Rocky Falls & Heart Lake
This practically flat 5-mile hike takes you to a small, but lovely, double waterfall. The pool beneath the falls is a great place to take a dip on a hot summer day. After visiting the falls, the hike continues around the perimeter of Heart Lake.
As we were trying to mix up some easy hikes with some tough hikes in the Adirondacks, we settled on picking this easy hike to a nice waterfall. This hike starts on the same path that led to Mt. Jo, beginning at the Heart Lake Program Center (the main hub for the Adirondack Mountain Club). The trailhead parking at Heart Lake was $10.00 a day for non-members (ADK member parking was $5 and all prices went down by half for parking arrivals after noon.) We recommend arriving early if you want to set out on any trail from this popular spot.
The trailhead starts to the right of the entrance station. The trail starts off on a flat, easy path through the woods. You pass the Heart Lake Nature Museum and then pass the junction to the Mt. Jo trail at .25 miles. The trail stays flat and skirts along the north side of Heart Lake. There are a couple of paths that lead down to the lakeside for peaceful views. At .6 miles, you reach the junction that leads around Heart Lake, but stay straight on the trail. Most of the hike is relatively uneventful, as you walk through some dense forest areas, with just a couple of stream crossings along the way. We found very few people on the trail and it was an enjoyable walk slightly downhill. At 2.0 miles, we reached a junction that showed the side trail to Rocky Falls. It was only .2 miles to reach the falls.
When I had seen pictures of the falls online, the falls reminded me of two eyes with cascading tears. We hung out a while at the bottom of the falls and were soon joined by a man with his two dogs. They enjoyed jumping in the swimming hole and fetching a stick. We could really tell they were having a great time and it was fun to watch their relentless pursuit. There is a small path that leads to the top of the falls, but the most picturesque view is of the bottom of the falls.
We made our way back the way we came, now taking a slight uphill route from the falls. At 4.0 miles, we came back to the junction with the trail that led around Heart Lake. We decided to take this route in hopes of seeing the lake from a different angle. This route actually led away from the lake so it didn’t provide any great views along the side as the northside did. We passed through a short, open field used for skiing, but then came back into the woods. We passed a few cabins and campsites along the lake. At 4.5 miles, the trail met the lake again. I found a nice bench and sat and enjoyed the serenity of the lake. We then moved further down to the Adirondack Loj, where we saw several families that were out in the lake swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. We read books by the lake for a while, enjoying the sunny day and then made our way back to the car.
One thing I feel is really special about this area is the ability for families to enjoy the outdoors in many different ways. This hike and the surrounding areas is a great destination for people that enjoy the water, the views, and the hiking. While I have seen more impressive waterfalls, this would be an easy family outing if you are staying nearby.
Adam and I planned to hike Mount Marcy as the grand finale of our Adirondack week, so for Wednesday’s hike, we decided to stick with another easy trail so we could save our energy for our big, 15-mile route a couple days later. Once again, we found ourselves setting off from the Adirondack Loj – it really is the heart of outdoor activity in that area.
The trail leading to Rocky Falls was surprisingly flat and soft. I had come to believe that everything in the Adirondacks was either slick granite, boulders, cobbles, or a tangle of gnarled roots; so terrain like this was a welcome surprise. The wide dirt path passed through beautiful shady woods. Many of the muddy places along the trail had small logs pressed into the tread to make the mucky parts more passable. It’s a clever, easy way to manage areas prone to wetness.
Another nice thing about the easy terrain was that it gave us a chance to cover ground at greater speed. I’m not saying I like to rush through hikes, but sometimes complicated terrain slows you to just a mile an hour. It felt good to stretch our legs and cover ground! We reached the falls pretty quickly. When we first arrived, there were a couple people climbing on the rocks above the waterfall, but we had the lower pool all to ourselves. I was able to take advantage of some passing clouds to get a couple long exposure photos of the waterfall. It was small, but very pretty. The pool beneath the falls was very inviting. I would have loved to go for a swim, but didn’t bring a towel or clothes to change into.
After a few minutes, more people began to arrive. The two dogs Adam mentioned were fun to watch, but they also meant I had to put my tripod away. I don’t know what it is, but I am a wet dog magnet as soon as I get my good camera gear out! Every time I tried to take a shot, they would come bursting out of the water and running in my direction at a full, water-spraying shake! Oh well… I had already managed to take a few decent photos and really enjoyed watching the dogs dive and swim. When we went into Lake Placid the later, we actually ran into the hiker who had brought the dogs. It turned out that he worked at Eastern Mountain Sports. Funny… usually the people you pass on a day hike, you never see again.
After leaving the falls, we took the lake loop trail back to the Loj. It was mostly walking through the woods. Eventually we reached a cross country ski hill named in honor of Alice Waterhouse. Alice was an Adirondack legend – she hiked all the high peaks, skied, worked on trail maintenance, and volunteered her time working to preserve the area’s wilderness. You can read more about her on the ADK Blog.
After passing the ski hill, we quickly reached the lakeside camping area. The lean-tos were really cute. They reminded me of the Appalachian Trail shelters we see through much of Virginia. It would be nice to camp there someday! Before we knew it, we were back at the Loj. We had packed a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, chips, and cookies. I bought more cold drinks from the info center and staked out a nice spot with two Adirondack chairs overlooking Heart Lake. We spent the afternoon relaxing and reading books. We watched people paddling the lake and even spotted a loon diving. What a nice place to watch the world pass by.
- Distance – 5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 377 ft.
- Difficulty – 1.5. This trail is a rarity by Adirondack standards – the trail was flat and mostly dirt. We think most people could easily manage this hike.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape with only a few muddy spots.
- Views – 2. Views of the mountains across Heart Lake are pretty, but there are no lofty vistas on this hike.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3.5. The small double waterfall is the main point of this hike. It’s a pretty spot, but there are more impressive waterfalls in the area.
- Wildlife – 2. The area is heavily traveled and popular with families and dogs. I wouldn’t expect to see lots of wildlife. Although, we did see a loon on Heart Lake.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are generally easy to follow and well marked.
- Solitude – 2. This is a popular trail in a busy area.
Directions to trailhead: From Lake Placid, go east on Rt. 73 to Adirondac Loj Rd., which is the first right after the ski jumps. The parking lots are 5 miles from Rt. 73. There is a $10/day parking fee. From the parking lot at the High Peaks Information Center at the end of Adirondak Loj Rd. return to the entrance station and find the trail at the far corner of the snowplow turnaround. GPS coordinates for this hike are: 44.1830461,-73.9644678