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Old 06-29-2021, 03:48 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Explorations in Wolf Lake State Forest

I wanted to share a few writeups of several trips I've taken over the past few years into a neat area. Wolf Lake State Forest is a relatively small (~4,000 acres) parcel of state land just outside the Adirondack Park in St. Lawrence County. Included within the boundaries of the state forest are several loop hiking and backpacking trails, as well as 4 nicely situated lean-tos for overnight camping.

Wolf Lake is a neat area- the varied terrain abounds with all kinds of neat features, rocky ridges, gullies, hills and so on. Correspondingly, the area is full of small lakes, beaver ponds, wetlands and bogs in the low-lying areas. Yet the overall topographic relief across longer distances is minimal, with in turn results in easy hiking. There's plenty of little ups and downs but no major sustained climbs or descents.

First Visit: 9/25 - 9/26/15
Link to full photo album

My first trip into Wolf Lake State Forest was with a group of Syracuse University and SUNY ESF students on a beginner backpacking trip that I lead through the SU Outing Club. We picked a nice early autumn weekend for our visit and were treated with perfect weather for the duration of our visit. Our late Friday start from the Ames Road trailhead on the south side of the forest was met with clear blue skies as we hiked in, passing several beaver ponds along the way.


In a couple of spots, beaver flooding had resulted in wet stretches of trail but these were easily dealt with.


At one point, we saw a beaver swimming across one of the beaver ponds. He instantly gained celebrity status among the members of the group.


Even when there weren't beavers swimming in view, the ponds still provided excellent scenery along the way in.


Less than two hours of casual strolling brought us to our destination for the evening- Moon Lake. On the south side of the lake a rocky peninsula juts out into the water, and situated on the peninsula in a gorgeous spot is an Adirondack Lean-to. The lean-to was empty, so we called dibs and moved in. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and exploring the lake.




Cool Autumn temps meant that sleeping bags were quick to make an appearance for some.


We also wandered around to the east side of the lake to enjoy a spectacular sunset.








Back in camp, those on their first backpacking trip ever had the opportunity to learn the intricate ins and outs of priming and using a white gas stove for cooking.


And of course the evening was punctuated with a nice campfire before we turned in for the night.


The Moon Lake Lean-to faces east, so sunrise the next morning had everyone up and moving around before long.


We also had a birthday in our midst and it turns out someone had brought a surprise mini-birthday cake to celebrate.


Before heading out, we decided to take a stroll over to the Wolf Lake Lean-to to check it out. Wolf Lake (and the lean-to there) are located a mere hop, skip, and a jump from Moon Lake- less than 15 minutes of casual walking and we were arriving at the lean-to. Similar to Moon Lake, the Wolf Lake Lean-to faces due east, and is located in a pleasant stand of pines on the shore of the lake.




Like Moon Lake, Wolf Lake was a scenic body of water, with plenty of rocky outcrops along the shoreline.


The allure of the water also attracted the attention of some in the group. One merely waded, while a couple of others dove in.




I also spent a few minutes poking around the shoreline of Wolf Lake and found a few other nice spots with excellent views out over the body of water.


All too soon, it was time to head back to Moon Lake to finish packing up and prepare for the hike out.




We decided to hike out by way of Huckleberry Lake. This would add just over a mile to our return trip but would also allow us to check out a new body of water- and see the lean-to located there as well. More easy hiking through mixed woods, over little ups and downs, and past small beaver ponds brought us to Huckleberry Lake fairly quickly.




Huckleberry Lake was a scenic body of water in the same vein as Moon and Wolf Lakes- with interesting rocky outcrops along the shoreline. It certainly did not disappoint.


The Huckleberry Lake Lean-to is situated right on a rocky outcrop next to the shore. It's a beautiful spot, although the lean-to also had a collection of "stuff" accumulated over the years, left by groups camped there. Of the 4 lean-tos in the State Forest, Huckleberry Lake is clearly the most popular- and is likely even an occasional party spot. On this day, we had it to ourselves, and we were more than happy to stop for a quick break there.




The rest of the hike wet quickly. We were treated to a few more excellent views across Huckleberry Lake from more open rock outcrops before turning south and passing through mixed woods and easy, rolling terrain back to Ames Road. A short stretch of road walking brought us back to the Moon Lake trailhead and our cars.


