Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Tongue Mountain Range

The Tongue Mountain Range rises on the west side of Lake George, roughly in the middle of the 32-mile lake. The range makes up the backbone of a peninsula that juts into the lake between the Northwest Bay and the Narrows. When looking at a map, the peninsula takes on a "tongue-like" appearance.  Despite modest elevations that top out just over 2,200', the range towers nearly 2,000 vertical feet over the lake at its highest point. 

Lake George from the Tongue Mountain Range

I have always enjoyed hikes with mountain views that overlook big lakes. The Tongue Mountain Range sounded like a vista-heavy hike with countless views of Lake George. I was impressed with the views from other mountains near Lake George that I have hiked. I wanted to eventually check out the Tongue Mountain Range. The range also includes six of the twelve peaks on the Lake George 12ster hiking list,. After a very wet summer, I finally headed to the Tongue Mountain Range in the beginning of September.

The Tongue Mountain Range from a previous
hike on the opposite shore

The southern end of the Tongue Range
from a previous hike

The Tongue Mountain Range Trail extends over 10 miles from route 9N at the Deer Leap Trailhead to Montcalm Point. Along the way, the trail passes over six named mountains before dropping to the lake. The Northwest Bay Trail travels another 5 miles along the shoreline of the lake and its namesake bay to the Clay Meadow Trailhead. This route travels over 16 miles. Since I was hiking alone, I needed to return to my vehicle. My plan was to run back along 9N to my starting point, adding another 5 miles.

I hit the trail just after 8AM on a chilly but clear morning on September 1st. The trail climbs from the start on pretty gentle terrain with modest elevation gain. The trail passes over three named summits in the first 3.5 miles. Since elevation is gained so gradually and the mountains are flat-topped, its difficult to tell when you pass the first two named mountains- Brown and Huckleberry. A lean-to, less than three miles from the trailhead is the only obvious landmark to judge your location in relation to Brown and Huckleberry.

Starting trailhead

Easy terrain early on

Red eft

Fivemile Mountain Lean-to

Beyond the lean-to I passed a short, unmarked spur that lead to a wooded area of rock that I'm guessing was the high point of Huckleberry. Beyond Huckleberry, 2,238', Fivemile Mountain stands as the high point of the range. The trail actually passes under the summit however. A cairn helps locate the herd path to the actual summit of Fivemile. The easy to miss, rocky herd path, climbs a few minutes to a small outcropping in the woods with the summit benchmark. Unfortunately there aren't really any views.

Passing a large rock in dense forest

Nice trail

Fivemile Mountain benchmark

Another draw of this area for me is the possibility to see timber rattlesnakes. While many see this as a deterrent, I have always enjoyed snakes, including venomous snakes. The Tongue Mountain Range is one of the northern most locations of rattlesnakes and sighting are surprisingly common. Unfortunately, I didn't see any snakes. I did however find a large snake shed near the summit of Fivemile Mountain. The shed was at least four foot long.

Snake shed

From Fivemile Mountain, the trail passes somewhat rockier terrain as it descends to a saddle that divides the northern and southern parts of the Tongue Range. The first 5.5 miles on the north half of the range only offers a few partial views. Despite the lack of views, the trail makes for a pleasant forest walk. Generally the trail isn't too rough and the terrain changes are relatively gradual, especially for the Adirondacks.

Mossy forest

One of the few views on the northern half

Passing a small cliff

Shed-sized rock along the trail

The drop into the saddle between Fivemile Mountain and Fifth Peak marks roughly the midpoint of the Tongue Mountain Range. Heading south the trail takes on a different character and also becomes a lot more scenic. The trail that passes through this saddle toward Clay Meadow allows a loop hike that eliminates the northern part of the range.

Sign at the saddle between the
north and south half of the range

A short distance from the saddle the trail reaches a split. Following the trail to the left, you will reach the Fifth Peak Lean-to and the summit of Fifth Peak. Fifth Peak offers the first good look at the lake as well as many of the surrounding mountains. From the main trail the climb to Fifth Peak only gains a few hundred feet with a gradual climb over just a 1/4 mile. 

Fifth Peak Lean-to

Northwest Bay

Mountains to the southwest

Looking west toward Gore Mountain

The Narrows

From Fifth Peak, the trail passes interesting rock features as it takes on a more rugged nature. In the two miles between Fifth Peak and French Point Mountain, the trail passes over several bumps along the ridge with numerous views of the lake and the mountains on the eastern side of the lake. The trail scrambles over a few rocky sections and crosses stretches of open slabs.

Red mushrooms

Passing under a nice sized cliff

Black Mountain

View up the Narrows

Black and Erebus

Looking northeast

Dropping down ledges

French Point Mountain

Open forest

The hike really shines when it reaches French Point Mountain. Situated in the Narrows of Lake George, you get a good look up and down the lake. Numerous islands dot the Narrows and the higher mountains such as Black, Erebus, Sleeping Beauty, and Buck provide a beautiful backdrop from a series of rock outcroppings. I found it a little surprising seeing so many boats on the lake. I  heard the drone of boat motors from more than a 1/4 mile below from the rock outcroppings. The trail often leaves the forest and travels through grassy clearings and over the ledges with plenty of views along the way. Take care following the trail because its not always obvious where it reenters the trees.

Grassy clearing on French Point Mountain

Black Mountain across the lake

Looking south

Leaving French Point Mountain, the trail loses a decent amount of elevation, on sometimes rocky terrain, as it reaches the saddle between French Point and First Peak. I momentarily got turned around in the saddle. I unintentionally followed a herd path where others had missed a turn. Retracing the path, I found where the trail actually traveled. It took a moment and a look at the map to get my bearings though to make sure I headed in the right direction. 

