What a difference a couple of summers make.
Two years ago, as I was compiling trail information for the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th edition), I visited Tunk Mountain, located east of Ellsworth on ME 182 in the unorganized township known as T10 SD.
The mountain was about to undergo a renaissance of sorts thanks to renewed attention by the good folks at the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (now the Division of Parks & Public Lands under the newly combined Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry), starting with a brand new gravel parking lot and a spiffy new pit toilet at the trailhead. Lots of trail work and some new signage was in the plans, all of which was meant to improve public access and visibility of this fine mountain and its wild environs.
Local hikers and others in the know have been climbing Tunk for years via a handful of informal trails, four routes in all, two from the east and two from the west. But they’ve never been officially sanctioned or maintained. Markers and signage have been pretty much nonexistent. That’s kept traffic down for sure, but what a shame, because this place is downright beautiful and deserves to be enjoyed.
Well, my recent visit to Tunk confirms that the trail work has been done, the trails are blazed and the signs are up. There’s a new information kiosk at the trailhead to complement the toidy. And there were cars in the lot too, which tells me that the place is getting better known by the broader hiking community.
All very, very good.
Tunk Mountain is part of the 15,384-acre Donnell Pond Public Reserved Lands Unit. Central to the unit and popular with canoeists, boaters and campers is the namesake Donnell Pond. The pond is hemmed in by the walls of Schoodic and Black mountains, where numerous trails lead hikers to fine summit views. Crowding is a relative term in these parts, but if it any place is going to be busy, it’ll be in and around Donnell Pond.
North of the main and largest chunk of the Donnell Pond PRL unit is the Tunk Mountain property, all 6,915 lovely acres, which includes the namesake 1,157-foot mountain, a host of small ponds, the entirety of Spring River Lake and the north and east shores of Tunk Lake. This parcel was acquired by the state from the Pierce family in 1994 and added to the Donnell Pond unit, but not much attention was paid to it until recently.
Hikers will seriously enjoy the 5-mile out-and-back hike to the summit ledges of Tunk, including the 1-mile loop hike through a series of ponds known as the “Hidden Ponds.”
The path leaves the parking lot from the kiosk, and in about a half-mile, reaches Salmon Pond. You’ll pass the unmarked lower leg of the Hidden Ponds Loop Trail on the way in. As the trail leaves the pond you’ll pass the signed upper end of the Hidden Ponds Trail, to be saved for later on the way back.
Ohhh, Salmon Pond, how pretty! Bear left around its west shore, then climb over a hump to reach Mud Pond, hemmed in by the walls of Tunk, which rise steeply above.
Meander along the edge of the pond. Slowly, as this place is drop dead gorgeous. Look closely and you’ll spy a rope swing tied to a fat pine branch across the pond at the left end of the cliffs. Mark that one down for next summer.
At the northwest corner of Mud Pond, the trail bears away from the water and begins to climb rather steeply and steadily up the mountain. Here you’ll see plenty of evidence of the great trail work that’s been accomplished. Gotta love those many granite steps!
After a lengthy switchback the trail emerges onto a big open ledge with the first of many fine views over the ponds below and out to the south.
Climb higher and higher and the views from the subsequent ledges just get bigger and broader. Mud Pond, Salmon Pond, Little Long Pond, Tilden Pond. Then Tunk Lake and Spring River Lake. Catherine Mountain, Caribou Mountain, Black and Schoodic mountains. Then the grand mountain skyline of Acadia and the Atlantic Ocean.
Wow! Really, wow!!
Follow cairns and climb a few iron rungs as the trail winds upward to a spur leading to Monument Vista, with not only another awesome view, but a plaque dedicated to Harold Pierce, the former landowner.
Above, the trail crests the summit ridge of the mountain. The true summit lies a few hundred yards to the south, but the way there is unmarked as it is not on state land. You can easily find your way there, however, if you want to bag the official peak, but the best views are where you’ve been already.
Continue over the ridgetop on the marked trail, then bear right into a gully. Pass along the gully, then emerge into the open at the top of an incredible slab of granite, huge and wide open with excellent views to the north and east.
The hills around Bangor and to its east along the old Airline Road (ME 9) are in full view. I’m told you can see all the way to Katahdin if it’s crystal clear, but there was a bit of a haze on this day, so no go. The blueberry barrens around Deblois were just starting to turn their classic autumn red.
We – my wife Fran and I – dallied for long periods at each ledge, drinking in the vistas on this outstanding day to be alive and in the hills of Downeast Maine. Mildly satiated, we headed down, retracing our steps to Salmon Pond.
Here, the Hidden Ponds Trail starts an arc around Salmon Pond, then through the woods to touch the western corner of Little Long Pond. It then circles back across a hillside to Salmon Pond before closing the loop on the main Tunk Mountain Trail, just a half-mile from the car.
There’s plenty of good hiking weather left before the snow flies in earnest, so put Tunk on your list and go!
MORE INFO: Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land at www.parkandlands.com, 287-3821.