(And during the next week's outing club meeting, several of the attendees raved about the amazing, "chill" backpacking trip they'd been on. )

Continued in next post...

Last edited by DSettahr; 06-29-2021 at 04:36 PM..
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Old 06-29-2021, 03:49 PM   #2
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Second Visit: 8/14 - 8/16/17
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My first return visit to Wolf Lake State Forest came several summers later, in the form of an August mid-week solo trip. I decided to explore the area from the northern trailhead on Sam Day Road- this would allow me to check out (and camp at) the fourth lean-to at Beaver Narrows, as well as return to Moon and Wolf Lakes via another loop itinerary.

At first, the trail to Beaver Narrows was wide, obvious, and easy to follow.


Before long, however, it disappeared into a beaver meadow without much of a trace. Clearly, this approach into the state forest gets very little use. Some bushwhacking was necessary before I was able to pick up the trail again. I did at least get some nice views out and over an adjacent beaver pond along the way.


Eventually I found my way to the lean-to, which was located in a nice spot on a narrow stretch of water connecting two beaver ponds. I settled in for the night, and was treated to an amazing dusk view (and took one of my most favorite photos I've ever taken on a hiking trip).






In the morning daylight, I spent some more time poking around and exploring the vicinity of the Beaver Narrows Lean-to before packing up and moving on. This lean-to (as with the Huckleberry Lake Lean-to a few years before) had accumulated a decent collection of "stuff," and was clearly an occasional party spot despite the navigational challenge of hiking to it. Thus is the consequence of having such nice lean-tos located so close to a road access, to be sure.






Soon, I was packed up and headed south along the trail to Moon Lake. As with other trails in the area, this trail traverses plenty of little ups and downs over rocky ridges and outcrops, passing more beaver ponds along the way. Much the woods were a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods. Wolf Lake State Forest definitely reminds me in some ways of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness- the ecosystem is fairly similar.






This is also a trail that clearly gets very little use- at times there was not any tread whatsoever to follow, just trail markers to guide me through open moss-filled clearings in the woods.


Just over an hour of hiking brought me back to the north shore of Moon Lake, not far from the rocky outcrop where my group had watched the sunset a few years prior.


Since I'd already camped at the Moon Lake Lean-to, the lean-to at Wolf Lake was my chosen destination for the evening. A few more minutes of hiking saw me arriving at Wolf Lake and dropping my pack in the empty lean-to.




While taking a quick stroll along the shoreline at Wolf Lake, I discovered that I'd timed my visit perfectly to enjoy a ripe crop of huckleberries. They were a bit tart but delicious nonetheless.


I spent the afternoon at Wolf Lake reading on the shoreline and enjoy the views and solitude.


As the shadows started to lengthen, I decided to stretch my feet once again, and made the 15 minute walk back over to Moon Lake to check out the lean-to on the peninsula there (as well as the views from the rocky shoreline), before returning back to Wolf Lake just in time for sunset. Revisiting the lean-to and shore of Moon Lake definitely evoked memories of my trip there several years prior with the SU outing club.






Back at Wolf Lake, I was treated to another spectacular sunset. With darkness arriving, I started a small fire for warmth and ambiance. Before long, the sky overhead was brilliantly illuminated by star light, and the milky was was so visible I was even able to snag some photos of it with my trusty point and shoot camera.








Morning brought with it an equally spectacular sunrise over the still waters of Wolf Lake.






All I had left in my itinerary was to take the other trail back north to my car at Sam Day Road. As with the Beaver Narrows Trail, this trail also clearly gets little use- and the tread was minimal (and even non-existent in spots). For the most part navigation was not much of a challenge but there was a spot or two that required some level of "guess and check" to determine the correct path forward.


Wolf Lake State Forest is also not Forest Preserve, as it lies outside the blue line boundary of the Adirondack Park. Accordingly, timber harvesting is permitted there. There appears to have been minimal efforts to manage the state forest for this type of use by the DEC but on this stretch of trail I did find myself walking past a couple young stands where there had been timber harvests maybe 10 or 20 years prior.


A final stretch of hiking through hardwood forest brought be back to Sam Day Road, and another short road walk brought me back to my car which I'd left parked at the nearby trailhead for Beaver Narrows.


