A Drive or Hike up Lake George (NY) Prospect Mountain

The view of Lake George from Prospect Mountain
Driving to and past Lake George on Route I-87 I’ve often wondered where the footbridge crossing over the Northway leads. There are always signs or flags hanging over or people waving as we pass underneath. After being able to spend a day in Lake George, we discover the footbridge is one start to Prospect Mountain.

We’ve been told the 1.5-mile trail is steep and can be difficult. We are only wearing sneakers but decide it is worth the attempt if to only cross the footbridge. I am terrified. My children skip across as if huge trucks were not speeding beneath their feet. They gesture to the drivers to beep their horns. They finally look back, realize I am not following and come back to retrieve me. 

The path is relatively steep and follows the old Incline Railway that had been used for guests to reach the once thriving Prospect Mountain Inn. The Inn was destroyed by fire, twice. Now all that remains are pictures, a partial fireplace and the cable gears. 

A footbridge crosses over I-87, the Northway
The hiking trail follows the railway lines. No remnants remain as any usable metals were removed and repurposed during World War I. The trench that remains is rocky and wet. The slightest rain can cause a washout so we end up skirting the gully for higher ground. We cross the toll road twice before reaching the summit. 

Hiking in the fall can be tricky. Fallen leaves can hide ice making for a slippery path. Be cautious. Everyone should be familiar with his/her own comfort level. I had read reports that this trail is not suitable for children of all ages. My seven and ten year olds had no difficulties. Their only complaint was that we didn’t bring hot dogs to grill at the summit. 

Parking area for anyone wishing to drive to the
summit of Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway
For those not wishing to walk, from May – October the Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway is open for an $8 per car fee. There are three designated stops along the 5.5-mile drive to pull over and enjoy the view.  Once on top picnic tables, grills and bathrooms (in season) are available.

For us, we climb to the summit arriving on a platform that used to house part of the Prospect Mountain Inn. My family does not wait for me to start exploring the various levels and sights.

The hiking path follows the old funicular path
A beautiful view of Lake George is to the east with Vermont visible in the distance. The Adirondack High Peaks are off toward the northwest. Some visitors say you can see New Hampshire on a clear day.

To get to Prospect Mountain from Route 9 turn west onto Montcalm Street and continue to the end. One entrance to the trail starts here. This small path has information regarding the funicular railway and other Prospect Mountain facts. Walk this brief path to Smith Street, turn south and walk on the street for about 200’ to a metal staircase that marks the highway overpass. There is some parking on Smith Street near the staircase. The trailhead register is on the west side of I-87.

Old chimney at the summit of Prospect Mountain
Prospect Mountain Facts
Elevation= 2,041’
Ascent= 1,600’

• The Old cable railway cost $110,000.00 when it was built in 1875
• The cable railway was 7,392 feet
• The cost to passengers was 50¢ in 1875 when the average weekly wage was $3.00
• The railway rails were used for scrap metal during World War I
• The original Prospect Mountain Inn (located at the summit) was destroyed by forest fire in 1880, rebuilt and burned again
• A funicular (or incline railway) uses a cable to pull up a car that rolls on a track. It originated in the 15th century as a way to get people up steep inclines. Now is most commonly used to get downhill skiers to the top of mountains.

Remnants and wheel of funicular
The oldest funicular is a private incline railway called The Reisszug in Hohensalzburg Castle at Salzburg in Austria that is said to date back to the 1400s. 

 © Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities™ guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time™guidebooks have easy Adirondack family hikes, Adirondack swimming holes, Lake Placid Olympic activities, Adirondack trivia, Adirondack horseback rides, Adirondack snowshoe family trails and more. Look for the Adirondack family guidebook online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores. Diane is currently working on the next Adirondack Family Activities™ guide.


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