Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
If you’re a sucker for great views, enjoy a little adventure every now and then, and happen to find yourself in upstate New York, consider driving the scenic Veterans Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface Mountain. This scenic byway takes visitors from the sleepy town of Wilmington to the summit of Whiteface Mountain.
Opened to traffic in 1935, the Veterans Memorial Highway was the idea of a local resident by the name of Marcellus Leonard who lived in nearby Saranac Lake. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt formally dedicated the highway on September 14, 1935, after over three years of work to complete the road.
At 4,867 feet above sea level, Whiteface Mountain is the fifth highest peak in New York and is one of what is referred to as the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. What makes Whiteface Mount so attractive and unique is that one can drive to virtually the top of the mountain.
If Whiteface Mountain seems a bit familiar to you, then perhaps you recall the 1980 Winter Olympics that were held in nearby Lake Placid and the fact that the downhill skiing events were held right here on Whiteface Mountain.
The Veterans Memorial Highway (NY 431)
The Veterans Memorial Highway (NY 431) actually begins in Wilmington and takes visitors along an 8-mile route that slowly ascends toward the summit. After passing through the Toll House station, you will pass by up to nine scenic stations on your way to the top, which offers visitors a chance to get out and check out the view. Each scenic stop also has interpretive informational signs so that you can read up on the history of the region.
You can stop at the Toll House area before heading up the mountain as they have a small pond that is stocked giving kids a chance to fish. There is also a short hiking trail that takes visitors around the pond and offers a chance to see all 34 species of trees found here in the Adirondacks. The chalet-style building was built in 1934 and has several exhibits that highlight the flora and fauna of the area.
As you make your way to the summit, the road will end at what is referred to as the Whiteface Castle, at an elevation of 4,600 feet. The “Castle” is actually a small restaurant and gift shop, which also has restroom facilities, and it makes for a great pit stop area.
From here there are two ways to get to the summit at 4,867 feet: the elevator or the stairs.
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The Whiteface Mountain Elevator
There is an elevator that is located inside the mountain and requires a 400-foot walk through a tunnel into the heart of the mountain. When you reach the elevator, it will take you 276 feet up to the summit. The elevator was FDR's idea as a means of helping those less-mobile visitors reach the summit from the parking lot. I can tell you the elevator is an interesting experience and not to be missed.
After a year-and-a-half renovation project, a new glass-enclosed elevator now whisks visitors to the summit. There is even an elevator operator who will greet you and give you a brief history of the mountain on your ride up or down.
We were lucky to have visited just two weeks after the incredible Memorial Day snowstorm that dumped 3 feet of snow on the mountain and were treated to some great photos of the snow on the top of the mountain by the elevator operator.
Memorial Day Snow Storm
The Stairway Ridge Trail
The other way to the top is to follow the Stairway Ridge Trail, which takes visitors on a 0.2-mile uphill trek over stone steps. Most visitors opt to take one method up and the other down.
Reaching the Summit
When you reach the actual summit, you will find the shelter house that contains the elevator and a 360-degree viewing platform. There is also a weather station up here, but that is off-limits to visitors.
There are numerous viewing spots and plenty of space to walk about the summit area. There is a wide expansive area of rock which makes a great area for catching the views in every direction, having a picnic, or just finding a seat to soak in the beauty of this region. To the south, you will notice many of the other High Peaks of the Adirondacks including Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York State.
Lake Placid and Mirror Lake
To the southwest is a beautiful view of Lake Placid, and just beyond is Mirror Lake and the village of Lake Placid, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. To the east, on a clear day, you can see into Vermont with views of Lake Champlain. And to the north, you get a great view of the Veterans Memorial Highway as it snakes its way up to the top of Whiteface Mountain.
No matter what direction you look, you are greeted with beautiful, majestic views. You can’t help but marvel at your good fortune for finding yourself in such an amazing place.
Plan on allocating at least a couple of hours for your visit to Whiteface Mountain depending on where you coming from. If Lake Placid is your departure point, it will take you approximately 15 minutes to drive to Wilmington and the start of the Veterans Memorial Highway.
The time to drive up the Memorial Highway to the top will depend on how often you stop along the way. Before you head out, be sure you have enough gas for the trip. The only gas station in Wilmington closed recently, so there is no gas available between Lake Placid and the Memorial Highway.
The Veterans Memorial Highway is a toll road and the cost is $16 for the vehicle and driver. Each additional passenger costs $9, with kids 6 and under free. The fee to bike the road is $11 and a bicycle season pass can be purchased for $55.
