Paradise Found at Lake Kora: Crown Jewel of the Adirondack Great Camps

A living slice of vintage Americana, Lake Kora is a movable feast, a timbered lifestyle compound enjoyed by generations of the nation’s most influential and monied families. A great summer camp experience expands young minds, revealing a subtler truth, the inner monologue of childhood itself. Lake Kora strives to manifest this ethos, a beacon to overworked executives or strung-out families looking to regain solidarity by exploring our “Great Camp” heritage. Secluded deep in the New York Adirondacks, escape to one of the original storied camps built over a century ago—until recently only relished by the owners and their fortunate guests.

Traveling from Manhattan via Fly the Whale’s gleaming fleet of seaplanes is the most stylish way to arrive, staff standing by with trays of Champagne at the legendary Boathouse. Situated on 1,000 private acres encircling a 500-acre private lake, Lake Kora is an architectural jewel set in a national treasure. Foresight and fiscal stamina have preserved turn-of-the-century details that sing with an authenticity Abercrombie could only dream of. As I walk the grounds, I marvel at the log-and-stone campus that meticulously retains the original Vanderbilt era aura. Lake Kora exemplifies how richly landscape and history intertwine, how deeply a sense of place can fire the imagination.

Designed by famed Great Camp architect William West Durant in 1898 for Timothy Woodruff, Lieutenant Governor of New York, Lake Kora is the most intact of all the Great Camps. The second owner was none other than Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who purchased the vast property in 1913. The camp is steeped in rather wild social history, beginning with Woodruff, whose tenure was legendary among captains of industry. Let’s just say it veered from harrowing— releasing semi-tame bears to roam among the cabins—to eccentric, importing Venetian gondolas to enjoy the lake in consummate style worthy of a Roosevelt. Lake Kora soon became ground zero for high society grand affairs. Eminent families came to dance on the Boathouse docks, while Yale and Harvard teams practiced on the softball diamond. It wasn’t until 2015 that the current owners—a private family—opened this historic site to select clientele. Lake Kora is only open seasonally by exclusive “buyout” reservation, inclusive of meals. Base lodging offers 16 guest suites in 6 separate historic structures, accommodating a maximum of 24 guests.

Ah, the effervescent feeling of leaping off a dock, and paddling wooden canoes on a pristine lake. Lake life vibes and “Adirondack chic” have roared back in vogue as travelers thirst for more meaningful ways to connect. Pack your trusty Sorels and Belstaff waxed jacket for exploring outdoors. The camp’s heritage bowling alley, tennis courts, billiards, outdoor roller rink, and balsam trails are only the beginning. Upon arrival, most lake life junkies make a break for the Camp’s enviable boat collection. Think vintage canoes, the latest kayaks, sailboats, wooden electric boats (called Budsins), and paddleboarding. There is also a sleek motorboat for water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing.

After a hamstring-throttling afternoon on waterskis, spoil yourself silly with a soak in Kora’s coyly named Ice & Meat House. The former structure where meat was kept cold, and ice kept subzero, has been transformed into a two-story wellness building, home to a sprawling sauna space above and whirlpool area below. Separate changing and shower areas for men and women flank the inviting central space. My ravaged shoulders, unaccustomed to the giant slalom water skier workout, shimmer in the sunlight beaming into the whirlpool through the artful bay window. Fringed by deep woods, this is an absolutely spine-tingling way to unwind before dinner. I feel more goddess than wilderness camper; it was clearly time to put down the iPad.

The next morning, I’m off on a hike with Adam Lashinsky, Guest Services Director, through a living Smithsonian diorama of the Adirondacks. His remarkable ability to interpret a frontier of flora and fauna sights and sounds is an absolute rush. You are in the hands of a smashingly intelligent guide; he’s gracious, and above all intuitive. After lunch, and getting hands-on with Vanderbilt history in the library, we hop aboard a canoe to cruise to the Island Cabin. On its very own private island, this is the ultimate private residence for up to four persons within the compound. Accessed only by boat, the main level showcases a living room with an impressive double-sided fireplace, dining room, and full kitchen. My heart swells at the sheer sight of original stone masonry, saber-tooth butterflies somersaulting in my chest. Two bedrooms and baths on the second level; lake views from every window release feel-good endorphins. An expansive wraparound deck is an ideal spot for your first sip of morning coffee. As we play beneath the pines, canoe the lake, and enjoy a nightcap by a campfire, the day evolves into a heady mix of scholarship and whimsy, epiphany and existentialism, precisely the contrast that gives each moment its gravitas.

Led by Cameron Karger, General Manager, the staff takes great pride in creating unparalleled experiences for generations of families celebrating special events. From weddings in the swoon-worthy chapel to alfresco proposal picnics, to cocktails on a sunset cruise—your wish, your whimsy. Lashinksy learns as much as he can about the activity and culinary preferences of an in-coming group to ensure a logistically flawless, emotionally coherent, completely customized stay.

Fresh air and happy, vigorous play sure do spark up an appetite. Cocktail hour each evening before dinner becomes a favored ritual, featuring picture-perfect passed canapés. The culinary highlight of any family reunion or C Level executive retreat? A Gilded Age Dinner at the stunning 20-foot-long dining table in the Great Hall, customized to your wishlist of star ingredients. Think creamy poblano soup, tender venison, local rainbow trout, and decadent desserts. With an impressive Relais & Châteaux background, Resident Chef Justin Souza brings a passion for creating farm-to-table seasonal dishes coupled with appealing executions of custom menus.

As you retire to enchanting log cottages spread along the lake’s edge, melt into a realm of elegant comfort, with original furnishings and fixtures made by Lake Kora craftsmen a century ago. Soft white linens and featherbeds, stone hearths next to vintage soaking tubs invite sublime sanctuary. Lake Kora’s stirring sensations—waking up to mist rising off the lake at sunrise, falling asleep to the soothing crackle from the fireplace—linger long after you return home.

The 2022 rate for Lake Kora will be $22,980/night, open July 1 – October 31, 2022. Learn more at LakeKora.com.

About The Author

Si Si Penaloza

Si Si Penaloza's first brush with unbridled luxury came when she was 18 months old, when she toddled from the lobby of Hôtel Ritz Paris into the adjacent Bar Hemingway – only to be busted 15 minutes later. After cutting her teeth as a curator, arts editor and cultural critic, she fell down the rabbit hole of luxury travel. A natural born flâneur, she thrives as a professional lounger – jetting to the world’s top destinations to review hotels and spas for top international outlets. Amid bouts of horizontal hedonism, she’s not immune to the lure of stunt journalism – interviewing Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the cast of Ocean's Thirteen in Cannes, reporting from Prince Harry’s Diamond Jubilee Tour of the Caribbean or racing the Top Gear team through the vineyards of Stellenbosch. She’s also been known to trek the Himalayas in seersucker pajamas, track baby kiwi birds at Cape Kidnappers, observe octopus at 80 feet below in Curaçao and frolic with frisky penguins on Cape Town's Boulder Beach. For editorial consideration please contact [email protected](dot)com.

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