The town is part of the Adirondack Park, and includes 15 of the 46 High Peaks, including Mount Marcy, New York state's highest mountain, and the rest of the Great Range. It also includes the Ausable Lakes, the source of the Ausable River. Trailheads for many of the High Peaks are located within the town, along with the Johns Brook Lodge of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
The earliest settlement in the present village of Keene Center was in 1787.The town of Keene was created from splitting parts of the towns of Jay and Elizabethtown on March 19, 1808. This originally included current North Elba, but that was split in 1848 from the original Keene. The area had been made up of a mountainous and rocky surface, with a low population due to the unstable soil in the region. A nearby highway was extended to Keene Center via the towns of Lewis and Jay, but it was deemed unusable due to the structure of the area. The Town of Keene organized the first school district in the Adirondacks, which held its first recorded trustee meeting in 1813.
The area had been a stronghold with the lumber and iron industries. However, exporting items made by these industries was difficult due to lack of transportation. By around 1820 sawmills, forges and gristmills were being built. The riverbed region of Keene sprouted the first community, and Keene Flats become another by 1840. In 1882, when the Adirondack Park was created as a state protected area, a privately tolled and maintained road to lower Ausable Lake was constructed.
In 2011, the town completed a grassroots project to bring broadband service to more than 45% of the homes in Keene, and installing the service in every home with a student in the Town's award winning public school. The extension of this network into rural areas makes it unique in the Adirondack Park.