Continued in next post...
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Old 06-29-2021, 03:49 PM   #3
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Third Visit: 6/22 - 6/23/21
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My most recent visit to Wolf Lake State Forest was another solo mid-week trip just this past week. I had limited time available, so I decided to make this one a quick in and out to Huckleberry Lake alone- the only lean-to left in Wolf Lake State Forest for me to camp in as part of the lean-to challenge.

And so a Tuesday afternoon saw me packing up at Ames Road in preparation for the short hike into Huckleberry Lake. Not far from the trailhead, I encountered an older couple that said they'd been unable to find Huckleberry Lake... they indicated that the trail just "went in a circle." I was moderately concerned that maybe beaver flooding had obscured part of the trail, but had no difficulty finding my own way to the lake. Still not sure where exactly they'd managed to go wrong.




Soon I was arriving at the lean-to itself, which was unoccupied. My previous observation that it was at least occasional a part spot was reinforced by what I encountered on this return visit- a substantial accumulation of "stuff." Canned soup, boxes of tin foil, a collection of frying pans and grills, and microtrash everywhere. The pile of fish guts tossed on the shoreline of the lake no more than 10 feet from the lean-to was an especially nice touch. I did the best I could cleaning up, bagging what I was able (and willing to carry out), and generally tidying up before moving in. (And I certainly muttered to myself more than once, "this is why we can't have nice things.")




Up until my arrival at Huckleberry Lake, the skies had been gray. But as the afternoon waned, the clouds started to open up and I was treated with nice views of blue sky. A pleasant breeze off the water also did a great job of keeping most of the bugs at bay.






With the arrival of dusk I was also treated to yet another spectacular sunset- making 4 for 4 amazing sunsets, one for each night I've spent camped in the Wolf Lake State Forest to date.


The next morning dawned with similarly blue skies and pleasant weather. I was loathe to pack up and head out and spent as much of the morning relaxing by the lake as I could.




Eventually, however, it was time to leave. I snapped one last photo of the lean-to as I departed up the hillside behind it.


As my group had done 6 years prior, I also stopped along the way in the same spots to again take in the views from rocky outcrops along the shoreline of Huckleberry Lake before departing back to Ames Road.




------------------------------------------------------------------

All three of my visits to Wolf Lake State Forest thus far have been real gems of trips. Such a small area may not hold much interest to the patch-challenge-focused crowd, but for those looking for easy and relaxed day hiking or even backpacking opportunities (especially with beginner backpackers) this area is definitely a good bet. And while the accessibility of some of the lean-tos does mean that it can occasionally unfortunately be a party spot frequented by less ethical members of the backpacking community, at the same time the area gets less use than many other better known backcountry destinations in the Adirondack Park proper.

It would also be nice if the DEC stepped up management of the area a bit more- partly to cut down on the partying (and litter), but also to rectify to camping situation. There's no designated tent sites in addition to the lean-tos, but each body of water does have established (yet technically illegal) tent sites- some of which are quite nice. A few "Camp Here" discs to allow for overflow tenting without having to scrounge for a primitive site in accordance with the 150 foot rule would certainly be helpful.
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Old 06-29-2021, 05:46 PM   #4
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Wow, you captured the coat hanger asterism in the constellation of Vulpecula the fox. I can see the constellation Delphinus and the star Altair.
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Old 06-29-2021, 08:33 PM   #5
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Wow, you captured the coat hanger asterism in the constellation of Vulpecula the fox. I can see the constellation Delphinus and the star Altair.
Thanks, I was quite pleased with how they photo turned out given the limited equipment I was working with.

