Early morning at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Shelter. Photo by Peter Hamlin

Early morning at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Shelter. Photo by Peter Hamlin


Just because temperatures dip doesn’t mean activities at Lake Monroe slow down.

Hearty souls can camp, boat, and hike year-round at Paynetown State Recreation Area (SRA). Hikers can use designated trails, or they can explore off-trail by themselves, which is allowed on state reservoir property, says Jill Vance, a Lake Monroe interpretive naturalist. Motorized boats are permitted on the lake as long as ramps are not icy, and guests can canoe and kayak throughout winter, Vance says. The Paynetown camp site is open throughout the winter with walk-in registration.

Those looking for organized recreational activities can take part in a host of programs at Lake Monroe.

The Winter Exploration Hike Series, which started in January, lets people explore the rugged, off-trail areas of the nearly 24,000 acres surrounding the lake.

Each hike lasts 1 1/2 to two hours. The hikes are free, but limited to 20 participants, and online registration is required.

The final three hikes will be on February 23 (Southfork Marshes), March 1 (Fairfax SRA), and March 15 (Moore’s Creek SRA). “Each hike has a specified area, but I don’t determine the exact path in advance,” says Vance, who leads the hikes. “The idea is to explore an area people would not get to on their own.”

During the three-mile hikes, Vance discusses animal tracks, flowers, fungi, trees, and whatever people see along the way. “Winter is the best time to hike,” she says. “You can see a lot more and explore off-trail easier.”

Another, less rugged, option is the Lunch with Nature Series. In its third year, the series offers 90-minute presentations for adults and teenagers at Paynetown SRA’s Activity Center. Visitors can bring sack lunches and participate in a hike or activity relating to the topic after the presentation.

And Fairfax State Recreation area will host a Maple Tree Hike on March 6. This first-time, two-hour event will include a hike to learn about maple tree identification, legends and superstitions associated with the trees, and a maple tree tapping demonstration. The cost is $5.

Registration is required and limited for all of the programs, which Vance says usually fill up in advance. For a complete program schedule and registration links, visit magbloom.com/lakemonroeprograms.