Sunday, October 22, 2017

Adirondack Lean-Tos In Winter

John Dillon Park lean-toThere are benefits to winter camping in a lean-to. Lean-tos are spacious; although each lean-to can be different, typically there is adequate room for five campers. The lean-to provides a level, dry platform for changing clothes, setting up a stove, mixing food, or just plain sitting. They are usually unoccupied in winter.

On the other hand, lean-to’s aren’t particularly warm in cold weather – even if you close off the open side with a tarp. Also, they are usually situated in high-use areas. They can house rodents and the sleeping arrangements can leave you lying wide awake between two prodigious snorers.

Lean-tos are traditional open faced camping shelters. They are mostly found on State Forest Preserve Land in the Catskills and Adirondacks.  Recently I hiked into John Dillon Park, an handicap accessible wilderness facility created through a partnership among International Paper, Paul Smith’s College and the State of New York. I was interested in viewing their handicap accessible lean-tos equipped with ramps and fold-down wooden sleeping platforms.

In 2008 an Adirondack hiking forum user, DSettahr, stated it was his “(long term) hiking goal… to spend a night in every single lean-to in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.” To that end DSettahr began an inventory and posted a spreadsheet. Over time, with the contribution of many hikers, he ended up with a spreadsheet of 295 lean-tos.

Lean-tos are also located along the Appalachian Trail. WhiteBlaze, an internet resource dedicated to the Appalachian Trail, has a forum devoted to Shelters & Lean-tos where users share their shelter experiences and discuss issues related to shelters of lean-tos from Georgia to Maine. Lean-tos are also found in Finland, where they are called laavus. They are especially common in the Pukala National Forest of Finland.

Lean­-to Construction and Usage

In New York lean-tos are built mostly by hand with chainsaws and chisels and the logs are assembled using a scribe notching technique that results in a very tight fit of joints and allows the use of the entire length of logs. The floor space usually measures 12′ x 8′ in size.

lean-to planThe original plans for building a lean-to were published by the New York Conservation Department’s Bureau of Camps and Trails in March 1957, titled Plan #184.

New York State maintained lean-tos are open to any and all comers up to the marked capacity of the shelter. As is the case at other campsites, you may not stay at a lean-to for more than three consecutive nights without a free DEC permit. When using a lean-to, don’t hammer nails into the logs or make other “improvements.” It’s even illegal to set up a tent inside a lean-to!

Lean-tos are commonly available in the winter. In 14 years of winter camping only once have I encountered a lean-to in use by other campers. On one of my very first winter camping trips an intrepid Boy Scout troop preceded us into the popular John Pond lean-to in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. We read their intentions at the trailhead register so we retrieved a tent from our vehicle and tented on the other side of the pond rather than try to share the lean-to with the troop.

John Dillon Park lean-toGiving Back to Lean-­tos

If you have used a lean-to and enjoyed the experience you can give back by volunteering through Adopt a Lean-to (or they can point you to Lean2Rescue).

Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adopt a Lean-to Program began in 1985 with the approval of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Typically Adopters make multiple visits to ‘their’ lean-to to keep it cleaned up and maintained.

Adopting a lean-to does not entail major reconstruction work, and adopters do not need to be ADK members. The adopters hailed from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Canada.

Read about Adirondack lean-to etiquette here

Photos: John Dillon Park lean-to.

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Jim Muller is an avid Adirondack winter camper who publishes The site features news, information and tips and tricks for winter campers, along with stories and photos from his own adventures.

Jim has recently been taking canoe trips around the ADKs, documenting his trips on Visit to find out more about the joys of winter camping.

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6 Responses

  1. Justin Farrell says:

    Good article, thanks for sharing!
    I like lean-tos during winter also…especially when the snow cover hides all of the cut tree stumps, trash, and TP blossoms left behind.

  2. Boreas says:

    “Lean-tos are commonly available in the winter. In 14 years of winter camping only once have I encountered a lean-to in use by other campers.”

    This may be true across the Park. But in my experience with winter camping in the HPW and other more popular locations in the Park, obtaining a lean-to was never a given. However if most of your camping is mid-week in winter, this may well be true. I advise to always carry a shelter as a precaution if you intend to spend a night in a lean-to.

  3. scottvanlaer says:

    I know the Conservation Department had a circular prior to 1957 that served as a blue print for construction. There was a time when you could get permission to build a lean-to on Forest Preserve for a specific location as long as you built it in the same dimensions as listed in the circular.

  4. Paul says:

    It’s funny. If you have a bat inside your home while you were asleep it is advised (by the NYS dept. of health) to have the bat tested for rabies, if you are unable to catch and it gets away you should be get post-exposure immunoglobulin and a vaccination as a precaution.

    But it’s okay too sleep outside with the bats! For me it’s a tent of a cabin. With bugs you gotta sleep with your head in the bag anyway!

  5. John St.laurent says:

    I love stay in Leanto s, my Doctor’s said no more sleeping on the ground, I said that’s ok I will sleep in Leantos, his reply ,what’s a Leanto??

  6. Rick miller says:

    I have a copy of the blueprints for an ADK leanto.

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