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Hiking the Lake George 12ster with Kids

Lake George 12ster with Kids

As a military family, we get the opportunity to explore some pretty incredible places across the United States. Possibly my favorite duty station so far has been Upstate New York near the Southern Adirondacks. We experienced so many incredible adventures in every season: Snowshoeing in the winter, tulip festivals in the spring, camping and creek exploration in the summer, and leaf-peeping in the fall. You can hike all year round and never get bored since each season brings something new and amazing.

One particular location took the cake for us regarding outdoor excursions: Lake George, New York. There was something for everyone, regardless of skill level: short hikes to waterfalls, creek splashing, lake beaches, kayaking, festivals, and so much more. 

The most sought-after adventures in the area are the numerous peaks surrounding the lake that led to incredible views. However, the well-known peaks tended to get extremely crowded. Enter a challenge that helps to highlight some of the hidden gems around Lake George.

What is the Lake George 12ster?

Like other peak-bagging hiking challenges (such as the Adirondack 46er or the Colorado 14ers), the Lake George 12ster encourages participants to reach 12 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains surrounding Lake George, New York. It was created in 2016 by Matthew Haley, an endurance trail runner and hiker, to call attention to the beautiful hidden gem peaks littered around Lake George.

The challenge requires participants to reach the summit (or alternative summit) of 12 peaks in the Lake George area. When we completed the challenge, we totaled over 50 miles of hiking and close to 14,000 feet of elevation gain. There are multiple ways to complete the challenge (each with a differing level of “prestige”).

The regular challenge (what we did) allows you to climb the peaks at your own pace in as much time as you need. You then submit the registration form (found here) and become an official Lake George 12ster.

For those looking for more of a challenge, there are three tougher options. The Winter 12ster Challenge requires that all 12 peaks are reached between December 21st and March 21st. The Ultra 12ster Challenge requires that all 12 peaks are reached within 24 hours.

The toughest challenge is the Winter Ultra 12ster Challenge, which requires that all 12 peaks are reached in 24 hours on a day between December 21st and March 21st. Photo evidence of the trail register sign-in and sign-out are required for the Ultra 12ster Challenges. Check out this website for more information.

Backstory: A Crazy Idea or an Epic Family Adventure?

I came across this challenge while dealing with some heavy emotional stress. I had recently experienced a miscarriage and while I thought I was handling it okay, I found myself unable to focus or find much joy in life. My older son was about 18 months old, and I knew he deserved better than that. My graduate school advisor had me take a break until the following fall, which meant I had too much time to overthink things. I knew I needed an outlet.

Cue fate, destiny, or convenient coincidence, whichever way you want to put it. Someone posted in one of the hiking Facebook groups I was in about the Lake George 12ster. At this point, the challenge was in its infancy and not many had accomplished it yet. One of the peaks involved a bushwhack to the summit and another involved 14-16 miles of hiking. However, the more I researched the area, the more I wanted to try it… as a family.

When I brought it up to my husband, he reluctantly agreed to try. He could see how much I needed to try. He also knew I likely wouldn’t stop pestering him about it if he didn’t agree to it, so why bother? Finally, I had something to focus on. Something that wouldn’t be easy for us but could be rewarding in so many ways.

We got to work, planning our routes and packing lists. Some of the peaks would be pretty easy, but others required some research into possible bail-out points and plan B’s in case they proved to be too much. We weren’t in excellent hiking shape, so I wanted to be prepared in case we needed to turn back and try another day.

We started slow, with an easier peak so we could get our bearings. Every time we marked off a peak, I felt more confident and more like myself again. I could feel myself slowly healing through the power of nature and connection. We were becoming closer as a family and making so many amazing memories along the way.

When we reached the parking lot for the final hike in the series, I realized that had I carried the baby to term, they would have been born right around that day. It made for an emotional hike, and I cried at the top. I cried for what we lost, but also for what we had just accomplished. We likely never would have tried the challenge with two little ones in tow.

