Tunk Mountain – Trail Review

During my last years of high school, after discovering the independence that a car can offer, I became comfortable hiking solo. I slowly sought out the unmarked state land, never ending US Forest Service roads, or off trail hideouts. Places to simply escape and explore. The thrill of discovering these new areas by myself was exhilarating.

Today, I felt like I was in high school again.

Follow the blue blazes!

At 4:30pm, I set off right from work. I took to the hills of the Blackwoods Road—a Maine Scenic Byway that stretches from Franklin to Cherryfield.

Blackwoods stretches into post-glacial terrain encompassed by the 14,000 acre Donnell Pond Unit of Maine Public Reserve Land—a treasure trove of hiking trails, fishing holes, and swimming and boating spots. Almost entirely undeveloped, Blackwoods Road winds between erratic boulders much larger than cars and old pines and oaks whose boughs drape over the pavement’s margins. At any point, you feel as if a moose could appear along the roadway or a bear might peak out from behind a boulder.

The Blackwoods Road is one of the most well-kept secrets in Maine. The Tunk Mountain Trail is one of Blackwood’s gems.

Tunk Mountain Trail

Access

From Ellsworth, take Coastal Route 1 east 4.7 miles (toward Hancock or Milbridge). Turn left onto Route 182 or Blackwoods Road after the gas station and continue 6 miles. In Franklin, stay on Blackwoods Road for another 8.4 miles and the trailhead parking lot is on the left, marked by a large blue sign.

Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail Intersection
The Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds trail intersection.

Difficulty

From the parking lot to the Hidden Pond loop trail, elevation gain is minimal, but roots and rocky ground may slow down your hike. After reaching the Hidden Ponds and skirting around the shallow western side of Mud Pond (about 0.7 miles in), the trail takes on a steep and rocky turn upward. The remaining 1.1 miles is strenuous, but even if you can commit to 0.4 intense miles, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views.

Map: 1.8 miles, one-way, to the summit of Tunk Mountain.

Witch-Hazel and Roots Tunk Mountain Trail
Exposed roots and rocks in the trail make for a typical Maine hike. Witch-Hazel, here turning yellow, is abundant along the trail.

Ratings

Includes: Scenic Scale, for pure beauty; Wilderness Factor, channeling Stegner or Zahniser, government designated Wilderness Areas receive an automatic 10; Moose-O-Meter, how likely you are to find moose, or other wildlife; and some wildcards. All ratings from 1 to 10. A “perfect” score is 30.

Scenic Scale

  • A mountain (granted, this is Maine: Tunk Mountain is only 1,157 feet above sea level) with a panoramic view of pocket ponds, scraggly peaks, and even the islands of distant Frenchman Bay: +6
  • Beginning of fall foliage: +2

Scenic Scale: 8

View from Tunk Mountain lookout
The view southeast from a lookout on Tunk Mountain.

Wilderness Factor

  • Not a designated wilderness, but remote (miles from the nearest town): +3
  • Easy to find on a map or by accident: -1
  • A largely contiguous chunk of conserved land, managed as an ecological reserve, allowing all sorts of wildlife to roam free: +4
  • Some cell phone coverage: -2
  • A fraction of the people who visit Acadia National Park (I was the only hiker during my visit): +3

Wilderness Factor: 7

Mud Pond on the Tunk Mountain Trail
Mud Pond on the Tunk Mountain Trail.

Moose-O-Meter

I have yet to see a moose in Maine. When my dreams come true, we’ll have a 10. Until then, this is an estimate of moose potential and other wild creatures encountered.

  • Moose potential—shallow ponds and wet woods away from the coast—high: +5
  • Frogs at Mud Pond are a half-point each: +3
  • Few birds or other wildlife: -2

Moose-O-Meter: 6

Mud Pond hobblebush
Hobblebush turning bright red by Mud Pond.

Wildcards

Bug Bonus

In the spring, this trail is probably pretty buggy. Today, it was spectacularly bug-free: +1

Bubble Bum Bonus

Pit toilets are bad news: putrid scents wafting from the underground chamber, hoards of flies, obscene drawings on the walls, and if you’re lucky you can maybe get a few scraps of toilet paper. But that’s not the case here. The pit toilet in the Tunk Mountain parking lot was clean and a pleasant smell of bubble gum filled my nostrils: +1

Big Tree Bonus

Sentinel trees stretch taller here than most of coastal Maine: +1

These popples (or apsen, which are in the genus Populus) are just some of the big trees along the trail.

Hummus Wrap & A Pickle

A perfect after hike meal from Flexit Cafe in Ellsworth: +1

Final Score

25/30

This hike inspired a possible series reviewing local trails, so it’s no surprise that it receives a high score from our judges. If you’re in Downeast Maine, looking for a half-day inland hike, Tunk Mountain Trail should be near the top of your list.

Stay tuned for more trail reviews and pictures from your humble photographer. In the meantime, please sign up for the email list, connect on Facebook or Instagram, and discover more Maine wildlife and landscapes in my gallery.

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