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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Posted: October 15, 2018

Hiking in Maine: The joy of hiking up Tumbledown

Written by: Carey Kish

Hemmed in by the craggy Alpine summits of Tumbledown Mountain and Little Jackson Mountain, Tumbledown Pond is easily one of the prettiest – and most popular – hiking destinations in Maine’s western mountains.

Just west of the windswept tarn, Tumbledown’s 700-foot south-facing cliffs fall away in dramatic fashion, adding to the beauty and allure of this high and wild place.

A return visit to Tumbledown Pond was long overdue for this hiker, so in late August I grabbed an old trail friend and headed for Tumbledown, which sprawls across the unorganized Township 6 North, a few miles northwest of the tiny village of Weld. If you haven’t visited the mountain in a while, or perhaps ever, well, this is an especially good time given the spectacular autumn foliage that’s peaking right about now.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands owns 10,000 acres and holds easements on an additional 12,000 acres in the neighborhood of Tumbledown Mountain, an expanse of conservation property known altogether as Tumbledown Public Lands. This also includes Little Jackson and Big Jackson mountains, the top of Blueberry Mountain and a chunk of land on the western shore of Webb Lake. Add to this the 8,000 acres of Mount Blue State Park nearby and you’ve got a bonanza of outdoor recreation possibilities.

Two trailheads located along Byron Notch Road provide access to seven trails and close to 11 miles of hiking on Tumbledown and Little Jackson mountains.

We chose to start at the Brook trailhead, hiking northeast over rolling terrain on the Little Jackson Connector. A mile ahead we picked up the Parker Ridge Trail, my favorite ascent route.

Parker Ridge is a moderate climb for the most part, with just one short stretch of steep going as the woods transition from northern hardwoods to spruce and fir.

The path breaks out of the trees at 2,600 feet and reveals broad views southward to Webb Lake, Mount Blue, and the long ridge of Bald Mountain and Saddleback Wind.

The trail tops out at 2,900 feet before dropping down a couple hundred feet to Tumbledown Pond, but not before offering up grand looks at the west and main peaks of Tumbledown –each just over 3,000 feet – the remarkable Tumbledown cliffs, the 3,400-foot apex of Little Jackson and the slightly higher Big Jackson.

There’s dispersed camping around the nine-acre expanse of Tumbledown Pond, but sometimes I wish there wasn’t, as the fragile pond environs have been used and abused over the years.

I must say, however, that on this visit I thought the area looked better than ever, likely because of the presence of a caretaker during the busy summer and fall seasons.

Formal campsites with hardened dirt platforms plus a couple of privies and improved signage would make a big difference, but that takes people power and money, something state land managers have in understandably limited supply. Dutifully practicing Leave No Trace principles is essential to lessening the impact at this beautiful spot.

From Tumbledown Pond, the Tumbledown Mountain Trail follows an exposed route over bedrock trail to the top of the ridge beyond, then drops steeply into a notch to meet the upper end of the Loop Trail. This gnarly hike navigates the chimney-like fissure known as Fat Man’s Misery via iron rungs and is recommended for ascent only.

A quarter-mile beyond, some little scrambling leads to the 3,068-foot west peak of Tumbledown. Looking north, the vista here takes in everything from Old Blue and Bemis to Saddleback and Abraham. In the foreground is the higher main summit of Tumbledown; trailless, it’s a difficult bushwhack.

Back to Tumbledown Pond, we take a last gander about. Sometimes referred to as Crater Lake, you can see why because the bowl looks much like the crater of an ancient volcano. But alas, it was the powerful glaciers of the last ice age that gouged out the depression that would become the pond.

We descended via the Brook Trail along Tumbledown Brook, a steep, rough trail of rocks and roots that I’ve never found all that enjoyable. But after this and many other very satisfying days on the mountain, it matters not, especially knowing that a cold beverage is waiting in a cooler two miles below. Good planning, don’t you know.

For more information and a map of Tumbledown Public Lands and Mount Blue State Park, visit www.parksandlands.com.

 

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