February 2003: Camden Hills State Park


Camden, Maine

The National Park Service purchased land on the shores of West Penobscott Bay in the 1930s and oversaw creation of a park destined for the state of Maine. Noted local landscape architect Hans Heistad did much of the design work for the park which now encompasses 5,700 acres, including ten named mountain peaks.

Twenty short trails - most less than 2 miles - run up and across the seaside slopes of central Maine. All allow dogs. The premier hike is a one-mile climb up Mount Megnticook, the highest mainland mountain on the Atlantic coast. Of the paths to 1300-foot Ocean Lookout, the Megunticook Trail is the one to take for its extended ocean views on the return route down the Tablelands Trail. Tablelands connects to Mt. Battie, which can also be reached by a popular auto road that makes for a crowded summit on busy days. The 360-degree view from the stone tower on Mt. Battie includes Megunticook Land and the town of Camden, where the Peyton Place television series was filmed. All told the 30-mile trail system visits all ten named peaks.

If you travel to Camden this month (February) you can enjoy - or take part in - the National Toboggan Championships. Camden sports the only known wooden toboggan chute in the United States, a 400-foot slide that empties onto a frozen pond. The National Toboggan Championships started in 1991 and have become so popular that the organizing committee is considering limiting the event to 200 teams in the future.
Teams of two, three and four toboganners qualify on a Saturday with the top half of the field advancing to the Sunday finals. Top teams reach the pond in about 10 seconds, averaging more than 25 miles per hour. The winners have the best combined times in the finals.
Most competitors are not as interested in winning as simply sliding through the wooded Currier & Ives scenery. The serious sliders employ special waxing techniques on their traditional wooden toboggans which must be between 16 and 18 inches wide and from six to 12 feet long. Many tobogganers make their own but a limited number are available for rent.

Acadia National Park (Mount Desert Island). Just up the coast from Camden Hills State Park is Acadia National Park, one of the crown jewels in the National Park system - and one of the most dog-friendly. Your dog is welcome on most of the trails - the natural ones on Mount Cadillac and elsewhere - and the beautiful carriage roads and paths as well. Jordan Pond Nature Trail is a
mile loop and easy walking to a view of glacial mountains at the end of the pond. The Great Head Trail is a super loop across Sand Beach (no dogs allowed on the beach); everyone goes right at the head of loop but going left saves spectacular coastal views from one of America's highest highlands until the end.

Camden Hills State Park is directly on Route 1, north of the town of Camden. The picnic area to the east fronts directly on the Atlantic Ocean but there is no access to the water from the rocky shore. The trails all lie beyond the entrance on the west side of the famous highway.