The Adirondacks are full of awesome hikes, beautiful campgrounds, pristine lakes, and more, just waiting to be explored.
The lean-to is a unique part of the Adirondack Mountain experience. There are lean-tos scattered throughout the Adirondacks in campgrounds or near various hiking trails, available for use on a first-come, first-served basis. We reserved a lean-to at the Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake for this trip.
Lean-To in the Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake
We’ve done a lot of tent camping in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and Utah’s Uinta Mountains, but this was our first stay in a lean-to. We really enjoyed the open-air experience with just two exceptions: when the wind blew the smoke from the fire right into the lean-to and when a raccoon swiped my husband’s backpack during the night!
Luckily the noisy raccoon woke him up and he was able to rescue his backpack about 75 feet down the hill. We were really careful about not keeping food in our lean-to, but he’d left an empty candy wrapper in his shorts pocket, and the raccoon had opened his backpack, pulled out his shorts, and pulled out the wrapper! After that, we kept all our gear above our heads!
Our only other wildlife encounters were with the many squirrels and chipmunks that constantly raided the camp in search of crumbs.
The Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake boasts hot showers and a warm-water dish washing station, both of which made camping very comfortable. The lake has a small swimming area and kayaks are available for rent. The Adirondack Loj, The Hungry Hiker cafe, and the High Peaks Information Center are all onsite, and in addition to lean-tos the campground also offers canvas cabins and traditional tent sites.
But the best part of the campground in our minds is the easy accessibility to awesome hiking trails right from camp.
Hike to Mount Jo
The hike to Mount Jo was short but more challenging than we expected. We took the “short trail” up the mountain and it was steep and rocky the whole way. It pretty much felt like climbing stairs for almost a mile.
Still, we saw quite a few families on the hike and our kids did great. I wouldn’t recommend it with toddlers unless you plan to carry them on your back. It was easy to veer off the path and rest as often as necessary.
The top provided beautiful views of Heart Lake and the surrounding mountains. Since it was a short hike, we didn’t have water or snacks but we wished we’d brought some along to enjoy at the top. Most hikers took some time to sit on the rock floor at the top to rest and appreciate the view.
We took the “long trail” down and it was a little more smooth but still rocky. There were many switchbacks so the trail was less steep.
This trail reminded us of the short but strenuous Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park.
Hike to Avalanche Lake
The hike to Avalanche Lake was incredible. It was a tiring 10-11 miles but so worth it.
The first section of the path from the campground to Marcy Dam, then a couple miles beyond the dam, was flat and easy. The last mile before Avalanche Lake felt a lot like the Mount Jo trail, rocky and steep. There were wooden ladders to help with the climb over the biggest rocks,and there were big rocky crevices for exploring. This all made the trail really fun and interesting.
Once we got to the lake, the trail got even more fun with more scrambling over boulders, ladders, and small sections of trail consisting of wooden planks bolted to the rock and jutting out over the lake.
We hiked to the furthest tip of Avalanche Lake then turned back rather than continuing on to Avalanche Pass and beyond. It was an exhausting day, but also exhilarating and beautiful, a hike not to be missed!
We loved our stay in the Adirondacks and hope to spend more time hiking and camping there in the future.
To explore more ideas for family activities and events in Upstate New York, check out these posts: Lake George NY: The Original Vacation Destination and Family Activities and Events in and around Albany, NY.
And share in the comments below about your favorite places are in Upstate New York!