Naturally and culturally intriguing, New York State’s Adirondack Park is worth every moment, especially if you choose to rough it under the stars.
The region’s towns will introduce you to local lore, craft, and spirit. Meanwhile, 46 peaks, 3,000 lakes, and 6 million acres of wild woods will keep you blissfully disconnected. Though it’s impossible to discover all the secrets of the largest park in the continental United States during a single trip, you have to start somewhere.
A short drive through any part of the Adirondacks will bring spontaneous discoveries and unexpected detours. In this guide, learn about the best sites to camp and explore—and get inspired to create your ideal itinerary.
- Why the Adirondacks?
- Where to Camp
- Final Tips for Camping in the Adirondacks
Why the Adirondacks?
Great Camping Year-Round
The Adirondacks are a four-season destination, so you can expect plenty to see and do any time of year.
Though experienced campers venture into the wild during colder seasons for the solitude and challenge of it, summer and early fall are prime camping seasons. Visitors often head to the mountains for the refreshing summer temperatures, and stay for a glimpse of incredible fall foliage.
There’s also nothing like sipping on a hot cup of local cider on a crisp morning. Autumn makes it to the mountains long before it reaches the city.
Plenty of Campsite Options
There are hundreds of established and primitive campsites within the park, and where you spend the night should depend on your favorite activities.
For alpine adventurers, staying near the bases of some of the park’s highest peaks promises access to summit trails, hidden ponds, and hours of uninterrupted hiking. Much of the park is divided into designated wilderness and wild forest areas, with miles of maintained trails through mostly untouched land.
If you see yourself relaxing on a sandy shore and dipping your toes in cool waters instead, camp lakeside and wake up to the fog rolling in over a picturesque, still surface.
Looking for natural attractions within reach of locally roasted coffee (and a mean breakfast sandwich)? You’ll be happiest at one of many campgrounds around the area’s larger towns.
Whenever you visit, plan ahead. New York State campgrounds are generally open from early summer to mid-October, and many require reservations. Some fill up months in advance, so it’s not crazy to reserve a summer site as early as January.
Amenities vary, but you can usually expect running water, bathroom facilities, and showers. Also, lakeside campgrounds often offer canoe or kayak rentals to help get you out on the water.
A Range of Camping Experiences
Primitive and backcountry camping is allowed on public land in the Adirondacks, and high-use sites are usually marked with a yellow disk.
Generally, backcountry camping is allowed in a large portion of the Adirondack Forest Preserve with a few exceptions, such as wildlife management within the preserve. It is prohibited within 150 feet of a road, trail, or body of water, including streams (check out these regulations before wandering into the woods).
Carry out what you carry in, dispose of your waste properly, and pay attention to fire warnings. There are pockets of private land within the forest preserve, so don’t assume that you can set up camp anywhere. Be aware of signs or structures indicating private property.
Keep an eye out for lean tos, which are strategically located at some of the Adirondacks’ most trafficked primitive spots. Though you can’t exactly set your tent up in it, a lean-to can provide cozy shelter thanks to sturdy log walls—and the occasional fellow hiker to share it with.
Where to Camp
The list below includes both reservation-based state campgrounds and primitive spots for those looking to plan their trip on the fly.
Known for hosting two Winter Olympics ceremonies, Lake Placid and the neighboring village of Saranac are just as much of a summer destination as they are a snow sports paradise.
The town of Lake Placid wraps around Mirror Lake, the smaller counterpart to actual Lake Placid. You can find wineries, dining, and a number of sports shops along Main Street, along with plenty of local advice on where to go and what to do in the area.
Easy access to one of the state’s top five highest summits means you can experience the views and hang out in town all in one day, with enough time left over to grab a beer at a local brewery. Whiteface Mountain is only thirty minutes from Lake Placid, and allows you to drive five miles to the summit via its Veterans’ Memorial Highway. Views are said to span from Vermont to the east, to the Canadian border to the north.
The drive up Highway 86 towards the mountain will also bring you by High Falls Gorge, which has a hiking network and a wooden bridge that winds above gushing waterfalls.
Wilmington Notch Campground lies just past High Falls Gorge, right in between Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain. This state-run campground is all about location; if you’re tired of driving after an entire day of touring nearby attractions, the small forest oasis of Wilmington Notch Falls is just across the street. The campground runs along the bank of the Ausable River, and the sound of rushing rapids is never far.
Trout fishing is popular here, and the campground has all the basic amenities to act as your home base. Wilmington Notch requires reservations and is open until October 11th, making it a great choice once the weather cools down.
For those looking for a slightly more remote stay in the Lake Placid vicinity, Eastern Shore Campground on Copperas Pond is a High Peaks favorite. It features secluded access to the mountain pond, a lean-to, and several primitive camping sites.
