7 Best Places for Nature Photography in the Adirondacks
Spanning more than 6 million acres, the Adirondack Park comprises one-fifth of New York State and is the largest park in the contiguous United States.
Home to innumerable lakes and ponds ripe with wildlife such as deer, loons, herons, and bald eagles, along with craggy mountain summits with endless views, the Adirondack Park is a playground for outdoor recreation and photography enthusiasts alike.
Given its impressive size, however, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to exploring and photographing the Adirondacks, especially for first-time visitors.
This guide will review a selection of the most scenic and photogenic locations that the Adirondacks have to offer, helping to make the most of time spent exploring the Adirondacks.
From roadside views across clean and clear blue lakes to mountain-top panoramas that require several miles of hiking on some of the oldest and most rugged trails in America to attain, the Adirondacks have something to offer every photographer.
1. Heart Lake and the High Peaks
Located just 20 minutes from the idyllic mountain town of Lake Placid, which has twice hosted the Winter Olympics, is the Adirondack Loj, which is owned and operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club and steps from the shores of Heart Lake.
It serves as the primary trailhead for hikes deep into the northern portion of the High Peaks Wilderness.
In the Adirondacks, there are 46 High Peaks, which is the name bestowed on mountains that are over 4,000 feet in elevation.
One of the best views of the High Peaks is found not from the summit of an actual High Peak but rather from the top of Mount Jo, which is reached via a 1.1-mile roundtrip hike and provides perhaps the best bang for your buck hike in all the Adirondacks.
The best views are from rocky ledges just below the official summit, and the skyline is dominated by the High Peaks, including the tallest mountain in New York State, 5,343’ Mount Marcy, with Heart Lake nestled among the forest directly below the rocky ledges.
Autumn, especially the first week of October, is the best time of year for photography from Mount Jo, since this is when the expansive deciduous forests found in this area turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow.
Sunrise and sunset are the most optimal times of day for photography from Mount Jo, with sunrise being preferred since it’s when fog can often be seen hovering over Heart Lake, adding a special touch to photographs.
Sunrise photo shoots are facilitated by the fact that there is an excellent campground (along with the Adirondack Loj itself) along the shores of the lake, which makes it easy to be on location and hiking up the trail to the summit before sunrise.
A telephoto lens can also yield some intriguing results by isolating snippets of the broader landscape, especially when morning fog floating off Heart Lake mingles with the forest.
To delve deeper into the High Peaks, the Van Hoevenberg Trail heads south from the trailhead at Heart Lake and grants entry to the rugged core of the High Peaks.
Winter is an especially rewarding time for exploration and photography in these mountains, as the crowds and biting insects of summer are nonexistent, and the open mountain summits become wonderlands of snowy trees and snowbanks carved into fanciful shapes by the fierce winter winds.
Mountain exploration in winter is not to be taken lightly, though, and should only be pursued by the well-prepared.
Phelps Mountain and Algonquin Peak, 9.3 miles and 7.8 miles roundtrip hikes from the trailhead respectively, are two excellent choices for winter photography in the High Peaks.
Photographing a stunning winter sunset in complete solitude from a mountain summit is one of the most rewarding photography experiences imaginable, although the low-angled light of winter allows excellent landscape images to be made at any time of day.
While an entire separate article could be written about the gear and techniques needed for photographing in harsh winter conditions, one non-photography accessory that is critical in such conditions is a pair of windproof gloves.
These should be warm enough to keep hands from freezing, yet dexterous enough to allow the camera to be manipulated while wearing the gloves.
Touch screen compatibility is another desirable feature since most new cameras have touch screens, and the Stormtracker Sensor Gloves by Outdoor Research are an excellent option.
A cheap and simple way to increase the warmth of any glove is by adding hand warmers, which will last for at least a few hours and boost warmth without sacrificing dexterity.
2. Keene Valley
To further explore the High Peaks, the town of Keene Valley makes a perfect base for exploring the eastern stretches of the High Peaks, as well as some scenic ponds.
Just outside of town, the privately-owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve is home to some of the finest views in the Adirondacks.
A permit system has recently been put in place, and parking can be reserved up to two weeks in advance, and early reservations are essential on summer and fall weekends.
From the parking lot, a gravel road (the East River Trail is a more scenic but more rugged alternative) leads approximately four miles to the shore of Lower Ausable Lake.
A telephoto lens in the 200 to 400mm range allows for photographs of the mountains and cliffs to the south, which are particularly beautiful when fog is present.
To gain a higher perspective of the lake, take the trail (two miles roundtrip from the lake) to Indian Head, where the view of Lower Ausable Lake stretching into the distance with mountain peaks flanking its sides has become an Adirondack classic.
