Adirondack Nature Trails:
Heart Lake Trail
The Heart Lake Trail, located at the end of Adirondack Loj Road near Lake Placid, New York, is an Adirondack nature trail providing access to varied habitats, stunning views of the High Peaks, a tree trail, a Nature Museum, and a fern garden with interpretive signs.
- The trail around the lake is inside the Adirondack Mountain Club's 640-acre Heart Lake property, which includes the High Peaks Information Center, the Adirondak Loj, and the Wilderness Campground.
- The Heart Lake Trail is part of a much larger system of interconnected backcountry trails to the Adirondack High Peaks.
- There is a trailhead parking fee. The daily rate is $5 for members of the Adirondack Mountain Club and $10 for nonmembers. After 1 PM, the rate is $2.50 for members and $5 for nonmembers. You pay at the parking booth at the end of the Adirondack Loj Road or get a permit from the self-service box at the side of the booth when the parking attendant is not present.
The Heart Lake Trail, which is accessed from the lawn by Adirondak Loj, is one of the best places in the Adirondacks to learn about nature in the mountains.
- The Heart Lake Trail includes the ADK Tree Trail, a system of seasonal interpretive signs which identify and describe over a dozen Adirondack trees. The Tree Trail was developed in 2011 by Larry Montague, a naturalist intern at Heart Lake. The interpretive signs are proof that low-tech sometimes works best. Each sign includes a series of photos highlighting key features that help identify each tree, plus a hand-written and illustrated page from a "Naturalist's Notebook," listing the tree's scientific name, key features, identification clues, and habitat.
- The trail also goes by the Heart Lake Nature Museum, a tiny cabin with a series of low-tech, but highly effective, exhibits covering diverse environmental topics, such as the geology of the Adirondacks and the impact of logging, invasive species, and climate change on the region. The Nature Museum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM in the summer and is staffed by summer naturalist interns.
- For those interested in learning more about ferns, there is a fern garden adjacent to the Nature Museum, with seasonal interpretive signs. Each sign has a photo of the fern, providing the common and scientific name and information on habitat and keys to identity.
ADK also hosts a series of naturalist programs in both the summer and winter.
- The summer naturalist series includes daily guided hikes up nearby Mount Jo (covering the history, ecology, and geology of the mountain) and morning and afternoon naturalist-guided walks focusing on the natural history of the Adirondacks. Some of the naturalist walks focus on the sights and sounds on the Heart Lake Trail.
- There are also Friday evening walks to explore the natural world after dusk and one-hour presentations on Saturday night featuring natural and cultural history, adventure travel, or live music.
- ADK also offers a Sunday kids program with an ADK naturalist.
- ADK also provides free weekly naturalist walks at nearby Henry's Woods, starting in late June, and running through the summer.
- The winter naturalist series offers features free monthly naturalist walks on the Heaven Hill Trails, plus a free once-monthly winter lecture series.
The Heart Lake Trail itself provides both beautiful views of a pristine mountain lake and access to varied habitats. Much of the trail follows the lake shore and passes through mixed forest, with some marshy areas close to the shore, where marsh-dwelling plants such as Labrador Tea and Sheep Laurel may be found. The areas adjacent to the Loj and picnic areas by the shore feature several of the trees in the ADK Tree Trail. The lake shore is also a good place to look for Common Loons and Great Blue Herons.
If you do a clockwise loop, take a left at Adirondack Loj.
- The trail leads you past a series of lakeside campsites on your right and several of the trees included in the ADK Tree Trail.
- Descend a short hill curving to your right to a small bridge over Outlet Brook. The swampy area around the brook is a good place to look for wetland-loving plants, such as Tall Meadow Rue.
- The trail then leads upward and opens up into a ski slope dedicated to the memory of Alice Waterhouse, a longtime member of the Adirondack Mountain Club who was instrumental in making sure that the ski slope would remain open. This is a boon for naturalists, since it provides a meadow habitat featuring old field wildflowers and some magnificent specimens of Interrupted Fern. Hay-scented Ferns, New York Ferns, Cinnamon Ferns, Royal Ferns, and Sensitive Ferns can also be found here.
- Follow the trail up the hill and to the right through a hardwood forest, featuring plants and birds that prefer a home dominated by deciduous trees (hardwoods).
- The trail then curves right and downward, bringing you closer to the lake shore and moister ground. Keep bearing to your right at the intersection with the Indian Pass Trail and the next intersection with the Street and Nye Trail, putting you on the Indian Pass Trail as it curves around the lake shore. For a quick, but very scenic side-trip, take a right to visit Roger's Outlook, for nice views of the mountains surrounding the lake. The outlook is flanked by Northern White Cedar.
- Continue a short distance along the trail through mixed forest to the Nature Museum, fern garden, and the remaining trees in the ADK Tree Trail.
Pink Lady's Slipper
Tall Meadow Rue
Whorled Wood Aster
Ferns in the fern garden outside the Nature Museum at Heart Lake include:
Eastern Bracken Fern
New York Fern
Spinulose Wood Fern
Trees on the ADK Tree Trail at Heart Lake include:
Eastern White Pine
Northern White Cedar
Birds seen or heard along the Heart Lake Trail include:
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Great Blue Heron
- The wildflower and flowering shrub list is based on photographs dating from 2011.
- The list of ferns identified with interpretive signs in the fern garden adjacent to the Nature Museum at Heart Lake is based on photographs from the summer of 2017.
- The list of trees in the ADK Tree Trail is based on photographs from the summer of 2017.
- The bird list reflects the more frequently-seen birds listed in eBird reports (Adirondak Loj. Essex County, New York, US), verified in part by personal observations made in the summer of 2017. For those birds I have not personally seen or heard, the species included on the list are those which (1) are consistent with the habitat; and (2) either appear in many reports or are included in at least one report by an experienced birder whose birding skills are known to me.