consistently enacted throughout the downtown area, led to a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
After three months of quarantine in New Jersey, I knew for certain my family needed to find a new normal for getting outside and enjoying some summer adventures. I’m truly grateful that the Lake Placid/Whiteface KOA and the town of Lake Placid helped us do that in what felt like a safe and responsible way. Here’s to camping close to home, enjoying the great outdoors, and supporting small businesses during our COVID-19 travels.