Getting there requires an approximately 1-mile hike to the pond shore, where campsites are first-come, first-serve. The hike is slightly steep, but by no means strenuous—and the first thing to do when you get to the end is take a relaxing dip in Copperas Pond.
Bring all your essentials, including a supply of water, bear bags, and firewood if you plan to use the on-site fire pits. Don’t forget to sign the lean-to visitor’s journal on your way out!
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a boat, kayak, or canoe (and know how to use it!), the Adirondack waterways are famous for island camping. Like in the old days, you can only reach these serene sites via water vessel, and staying at one requires advance planning and stocking up on supplies.
You’ll be rewarded with utmost peace and quiet, as you might just get an entire tiny island to yourself for the night. Saranac Islands Campground, located right outside of the stroll-friendly village of Saranac, is one of the region’s most extensive island campgrounds. Eighty-seven campsites on Lower and Middle Saranac Lake will be waiting for you to claim them—just make advance reservations to secure your dream setting.
Park at State Bridge Boat Launch or parking lots within the village of Saranac if you’re planning to get out on the water overnight. When in town, make a pit stop at the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation for unique gifts, or Donnelly’s for some Saranac soft serve.
Other notably awesome island campgrounds include Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake Islands.
Venturing farther south through the park, you’ll find the town of Schroon Lake, located on the western border of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area.
Long and narrow, the lake itself has a few campgrounds scattered along its shoreline: Eagle Point, perched right on the water, is a favorite.
There’s a natural attraction in every direction out of Schroon Lake, starting with Pharaoh Lake to the east. The hike to the lake is a favorite, as is the trek to the summit of Pharaoh Mountain.
A few miles south of town lies the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves area, a small hiking area perfect for all levels. Expect illuminated cave entryways, intriguing stone formations, and even an on-site rock-themed gift shop.
When you’re ready to step back into civilization, the Schroon Lake-Paradox area has enough going on to keep you fed, busy, and even tipsy. Don’t miss Paradox Brewery, which prides itself on using pure Adirondack-origin water in their brewing process. Try a Beaver Bite on tap and sit back, knowing you’re supporting a cornerstone of Adirondack craft beer.
For a spot a little farther from town but right at the gateway to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, consider Paradox Lake Campground, located on Schroon Lake’s much smaller counterpart. This campground has all the benefits of shorefront tenting, with easier access to hiking and a more secluded forest feel—despite still being a short drive from Schroon Lake and Ticonderoga.
Built in the 19th century, Camp Santanoni in Newcomb is one of the Adirondacks’ best preserved “great camps,” private retreats meant to provide a refuge from city life.
Rustic architecture that defined the log cabin aesthetic of upstate New York makes this complex a historic artifact, and a pleasure to look at. Formerly owned by a banker from Albany, the camp is now open to the public and home to a trail system.
Santanoni allows primitive camping, and has eight designated tent sites along Newcomb Lake Road Traill, as well as along the bank of Newcomb Lake. There are also two lean-tos available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If you’re driving west into Newcomb on Route 28, stop and take in the Hudson River, which crosses Route 28 before taking a sharp turn to the right. This far north, the Hudson looks like nothing more than a garbling stream, and it’ll be hard to believe you’re looking at the same mighty river that runs under New York City’s George Washington Bridge.
Long Lake, Inlet, Old Forge
Known as the central Adirondacks, the area nestled below the High Peaks Wilderness is not as elevated, but just as wild.
Between Long Lake and Blue Mountain, hike into Forked Lake Campground for convenient access to the Sargent Pond Wild Forest, Buttermilk Falls, and the Adirondack Experience, a museum devoted to the cultural and natural history of Adirondack Park.
Spend your day lake hopping, watching the falls tumble into rocky pools, or exploring the fire tower at the summit of Goodnow Mountain. Stop for lunch at the old-fashioned Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake, and top it off with a drink and a slice (or eight) of pesto pizza pie at Inlet’s Screamen Eagle.
Eighth Lake Campground spoils with spacious campsites overlooking the shore of (you guessed it) Eighth Lake, minutes from the village of Inlet.
Shaded by towering pines and featuring a trail system right next door, Eighth Lake has all the amenities you need for no-frills tenting, within driving distance of several towns.
If you’re visiting in late spring or early summer, keep your ears open for the distinct calls of loons as dusk falls over the lake. Closer to a coyote howl than a bird call, the sound of these seasonal residents brings Adirondack nights to life. Soon enough, it’ll be putting you to sleep.
As the Southwestern gateway to the Adirondacks, Old Forge is always ready for visitors, with restaurants, outdoor-focused businesses, and a public beach at Old Forge Pond.
Though the town has more than enough indoor lodging options, consider nearby Nicks Lake Campground your home away from home on your next visit. Just outside of town, the campground sits on pristine Nicks Lake on the edge of the Black River Wild Forest. The lake is shallow and closed to motor boats, so expect an uninterrupted morning swim.