I was able to take the pain we felt (because let’s be real, my husband felt that pain too) and use that energy for something amazing. We still wonder what that little whisper of a person would have been like today had they grown to term. However, instead of letting the what-ifs swallow us, we created some amazing memories and grew closer as a family. So, to answer the question in the heading, it was both a crazy idea AND an epic family adventure.

Family Outdoors, two adults wearing hats and a small child in a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 carrier.

Tips for Hiking the Lake George 12ster with Kids

Bring the 10 Essentials

This is especially important for longer hikes on variable terrain. You never know what you may need, so it’s best to be prepared for everything! For more information, check out this article on what to pack when hiking with kids.

Always Fill out the Trail Registry

Most hikes in the Adirondacks have trail registries, which ask for information such as your name, address, phone number, the number of people in your party, and your planned route. They also have a box you can check when you leave, showing that you finished your hike. This is essential for emergency services if you get lost or have a trail mishap. These registries usually include emergency phone numbers in case you get lost and need to get help as quickly as possible.

Brown wooden box with trail registry in a forested area.

Take Heat into Consideration

If you hike these peaks during the warmer months, be sure to take measures to keep kiddos (and yourself) cool and hydrated. Hydration bladders come in handy for carrying larger amounts of water. If you are breastfeeding, be sure to take frequent nursing breaks and drink plenty of water for both yourself and your baby. Check out this post for more tips on hot weather hiking with kids.

Do NOT forget Insect Repellent!

The Adirondacks can get extremely buggy starting in spring. Between mosquitos, biting flies, and ticks, you will want to use effective insect repellent (DEET is generally the most effective for anyone over 2 months old) and/or wear clothing treated with insect repellent. This post has great information on preventing tick and mosquito bites.

Trekking Poles Are Highly Recommended

Every hike in this challenge involves rough terrain, sections of steep inclines and declines, and can get very slick when wet. This becomes even more difficult (and harrowing at times) when you have a baby or child in tow. Using trekking poles increases stability, takes some of the pressure off the joints, and provides leverage on tricky ascents and descents. Personally, we prefer the kind that can collapse smaller and attach to a hiking pack when not in use.

Woman using Black Diamond trekking poles hiking over wet trail with a small child on her back in an Osprey Poco Plus carrier.

Consider Combining Peaks Where You Can

Over half the peaks on this list were done in conjunction with others. For us, this made the challenge more doable because my husband had a very odd work schedule, and it wasn’t always easy to correspond his days off with decent weather. Combining trails allowed us to finish the challenge in our desired time frame.

Know the Abilities of Your Kiddos

Due to the mileage and elevation gain for some of the peaks on the list, I would recommend this challenge for young children that can go in a carrier for a good portion of the hike or older children who are accustomed to longer treks. When we took on this challenge, my oldest was 20-23 months old.

Bring a Paper Map

I know this is a part of the 10 Essentials, but I want to emphasize it again. Cell signal is spotty at best (even at the summits). Bringing a paper map ensures that you have a backup map in case your digital one isn’t available. I like to print out and mark up the paper version with the correct colors of the trail markers before we head out. This ensures we stay on the right path without much guesswork. I also mark “bail-out” points and other route options in case we need to head back quickly or the trail isn’t passable.

Google Maps image of Erebus trail with colored lines showing trail markers.

Choose a Carrier Wisely

If you plan to switch off carrying a child, choose one that is comfortable for both adults. If possible, try on the carrier with the child in it at a store (such as REI) before you make a purchase. A store representative is more likely to know how to adjust the carrier to make it comfortable for all wearers. We prefer framed hiking carriers for longer hikes to store gear and water without needing an extra pack. Check out our reviews and comparisons for numerous carrier options.

The Lake George 12ster Peaks

As stated above there are 12 peaks in the challenge. Rather than having to take 12 separate hiking trips, some of these peaks can be (and some should be) combined. I have listed the peaks below in the order we hiked them, and I have grouped the peaks that we hiked in one trip together.

