Whiteface Memorial Highway Review: Worth It?

When you find yourself in the Lake Placid area, a must-visit attraction during the summer and fall is the journey to the summit of Whiteface Mountain via the Whiteface Memorial Highway.

It’s a chance to explore the heights of one of New York’s tallest peaks and soak in breathtaking vistas, especially during the vibrant foliage season in late September and early October.

But this adventure does come with a fairly substantial price tag, leaving you to ponder whether it’s worth the price.

Below, I’ll provide a detailed breakdown of our experience and offer my perspective on whether I believe it’s a worthwhile venture or not.

What is Whiteface Memorial Highway?

Whiteface Memorial Highway is a scenic mountain road located in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. It provides access to the summit of Whiteface Mountain, which is the fifth-highest peak in the state, with an elevation of 4,867 feet (1,483 meters).

Dedicated by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1929 and opened in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the highway was named in honor of veterans of World War I and in 1985 was rededicated to veterans of all wars.

Whiteface Memorial Highway

Our experience exploring Whiteface Memorial Highway

We rolled up bright and early at around 9 AM to the alpine-style Toll House, the gateway to the road ahead.

At the time of our visit, the tolls were set at $20 for the initial person and an extra $20 for their sidekick. Following that, it was a flat $10 per person.

Opinions on this toll system vary; some label it as a cash-grab, and I tend to agree—it’s on the steeper side. However, we managed to snag the Lake Placid Legacy Sites Passport, which took the edge off the hefty price tag and made the whole experience more budget-friendly.

If you plan on seeing other sites in the Lake Placid area then I would recommend for you to purchase the Lake Placid Legacy Sites Passport which gives you the following benefits for $64:

  • One-time admission to the Veterans’ Memorial Highway
  • Ride on Whiteface Mountain’s Cloudsplitter gondola
  • Olympic Legacy Tour at Mt Van Hoevenberg
  • Skyride Experience at the Olympic Jumping Complex
  • Entry to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum
  • Sticker set to collect at each venue
  • 10% discount on purchases made at the various retail stores and food and beverage vendors located at the destination venues

The road is open at 8:45 in the morning until 5:30 PM but hours may change depending on the season.

Note: The clearance is 8 feet.

Whiteface Memorial Highway toll house

After flashing our passports, we embarked on our highway adventure. It being early October, the foliage was in its prime, creating a breathtaking spectacle as we cruised along the road.

On our journey, we stumbled upon various scenic spots, each with its own charm.

Some of these pit stops boasted informative panels, offering insights into the vibrant foliage surrounding us. The cast of characters included sugar maple, birch, and beech trees, painting the landscape with their autumnal hues.

Whiteface Memorial Highway

As we ascended, the temperature gradually dipped, and the forest transformed, giving way to forests of spruce and fir trees.

Make sure to schedule a few pit stops at these scenic spots because they offer some truly stunning vistas and places to relax.

Admittedly, we grappled with a fair amount of haze during our Adirondacks escapade, which somewhat blurred the distant panoramas. Nevertheless, the scenery remained quite remarkable, particularly with the vibrant sea of reds and oranges blanketing the terrain below.

Whiteface Memorial Highway

The road itself boasts top-notch paving and typically sports a decent-sized shoulder, making the journey quite smooth and comfortable.

Whiteface Memorial Highway

I never felt overly exposed during the drive, even though we’re accustomed to tackling scenic mountain roads like the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which takes you soaring above 14,000 feet!

Instead of conventional guardrails in certain spots, you’ll notice strategically placed stones along the road, providing an added layer of safety.

We did take a few breaks to capture some memorable snapshots, but remarkably, we conquered the entire ascent in roughly 20 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, when you measure it against other mountain roads like Mauna Kea, this drive turns out to be quite brief. If you resist the temptation to make pit stops, you’ll find yourself at the summit in no time.

Upon reaching the pinnacle of the drive, you’ll encounter a designated parking area, and from there, you’re presented with various options for your exploration.

At the end of the parking lot you will find the “highest food truck in New York.”

Whiteface Memorial Highway food truck

It’s right by the castle which houses a gift shop on its second floor.

Inside the gift shop you’ll find all of the usual souvenirs like T-shirts, hats, mugs. It’s pretty interesting venturing inside of the castle and it reminded me of the “castle in the sky” on the top of Mount Evans although that is more of a ruins now.

I’d strongly recommend ascending to the summit for the complete panoramic experience, and you’ve got a couple of routes to choose from to reach the peak.

