Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the trails you hike. Altogether, the intersecting trails in the park equal about 10 miles. However, most recommended loop hikes are less than 2 miles.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 2 and Route 23 in Canaan, drive west on Route 2 (Main Street) for 1.1 mile, and the two entrances to the park will be on your right. The east entrance is on a gravel road called Lake George Drive East and includes a winter parking area. The west entrance is on the paved West Lake George Park Road and does not include winter parking, but you can park just outside the gate. During the off season, gates block off summer parking areas, however, the park is still open for visitors.
Information: Covering 520 acres on the south end of Lake George, Lake George Regional Park is a popular place for local residents to hike, swim, picnic, fish and paddle, and in the winter, it’s a great spot for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and snowmobiling. The park features two extensive trail networks, 10,000 feet of shorefront, two sandy beaches and waterfront picnic areas.
Formerly the location of a summer camp, the park was established in 1992. It’s owned by the state of Maine and leased by the towns of Skowhegan and Canaan. The park is managed by the Lake George Corporation, which consists of 10 appointed members — five from each town. Today, more than 20,000 people visit the park annually.
The park is split into two parks: east and west.
On the east side of the park is a boat launch, a lawn by the water with grills and tables for picnicking, a snack shop, a dog-friendly beach as well as a beach that’s off limits to dogs, and a trail network known as the Alphabet Trails because every intersection is marked with a letter, A through Z.
The trail network includes a 1.4-mile Loop Trail, which is blazed in white paint and traces the lakeshore for quite a distance before looping back through the woods. Branching off of this loop is a trail that climbs uphill to an overlook on Pinnacle Hill, which rises just over 600 feet above sea level. This outlook is actually on private property just outside the park and is accessible by landowner permission, therefore, it’s important to stay on trail in this area.
The trail network also includes the Glacial Rock Trail, a short trail near the picnic area that travels through several large boulders — or glacial erratics — which were dropped on the land by passing glaciers thousands of years ago. This is a great trail for children. At the head of the trail is an educational display that includes interesting tidbits about the park’s history. For example, the display states that archeological digs on the property in 1993 and 1994 unearthed primitive stone tools that date back 8,000-11,000 years ago, indicating that people have visited the shores of the lake since the end of the last Ice Age.
Nearby, a small building called The Roundhouse (or Octagon, because of its shape) stands at the edge of the woods. In years past, this building was used as a camp office and summer residence for Camp Modin, a Jewish summer camp that occupied the space from 1922 to 1992.
The west side of the park lies just across the narrow southern tip of the lake. It features a beach, scenic picnic areas, a trail network and a “social hall” building for events. The trail network explores the gentle western slope of Foster Hill, which rises about as high as Pinnacle Hill. The trails are named. Fisher Hill Trail travels along the edge of the lake to a remote picnic table; Hemlock Trail travels through a stand of hemlock trees not far from the picnic area and social hall. The Foster Hill Trail travels up the hill and turns back down just below the summit to connect with the Muir, Porcupine and Podooc trails.
The west side of the park is where most park events take place, including school group activities, weddings, family reunions, fish derbies and day camps.
Both sides of the park are open 8:30 a.m. to sunset, year round. During the off season, the gates are closed, but visitors are welcome to still use the trails and beaches. Pets are prohibited from May 15 to Sept. 15, except for at the “doggy beach” on the east side of the park. During the off season, dogs are permitted throughout the entire park.
Snowmobiling is permitted on a route that runs through intersections T, S, V, U and Z. All other trails in the park are closed to motor vehicles year round.
Park admission is $6 for visitors ages 12 and up; $2 for children ages 5 through 11; and free for children younger than 5, senior citizens (65 and older) and disabled veterans. Season, family and group passes are also available. For more information, visit www.lakegeorgepark.org or call 474-1292.
Personal note: Oreo hadn’t been on a hike in a while. And the last two times he rode in my car, I dropped him off at the kennel before rushing to the airport. So when he lacked enthusiasm for our little adventure on Monday, I couldn’t really blame him. I assured him using words he knows, such as “hike” and “adventure,” but I’m not sure he really bought it until his four paws hit the trail at Lake George Regional Park. Then he acted like a complete nut.
Happy to be outside and in his element once more, Oreo rolled and thrashed around on his back. Every time I paused to take a photo or video, he flopped down on the ground, coating his fleece jacket in dead leaves, twigs, mud and ice crystals.
It was in the mid-30s that day. In certain spots in the woods, a dusting of snow remained from the season’s first snowfall. Icicles had formed on the banks edging the lake, and puddles were topped with thin layers of ice.
As we explored the trails — starting with the Loop Trail — I became frustrated as I tripped on rocks and roots hidden by a thick layer of dead leaves. Overly eager, Oreo tugged relentlessly at his leash. I was only grateful that no other visitor was at the park that day to hear me grumble.
We hiked for a few hours, and to my relief, the trails got smoother. As it turns out, I had started with the bumpiest, rockiest trail in the network.
We didn’t see much wildlife, but I did spot a bald eagle wheeling overhead, and in one area of the forest, I enjoyed the cheerful song of chickadees. I also heard crows, possibly gathering to roost for the night. But the most entertaining creature I saw that day, by far, was Oreo. The day reminded me that: 1. I need to buy or make him new jackets; his are getting quite shabby, each with multiple tears. And 2. I need to make sure he gets more regular exercise. The contentment in his demeanor after a day spent in the woods shows me how good it is for him. And it’s good for me, too, even on cold, overcast days in November.