Downeast Dog News
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Winter Treks with your Dog

By Susan Spisak | Dec 28, 2018

Happy 2019! It’s a new year and you’ve resolved to boost your health by exercising more. Exercise is a great way to not only control your weight, tone muscle, and increase energy levels, but it’s been proven to make you feel happier (and much less stressed). So why not include your beloved canine in that resolution, so he can be healthier and happier, too? There’s no better way to do that than getting out in the great Maine outdoors and hiking the many trails this state has to offer.

Prepare for your outing by loading a backpack with water, a travel bowl for your companion, energy bars for you both (yes, they make canine energy bars), and pet waste bags. On damp and/or wintry days, add a change of clothes to avoid hypothermia. For sensitive dog paws, include skid-resistant waterproof booties--and depending on his breed, a well-insulated jacket. If you’re headed to a lengthy trail, pack a compass, gps device, and map. Traveling a distance to the trailhead? Check the weather in that area--unfavorable conditions may necessitate a destination change. For late winter/spring hikes, spray tick repellent on your dog when temps reach the 40’s; the critters can and do live.

Here’s a sample of dog-friendly trails, preserves, and parks that Maine’s regions have to offer. Make a game of it and see how many you and your faithful companion can conquer this year. (Unless otherwise noted, park fees are free.)

Starting with the Midcoast region, Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport features a family- and dog-friendly 1+ mile trail that loops across fields and forests. (If your dog will sit obediently for you, you can workout at fitness stations dotted along the route.) This is an easy hike, good for those just starting out or if you have a dog who can’t overexert.

It’s worth noting that Erickson Fields is just one of the countless Maine Coast Heritage Trusts’ public preserves, and most are suitable for hiking. They include waterfront parks, forests, islands, and community garden spaces. For the many adventures in these preserves, visit mcht.org/visit-a-preserve/. Dog policies are noted under “Preserve Information & Guidelines.”

Camden Hills State Park has dog-friendly trails (leashed only) that will interest novice to experienced hikers. Atop Mt. Battie and Mt. Megunticook, you’ll see the beautiful town of Camden and Penobscot Bay. Day use fee for an adult state resident is $4, 65+ are free. (Mt. Battie’s car access road may be closed due to weather and/or staffing from Nov 1 to May 1; for the park’s phone number and details--maine.gov/dacf/parks/trail_activities/camden_trail_conditions.shtml.)

The Boothbay Region Land Trust or BRLT and its preserves provide over 30 miles of year round pet-friendly trails. One in particular is The Ovens Mouth Preserve in Boothbay. It has over 5 miles of trails for all hiking levels that span two peninsulas and are joined by a bridge. You’ll enjoy quiet coves, scenic shorelines, and salt marshes. For a listing of BRLT’s preserves and trails, go to bbrlt.org/trails-2/%20bbrlt.org/trails-2/.

In the Greater Portland/Casco Bay Region, Back Cove Trail is one is of the most popular trails in Portland. The 3+ mile loop around Back Cove showcases the city’s skyline. This is considered easy and is a great dog-walking spot for locals and day-trippers alike.

About 30 miles west of Portland is Sawyer Mountain Highlands near the towns of Limington and Limerick. It’s a peaceful, moderate to advanced hike and has an almost 6 mile network of trails.

Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park near Freeport covers 244 acres and is open year round. There are 4 miles of easy to moderate trails surrounded by the shorelines of Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. Fees are $4 for adult state residents, 65+ are free. Pack a lunch, there’s picnic areas.

If you want to take a nice seashore walk, head to The Maine Beaches Region and its Ferry Beach State Park in Saco. Dogs are allowed on the ocean beach before April 1 (and after September 30). There’s also an almost 2 mile network of trails for an easy hike. Fees are $5 for adult state residents, 65+ are free.

The Downeast and Acadia Region boasts the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor. There are 45 miles of carriage roads and 100 miles of hiking trails in the park where pets are permitted, including a few on Cadillac Mountain--where you’ll see amazing views of the ocean and outlying islands. Private vehicle fee is $30, good for 7 days. There are pet-friendly accommodations nearby for an overnight trip. Monday, January 21 is one of five 2019 entrance fee-free days. (Certain trails are better suited for dogs, and there are restrictions, including mandated leash length of 6 ft. or under.)

In the Maine Highlands Region, you’ll find Bangor Land Trust's North Penjajawoc Forest with adjacent dog-friendly trails (on-leash only) in the North Forest. Even though this is just a 1.6 mile network of trails, they’re off the beaten path. So if getting back to nature is your thing, put this on your list.

The trails in the Caribou Bog Conservation Area in Orono offer easy, moderate, and advanced networks in varied forests that include Newman Hill, Bangor Hill, and the Bog. Dogs need to be under control and are not allowed on groomed ski trails.

The Kennebec Valley Region has the Sally Mountain Trail, a 6+ mile trail located near Jackman, with excellent views of Attean Lake. (alltrails.com/trail/us/maine/sally-mountain-trail) Nearby Sally Mountain Cabins offer pet-friendly accommodations for a hiking vacation--there’s plenty of trails in the Jackman area.

The Maine Lakes and Mountains Region in western Maine offers trails from strenuous to easy. There’s Tumbledown Mountain with its three peaks, 700-foot cliffs and a pond near the summit. (Pets must be leashed as it is a fragile ecosystem.) From Little Jackson Mountain you’ll see Saddleback and Sugarloaf Mountains, Mount Blue, and Webb Lake. Each trail may be explored separately as a day hike, or attack several trails together in a loop.

Up in the Aroostook County Region near Presque Isle is Aroostook State Park, Maine’s first state park. It has almost 3 miles of trails weaving up Quaggy Jo Mountain and they range in difficulty. The 1 mile Ridge Trail is ranked as the easiest; it runs along a ridge with varied terrain and you’ll overlook Echo Lake. Dogs aren’t allowed on groomed ski trails. Day fees are $3 for Maine adults, 65 and up are free.

Last, but not least (and not limited to a specific region), The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, has 282 miles of trails through the Pine Tree State. Some trails are easy to moderate, while others are very difficult (and may not be suitable or allow dogs). For details visit www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/hiking-basics/groups-families-and-pets.

For safety, choose trails that are best suited for you and your dog. And remember, hiking’s not only a great activity but it will enhance your bond with your buddy. So get out and trek on!

(For details, hours, and directions to parks without a link, search the Internet using park/trail name. For other dog-friendly trails across the state, visit mainetrailfinder.com/.)