Family Fun From The Inside...OUT!
Henderson Lake located in the High Peaks Wilderness area of Adirondack Park in New York is surprisingly, delightfully wild, considering the fairly easy access!
Hidden in plain sight near a very popular Adirondack High Peaks hiking trail head, we have been alone on Henderson Lake more often than not. It is a definite family favorite hiking, paddling and camping spot we will make time for every year.
Boasting beautiful swimming coves (with BIG rocks to canonball from!) and a fun marsh maze to follow, Henderson Lake in the Adirondacks is a fun, engaging paddle for those with little ones.
On a calm day, the mountains, cliffs and dense vegetation surrounding Henderson Lake reflect so deeply in the glassy water, looking down at them gives you vertigo.
Then there are the VIEWS….WOW! Spectacular views of some of New York state’s tallest mountains, in every direction, from pretty much anywhere on the lake.
The lake is so amazing I nearly forgot to mention…just before parking, you can explore a ‘ghost town’! The remains of the Adirondack mining town of Tahawus can be seen as you near the Upper Works trail head parking lot. Tahawus is part of a very significant event in American Presidential history.
A few details, stats, and photos, then on to the VIDEO!
Henderson Lake, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondacks, New York – About the Paddle:
Parking for Henderson Lake:
Here are the GPS coordinates for the parking area:
44° 5′ 20.3994″N 74° 3′ 22.6794″W [open in Google Maps here!]
The lot looks large enough, but it is also parking to access a very busy High Peaks trail system. Early arrival is best, especially on weekends. Below is the lot on a Sunday afternoon in August.
The Carry (Portage) to Henderson Lake from the Upper Works Parking Area
If you have a good canoe cart, bring it! Very cart-friendly. You will walk uphill going to the lake but nothing crazy. The carry is about 0.3 miles.
A little gear tip: I DO NOT recommend a cart like the one under the blue kayak in the foreground. The cart we used for the other boat is a DREAM! All of the weight sits on the wheels and you can pretty much move the boat along with one finger on the handle. The over-the-end cart puts all of the weight in your hands.
Your first view of Henderson Lake from the canoe access is not all that impressive, and maybe that’s why we hardly see any paddlers there when we go. Trust me, once you paddle into the main body of the lake, turn north or south and “impressive” quickly becomes insufficient to describe the scenery surrounding you!
Note the dam to your left as you face the lake. We had no issues with current by staying to the right. I would avoid the left side for a short way out, the gate is broken and that’s a nasty drop!
We went there to camp, so both times we launched and headed south (to your left) once we reached the end of the cove where the access is, to find and set up our camp before exploring. The first camp is there on your left as you arrive at the main body of the lake.
You can click for larger map images if you want!
I have included a free printable map of Henderson Lake noting the campsites and favorite features at the end of the post. I am happy to share any others I have on request.
Please note all camps are roughly marked from memory on these maps, and the camps can be tough to spot from the water. We actually passed by the best place to take out for the first camp, went around the point, and pulled up on the rocky side in the main body of the lake first. Only when we followed a herd path back to the camp did we discover the better ‘beach’ on the access/cove side. That rocky side was a nice place to sit and enjoy the lake, though!
Field Notes: The Campsites on Henderson Lake
I found more questions than answers about the camps on Henderson Lake as I did my initial research before heading up there. We did video walkthroughs of all of the sites, including the lean to, to document them as thoroughly as I can in the video and here on the blog.
All of the camps are first come, first served, primitive camps and free to use. There are three tent sites south of the access, two on the east shore and one on the west shore. None of the tent campsites can be reached on foot – you have to paddle to them. I suppose you could bushwhack to at least the first camp, but the forest is REALLY dense and I think it would be brutal! I would love to hear from anyone who has done that.
There is also a lean to on the north end of the lake, west side. The popular Indian Pass hiking trail does pass by the lean to, so you are likely to meet some hikers or backpackers there.
Lean to rules specify you must share lean to’s until full capacity is reached (6-8 people, typically) and you cannot put a tent in the lean to. The camps, well, you are urged to share your tent site too, if there is a party in dire need (It happens. We made a gross underestimation of paddle time required after a late arrival once and we were almost those people!), but that is far less likely. Sharing is very common practice and expected at lean to’s.