Also, unrelated aside: I realized after the fact that the Huckleberry Lake lean-to was lean-to #250 for me. Should've brought some champagne to mark the moment... Only about 150 or so to go...
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Old 06-30-2021, 06:33 AM   #6
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Its a sweet place for a hike. IIRC doing the complete "X" - both trails and the very short on road connections at the ends - is about 15 miles. I was especially impressed by one beaver dam thst was easily over 6 or 7' pond level to outlet and very long.
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Old 06-30-2021, 03:01 PM   #7
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Thanks for all the pictures and the narrative. It looks like a very nice area for sure. I especially like those various lakeside rocks, the way they're shaped and put in the water is great.
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Old 06-30-2021, 09:24 PM   #8
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Cool photos. Looks a lot different in the warmer season. So far I have only been there for thanksgiving outings. I still have two lean-tos there to bag.
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Old 07-01-2021, 06:11 AM   #9
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Your photos brought back memories of the 3 trips I have made there. First was a day hike with 2 friends, second and third were overnight trips with a canoe (1 with a friend, 1 solo). Definitely a cool area.
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Old 07-01-2021, 11:14 AM   #10
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Its a sweet place for a hike. IIRC doing the complete "X" - both trails and the very short on road connections at the ends - is about 15 miles. I was especially impressed by one beaver dam thst was easily over 6 or 7' pond level to outlet and very long.
Yeah, it's not a very big area- and it certainly could be explored in full (at least as far as trails go) via a moderately-intense day hike. Would certainly be a worthwhile endeavor for someone looking for more of a challenge.

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Thanks for all the pictures and the narrative. It looks like a very nice area for sure. I especially like those various lakeside rocks, the way they're shaped and put in the water is great.
Yeah, the rocky shorelines of all of the lakes and beaver ponds make for great "poking-around" terrain. And the forested stretches tend to be fairly open, even, which accommodates easy bushwhacking. But the intricate network for beaver ponds, streams, and lakes would pose a challenge to those looking for longer bushwhack expeditions... the water-courses covering the area are very maze-like (which in itself makes the area that more more interesting, IMO).

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Cool photos. Looks a lot different in the warmer season. So far I have only been there for thanksgiving outings. I still have two lean-tos there to bag.
Which 2 lean-tos?

I felt a bit of trepidation leaving Huckleberry Lake for last since it's the most popular one of the bunch... would've sucked to drive all the way out there only to find it occupied. Fortunately I'm able to swing the occasional mid-week backpacking trip, though.

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Your photos brought back memories of the 3 trips I have made there. First was a day hike with 2 friends, second and third were overnight trips with a canoe (1 with a friend, 1 solo). Definitely a cool area.
Yeah, it is a cool area, despite being tiny by Adirondack management unit standards. I've been into a few other State Forest areas that similarly share unique characteristics and are worth visiting. Some of the Finger Lakes Trail Lean-tos are positively beautiful spots to camp and hang out at.
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Old 07-01-2021, 01:42 PM   #11
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Which 2 lean-tos?
.
Moon Lake and Beaver Narrows I have to do still.
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Old 07-01-2021, 02:22 PM   #12
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Moon Lake and Beaver Narrows I have to do still.
Nice. Yeah, I'd say Beaver Narrows is probably the least used one of the bunch, based on the condition of the trail to it. But maybe folks just drag a canoe to the first body of water and paddle the rest of the way there. Judging from the aerial imagery, it's one long chain of beaver ponds the full way through.
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Old 07-01-2021, 07:22 PM   #13
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I wondered if you didn't mine walking and portaging if you couldn't mostly canoe to the two western leans.
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Old 07-05-2021, 05:30 PM   #14
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I wondered if you didn't mine walking and portaging if you couldn't mostly canoe to the two western leans.
During my visit to the Beaver Narrows lean-to, I found myself speculating that most folks probably visit it by boat. The trail was easy to follow until the first body of water, and then it got fairly obscure after that. From the aerial photos it looks like you could carry your canoe 500 feet to the first beaver pond and put in there. There'd be a few short portages after that (rocky sections of creek, and/or over beaver dams) but other than that you'd be paddling just about the entirety of the rest of the way to the lean-to.

Huckleberry Lake would also be doable- at 1 mile in length the trail there is shorter than some other portages trails I've done. I'd say it was also generally wheelable with a few sections where it might be tougher going with a portage cart.

With some decent navigational skill and some route ingenuity I think some measure of pond hopping throughout the interior area would be possible also- especially with a willingness to bushwhack with the canoe from beaver pond to beaver pond.
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Old 07-05-2021, 06:41 PM   #15
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I was thinking putting in at NW trailhead - short carry to west - and paddle and pull through to Huckleberry.

Thanks for your thoughts.
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Old 07-06-2021, 10:57 AM   #16
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I always get real Algonquin PP feel when over there. Low hill surrounding lakes and pond with lots of exposed rock.
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Old 08-05-2021, 10:45 PM   #17
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Good pics and report, DSettahr.
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