Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fifth Peak, Tongue Mtn: 06/22/2014

Lake George and the Tongue Mountain range from Fifth Peak, Sunday 06/22/2014.

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Well known for its varied trails and spectacular views of Lake George and surrounding peaks, the Tongue Mountain trail system is something of a southern Adirondack hiking mecca. Nearly 20 miles of trails criss-cross the Tongue Mountain range, but the most popular destination of all is Fifth Peak.

Don't let Fifth Peak's low summit elevation (just 1,800') fool you. Since Lake George's elevation is less than 400', Fifth Peak sports a vertical relief that's comparable to much taller mountains. In fact, I picked Fifth Peak for our hike on Sunday partly because it falls right in the sweet spot for our family: the six mile round-trip with 1500' of vertical is a good match for our kids' current abilities.

We scored another near perfect day for Sunday's hike, with blue skies, puffy clouds and temperatures around 70. To make the hike even more fun, we invited friends to hike with us (a great strategy for hiking with kids).

The hike actually begins with a gradual downhill to lake level

Big pines frame the kids early in the hike

A beautiful waterfall not far into the hike

The brook cascades over moss-covered rock

From the Clay Meadow trailhead, the route passes through a beautiful forest of white and red pines (planted by the CCC) before getting serious about its ascent up the mountainside. Early in the climb, a cascading waterfall (water features are always a hit with the kids) is passed. Steep pitches alternate with a few level stretches, eventually leading to a 4-way trail junction about two miles into the hike.

Sylvie and Beth couldn't manage to reach around the girth of this oak

Not a rattler

Daniel and Alex in the lead

Somewhere in the stretch above the waterfall, Daniel and his buddy Alex got out in front of us and kept going. They were waiting for us at the 4-way trail junction, but it served as a good reminder to always have kids wait and re-group at every trail junction.

Interesting wetlands near the 4-way junction

The view from the lean-to at Fifth Peak's summit

Open grassy areas at the summit are a pleasant place to relax

Lake George from Fifth Peak's eastern lookout

Fifth Peak lies just to the south (R) of the 4-way trail junction. A short spur trail leads to a lean-to at the summit. It's a spectacular spot. Just below the lean-to is a lookout to the east, with Lake George's sparkling waters 1400 feet below. Beyond the lean-to is a broad open area with expansive views to the south and west. The Tongue Mountain range tapers away to the south, splitting Northwest Bay from Lake George's Narrows. Gore, Hadley, Crane, Cat and Hickory are all visible. Some of the High Peaks are even visible to the north.

View to the southwest from Fifth Peak's summit ledges

Wildflowers (gentians?) blooming at the summit

Daniel and Alex checking out the view

East and West Dollar Islands are directly below Fifth Peak's eastern lookout

Tongue Mountain is also well known for its rattlesnake population (it's the northern fringe of their range), and the open ledges of Fifth Peak's summit are a likely spot to encounter a rattler. We didn't see any (I've seen them on other occasions that I've hiked Tongue Mountain), but it's worth mentioning as reminder that they are present.

A final look at Lake George before heading down

Almost done...

Lake George and summer are almost synonymous to me, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the first full day of summer than hiking Tongue Mountain. We followed up our hike with a stop for ice cream at Stewart's in Bolton Landing, followed by a quick dip in the lake. It's great to have the entire summer - and hiking season - in front of us.


  1. Thanks for reminding me what a gem that is Jeff! Back in my Bolton days, camping at the lean-to was always a great time :)