Sleeping Beauty Mountain

  • Round Trip Length: Ranges from 3.7 miles (out and back) to around 8 miles (including Bumps Pond)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 1,300 feet
  • Location: Hogtown Trailhead or Dacy Clearing Trailhead

This hike was one of the easiest on the list, with a low-moderate 1,300 ft. elevation gain. We used this trail as a “trial run” to see how we could handle the hike with a kid in tow (we weren’t exactly in the best shape at this point). We chose to park closer to the trailhead at Dacy Clearing, which shaved off about 2.5 miles but made for a harrowing drive on a one-lane road riddled with deep potholes.

Once on the trail, it’s easy to follow and well-marked. For an out-and-back option, follow the yellow trail to the trail junction and then head to the right (blue trail) to the summit. If you want to add in a few picturesque stops on the way back down, continue past the summit on the blue trail to Bumps Pond and the red trail to Fishbrook Pond. The read trail will lead you back around to the parking lot.

We enjoyed this trail, and it offered some incredible views. My kiddo enjoyed looking for frogs and salamanders and “talking” to every dog we passed. Of all the trails on the 12ster list, this one is probably the most family-friendly and tends to be the most crowded.

Note: The road to Dacy Clearing is open seasonally. If you hike this trail in the off-season, you will need to park at the Hogtown Trailhead and hike the dirt road to Dacy Clearning. This trail can be combined with Erebus mountain if you are looking to knock off two summits in one day.

Family outdoors at top of peak with view of mountains in the back carrying a child in a hiking carrier.

Northern Tongue Range: Brown, Huckleberry, and Five Mile Mountains

  • Round Trip Length: Around 8 miles (out-and-back)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 2,600 feet
  • Location: Deer Leap Trailhead

After a successful hike at Sleeping Beauty Mountain (and about a month of numerous hikes closer to home), we decided to tackle the northern portion of the Tongue Mountain Range. This hike knocked off three summits in one: Brown, Huckleberry, and Five Mile Mountains. Starting from the Deer Leap Trailhead, you reach a trail junction about 0.75 miles in. Taking the left trail leads to some incredible views of the east side of Lake George. The right trail (blue) leads to the mountain peaks.

The trail is well marked with blue markers the whole way. However, the actual summits for the three mountains were not marked when we hiked there, so it was a bit of a guessing game as to where the true summits were. Most of the views were obstructed by foliage, but the trail was still gorgeous and smelled fresh from recent rain. There were some steep sections (especially in the first 2 miles), and the trail is slick when it rains, but all-in-all it was moderate with around 2,600 feet of elevation gain.

Note: This mountain range is a known habitat for the Timber Rattlesnake, which is the largest venomous snake in New York.  While these snakes are non-aggressive, be sure to keep an eye out to avoid an encounter on the trail!

Man carrying a small child on his back in a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 hiking carrier on a forested trail.

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

  • Round Trip Length: Around 14.5 miles (loop)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 3,200 feet
  • Location: Clay Meadows Parking Lot

After we successfully hiked the Northern Tongue Range, we felt confident enough to tackle the Southern Tongue Range. This hike knocked off three more peaks on the list: Fifth Peak, French Point, and First Peak Mountains. This was, by far, the most challenging hike on our list due to the distance and constant changes in elevation during the first half of the hike. The 3,200 feet elevation gain came in the form of what we dubbed the “roller-coaster” peaks since you climb up and down about 5 peaks (2 are not named).

There are multiple trail junctions along this loop.  The first junction is at around 0.4 miles.  We chose to do the loop clockwise to hike the rough, steep portions first, so we followed the red trail straight ahead.  You will come to another junction at around the 2-mile mark.  Follow the trail on the RIGHT, which is the blue trail. 

About a half a mile further (around the 2.5-mile mark), you will see another trail to the left that leads about 0.3 miles to the 5th Peak Lean-to and summit.  About 4.6 miles farther, there should be a junction with a trail that leads to Montcalm Point to the left (we missed this junction).  Finally, once you loop around, you will find yourself back at the first trail junction you came to.  Take the left trail that leads back to the Clay Meadows Parking Lot. 

