Visitors enjoy the beach at South Cove on Sebec Lake at Peaks Kenny State Park. Carey Kish photo

Stand on the grassy promenade at South Cove and look northwest over Sebec Lake, and you’ll be treated to a dramatic view of the sharp profile of Borestone Mountain some 10 miles distant. It’s the defining vista of Peaks-Kenny State Park, 839 acres of natural beauty in Dover-Foxcroft that includes a glorious mile of shoreline on the big lake.

Shift your gaze slightly east, and the long ridgeline of Barren Mountain comes into view. The Appalachian Trail crosses that terrain, weaving in and out of the trees to viewpoints at the clearly visible Barren Slide and Barren Ledges. Squint a little, and you can even make out the steel structure of the old fire tower (the cab is long gone) atop the 2,670-foot peak.

Peaks-Kenny State Park is a popular public playground in the Maine Highlands, a little more than halfway between Bangor and Moosehead Lake. The park features 7 miles of hiking trails, camping, swimming, paddling, boating, fishing and picnicking. Spend a day, a weekend or a week, and you’re unlikely to run out of things to do here and in the surrounding area.

The land for the park was donated in 1964 by Francis J. Peaks, a prominent Dover-Foxcroft resident, lawyer and state legislator. Named for Peaks’ sister, Annie Peaks Kenny, and their parents, Joseph and Eliza Peaks, the park opened five years later.

The Birch Mountain Ledge Trail offers a two-and-a-half mile loop hike at Peaks-Kenny State Park. Carey Kish photo

On my last visit to Peaks-Kenny, I explored the Birch Mountain Ledge Trail, a sweet 2 1/2-mile loop hike that wends partway up the mountainside through coniferous woods replete with mossy ledges and erratics. In a lovely glade near the high point is a large cairn and picnic table combination, an odd sight at first glance, until you realize that the feature is one of a dozen picnic table sculptures scattered throughout the park.

The picnic table art creations were crafted by Wade Kavanaugh, a talented sculptor from Albany Township who trained at Bowdoin College. Kavanaugh enjoyed Peaks-Kenny as a youngster on family outings, and returned 10 years ago when his sculpture proposal was selected for the park’s first public art
project, funded by the state’s Percent for Art program.

An example of Wade Cavanaugh’s picnic table art sits on the crest of the Birch Mountain Ledge Trail. Carey Kish photo

Kavanaugh’s unique table-and-bench pieces are constructed next to rocks and boulders and around trees, blending nicely into the natural environment. All of the artsy tables are fully functional, and I took advantage of the one on Birch Mountain to sit for a spell and reflect on the beauty of the spot and the efforts of the man who thoughtfully built my rest stop.

Descending the north side of the mountain, the trail crosses a small brook before threading through impressive park-like groves of old growth softwoods and hardwoods – pine, hemlock and maple, for example – some measuring 3 feet or more in diameter. There was no getting my arms around any of these ancient kings of the forest, that’s for sure.

The return to the trailhead parking lot meant only one thing on this warm and humid summer day: a refreshing swim in Sebec Lake and some lounging at the sand beach in full sight of that glorious northwestern vista. You’ll be tempted to do the same, I figure, to cool off and linger awhile in this splendid setting.

The Cove Trail is a short half-mile jaunt from the beach area along the southeastern edge of South Cove, one that I must’ve done a dozen times as a kid, and it’s still a pretty fine hike.

If you’re up for more walking, the Brown’s Point Trail leads from the ranger station at the entrance through the eastern sector of the park to a point on the north shore of South Cove, a 3 1/2-mile out-and-back excursion. I saved this one for my next visit, but perhaps you can let me know how it went and what you discovered along the way.

The 56-site campground is tucked into the stately woods just west of the beach. Everything from tents to campers 35 feet and longer are welcome. Five sites have electric and water hookups, and there’s a central bathhouse with hot showers, too.

Peaks-Kenny State Park is within striking distance of a host of other outdoor attractions, such as Katahdin Iron Works, Gulf Hagas and the Appalachian Trail, as well as Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, Barren Mountain, Little Moose Public Land and the Elephant Mountain B-52 crash site, to name just a few.

Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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