The tent campsites are not very popular with the canoe/kayak-camping crowds from all of the reports I read online. While most DEC designated campsites are close to the water, park regulations state that camps should be at least 150 feet off water, trails, and roads. I’m honestly not sure if that is why the Henderson Lake campsites are set back so far, or if it’s simply the fact that the shoreline and surrounding terrain is so steep, there were no closer spots that would work! You’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it.
This lack of popularity means a better chance of having the lake all to yourself once the day paddlers leave. That is exactly what happened our first time there…on a mid-July weekend with perfect weather…and it was AMAZING! Even if the other camps are occupied, there are only four (including the lean to) and they are spread out enough to offer plenty of seclusion.
Anyhow – being fairly recently established, seemingly little used, and in some of the most dense forest I’ve ever camped in, the camps are also not as spacious as many more popular canoe camping destinations. Smaller tents are advised. We used our Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3 both times and found adequate space, and though we have never stayed at the second campsite, we found at least one spot that would have accommodated our bigger tent if we wanted to use that. Hammocks will have no problem at all!
All of the Henderson Lake campsites have amazing places to sit lakeside, so don’t let the distance from the water deter you. Star gazing over the glassy lake was so mesmerizing, we sat at the lake until the wee hours and honestly never gave it a thought.
The first two camps both sort of sit in a bowl with hills and cliffs surrounding them. I suggest bringing a tarp for under your tent – even with very little rain prior to our trip, the camps were a bit muddy. The third camp is uphill quite a bit from the water, so mud wasn’t as much of a problem, but it also offered fewer, and smaller, tent site options.
We visited all of the tent sites and the lean to, and shot video as we explored them, so be sure to watch the video if you are curious. Here are a few photos from each of the tent campsites!
Paddling Henderson Lake:
If you head south as we did, you’ll head for (in my opinion) the best the lake has to offer, first, and have plenty of time to explore!
As mentioned, you will pass by the first camp as you round the point and paddle into the main body of the lake. You will quickly arrive at another cove where the second camp is located.
I loved all of the rocks and vegetation in this little stretch of the paddle to the south end. Several times, we encountered a Common Merganser hen with a whole bunch of young, they blend in with the rocky shoreline really well!
It’s a shortish, super scenic paddle into the next cove from the second campsite.
It was very shallow and grassy when we paddled it. We saw some cool salamanders on the bottom, and shot underwater video as we lazily coasted through the pond grasses. With the quiet remoteness of this cove, and all of that yummy aquatic vegetation, I think it’s a perfect spot for a moose sighting.
If there are no moose to be found, leave the cove the same way you entered, and head toward the west shore, looking for entry into the coolest part of the paddle, I call it the “marsh maze.” I’ll post our GPS track, but this area probably changes year-to-year and even as water levels change throughout the season.
I call it a maze, but we followed one pretty wide channel and at no time were we confused or unclear about which way to go. I included video of the entire length we paddled in the video so you can see it. This part of the lake would be an AMAZING place to explore with a Stand Up Paddleboard [SUP] because the vegetation is taller than you while sitting in a kayak. I’ll bet we missed some really neat little channels to explore because we couldn’t see them.
Look for a place to enter the marshes, and watch for shallow spots. We all got stuck a time or two! It is mostly leaf litter and muck, not damaging to the boats but it can be tricky getting loose haha! Continue to watch for rocks and downed trees, and take it slow.
Be sure and watch the video for a cool tour through the marsh maze on Henderson Lake!
Not far north from where you will exit the marshes, on the western shore, you will arrive at the third campsite. Probably my least favorite of the camps, but it had some charm! It required a little climbing, but we found a great place to sit and enjoy the lake and the loons at sunset.
Paddle north along the west shore of the lake from the third camp, and soon you’ll have breathtaking views of Wallface Mountain! The McIntyre Range is also visible.
The Henderson Lake Lean To
On the western shore at the north end of the lake, beside a little brook, you will find the Henderson Lake lean to. It was unoccupied when we arrived, making it a perfect spot to stop for snacks and coffee before heading back to the access.
As mentioned above in the campsite notes, if you plan to camp at the lean to, you are required to share with other parties until full capacity is reached. This is stated in the DEC guidelines for lean to use, and it is common practice at Adirondack lean to’s. Always bring a tent as a backup plan in case the lean to is already full. There were spots nearby that would be sufficient for smaller tents.