Nice mushroom

Hiking through a clearing

Steamboat on the lake

Good look across the Narrows

Crossing a smooth area of rock

Out of the saddle, enroute to First Peak, the trail passes several more clearings and open rocky areas with plenty of opportunities to take in the views. First Peak provides another open viewing area that takes in a good chunk of the lake and surrounding mountains.

View from a clearing

Looking toward First Peak

Looking south of the Narrows

Crossing a grassy clearing

From First Peak the trail stays in the open more often than not with nearly endless views as it slowly descend to the  lake . Some of the more challenging sections of technical terrain came during the descent from First Peak, including a few short scrambles. Roughly 9 miles into my day, I saw my first group of hikers of the day.

Another clearing

The views kept coming

You can see the trail as it crosses the clearing

Descending in an open forest

A good look at the islands

The trail frequently stays in the open

You can see the boat wakes below

Brushy section of trail

A short technical section

When not traveling on open rock, the trail returned periodically back into the woods. I was surprised at how grassy the forest was. Lush vegetation isn't unusual in the forests of the Northeast. Usually its ferns, hobblebush, moss, or overgrown shrubs. I found it interesting to walk through a grassy forest. 

Grassy forest

After 10+ miles (distances slightly vary depending on source), I reached the end of the Tongue Range Trail at the Northwest Bay Trail. Before hiking along the Northwest Bay Trail, I traveled the short distance to the lake at Montcalm Point. Montcalm Point marks the southern end of the Narrows and the mouth of the Northwest Bay. A boat ramp and day use area sit at the point. The lake is significantly wider here than at the Narrows.

At lake level by Montcalm Point

My final five miles of trail followed closely to the shore of the lake on the Northwest Bay. I hoped to have frequent open views of the lake. I was also anticipating flat terrain that I might be able to run. Unfortunately, the shoreline was quite wooded and good open views were limited. Often when you did get a clearing, there would be a boat right by the shoreline. While the terrain was flat, the Northwest Bay Trail was rougher than I anticipated and quite muddy compared to the rest of the route. Roots often complicated the footing. I ran the better stretches of the trail, but it wasn't as easy as I had expected.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the Northwest Bay Trail was the final stretch. As it heads further north along the bay, the lake changes into a more boggy environment. The trail bypasses the marshy area by climbing away from the water. While not that steep, I was caught by surprise by the sudden elevation change, I thought for sure I must have missed the turn to the trailhead and was heading up the Fivemile Point Trail. I even backtracked a short distance back to the water to make sure I didn't miss the turn. The scale on my map made it difficult to see the elevation and directional change of the trail. 

Northwest Bay Trail

Interesting fungus

Partial clearing over Northwest Bay

The Northwest Bay Trail isn't that bad, it just wasn't what I was expecting. It was nice to hear the water lapping on the shore much of the way. I passed at least one small waterfall on the trail. The few open views along the lake are fairly nice despite seeing boats right along the shorline. After the constant and beautiful scenery on the ridge, the Northwest Bay Trail became a little bit of a slog. It probably wouldn't have been as bad if I wasn't at the end of my day. I was happy when I reached the sign pointing to Clay Meadow and the end of the trail.

Small waterfall

Northwest Bay 

Long bridge over a boggy area near Clay Meadow

As happy as I was to be off the Northwest Bay Trail, I didn't look forward to five more miles on the road back to my van. Compared to many mountainous areas, the roads in the Adirondacks aren't too hilly. I expected a fairly easy trot between the trailheads. I drove between the trailheads in the morning and knew this wasn't going to be the case. The road climbed quite a bit from Clay Meadow to Deer Leap. I started out running the first mile or so. But soon the road began its long climb up the Tongue Mountain Range. The road gains at least 700 vertical feet between the two trailheads. That may not sound like much, but it was like adding another mountain on the day. I trotted when it wasn't too steep, but it was much slower than I was hoping. I was happy when I made it back to my van. I finished my water in the last mile and was looking forward to the bottle I had waiting for me. Including the road section, I ended my day having hiked over 21 miles.

The Tongue Mountain Range offers some incredible lake and mountain scenery. I particularly enjoyed the views and open hiking on the lower half of the Tongue Mountain Range Trail. It's really easy to linger on the open outcroppings to soak in the views. While the northern part of the range is pretty, the southern half is much more impressive. The six mountains that I visited on this hike were the last six I needed to finish the Lake George 12ster, which was a extra plus. Even though I didn't see any rattlers, it's a nice bonus knowing a sighting is possible in this area. If you want the best bang for your buck, I would recommend hiking the southern end of the range as a 14 mile loop from Clay Meadow. With the two lean-tos, you could break the trip of the full range into an overnight trip as well. I assumed this area receives a lot of visitors, but I only saw two groups on a beautiful Friday leading into Labor Day.

Black Mountain across the Narrows

If you hike in the Adirondacks regularly, don't let the modest elevations of the Tongue Mountain Range fool you. The trail, particularly on the southern half, undulates over numerous bumps. It never seems like a lot of elevation change, but over the course of 16 miles, it adds up if you are expecting an easy hike.

If you enjoyed this post, check out and "LIKE" Tomcat's Outdoor Adventures where I post photos more often and revisit past adventures.

1 comment:

  1. I hiked this in winter once, and instead of the NW Bay trail, we simply walked on the ice of the bay.