Your first option is to hop on the elevator, conveniently situated at the far end of the parking lot. This elevator can accommodate up to five people and operates on a five-minute cycle. No dogs allowed.

I’ve heard a few reports of it occasionally going out of service, so it might be a good idea to give them a quick call in advance to ensure it’s up and running. Being unable to access the summit due to elevator issues could indeed be a major letdown if you were counting on it.

Whiteface Memorial Highway elevator

Alternatively, you can opt for the trail, which spans just about a fifth of a mile. While it’s not an extensive hike, it does feature a notable elevation gain that can offer a decent little workout for some folks.

Whiteface Memorial Highway steps

The trail commences with well-constructed stone steps but eventually transforms into more of a boulder-strewn path, presenting uneven terrain that can get quite slippery and require some hefty strides.

Whiteface Memorial Highway nature trail

The saving grace here is the presence of sturdy railings on both sides, which prove invaluable in helping you navigate this incline. While having a pair of hiking boots would certainly be advantageous, we managed it in tennis shoes, thanks in part to those reliable railings.

We encountered individuals of all ages and fitness levels making their way up, with some experiencing a bit of a challenge, but it seemed entirely feasible for a wide range of people.

Whiteface Memorial Highway trail view

My top recommendation would be to reverse the typical route: hike up and take the elevator down instead. The logic behind this is that if you opt for the elevator on the ascent, you might not fully grasp the challenging terrain until you’re faced with it on the descent.

As you ascend, tackling those steps and navigating the rocky path, you’ll encounter some fantastic vistas along the way, providing excellent excuses for taking a breather here and there. I did notice a few small patches on some of the rocks, presumably there to offer a bit of extra traction, but their impact is rather minimal, perhaps more noticeable in wet conditions.

Whiteface Memorial Highway trail view

The wind can kick up here so be prepared for that as you might need some type of coat or jacket but we did this on a pretty warm day and honestly the temperature wasn’t a problem at all.

Before you know it, you’ll find yourself at the summit, treated to breathtaking panoramic views in every direction, complemented by convenient viewing platforms for your exploration pleasure.

Whiteface Memorial Highway summit view

Spending ample time in the western mountains, where elevations of 4,000 to 5,000 feet aren’t considered particularly high, can sometimes lead to underestimating the allure of a mountaintop adventure. Nevertheless, the beauty of the landscape, especially with the vibrant fall foliage in full swing, was a captivating sight to behold.

Whiteface Memorial Highway summit view

While you’re up at the summit, I’d recommend taking a stroll over to the exposed rocky areas, which might not have designated observation decks. It’s crucial to tread carefully in this zone to preserve the fragile vegetation that often attempts to thrive amid the rocks. Stick to the exposed rock surfaces whenever possible, and be mindful not to step on or sit on the vulnerable soil patches.

Whiteface Memorial Highway summit view

Exploring this rocky terrain can be an absolute blast, allowing you to scramble around and discover some remarkable ledges that provide fantastic photo ops. It’s a good idea to capture your shots and then continue on your journey, as we noticed some folks lingering for what seemed like an eternity, making it a tad challenging for others to snag those coveted snapshots.

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and relish a more intimate experience, consider arriving early, right when the highway opens. This way, you can have the place to yourself and fully savor the beauty without the hustle and bustle.

Whiteface Memorial Highway summit view

Beware of the presence of black flies up on the mountain’s summit.

We didn’t encounter them much upon our initial arrival, but once we ventured out to the open, exposed rock areas, they seemed to swarm in abundance. Wearing pants and long sleeves can certainly help make dealing with these pests a lot more manageable.

Whiteface Memorial Highway summit view

After spending some time exploring the rocky terrain and snapping photos, it was eventually time for us to make our descent. We initially considered trying out the elevator, but upon arriving there, we quickly concluded that retracing our steps via the trail we’d ascended would be the better choice. As we descended, we did notice an uptick in foot traffic, but it didn’t pose any significant issues or challenges getting down.

Final word

In the grand scheme of things, I found the Whiteface Memorial Highway experience to be memorable.

However, it’s hard to overlook the steep price tag associated with it. If you’re traveling with a group of four, it sets you back $60, which can feel like a hefty sum for a relatively short scenic drive.

I know some people cannot physically make the climbs up to the tops of summits so it’s kind of rough that they have to pay so much money to experience something like this in my opinion.

That said, if you’re looking to mitigate the cost factor, I’d highly recommend going for the legacy site passport option. It provides a more budget-friendly way to enjoy what Whiteface Mountain has to offer.