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Lake George's Prospect Mountain Highway delivers great views

Summer on Lake George

Lake George's Prospect Mountain Highway delivers great views

Thousands each year drive to historic mountain summit
Lake George's Prospect Mountain Highway delivers great views
William and John Henry Zhang of Clifton Park pose for a photograph at the top of Prospect Mountain on June 9, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller

LAKE GEORGE — The easiest way to get a panoramic view of Lake George is to drive up Prospect Mountain, a prominent little peak that overlooks the village.

On a clear day, the mountain summit -- which has a distinctive rock-cut visible from the Northway -- offers a 100-mile view, and an experience that thousands of people share every summer.

The view takes in the village and docks, the southern end of the Lake George basin, the Adirondack High Peaks and the Green Mountains of Vermont. The Northway snakes below, but the summit feels a world apart.

If people want the exercise, a hiking trail up the mountain from the village is a steady climb through woods and overexposed rock -- and a chance to use that wire-enclosed pedestrian bridge over the Northway just below Exit 22. (There's an adrenaline shot from having a tractor trailer pass directly underneath you, or you can dash to avoid getting run under!)

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Brady and Arcangela Chapman, of Delmar, and their son Aiden, 2-years-old, take in the views from the top of Prospect Mountain for views of Lake George in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Brady and Arcangela Chapman, of Delmar, and their son Aiden, 2-years-old, take in the views from the top of Prospect Mountain for views of Lake George in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

But nobody who doesn't want to climb the 1.5-mile mountain trail has to work that hard to get the views.

The 50-year-old Prospect Mountain Veterans' Memorial Highway allows motorized vehicles to drive to within a few hundred yards of the 2,150-foot summit, using a boulder-lined toll road with three spectacular scenic overlooks along the route.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation owns the highway, and DEC spokesman David Winchell said 68,787 people visited Prospect Mountain in 2018, a 4.7 percent increase from 2017.

Drive up the winding 5.5-mile road takes approximately ten minutes from entry booth to the parking lot, plus and time spent at the three overlooks: The Narrows, the Lake George Panorama, and Eagles' Nest.

At the top, there's a self-guided nature trail, the remains of the world's largest cable railroad, and picnic facilities. There's water available from self-service plastic jugs, and access to portable toilets.

From the large parking lot below the summit, visitors can wait for a DEC shuttle bus that runs every 10 minutes or so, showing an informational video as people ride from the parking lot to a loop around the open summit. There's also a steep path that rises 155 feet, if people want to climb from the parking lot.

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Views of Lake George from Prospect Mountain from the outlook view stops, in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Views of Lake George from Prospect Mountain from the outlook view stops, in Lake George on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

A giant cable car wheel preserved near the summit tells a big part of the mountain's history -- a beautiful view of Lake George is something people have been seeking at least since the late 19th century, when tourism became an activity for the leisure class.

There was a building at the top, where people could dance and eat. A cable railroad up the mountain -- following the steep path now followed by the hiking path -- began construction in January 1895, and cost $120,000 in that era's dollars. The railway opening on June 15, 1895, but by 1903 it had failed due to financial problems. The mountain was soon thereafter donated to the state.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

In 1932, the building at the top of the mountain burned down and was replaced by a steel fire tower.  The state spent decades pondering how to use the summit -- sound familiar? -- and finally, in 1954, then-Gov. Tom Dewey signed legislation to build a highway up the mountain, so the public could easily benefit from the view. Then nothing happened for another decade.

In 1966, then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller made funds available for the highway. The Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway opened in 1969, dedicated to war veterans.

NewsProspect Mountain Veteran's Memorial Highway and Lake George Overlook sign.

The boulders that act as guardrails are the remnants of blasting done when the road was built, with the drilled dynamite holes still visible in some of the rocks.

In keeping with the veterans' memorial theme, a prisoner of war/missing in action memorial ceremony is held at the summit every year, on the first Sunday in June.

If you want to go, the highway begins on the west side of Canada Street (Route 9) about a mile south of the commercial strip, and roughly opposite a Stewart's Shop. Look for the large rustic sign promoting the summit's 100-mile view.

The cost is $10 for a car or truck, $5 for motorcycles, and $2 for bicycles (yes, people will bike up the mountain.) But if you're age 62 or older and can produce a New York State driver's license or ID, the trip is free.

The road is seasonal, open from around Memorial Day through the fall foliage season, but closed in winter.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

More: Your guide to summer on Lake George

 

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