Another short excursion (0.6 miles roundtrip) from the shore of the lake leads to beautiful Rainbow Falls.
Spilling over a cliff edge into a rocky gorge, the trail to Rainbow Falls is incredibly rugged, but the payoff is more than worth the effort.
In winter, stunning ice formations form on the cliff wall next to the falls, which make excellent subjects for abstracts when a telephoto lens is utilized to isolate the most interesting patterns of ice.
A few miles south of the town of Keene Valley on NY-73, roadside Chapel Pond provides an easy opportunity to photograph the tree-lined cliffs that rise straight up from the western side of the pond.
Calm mornings can be especially productive here, as the cliffs reflecting in the pond make for a compelling photo subject when photographed with a mid-range telephoto lens.
A mile south from Chapel Pond is the trailhead for Round Pond (1.6-mile roundtrip hike). Round Pond is a serene place for photography and quiet contemplation, and a few primitive campsites can be found near the pond.
One of the most compelling features of Round Pond is the prevalence of birch trees along its shores.
With their beautiful white trunks, birches are one of the most photogenic trees in the Adirondacks, and present many opportunities for photography, from macro shots of the intricate details of their multilayered bark to wide-angle compositions that utilize birch trunks to frame the shot.
3. Whiteface Mountain
Although it’s home to a ski resort, Whiteface Mountain is just as beautiful and rugged as many other Adirondack High Peaks and provides stunning views of Lake Placid from its summit.
In addition, scenic views of Whiteface Mountain itself can be had from ponds and roadside pullouts near the base of the mountain.
From May through early October, visitors can drive to the summit of Whiteface for a fee.
Although the hours of operation (typically 8:45 am-5:30 pm) of the road preclude sunrise and sunset photography, captivating images can still be made for minimal effort, especially early and late in the hours of operation window when the angle of the sun is lower in the sky.
Also, since Whiteface is isolated from other High Peaks, it often makes its own weather, which can lead to dramatic photos of Lake Placid (the lake itself, not the town) far below during breaks in the twirling clouds and fog.
The summit of Whiteface is significantly colder and windier than down below, so photographers should plan and dress accordingly by bringing warm clothes, including a winter hat and gloves – even in summer!
To photograph Whiteface Mountain itself, head to Connery Pond, which is a short walk from the small parking lot on gravel Connery Pophelpsnd Road, which branches north off NY-86 three miles east of Lake Placid.
From the marshy western shore of the pond, the pyramid shape of Whiteface dominates the view to the east, which is especially serene on calm and foggy summer and fall mornings.
To get the most dramatic landscape images here, don a pair of muck boots or fishing waders and wade into the pond to utilize the reeds that line the shores of this shallow pond as a dominant foreground subject.
A wide-angle lens is optimal when there is an interesting sky, and a medium telephoto in the 50-100mm range is perfect for making images where Whiteface is a larger and more dominant presence.
On the drive back to Lake Placid, a pull-off on the right (north) shoulder of NY-86 near Little Cherrypatch Pond yields a view of Whiteface rising above the marshy meadows that ring the pond.
This can make for some great shots with a telephoto lens, especially after an autumn snow when the snowy summit of Whiteface contrasts nicely with the colorful foliage below.
Speaking of snow, the website for Whiteface Mountain is a great resource in winter to get a sense of what the snow conditions are like in the High Peaks, as snowfall reports are posted daily on the website during the winter months.
4. Long Lake
Situated on the shore of its aptly named lake, the town of Long Lake makes for a perfect base for exploring the many bodies of water and small yet beautiful mountains of the Central Adirondacks.
A 10-minute drive from town, and a short walk from the road, photographers will find Buttermilk Falls, one of the most beautiful and easily accessible waterfalls in the Adirondacks. All the seasons are a joy for photography at Buttermilk Falls.
In autumn, Buttermilk Falls is lined with bright orange and yellow sugar maples, and in winter, interesting ice formations can often be found along the river’s edge.
A wide-angle lens is optimal here when wanting to include the sky, such as at sunrise/sunset or at night, and a medium telephoto in the 100mm range is great for tighter compositions of the waterfall with trees above.
Several mountains that are within a 20-minute drive of the town of Long Lake provide opportunities to attain a bird’s eye view of the surrounding wilderness.
While these mountains are not as tall as the High Peaks, in some ways they’re even more beautiful, as they provide a more intimate view of the vast forests of the Central Adirondacks.
