Please note changes in access and rules for hiking and camping in the Adirondacks and Catskills during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please act responsibly during this stressful period. Please read the DEC info carefully.
Approaching Devil's Kitchen lean-to
Average read time 9 min

As a kid, one of my most memorable experiences was camping. Living on Long Island, we did a lot of hiking and camping in Harriman Park just north of the New York metropolitan area. As I got older, I explored the Catskills and then eventually the Adirondacks. The nights in the woods were (and still are) awesome adventures! Lean-to camping in the Catskills was especially memorable. The history, legend, and structures fascinated me. In this post, we have compiled 5 kid-pleasing lean-tos in the Catskills.

If you’re new to lean-to camping read our post on what to think about before camping at a backcountry shelter.

What’s the criteria for the 5 Catskill lean-tos?

  • Does the lean-to have cool things on the hike in or nearby?
  • Is the condition of the lean-to okay?
  • Are there primitive campsites or good at-large camping in the area? (the lean-to may be full)
  • Is it easy to get to and camp at?

John Robb Lean-to

The John Robb Lean-to is located in the Rusk Mountain Wild Forest. It is off the Spruceton Trail at 2.2-miles from the trailhead leading to the summit of Hunter Mountain and the fire tower.

John Robb Lean-to Hunter Mountain
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking John Robb Lean-to Hunter Mountain

The highest of all the lean-tos on the list it is perched on a ledge at 3452′ in a boreal forest. There is a great view of the Spruceton Valley 100′ from the lean-to and it has one of the best springs in the Catskills! Its current location is relatively new as the last John Robb Lean-to which burned in 2005 was directly on the Spruceton Trail. It was rebuilt in 2009 about one-tenth a mile from the trail, it is one of the newer lean-tos in the Catskills.

Spruceton Trail to John Robb Lean-to
Hiking Distance:2.3-miles (one way)Route TypeOut-and-back
Total climb:1413′Hike type:Trails
How hard?ModerateTrailhead:Spruceton Trail
Cool things:Streams, Fire tower, View near lean-to
Condition of lean-to:Excellent
Primitive campsites for tenting:Yes
Ease of camping:Good. Water source close and reliable, if lean-to is full camp at primitive sites, Good privy.
John Robb Lean-to map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking John Robb Lean-to map

Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to

Don’t let the name scare you, but the area is full of the devil. The lean-to sits about 0.10-miles south of the famed Devil’s Path on the Overlook Trail. This and the Batavia Kill Lean-to are the closest to the road at less than 1.50-miles! It is located in the Indian Head Wilderness. Beware, the trail does go directly in front of the lean-to, so any other hikers will be walking by with full view of your campsite. This is a very busy hiking area and the lean-to gets a lot of use!

Devil's Kitchen Lean-to
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to

The Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to is the oldest of the five constructed in 1935, but the devil himself is pretty old. Given its age, it is also the lean-to with the most wear. This is also a popular lean-to as it is at the base of Indian Head Mountain and perfectly situated for base camping for some great day hikes!

Hiking from the Platte Clove Preserve on the Overlook Trail is the way to go. Crossing a king-post bridge and passing several rock quarries, a nature path, streams, and a walk through a grand forest makes this an exciting route.

There are plenty of spots for at-large camping if the lean-to is full.

From the north on the Overlook Trail to Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to
Hiking Distance:1.32-miles (one way)Route Type:Out-and-back
Total climb:495′Hike type:Trail
How hard?EasyTrailhead:Steenburgh Road
Cool things:King-post bridge, quarries, old growth forest, streams, waterfalls, high peaks, views.
Condition of lean-to:Fair
Primitive campsites for tenting:No, but good spots for at-large camping.
Ease of camping:Good. Water source close and reliable, good sites for at-large camping. One excellent spot on a herd path up Plattekill Mountain. Privy needs help.
Devil's Kitchen Lean-to Map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to Map

Batavia Kill Lean-to

The very attractive Batavia Kill Lean-to gets its name from the stream that starts on the slopes of Blackhead Mountain and passes near it. It is located on the Batavia Kill Trail in the Windham – Blackhead Wilderness Area. The Batavia Kill empties into the Schoharie Creek after making its beautiful 21-mile journey down the Black Dome Valley and then on to Prattsville! It is an excellent source of cold mountain water while you camp at the lean-to.

Batavia Kill Lean-to in the Catskills
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking New Batavia Kill Lean-to

The current lean-to was built in 2018, making this the newest one in the Catskills! It replaces one that was about one-tenth a mile down the trail. The old lean-to was in disrepair and too close to the stream where the ground near the lean-to was usually very wet. Also, like other older lean-tos, the trail passed directly in front of it. The newer location suffers none of these problems!

If the lean-to is full, no problem, two primitive campsites are nearby making it possible to camp in the same area. The lean-to makes for a perfect base camp for hiking a loop of Blackhead or Acra Point and other peaks.

Batavia Kill Lean-to via Black Dome Range and Batavia Kill Trails
Hiking Distance:1.4-miles (one way)Route Type:Out-and-back
Total climb:586′Hike type:Trails
How hard?EasyTrailhead:Big Hollow Rd
Cool things:Batavia Kill, several foot bridges, remains of an old stone dam used during 1800s for logging, Blackhead Mountain, Acra Point
Condition of lean-to:Excellent
Primitive campsites for tenting:Yes, two primitive sites in the area near the lean-to.
Ease of camping:Good. Water source close and reliable, finding firewood may be hard, privy
Batavia Kill Lean-to Map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Batavia Kill Lean-to Map

Kelly Hollow Lean-to

The Kelly Hollow Lean-to is situated in a relatively isolated trail loop in the Balsam Lake Wild Forest. The lean-to was built in 1977 and is still in good condition. It is at the top of the hollow at the 2.0-miles point on the long-loop situated near a beautiful beaver pond.

