Lake George 12: Perfect Spring Hiking in the Adirondacks

The Lake George 12 hiking challenge was started by someone searching for technical terrain to train on in preparation for endurance train runs.

Along the way, they participated in a number of other Adirondack challenges including the Saranac Lake 6ers, and the Lake Placid 9ers. They met many individuals on the trail who had hiked a few on the Lake George Mountains but hadn’t experienced them all. This inspired the creation of the Lake George 12ster hiking challenge.

Lake George 12ster Trails

The creator saw how as the lesser-known mountains in these other challenges gained popularity, the voices that advocated for them increased as well. This opportunity for stewardship brought about the Lake George 12 hiking challenge and I’m so glad it did!

During mud season in the Adirondacks April-June (ish) I try to stay below 2,500-3,000 feet but I still need to scratch my hiking itch! Lake George 12 challenge is perfect for Spring hiking in the Adirondacks.

Let’s Meet the Lake George 12 Mountains

The mountains associated with this challenge are listed in (what I perceive!) as the order of difficulty! A lot of these mountains can/should be hiked together so I have grouped them as such to help you with your planning. All Trails is a great resource for planning your trip, however, I also suggest having a paper map handy as well.

Lake George 12ster Happy!

Brown, Huckleberry, and Five Mile Mountain

Lake George 12ster Five Mile Mountain Trail
  • Distance: 8.2 miles RT
  • Elevation: 1,966 feet, 2,232 feet, 2,256 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 2,276 feet

Think of this trail as some peaceful rolling hills. It is definitely the easiest of the Lake George 12ster hikes and you get to ‘snag’ 3 mountains in one very doable hike! 8.2 miles may seem long, but the ascent isn’t too tough and once you reach the summit of Brown, there isn’t too much change in the elevation along the ridgeline. Although the trail itself is pleasant, there isn’t too much to offer in the way of views

If you were looking to spice this hike up a bit and are an experienced hiker – you could consider doing the entire Tongue Range as one long thru-hike. Complete it all in one very long day from dark to dark or overnight it in one of the many lean-tos or camping spots on the trail. You would need to car drop off and schedule a pick-up at one of the parking lots to complete this hike; I would start at Deer Leap and end at Clay Meadows. 

Cat and Thomas Mountain.

  • Distance: 7.56 miles RT
  • Elevation: 1,956 feet & 2,031 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,719 feet

There are two different trailheads for this hike. The first is very popular and right off of route 11; the second, and the trailhead I parked at, is off Edgecomb Pond road. From here, I started out on the trail around Edgecomb Pond and hopped onto the red trail to head up to Cat Mountain.

The trail was quite beautiful and easy to follow. It popped us out onto the eastern part of the summit where we enjoyed views, lunch, and a nap before continuing on to Thomas Mountain. You will travel 2.1 miles along the ridgeline to the summit of Thomas. We returned back to our car on the Blue Trail.

My Handsome Photographer

Buck Mountain.

  • Distance: 7.4 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,334 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,988 feet

You can begin this trail at Pilot Knobb Road (where I started) or Shelving Rock Road. The first mile or so of the trail consisted of a wide path with excellent footing. At about a mile in, there are turn-offs for other trails – be sure to follow the proper markers here. As you continue the trail begins to gradually climb while crossing a few streams.

In the final mile, you’ll start to experience gorgeous views as the canopy recedes and rocky scrambles begin. The summit is a bare rock with a lot of space for exploration and distancing yourself from the crowds. The rocky outcroppings here make nearly perfect seats and beds for napping!

Lake George 12ster Buck Mountain

Black Mountain.

  • Distance: 7.7 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,641 feet
  • Elevation Gain:  1,361 feet

All I have to say is… WHAT A NEAT SUMMIT. The trail starts on a road through the woods. It peels off to the right just as it reaches a private residence. From here there trail steadily inclines until it reaches a summit equipped with an observer’s cabin, an old fire tower, and a windmill.

The summit isn’t all too spacious but provides a small rocky outcropping with beautiful views and an awesome spot to sit and enjoy lunch or a snack. There is also a small space, just .1 miles below the summit where you can enjoy the view as well. 

Lake George 12ster

If you complete this hike as a loop, you’ll experience some additional views of Lake George as you head southwest off the mountain. You will pass through/by a number of swampy ponds and a lean-to on your return hike as well. Beautiful views all around!