One of the southern Adirondacks’ best-kept secrets is the Moose River Plains wilderness, which has over 100 primitive campsites along its main thoroughfare, Limekiln Lake Road. Once you pass the state campground at Limekiln Lake out of the town of Inlet, you’ll be following Limekiln Lake Road until it meets Indian Lake Road. There, you’ll come across Red River Campsite, the first of many along the road.
As desirable as the riverside spot is, if you find it taken, just keep driving. Primitive campsites line the road, so you’re bound to come across an unoccupied space complete with a table, a fire pit, and a privy.
If you suddenly find yourself missing the coast, head to Ausable Point Campground on Lake Champlain, from which you can see Vermont on the other side. It’s no Atlantic, but the sandy shore and blue expanse stretching out before you will definitely put you in a beach mood.
Some of the campsites are right on the water, meaning they fill up fast, but the rest are only a short walk away from the sand. The campground even has a windsurfing area, along with swimming and boat launch access.
Ausable Point is only a twenty-minute drive from the town of Plattsburgh, and thirty minutes to Essex. From there, you can catch a ferry ride to Charlotte, Vermont.
It’s also minutes away from storied Ausable Chasm, a gorge carved out by the Ausable River over hundreds of years. The chasm is full of history and attractions. Go rafting through the chasm walls, strap on a harness and learn how to climb, or drive down at dusk for a guided tour by lantern light.
Crown Point Campground, on Lake Champlain’s southern narrow stretch, is another option. It places you closer to historic attractions in the Ticonderoga area. You can still see traces of 18th century forts on the campground property, as well as a lighthouse built shortly before the Civil War.
The campground itself was built in 1915, strategically overlooking the lake and the Vermont border. You’ll be right next to the Lake Champlain bridge, which promises easy access to Vermont’s rolling pastures and day trip destinations like the town of Vergennes.
Ticonderoga, the restored site of New York’s most famous French and Indian War fort, also played a major role in the American Revolution, and is open to the public.
When you’ve had your fill of history, Giant Mountain is less than an hour to the west. Top off your summit challenge with a late lunch at Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley, or take one of their freshly baked pies back to the lake with you.
Driving in is often the only way to get to most of the Adirondacks’ best camping destinations, and some sites won’t be accessible without four-wheel drive.
With that said, it’s possible to make your Adirondack getaway at least partially car-free—as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and some extra planning.
Combining your drive with other forms of transportation, like boat or canoe, gains you access to less-frequented areas with the comfort of knowing you won’t have to paddle all the way home.
The Nine Carries in the very north of Adirondack Park is a well-known route that can take up to three days if you’re not in a rush (beginning canoe travelers can do a much shorter portion of the trail, if necessary).
The route is part of the St. Regis Canoe Area, which has 50 ponds open to kayaks, canoes, and shoreline camping. For easy roadside access, choose from multiple primitive sites available along Floodwood Road.
Final Tips for Camping in the Adirondacks
Most newcomers to the Adirondacks are bent on conquering the park’s highest peaks, like exceedingly popular Mount Marcy. Some plan to relax in tourist hotspots like Lake George Village, in the south of the park.
If you can, visit those classic destinations in early spring or fall, before and after the crowds at the height of the summer. During the busier months, do some research and hit the road (or trail) less traveled.
This might mean staying away from summits and popular beaches, but having just a small part of the Adirondack wilderness to yourself will be worth it. Many wilderness areas go unnoticed because they don’t play host to a famous peak. The Sentinel Range Wilderness near Lake Placid is one example that often gets overshadowed by Mount Marcy to the south. If you’re in the area on a summer weekend, it might be best to forgo Marcy or Whiteface and give Sentinel’s Pitchoff Mountain a chance instead.
Adirondack Park is bear country—and should be kept that way. The park’s population of black bears are known for their foraging, as opposed to aggression, so follow good bear practice to avoid interaction altogether. Bring odorless bear bags and string to hang them from, or keep your food and scented products sealed in your car.
Temperatures can drop quickly at higher elevations, so keep layers handy, especially in the High Peaks area. A detail that’s easy to overlook when shopping for gear is the temperature rating on not only your sleeping bag, but your sleeping pad as well.
Sleeping pads have their own rating system called “R-value,” which corresponds to temperatures. The general rule is that higher R-values lose less heat, therefore keeping you warmer. Your sleeping bag could be the softest, plushiest cocoon ever, but if your sleeping pad is not fully insulating your back from the ground, you’re in for a rough mountain night.
June in the Adirondacks means tons of black flies in your personal space. Arriving around the same time every year, these bugs live to bite. It’s painful, irritating, and often draws blood, so be prepared before venturing out. Carry insect repellent, cover arms and legs when temperatures allow it, and consider wearing a hat with a bug net.
Lastly, make sure you don’t leave the park without a bottle of local maple syrup—and that dream Adirondack chair!