Kelly Hollow Lean-to in the Catskills
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Kelly Hollow Lean-to in the Catskills

The hike to the Kelly Hollow Lean-to is relatively easy. It gradually climbs through a beautiful pine forest crossing foot bridges and stone walls and foundations from past logging and farming activity. On the loop, there are two trailheads, each one has primitive campsites close to the road. There is also an option for primitive camping about 0.5-miles from the east trailhead.

The lean-to can also serve as a base camp for people wishing to hike the Catskill 67. One could bushwhack Mill Brook Ridge from the lean-to/pond. Obviously, this is for more seasoned hikers.

Beware, the trail does go directly in front of the lean-to, so any other hikers will be walking by with full view of your campsite. Having said that, the trail is lightly used as compared to others in the region. The other thing to keep in mind is the hollow is popular during hunting season.

Kelly Hollow Lean-to via the Kelly Hollow Long Loop
Hiking Distance:2.0-miles (to lean-to) 3.8-miles on the loop.Route Type:Loop
Total climb:567′Hike type:Trail
How hard?Easy-moderateTrailhead:East parking
Cool things:Beaver pond at lean-to, lean-to has picnic table, large foot bridges, old foundations, streams, and many rock walls, gorgeous pine stands.
Condition of lean-to:Good
Primitive campsites for tenting:Yes, but not at the lean-to. Good spots for at-large camping near the lean-to.
Ease of camping:Good. Water source close and reliable, fire wood plentiful. Privy needs help.
Kelly Hollow Trail Loop and Lean-to
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Kelly Hollow Trail Loop and Lean-to

Rochester Hollow Lean-to

In many ways the Rochester Hollow Lean-to is the most unique on the list. It is located in the Shandaken Wild Forest in the Central Catskills. First, it is the only one that has handicap access which is by ATV. Access by ATV is granted only to Motorized Access Program for People with Disabilities (MAPPWD) permit holders. The trail system in the hollow is open to mountain bikes and horses, can you ride to your destination? For horses, proof of current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses and out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate.

But the uniqueness of the hike also come from the history in the hollow in which the Rochester Estate was once located. Some of the remains are found on the trail! There is also a small monument that was placed in the hollow in honor of John Burroughs. Finally, out of all the hikes on this list you will see the most extensive rock wall development and some foundations, especially on the Eignor Farm Trail.

Inside the Rochester Hollow Lean-to
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Inside the Rochester Hollow Lean-to

The lean-to itself is in great condition. Built around 2005, it was constructed for people with challenges. The oversized privy with grab bars is not at all common. The large and level hearth between the lean-to and fire pit is well maintained. There are gravel paths leading from the trail to the lean-to which is set back by 200-250′. There is also a gravel path from the lean-to to the privy.

Join the Trailhead, it’s Free!
The latest trips, tips, stories, news, and more, broadcasted to your inbox!
We respect your privacy. We will not sell or give your info to anyone!

It is the longest hike on the list at 2.5-miles to the lean-to with a 950′ climb. If you take the Eignor Farm Trail loop back it would a total of 5.58-miles or a 5.0-mile round trip if taking the Colonel Rochester Trail, the trail you hike in on, back to your car. There are two primitive campsites close to the trailhead and many good spots for at-large camping near the lean-to.

Hiking Distance:2.5-miles to the lean-to (5.0-miles RT)Route Type:Out-and-back
Total climb:950′ to lean-toHike type:Trail(s)
How hard?Easy-moderateTrailhead:Rochester Hollow TH
Cool things:Remains of Rose Camp, extensive rock walls, foundations, Eignor Farm Trail loop, huge maple and oaks, handicapped access, Burroughs Monument.
Condition of lean-to:Excellent
Primitive campsites for tenting:Yes, but not at the lean-to. Good spots for at-large camping near the lean-to.
Ease of camping:Okay. Water source not close and but reliable, fire wood plentiful. Privy large and in great condition.
Rochester Hollow Trails and Lean-to Map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Rochester Hollow Trails and Lean-to Map

Rules for Lean-to Camping

  • Tents are not allowed inside lean-tos and must be at least 150 feet from the lean-to.
  • Lean-tos are available on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved.
  • Lean-tos should be shared by multiple parties until filled to capacity (normally 8 people).
  • Fires should be built in existing fire pits or fireplaces if provided.
  • Campfires must be less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter.
  • Cutting standing trees is prohibited. Use only dead and down wood for fires.
  • Extinguish all fires with water and stir ashes until they are cold to the touch.
  • Get your firewood from a local vendor (within 50 miles of your destination) and ask for a receipt or label that lists the firewood’s local source.
  • Use pit privies provided near popular camping areas and trailheads. If none are available, dispose of human waste by digging a hole 6″-8″ deep at least 150 feet from water or campsites
  • Carry out what you carry in.
  • Camping for more than three nights or with 10 or more people requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.

Final thoughts

Lean-to camping is a joy. But keep in mind that lean-tos do not offer the same protection from bugs and other creatures that tents do. Also tents are generally warmer unless you can keep your fire burning all night. Given that, pick you day and time of year carefully to make sure your young camper has the best opportunity to enjoy their first experience. If it looks like rainy and cool weather maybe go with the tent, but if it’s sunny and warm go for the lean-to!

In any case, enjoy! Lean-to camping is part of a long tradition dating back hundreds of years in the Catskills and Adirondack, hopefully you and your kids will become a regular part of that tradition!

If you head out to any of these lean-tos we’d love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below!

Last Updated on March 7, 2021