It is worth noting that the most obvious take out spot at the lean to is NOTORIOUSLY mucky!
I read numerous accounts online of thigh-deep mud upon exiting boats there. If water levels allow, you might try pulling up to the rocks where the brook drains into the lake, some folks did that while we were there. We did manage to exit the boats in the mucky area without getting too deep, because we were aware and looking for more solid places to step. I was REALLY glad to have read up on this ahead haha! It was still some seriously yucky, deep muck!
We included a tour of the lean to site in the video as well, and here are a few photos!
From the lean to, we circled around the very end of the lake, and paddled south on the east shore back to the access. This end of the lake is shallow and marshy like the south end. In higher water, apparently you can paddle back much farther to a little brook. No such luck when we were there, but with high water season here now, I just may have to pop in to check this out!
The east shore has lots of steep cliffs, and we had fun paddling beneath the bent trees hanging over the water. Well, Chris and Dora did while I took photos. From a distance back, it looks like the entire forest on the mountains is slowly sliding down the mountains and into the lake, as it probably is haahaaa! Have I ever mentioned my crazy phobia of things falling on my head? 🙂
As we reached the final turn to the access, a lone loon came by to see us off. The protection from the wind that the cove offered was a relaxing way to end the paddle!
Paddle Difficulty and Safety Considerations:
The difficulty is really weather-dependent. Henderson Lake can become choppy very quickly with a little wind. On a windy day, the cliff-adorned shoreline of Henderson lake offers very few options to take out and take shelter. Definitely check the weather before heading out. We captured a steady 12-ish MPH breeze on the anemometer as we returned to the access, that was just enough to make it fun, but gusts got quite a bit higher than that.
Henderson Lake is roughly two miles long. It gets shallow in the coves and marshes, and there are a lot of boulders just beneath the surface along the shoreline so always be on the lookout!
Black bears: We are pretty sure we heard at least one bear near our tent when we stayed at the third camp. We could hear some rummaging that sounded like it was near where we stashed our bear canisters, and a bit later, something smaller ran quickly through the camp. So maybe a bear farther away, or a raccoon or fox close by, it was hard to tell. Whatever it was, we were very glad any food or scented items were secure and stashed well away from camp. Our bear cans were undisturbed when we checked them in the morning, and nothing else in camp appeared to have been touched.
Be aware and know what to do should you encounter a bear or any other wildlife. We….stayed in the tent and eventually went back to sleep, and Dora was none the wiser 🙂
Henderson Lake is part of the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness zone and bear canisters are required by law for overnight stays. Last summer was a very dry summer in New York and this resulted in many more bear encounters than normal. There was a steward at the trail head checking overnighters for bear canisters when we arrived. Protect yourself, your supplies, and our beautiful wildlife, and make the Rangers happy by packing a bear canister! You can rent them at most outdoor outfitters.
As far as other wildlife – you will find loons, ducks, and lots of birds! Paddle quietly through the marsh maze and you may find a heron looking for fish. I have a hunch that the shallow, grassy cove we explored at the south end of the lake or the marshes on the north end are good spots to watch for moose!
Protect our pristine Adirondack waters.
PLEASE clean your boats and other gear before and after paddling to prevent the spread of invasive species. The law prohibits transport of aquatic plants or animals on boats, trailers or any other equipment and provides FREE boat washing stations at some of the state boat launches.
A photo taken at a waterway closer to where we live, choked with the highly invasive Water Chestnut. We clean our gear no matter where we paddle, but a quick paddle near home means hours of extra scrubbing to ensure we don’t contaminate our beloved Adirondack waterways.
Please ALWAYS follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace, whenever you go outdoors, and wherever you go. We pack a trash bag and pick up what we find, within reason of course, whenever we go out.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles have been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
I will write a full post about Tahawus over the coming week, for now, a few photos!
The historically significant MacNaughton Cottage. In 1901, then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt and his family were vacationing here, and He embarked on an expedition to climb Mt. Marcy, New York’s tallest mountain. He received word while climbing that President McKinley was shot while in Buffalo. Once the President’s condition was determined to be grave, Roosevelt began a breakneck ride over the country Adirondack roads to Buffalo, where he learned that McKinley did not survive. As a result, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States.
Here’s the VIDEO!
See our other kayak and canoe camping blog posts!
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~Amy, Chris, and Dora