When we planned this hike, I chose Fifth Peak as a “bail-out” point. If we didn’t feel confident after reaching that peak, we would turn around and head back down the mountain the way we came.  The way I see it, you don’t want to mess around when you have a child in tow! Thankfully, we felt good at that point and continued hiking to some of the most breathtaking views I have ever encountered.

We were exhausted by the time we finished the first half of the hike, but thankfully the second half was pretty flat. There were some interesting trail obstacles along with about a million bugs along this portion, but there were also tons of critters to see and point out to our little dude. I was impressed at how well he did on this hike. He napped quite a bit and rarely fussed, which made this strenuous adventure more bearable and fun for us all.

Note: As stated above, this mountain range is a known habitat for the Timber Rattlesnake, which is the largest venomous snake in New York.  While these snakes are non-aggressive, be sure to keep an eye out to avoid an encounter on the trail!

Two adults with a small child carrying a Black Diamond trekking pole on a summit in Lake George standing on a grassy area.

Cat and Thomas Mountain

  • Round Trip Length: 7.5 Miles (loop)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 1,800 feet
  • Location: Valley Woods Road parking lot (enter 761 Valley Woods Road, Bolton Landing, NY into GPS)

While these two peaks can be hiked separately, we decided to knock them both out as a loop. After completing the Tongue Range, I figured this hike would be easy in comparison, with an elevation gain of around 1,800 feet. Oddly enough, it ended up being one of the tougher climbs for me. My body was still trying to regulate following the pregnancy loss, and I just didn’t feel like myself. Thankfully, my spouse took up the brunt of the heavy lifting and kept up the encouragement throughout the hike.

There are multiple ways to complete this hike, but we chose to start going clockwise to reach Cat Mountain first. Even with the multiple trail re-routes, it was easy to follow. We started on the orange trail and took the left trail (yellow) at the junction to reach the top of Cat Mountain. Near the summit of Cat Mountain, the trail will switch from yellow to blue, and back to yellow due to the re-routes, but there are plenty of signs pointing towards the peak.  Once at the top of Cat Mountain, backtrack and follow the signs for the blue trail.  This will lead to Thomas Mountain. The trail will switch back to orange, which will head back down to the parking lot.

Back when we hiked this trail, there was a rad cabin at the top of Thomas Mountain. It has since been removed, but the views are still spectacular. This hike involves some rock scrambling in areas along with some very loose gravel. I highly recommend using hiking poles to add some stability and avoid screaming knee joints (especially with a child on your back!).

Family with young child in a Osprey Poco Plus Carrier at the top of Thomas Mountain in Lake George.

Erebus Mountain

  • Round Trip Length: Around 8 miles (lollipop formation)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 1,800 feet
  • Location: Dacy Clearing Trail Head (same as Sleeping Beauty Mountain above)

I was nervous about this hike. It wasn’t because of difficulty or distance; it was about lack of information. I found very little when it came to trail conditions and route information when I researched Erebus Mountain. I ended up making my own trail map using Google Maps and hoped for the best (see tips section for our Erebus map, I added colors that correspond to the trail markers).

I’m glad I did my research because there were some confusing trail junctions, but this ended up being one of my favorite hikes of the challenge. While there were no views from a high peak (too much foliage), we witnessed gorgeous views of two ponds, about a thousand dragonflies, and multiple beaver dams. There are various campsites along the trail, and an incredible, old stone structure (possibly an old fireplace) to investigate.  Our kiddo was in awe, and his excitement rubbed off on us as well.

For this hike, start on the yellow trail at the Dacy Clearing trailhead.  At the first trail junction, head left to stay on the yellow trail towards Bumps Pond.  Once at the far end of Bumps Pond, veer left at the next trail junction onto a blue trail leading towards Erebus Mountain.  At around 2.5 miles, head right onto the red trail. This leads along the west ridge of Erebus Mountain. 