Coney Mountain (2.2 miles roundtrip), Goodman Mountain (3.0 miles roundtrip), and Goodnow Mountain (4.0 miles roundtrip) are excellent options, and their relatively short hiking distances make them optimal for photography at sunrise, sunset, and at night.
In addition to mountain views, the Central Adirondacks is blessed with numerous lakes and ponds.
Lake Harris and Lake Durant, in particular, offer countless opportunities for wide-angle landscape photography, and both lakes are easily accessible, making them great options for photographers that don’t want to hike up a mountain in the dark or with limited mobility.
The boat launch at Lake Harris provides a perfect vantage point facing east to photograph the sunrise.
An old gravel road (Old Route 28) along the northern shore of Lake Durant provides many easy opportunities for photographing the lake and its resident wildlife, including great blue herons, bald eagles, and the elusive moose.
Autumn is an especially productive time of year for photography at Lake Durant, as the bounty of birch and sugar maple trees that line its shore present many compositional opportunities.
Read more: How to Improve Your Lake Photography
5. Indian Lake Islands
One of the most interesting outdoor and photographic experiences that the Adirondacks have to offer can be found at Indian Lake Islands State Park.
From Indian Lake Marina in the town of Sabael, launch a canoe or kayak (which can be rented from the marina), and paddle across the lake to Kirpens Island, which is home to an incredible campsite (campsite number 2, reserve up to 9 months in advance).
From the island, there’s the opportunity to paddle, swim, and photograph the beautifully rugged and rocky shore of the island in complete solitude.
The best part about camping here, though, is that a short paddle west from the island is the trailhead for Baldface Mountain, which is only accessible by boat.
The 1.6-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Baldface provides a beautiful view of Indian Lake and its many islands, particularly in the fall when the deep blue of the lake is cradled by a kaleidoscope of autumn colors.
6. Rollins and Fish Creek Ponds
Another excellent destination in the Adirondacks for camping, paddling, and photography is Rollins and Fish Creek Ponds, both of which have state-run campgrounds with sites that can be reserved up to nine months in advance.
Reservations are certainly recommended, as these are two of the most scenic and thus popular campgrounds in the Adirondacks. Canoes and kayaks can also be rented from Fish Creek Campground if needed.
Camping along the shore of the ponds, especially the quieter and more scenic Rollins, allows for easy sunrise photography, where rolling out of a tent or RV and walking a few feet is all that is required to capture beautiful images of morning mist rising from the calm waters of the pond.
Paddling out on Rollins Pond provides additional opportunities for photography, especially on a couple of small rocky islands found in the northwest section of the pond.
These islands are a great place to photograph an icon of the Adirondacks, whose haunting wail has serenaded campers to sleep for centuries – the common loon.
Photographers should keep a distance from these beautiful creatures so as not to unnecessarily stress them, and a telephoto lens (the longer, the better) comes in handy in these situations.
Photographing from a canoe provides some unique challenges, and it’s recommended to kneel on the floor of the canoe when handling the camera rather than sitting, as a lower center of gravity provides a more stable base from which to photograph.
7. Old Forge and Inlet
To get a taste of what the Western Adirondacks have to offer, base yourself in the charming town of Old Forge or Inlet.
For a short hike to a scenic view, drive roughly 10 minutes out of either town on NY-28 to the trailhead for Bald Mountain on Rondaxe Road. The 1.8-mile roundtrip trail leads to the rocky summit of Bald Mountain complete with a historic fire tower (Rondaxe Fire Tower).
There are 25 fire towers on mountain summits throughout the Adirondacks, and while these towers are no longer actively used to monitor fire activity, many of them have been restored and are accessible to hikers, providing unique perspectives from which to photograph.
From the summit of the Rondaxe Fire Tower, the Fulton Chain of Lakes can be seen in the distance, and including a hiker down below in photographs taken from the fire tower can help to add a sense of scale and visual interest to photos.
Just 5 minutes from the town of Inlet, Moss Lake is circumvented by a hiking trail, which passes by several idyllic first-come, first-served campsites.
The lake is also home to a sandy beach a short walk from the parking area on Big Moose Road, which makes it easy to launch a canoe or kayak to explore the lake, including a small island that is often home to nesting osprey in the summer months.
A long telephoto lens again comes in handy in this situation to photograph these majestic birds at a safe distance.
Read more: How to Photograph Ospreys
The combination of water, woods, and wilderness that the immense Adirondack Park has to offer makes it one of the most unique and enjoyable destinations for outdoor exploration and photography in the United States.
With this guide in hand, photographers will be able to focus on the best locations that the Adirondacks have to offer and will be well on their way to discovering why the Adirondacks has beckoned artists to its rocky peaks and placid waters for centuries.