Secrets of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Fireworks over the ice palace. Photograph by Mark Kurtz.

Ever see a mermaid in a down jacket? You might at this year’s Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, which runs February 1–10 with the theme “Under the Sea.” Other than a few hardy (or foolhardy) souls who won’t let freezing temperatures get in the way of a good costume, North Country carnival revelry involves a lot less nudity than its New Orleans and Rio counterparts.

But, to quote a 1980s one-hit wonder, we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time. The official schedule is packed with fun activities for all ages, and that’s not including the dozens of private parties, from Bloody Mary brunches to clambakes and bonfires, that have become annual traditions.

To help you make the most of the festivities, we consulted Saranac Lakers Kelly Hofschneider, Adirondack Life‘s art director, and Matt Paul, the magazine’s production coordinator, for their best insider tips. Here’s what they had to say:


Kelly: On parade day—get to town early. Park on the side streets. Otherwise there is a big village lot behind Harrietstown Town Hall.

Matt: Park along Church Street or St. Bernard Street (one way). It’s also easier to get out from there after since the parade finishers are turned up the LaPan Highway at the end.

Parade Viewing

Matt: I think anywhere along Broadway and Main Street is fine for watching, but if you want to see the marching groups (like the lawn chair ladies) do their full routine, then you will want to be down by the judges’ stand in front of Harrietstown Town Hall.

Carnival Traditions

Matt: The men of the Rotary Club usually end the Rotary Show with a drag number that is hilarious. I’m betting they’ll do mermaids this year, but they are very secretive about their routine and nobody knows for sure until the show. The same for the design of the ice palace. Apparently a few select individuals meet every year before carnival at the Belvedere and draw up plans for the palace on napkins, then they keep it secret and nobody knows what it is going to look like until they start to build. And you HAVE to call it an Ice Palace, if you call it an ice castle you get in trouble.

Kelly: There is always a fish frozen in one of the blocks of the ice castle. Garry Trudeau designs the pin and poster every year. Usually all the marching bands play at Harrietstown Hall after the parade.

Can’t-Miss Events

Matt: Fireworks on both weekends, the parade, the coronation show on the first weekend and the Rotary show on the second weekend.

Kelly: Lighting of the ice palace, Rotary show, parade, frying pan toss. The Rotary show [drag performance] is something to behold—hilarious. The giant icicle contest is great because you can win a free energy audit, but it’s really hard to transport them.

Where to Eat

Matt: All the restaurants will be full the second weekend. I think during the week there are several breakfasts and dinners put on by local civic groups. We usually try to go to (or get takeout from) some of them, then the money goes to a good cause.

Kelly: Left Bank Cafe, Blue Moon, Little Italy, Downhill Grill. The Bean-to for coffee and hot chocolate.

Best Events for Kids

Matt: Petrova Elementary has a children’s carnival to raise money for the school, with food, raffles, games and clowns, on the Saturday of the first weekend. Inner tube races at Mount Pisgah on the second weekend. There are also Meet the Carnival Character events on the second weekend.

Kelly: The Petrova Carnival, inner tube races at Pisgah, kids’ ski races at Dewey, the parade (lots of candy given away), Rotary show.

Where to Buy Costume Supplies

Matt: Goody Goodys on Broadway usually has something theme related for sale.

Kelly: Dorsey Street Exchange, Major Plowshares Army Navy, Winter Carnival Headquarters, 141 River Street, next to Lakeview Deli.

Want more frigid fun? Other Adirondack winter carnivals include Lake George, held weekends throughout February; Old Forge, February 15–17; Raquette Lake, February 16–17; and Inlet’s Frozen Fire & Ice, February 23.

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