The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Lands Unit encompasses 15,384 acres of Down East woods and mountains, lakes and ponds a few miles east of Ellsworth. Central to the preserve 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.
At Tunk Mountain, just to the north, it’s quite a different story. Local hikers have climbed its slopes for years, but despite a beautiful summit ridgeline and cliffs with outstanding views, the mountain hasn’t seemed to attract much interest from the general hiking public. That’s probably due in large part to the lack of available information on access and no official trailhead parking. But that situation is changing.
“We’re creating more formal access to Tunk so people can find it and enjoy it,” said Rex Turner, outdoor recreation planner with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which owns and manages the preserve. “And we’re adopting many of the informal trails, upgrading them and designating them.”
The property at Tunk includes the 1,157-foot mountain, a host of small ponds, the entirety of Spring River Lake and the north and east shores of Tunk Lake. The 6,915-acre parcel was acquired by the state from the Pierce family in 1994 and added to the Donnell Pond unit. The bureau is now working through portions of the management plan that pertain to Tunk Mountain and its surroundings.
The first concrete step was to build a trailhead parking lot this spring on Route 182, also known as the Blackwoods Scenic Byway, 14 miles east of its junction with U.S. Route 1 in Hancock. A vault toilet has been installed, and soon an information kiosk and appropriate signage will go up.
A trail crew from the Maine Conservation Corps is busy working on the main trail to the top of the mountain, now designated as Tunk Mountain Trail. Rock steps are being installed where needed to harden the footway, water bars will be put in to control erosion and new paint blazes and signs will help mark the way.
On the upper part of the trail, ropes are available to help hikers on several steep, slippery stretches.
“Our priority is to reroute the trail around this area and make other minor relocations to help hikers safely pick their way over the slabs and rocks,” said Turner, noting that the old ropes also will be removed.
En route to the base of the mountain, the trail passes through an area historically known as Hidden Ponds, reaching Salmon Pond first and then Mud Pond. A new trail is now under construction that will link the two ponds to Little Long Pond and create a nice one-mile side loop.
“By the end of the season the trails at Tunk will look a lot different,” Turner said.
Hikers need not wait, however, to sample the beauty and remote feel of the Tunk Mountain area. My wife and I visited for the first time a few weeks back and had a wonderful experience, thoroughly enjoying the scenery and solitude of this gem of a mountain.
When you go, pick a nice day and pack a picnic lunch, and when you get to the impressive cliffs up top, plunk yourself down and take in the view. It’s a stunner.
The bureau staff has their hands full with the projects currently under way, but even so, they’re thinking about the future at Tunk. And that includes the possibility of more trails and trail connections and opportunities for backpacking and remote camping. But for now it’s day-use only.
Besides Tunk Mountain, though, there’s plenty more to see and do. Like a day-use area with a small beach on Spring River Lake and a short carry that allows access for canoes. There’s also a water access campsite on the lake and a walk-in campsite near the lake’s outlet.
A boat launch on the north end of Tunk Lake provides access to this beautiful body of water, prized for its high water quality and productive fishery. The south end of the lake sports several remote, water access-only campsites.
“People have been coming here to Tunk for a while,” said Turner. “And now we’re working to improve access and make it more formal. But it’s a work in progress. It’ll take some time.”
For more information, go to www.parksandlands.com or call 287-3821.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to: