Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The Canal Path is a 1.25-mile “lollipop” trail (a trail with a small loop at the end), making for a 2-mile hike, round trip. Rocks and roots, as well as a few bridges, make for tricky footing in some sections.
How to get there: From the Fraternity Village Store in Searsmont, near the intersection of Route 131 and Route 173, head south on 131 for 1.7 miles to Ghent Road on the left. Travel 0.25 miles on Ghent Road to the parking area on the right, just after crossing the bridge. You will need to walk back over the bridge on foot to reach the trailhead, which is marked with a kiosk by the river. The trail is marked with blue blazes.
Information: The Canal Path is a narrow hiking trail that traces the Georges River (officially known as the St. George River) and what is left of the historic Georges River Canal, which dates back to the late 1700s. Along the way, interpretive displays describe aspects of the canal system that are still visible today.
The 1.25-mile long trail is located on land owned by Robbins Lumber Company, a fifth generation, family-owned company that started in 1881. The company owns and manages 30,000 acres and buys logs from more than 150 independent loggers. Milling operations are located on a 40-acre site in Searsmont, not far from the Canal Path.
The Canal Path is part of the Georges Highland Path, a 40-mile network of low-impact footpaths in the midcoast region built and maintained by the Georges River Land Trust. The trail system consists of several separate trails located on privately owned land, where landowners (such as Robbins Lumber) have granted the public permission to use the trails.
In addition to having historic significance, the trail is also an opportunity for people to learn about local forestry practices. A trail brochure, available at the trailhead kiosk, features a self-guided tour of the sustainable forestry practices of the Robbins Lumber. Numbered signs along the trail match up with descriptions on the brochure.
The trail, marked with blue blazes, heads into the forest not far from the kiosk. Weaving through tall evergreens, the trail never veers far from the Georges River. In fact, several sections of the trail travel right along the edge of the rushing water.
Some small hills by the river makes for some moderately difficult sections of trail, but for the most part, the trail is level. About halfway down the trail, you’ll come upon your first sign describing aspects of the old canal — the remains of which will appear to the right of the trail. As you continue on, additional signs will describe the canal locks and the flat-bottomed boats that used to travel it.
Near the far end of the trail, the trail splits into a small loop, which can be traveled in either direction. The loop portion of the trail travels along a drastic bend in the river and circles back around. You then retrace your steps back to the trailhead. Out and back, the hike is about 2 miles long.
The trail is closed to the public during deer hunting season in the fall. At all other times, the public is welcome to explore the trails. Overnight camping is prohibited. Leashed dogs are permitted; but owners should clean up after their pets. For information, visit www.georgesriver.org or call the Georges River Land Trust at 594-5166.
Personal note: I first explored this trail with my boyfriend and frequent hiking buddy Derek and our dog, Oreo, on Jan. 31, 2014, which had high temperatures in the mid-30s — a relatively mild day for the time of year. A thin layer of clouds covered the sky, parting on occasion to let the sun shine through.
While on the trail, we remarked on how beautiful the forest was, with multiple layers of evergreen growth and a few impressively large pines. We both decided to return in the summer, when we imaged the riverside trail would be even more enjoyable and we’d be able to get a better idea of what’s left of the old canal.
Early on in the hike, we started noticing impressive holes left by resident woodpeckers, and I glimpsed the bright red crest of a pileated woodpecker as it flew over the trail.
(Skip this paragraph if you prefer not to hear about anything gorey.) Beside the trail, I spied a bloody piece of white fur, the remains of a snowshoe hare is my best guess, but I’m not an expert on animal hides. My reaction to the bit of flesh and fur was more of fascination than anything else. I saw it as a small piece of evidence of the natural cycles of life and death in the forest.
Later on in the hike, we spooked a grouse — or rather, it spooked us as it emerged out of nowhere, beating its wings frantically and flying to a safe perch. We then spooked another, and another, and another. Four grouse! Oreo strained on the leash, eager to chase the noisy birds, but we managed to keep him under control with the help of milk bones.