If you were feeling extra ambitious and wanted to thru-hike/backpack a portion of your Lake George 12ster, you could start at Black Mountain and finish your trip at Shelving Rock Road after hiking Black, Erebus, and Sleeping Beauty; from Shelving Rock Road you could also take a quick 4.2 mile RT jaunt up to Buck Mountain.

Views of Lake George from the back side of Black Mountain

Sleeping Beauty and Erebus.

  • Distance: 7.98 miles RT
  • Elevation: 2,347 feet & 2,527 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,840 feet

Starting at the Sleeping Beauty Trailhead, we began our climb up a number of switchbacks, keeping the trail from being too steep. The trail is also wide with pretty good footing and easy to follow.

At the summit, there is a vast, popular viewing area. The views of Lake George and the Southeastern Adirondacks are gorgeous from here! This original viewing area isn’t the official summit – there is a short little path that climbs less than a quarter-mile to the actual summit.

My hiking pals decided to head back to the car (to go mountain biking) and I continued on to the summit of Mt. Erebus.

The Viewing Area of Sleeping Beauty Mountain, Lake George 12ster

We parted ways just off the summit and I made my way around Bumps Pond to ascend back up to Erebus Mountain. There is no official trail to the official summit – a spot along the trail is marked as the acceptable summit of Erebus for the purpose of the challenge. There is a herd path here, if you choose, to continue to the official summit.

Please be respectful of the land and DO NOT attempt this trail if you are new to hiking; it can be difficult to follow. You can choose to head back the way you came heading west at Bumps Pond – which is how I returned to the parking lot. You can also choose to head up an over Erebus to Fishbrook Pond for a longer, but even more rewarding day! I have heard the views at Fishbrook Pond are absolutely stunning. 

Sleeping Beauty Summit, Lake George 12ster

Tongue Range: Fifth Peak, French Point, and First Peak.

Lake George 12ster
  • Distance: 14.8 miles RT
  • Elevation: 1,813’, 1756’, and 1586’
  • Elevation Gain: 3,149 feet

Most people complete these as a loop; I completed them as an out and back because I completely missed the turnoff for Firth Peak. Either way, it’s a challenging, beautiful, and rewarding day!

The trail steadily climbs until it intersects with the trail to Deer Leep Junction. From here you’ll turn South West to head to Firth Peak. When you see the campsite marker TURN THERE FOR THE SUMMIT. I didn’t realize there was a lean-to right at the summit of the mountain so I walked right past it changing my intended loop to an out and back with significantly more elevation gain.

From here, it’s a short, steady jaunt to the summit; you can overnight at the lean-to for funsies OR you can complete the entire tongue range as an overnight thru-hike and camp here as well.

Views from First Peak, Lake George 12ster

From Fifth Peak you will continue through the woods on a pretty level trail to a beautiful rocky outcropping before descending into the Col between Fifth and French Point. After what seems like FOREVER you’ll make your way to French Point. There is a stunning view here! It’s a wonderful spot to enjoy lunch and take in the view.

The col (the lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks, typically affording a pass from one side of a mountain range to another) between French and First is much more forgiving. Before you know it you’ll end up on the grassy summit of First Peak. Views of the lake here are absolutely breathtaking! From here, you’ll descend to a lovely hike along Lake George back to the car – unless of course you’re a moron like me and miss the turnoff for Fifth and have to hike all the way back.

French Point, Lake George 12ster

Some Final Hiking Tips

Before you set out on your new adventure make sure you brush up on the Leave No Trace Principles and always be sure to carry your 10 essentials. For me, the Lake George 12ster Hiking Challenge wasn’t only a fun little distraction from the High Peaks during mud season and a global pandemic, but I also think it’s a great opportunity to introduce the less experienced to the Adirondacks in an exciting way.

So many people hear about the Adirondack High Peaks 46er challenge and immediately want to conquer all 46. Unless you’re very experienced in the ways of the backcountry, it’s always good to start somewhere a little less daunting. Starting with the Fulton Chain Trifecta or Lake Placid 9ers before moving on to the Lake George 12ster is a great course of action. No matter what you choose, be sure to educate yourself on outdoor ethics before you take off. 

Buck Mountain, Lake George 12ster

If you have completed your Lake George 12ster Challenge, head on over to their website to register and earn your patch!  

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