There is no cost to park or take the elevator once you reach the top of Whiteface Mountain. You can pack a picnic or snacks for the trip or opt to grab a bite to eat in the Castle Restaurant.
The Memorial Highway is open daily from May 24 through October 14, weather permitting. It opens at 8:45 am and closes at 5:30 pm (4:45 pm for cyclists). Times are certainly subject to change given the changeable weather of upstate New York.
Amazingly there are bugs at this altitude so be sure to bring some bug spray. I’m not sure what was biting us but they left some nasty bite marks. Also, the weather up here can be very changeable and windy, so come prepared. Don’t forget your camera and also your binoculars, which will come in handy.
The Cloudsplitter Gondola
If driving up the mountain is not your thing, you can stop at the Whiteface Ski area and take the Cloudsplitter Gondola ride to the top of the ski area. This does not go all the way to the top of the mountain but is another alternative activity if visiting the area.
The gondola is open from June 14 until September 2 from 9 am until 4 pm. The cost is a little steep at $24 per person for adults, $18 for those aged 7 to 19, and free for kids 6 and under.
A summer Olympic Passport ticket is available for $40, which might be worth purchasing if you are here for an extended stay. This one ticket includes the gondola ride, the toll on the Veterans Memorial Highway, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, the Olympic Sports Complex, and a tour of the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. It also includes discounts on many other activities in and around Lake Placid.
If you are spending time in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks in or near Lake Placid, consider making the drive to the top of Whiteface Mountain. The Veterans Memorial Highway is an incredibly scenic road and the views from the top are simply stunning.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway open in April?
Answer: In 2018, the toll road opened on May 18th. I checked their website, and there is no mention of when it will open in 2019. I know they have tried to keep the road plowed during the winter as they are doing repairs to the elevator that takes visitors to the summit. I would continue to check the website; I'm sure that's where it will be announced.
Question: Is the elevator at the Stairway Ridge Trail open and running in September, 2018?
Answer: No, the elevator is currently closed for repairs. They don't expect it to reopen until 2019.
Question: We are going to Whiteface Mountain on Oct, 20th. Is the Veterans Memorial Highway closed? Is there another way to drive up to the summit?
Answer: The toll road to the top of Whiteface Mountain is currently closed for repairs and will not reopen until sometime in the spring of 2019. Unfortunately, that is the only way to drive to the top of the mountain.
Question: Is the highway to Whiteface Mountain open in 2019?
Answer: Last I read they were still working on the elevator that takes visitors from the summit parking area to the top of the mountain. I checked their website and there is no announcement yet as to when the toll road will open, but the plan was for the 2019 season. You can check their website, https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-vet... I'm sure they will post an announcement here when it opens.
Question: Do you know when the Veteran's Memorial Highway to Whiteface Mountain will open in 2019?
Answer: I just rechecked their website, and the only change is they do have a note stating to “stay tuned for information on the 2019 season." Given that the plan was to keep the toll road plowed throughout the winter so they could work on the elevator I would think it would open on the early side. I did see a blog from a few years ago where it opened on the weekend of May 19th, but certainly, the weather up there will dictate when they open.
Question: Is there any word on when the road to the top of the Whiteface Mountain will be open for 2019?
Answer: Not yet. I just checked their website and there has been no announcement. The elevator has also been closed for repairs, and should open sometime in 2019.
Question: Are dogs allowed in the elevator and on the top of Whiteface Mountain?
Answer: Yes, we took our dog with us in the elevator up to the top of the mountain. She had a great time roaming over the rocks and exploring the landscape.
Question: Can I use a New York State access pass to get to the top of the Whiteface Mountain?
Answer: That I am not sure about. I did research it and could not find anywhere that states a New York State pass will get you through the toll booth on Whiteface Mountain.
Question: Does the Veterans Memorial Highway take credit or debit cards?
Answer: I'm not sure. I checked their website and it does not say. I would assume that they do accept credit and debit cards. We have always paid cash.
Question: What are the hours to drive the Veteran Memorial highway in 2019? Do you have to be back down by closing time, or just on your way up?
Answer: The Veterans Memorial Highway hours are from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. up until the end of June. From late June until early September the hours are expanded to 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hours are then cut back to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the road closes in early to mid-October. The opening of the toll road usually takes place sometime in May, but both the opening and closing of the road are dictated by the weather. I believe that you can head down the mountain after the gate closes to visitors heading up the mountain. To be certain just ask at the toll booth before driving up.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio