If you think of only the High Peaks when it comes to the Adirondacks, and if images of roller coasters and ice-cream-licking tourists pop into your head at the mention of Lake George, you'll be surprised by the Tongue.
The Tongue is a wild, mountainous peninsula that juts into Lake George. It's a world apart from the frenzied resorts and theme park atmosphere that draws millions of tourists to the southern edge of the lake. Nearly 2 miles wide, the Tongue boasts 18 miles of trails, lean-tos, spectacular views, and even rattle-snakes.
Backpackers can set up a car shuttle at the two Tongue traiheads and embark on a 12-mile traverse, bagging five peaks along the way. For an 18-mile partial loop, park at the northern trailhead on NY 9N and head out on the Tongue Loop Trail, which hits all five summits on its way to the shore of Lake George. Note that the lake is the only reliable water source.
The high point on the Tongue Range is 2,258-foot Five Mile Mountain. It's a molehill compared to Mt. Marcy in the High Peaks, about an hour's drive north, but around Lake George, Five Mile is the high ground. Most dayhikers stop at Brown Mountain or at the lean-to atop Five Mile Mountain, then turn around. Backpackers who venture on will be rewarded with stunning vantage points from the summits of Fifth Peak, French Point Mountain, and First Peak. French Point Mountain offers splendid views of The Narrows, which are studded with tree-blanketed islands just begging to be explored by canoe or kayak.
Slogging up and over three 1,500-foot peaks-and accumulating 3,000 feet of elevation gain-provides enough of a gut-busting workout to make you think you're in the High Peaks. After topping First Peak, the trail drops to lake level at Montcalm Point, one of many natural resting places. The payoff for summiting the peaks is a hike along the Northwest Bay shoreline, leading back to Clay Meadows trailhead and, eventually, the end of the 16-mile loop on NY 9N.