Sunday, December 8, 2013
For countless years (decades, in fact) I've often thought as I took Route 182 from Hancock to Cherryfield as my favored scenic route to avoid midsummer traffic on Route 1 on forays Down East, that Tunk Mountain was beckoning. With its ledgy summit ridge and obviously outstanding views, and as the northerly sister to scenic Schoodic Mountain, I was determined to one day find my way to the top.
Hikers who opt to continue to Tunk Mountain’s summit ridge will be treated to the kind of scenic vista that’s rare outside of Maine’s largely unspoiled north country. Recent amenities make the trek up the 1,157-foot mountain easier.
John Christie photos
The summit trail rises over a series of ridges, by and across a couple of musical streams with one featuring a photogenic waterfall.
Up until a couple of years ago, only local cognoscenti knew both where to park and how to find a route to the top.
All that changed when the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands built a parking lot some 14 miles east of the intersection of Routes 1 and 182 in Hancock on what is now identified as the Blackwoods Scenic Byway. A large informational kiosk helps hikers find trails both to the top and around some ponds. A pit toilet is conveniently located there as well.
Back in June 2011, my good buddy Carey Kish wrote about these improvements in these pages, hence my inspiration to finally trek up Tunk, as I did just last week.
In addition to the 1,157-foot mountain, the entire 6,915-acre addition to the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Lands Unit includes several small ponds, Spring River Lake, and the north and east shores of Tunk Lake.
You'll spot the well-marked parking area on the left less than a mile past little Fox Pond, lying beside the road on your right.
From the parking lot, the trail winds its way through a quiet mixed forest, startlingly interrupted with impressive glacial boulders among which the trail passes. In the wetter softwood stands, bog bridges have been built to make the hike easier and drier.
After a half-mile, the unmarked south end of the Hidden Ponds Loop Trail joins from the right, which I bypassed to continue on the main Tunk Mountain Trail. A short distance farther you'll pass along the west shore of Salmon Pond before coming to the intersection of the north end of the Loop Trail. If weather, or your courage, suggest that a walk around the one-mile loop with views of Salmon and Little Long ponds might be better than an assault of Tunk, returning to your car via that route is a delightful option.
If you opt to continue to the summit ridge, you'll pass an attractive little pond, inappropriately named, in my view, Mud Pond. Over the decades, I've been on many of the countless Mud Ponds that dot Maine's back country, and most of them live up to that name. This one, however, is almost Alpine in character, as ledges drop directly down into the water. It looked to me like a haven for some brookies, but I learned later that the pond's high acidity has rendered it fish-less.
The trail begins to rise over a series of ridges, by and across a couple of musical streams with one featuring a photogenic waterfall and, after about 1.3 miles from the trail head, an expansive vista opens up to the east, with views on the ponds below, hills beyond them and the Down East coast in the distance.
A moderately strenuous climb, including a rung-assisted section as you get nearer the ridge, is rewarded with a second ledgy vista, near which a plaque commemorating the benefactors responsible for this public treasure is set in a stone.
Once reaching the ridge, the trail turns north to a craggy viewpoint looking north, with the pristine scene interrupted, in the eyes of staunch preservationists, by a wind farm on a hill a few miles away.
The entire trip, if you climb the summit and then take the Hidden Ponds Loop, as I did, on the return trip, totals a little less than five miles. At my pace, having gotten on the trail at 8:30 a.m, I was back at the trail head by 11 a.m. Only one other hiker was on the trail during my walk, so it felt almost as if I were in my own private preserve.
This left time for a couple of more treats on my recent outing. First, I had noted a convenient, although unmarked, launch site right at the east end of Fox Pond, so popping the kayak into the water was unavoidable. An hour paddling around the rocky shoreline was a great way to give my upper body a little workout and, needless to say, rest my legs before the trip home.
Second, it was time for lunch when I got to Jordan's Snack Bar in Ellsworth, not that I hadn't planned it that way, and the fried clams and onion rings that I started thinking about on my way up Tunk Mountain were just as good as they have always been, and I knew they would be.
There's still plenty of summer left, so why not add this particular hike to your plans before it's too late.
John Christrie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son Josh write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty that only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:
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The Hidden Ponds Trail gently rises before turning down toward the south shore of Salmon Pond, surrounded by spruce trees.