Countless ways to see the Adirondacks’ essential lake

Peaks that ring Lake George offer some of the best hiking in the region
The hikes around Lake George provide some sweeping views of the water. Shown here is Rogers Rock’s Little Slide.
The hikes around Lake George provide some sweeping views of the water. Shown here is Rogers Rock’s Little Slide.

With sweeping lake views framed by Adirondack mountains and deep forest, the peaks that ring Lake George offer some of the best hiking in the region.

From a quick and easy walk in the woods to the arduous loop around the Tongue Mountain Range, the Lake George region offers hiking options to fit all fitness levels and ambition. Some of the hikes culminate with a view across the Champlain Valley to the Green Mountains, while other hikes provide a peak north to the Adirondack High Peaks. Some offer both.

Exploring the Lake George area on foot is a classic Adirondack pastime, as the park’s earliest adventurers – followed by its earliest tourists – made camp around the lake.

And if you are lucky – or not so lucky – the hikes around Lake George present a chance to spot a rattlesnake. So be careful, you’ve been warned. Put on your boots, pack a snack and hit the trails. Here’s a look at some Lake George hikes that might be just what you are looking for:

Buck Mountain

Distance: 6.6 miles

Elevation change: 2,000 feet

In the hiking guide 50 Hikes in the Adirondacks, Barbara McMartin begins with descriptions of three classic Lake George hikes: Buck Mountain, Black Mountain and the Tongue Mountain Range. She starts with Buck and calls it a “perfect introduction to the Adirondacks.”

After climbing just over three miles to the summit of Buck, the successful hiker is rewarded with sweeping views from open, rocky outcrops.

The Buck Mountain summit offers sweeping views of the lake and the Central Adirondacks.MILES REED
The Buck Mountain summit offers sweeping views of the lake and the Central Adirondacks.

The trail begins as an easy and gentle climb into woodland. At the first stream crossing, about a half-mile from the start of the trail, follow yellow markers as the trail starts to steepen climb higher. Still short of the summit, the trail emerges from the woods to open vistas. The higher the trail goes, the more open the views gets, taking in more and more of the surrounding mountains, lakes and valleys.

Find the trailhead near the end of Pilot Knob Road along the eastern shore of the lake. If you have already climbed Buck, try following the trail to the right at the first stream crossing and explore more trails in the Lake George Wild Forest.

Black Mountain

Distance: 5.5 to 8.2 miles

Elevation Change: 1,100 feet

Like Buck, Black Mountain rises from the eastern shores of the lake but sits further north, about halfway up the length of the lake. Black earns the title of the tallest peak surrounding the lake at just over 2,600 feet.

The trail sets off at a trailhead off of Pike Brook Road: head north on State Route 22 from Whitehall, turn left on County Road 6, turn left onto Pike Brook, finding the trailhead a short ways on the right. An out-and-back hike directly to the summit clocks in around 5.5 miles, while a loop past Black Mountain Pond and Lapland Pond will extend the hike to over 8 miles.

Adirondack naturalist and early nature photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard called Black Mountain a “sentinel… overlooking the whole lake and mountains” surrounding it – for good reason. Black Mountain rises well above its nearby terrain and offers wide panoramic views.

Black’s exposed summit offers views from ground level but climb the fire tower at the peak for a little more elevation. While on the summit, take a look across the island-choked narrows of the lake to the ups and downs of the Tongue Range – they are no small matter and the Black summit may give you a good idea of the challenge they present.

Walkers make their way to the top of Prospect Mountain for views of Lake George in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Walkers make their way to the top of Prospect Mountain for views of Lake George in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Tongue Mountain Range

Distance: 12.4 miles

The Tongue Range juts headlong into the northern waters of Lake George, creating a quiet bay in the northwest corner of the lake and splitting the lake as it moves north toward the Champlain Valley. The mountain range’s unique presence in Lake George offers hikers views both east and west down toward the lake’s deep blue water.

The Tongue Range includes five separate summits as the trail climbs – and descends – its way down the spine of the tall ridge. The trail doesn’t present the soaring challenges found in other parts of the Adirondacks, but the ups and downs present a challenge that rivals most any other hike in the region.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

The combined elevation gain equals that of the straight-to-the-summit hikes of Algonquin Peak and Giant Mountain in the High Peaks, according to McMartin.

Get an early start on this hike, starting at the Clay Meadow trailhead on Lake Shore Drive just north of the lake’s Northwest Bay. The trail climbs over a mile before reaching the start of the ridge and heading south toward Montcalm Point, the end of the ridge with sweeping ground-level lake views. But before reaching that endpoint, the trail climbs to Fifth Peak before dipping down to a lowpoint and turning back to the sky. Along the way, countless views open of the lake, its surrounding hills and the climbing still ahead on the trail.

Be prepared for a long and hard day, but the Tongue Range offers one of the most diverse and varied hikes in the Adirondacks.

Prospect Mountain

Distance: About 3 miles

With access by foot from downtown Lake George, Prospect sports a quick, but steep, climb to the top of a mountain the tops out at just over 2,000 feet.

Don’t want to hike? Drive up the seasonal Veterans Memorial Highway between Memorial Day and late October to get the view with less strain for your legs – though there is a small access fee.

Look for the rusted remains of the Prospect Mountain Cable Incline Railway, once the longest cable railroad in the world. The trail up the mountain largely follows the course of the old tramway.

The trail is among the most popular in the Lake George area so expect to be joined by other hikers during peak seasons. But the short distance shouldn’t be confused for simple as the steep climb offers little flat terrain to rest on.

The summit presents a strong view of southern Lake George and you can still get back down to the village in time for an afternoon drink and snack.

Sleeping Beauty Mountain

Distance: 5 to 7.5 miles

The Sleeping Beauty Mountain trail near Fort Ann presents a gradual climb to a lookout with cliff faces looking east, west and south. The views take in Lake George, Crane Mountain and parts of Vermont.

The easy climb eventually gives way to a series of switchbacks – an uncommon pleasure on many Adirondack trails – that bring the trail to a false summit replete with beautiful and rocky lookouts and views in many directions.

The hike is considered family-friendly but can differ in length depending on seasonal road openings and closings. Access the trailhead by taking State Route 149 to Buttermilk Falls Road, then turn on Sly Pond Road until you find the Hogtown access.

Cat Mountain

Rising on the western side of Lake George, Cat Mountain provides a counterpoint to its taller cousins on the eastern side of the lake.

A few miles outside of Bolton Landing, this hike offers trails to the summits of both Cat and Thomas mountains as well as the scenic Edgecomb Pond. The trails provide views of southern Lake George and its surrounds.

The hiking is easier than other trails around Lake George and provide a nice introduction to the area and Adirondack hiking in general.

Lake George 12ster

If you need a motivator other than lake views and scenic hiking, check another box by completing the Lake George 12ster. If you’re on the extreme side try it in 24 hours. The challenge – an unofficial relative of other hiking challenges like the 46 High Peaks – encompasses all the highest peaks surrounding the lake.

If you took on the Tounge Range after getting into shape on Buck and Black mountains, you are already a far way towards completing this challenge. The 12 peaks range from Black Mountain – at 2,665 feet – to First Peak – at 1,586 feet. Here’s a list of all twelve peaks, so get hiking: Black, Erebus, Sleeping Beauty, Buck, Five Mile, Huckleberry, Thomas, Brown, Fifth Peak, French Point and First Peak.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

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