The “alternative summit” is marked with a white disc at about 3.2 miles.  Follow the signs for Fishbrook Pond.  Once you reach the far end of the pond, there is an area to sit and relax, overlooking the water.  This is the final trail junction and the most confusing one.  Take the yellow trail leading south for the remainder of the hike, which leads back towards Bumps Pond and the parking lot.

Note: As I write this, it is not required to reach the true summit of Erebus Mountain for this challenge. That would require a bushwhack, trail marking tape, and luck since it isn’t marked. We didn’t want to risk that with a toddler in tow!

View of Bumps Pond surrounded by forest.

Buck Mountain

  • Round Trip Length: Around 7 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 2,000 Feet
  • Location: Off of Pilot Knob Road (enter 1750 Pilot Knob Road, Fort Ann, NY to GPS)

The thing I love most about hiking in the Adirondacks is that even though most trails have their share of challenging aspects, there is always so much to see. This trail is the perfect example of that. It starts easy, but gradually becomes steeper and rockier and finishes with a false summit and a mild rock scramble to the real summit. It may sound intense, but those spectacular views make it worth it!

There are two ways to hike this mountain. We chose the longer option with a more gradual incline. Starting at the trailhead off Pilot Knob Road, follow the yellow trail markers all the way to the summit. Keep left at the trail junctions to continue up the peak. The false summit offers spectacular views and plenty of room to take a break before the final push to the top.

At this point in our 12ster journey, our little dude had gotten used to these long treks on our backs. He knew that summits and longer stops meant opportunities to explore. By the time we reached the summit, he said “All done! Now down!”, where he then proceeded to greet every person he saw and ask for his “P. Bo” (aka peanut butter and jelly sandwich). Watching him embrace the adventure helped me realize that this was so much more than a healing journey. It was a positive lifestyle change for all of us.

Two adults with young child standing at the top of a summit overlooking a lake with islands

Black Mountain

  • Round Trip Length: 5.7 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation Gain: Around 1,200 feet
  • Location: Off Pike Brook Road (enter 1281 Pike Brook Road, Clemens, NY into GPS)

Our final hike was meant to be one of the easiest, but the torrential rain from the day before made it more of a muddy, slippery adventure with more than a few close calls and butt slides. The trail follows a stream bed, which can overtake the dry areas around it after heavy rains. Expect a lot of mud and wet spots! Waterproof footwear and hiking poles are highly recommended unless you enjoy soggy feet and trail diving.

It may have been a bit more technical than I expected, but the views, sounds, and critter spotting made it all worth it! The sound of the water trickling down the trail and the frogs living their best lives was so soothing that our little guy took a long nap on the way up. We watched red-spotted newts swimming down the trail stream on their bellies. The views took in the northern portion of Lake George along with the narrows spotted with little islands to the south. This hike was a feast for the senses!

The trail was marked with red discs the whole way, making it easy to follow for the most part. At the first trail junction, veer right to avoid hiking on private property. Stay to the right at the second trail junction, and it will lead you up to the summit. Once at the summit, you will find one of the few remaining fire towers in the Adirondacks along with wind turbines. They are shut down now, but interesting to see! The best viewpoints are located just before you reach the summit and just behind the fire tower (follow the trail markers).

This final hike was both relieving and bittersweet. I was sad that it was ending, but also excited that we were so close to finishing the challenge. When I realized that I would have been giving birth right around the day we completed this hike, it made it all the more significant. We can look back on that time with amazing memories and experiences rather than dwelling on what we lost. We experienced the healing power of nature. Check out this article for more information on the benefits of getting out in nature.

Two adults standing on a rock overlooking a lake view carrying a toddler in an Osprey Poco Plus hiking carrier

You CAN Hike the Lake George 12ster with Kids

If you’re looking for incredible views, entertaining wildlife, and diverse trails, look no further than the Lake George 12ster Challenge. With a little planning and flexibility, this challenge can be an epic adventure your family will talk about for years. And you just might find that a little challenge and a whole lot of nature can help soften any hardships you may be facing. I know it did for our family.

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