Posted on September 16, 2020 and last updated on September 24, 2021

Donnell Pond Public Land, near Sullivan and Franklin

QUICK TRAIL FACTS

  • Preserve Size: more than 14,000 acres
  • Trail Mileage: Many!
  • Pets: yes
  • Difficulty: easy to difficult
  • Sights: views, ponds, open summits, forests, streams—the works

My map above shows the full extent of the connected trail system here, which links Frenchman Bay Conservancy preserves to the south (Baker Hill and Long Ledges, in blue) with the public land.

Just north and east of Acadia is a state park that offers spectacular hiking up small mountains with open ledgy summits; clear lakes edged by long sandy beaches; and many miles of hiking, from easy walking to vigorous ascents. Views from the exposed peaks span miles in every direction, including Acadia’s distant peaks and the ocean.

It’s an amazing place, with far fewer visitors than Acadia. There are several mountain peaks (with trails) located within the public lands: Tunk, Schoodic, Black, Caribou, and Catherine. They are all wonderful in their own way—and all offer views—but if you’re looking for a truly spectacular hiking experience, I recommend Schoodic and Black Mountains. All the summits are accessible via short and vigorous hikes. Donnell Pond’s trail system also allows you to combine several peaks in a long day’s hike or a two-day backpacking trip. If you do this, you get to camp on a beach!

You can camp at free, remote tent sites on lakeside beaches—all accessible only by boat or foot. The easiest campsite to reach is the one on Schoodic Beach. From the parking lot at the end of Schoodic Beach Road, the campsites can be reached by a wide, smooth 0.5-mile path that slopes gently downward—by far the easiest trail to hike in the park. Redman’s Beach and Tunk Lake are a bit harder to reach, at least 2.5 miles by foot, or a decent canoe paddle from the nearest boat launch.

Tunk Stream (in blue on my map): A 0.5-mile wide track descends gradually to a peaceful camping site on the far end of Spring River Lake, where it flows into Tunk Stream. This part of the lake is being overtaken with reeds and grasses, and you can look out over the delicate mosaic they make to the rocky ledges of Tunk Mountain. This looks like a nice place to take a dip.

Tunk Mountain (1,157 ft) (yellow on map): The 1.8-mile trail to the north face summit of Tunk Mountain (it has open southern and northern faces) passes a trail at 0.5 miles that takes you to “hidden ponds.” Don’t miss this 1.0-mile loop spur! The ponds are beautiful, and there are boats—perhaps not quite seaworthy?—and paddles that appear to be for public use. Several spots looked like great places to jump in for a refreshing swim. All told, if you hike to the mountain’s northern face, and do the loop, the length is roughly 5.0 miles. The hike up Tunk is moderately challenging, with a few steep spots and a few scrambles up boulders. A side trail close to the southern face takes you to a view and a plaque commemorating the family who donated the land. (Additionally, it appears some hikers do a loop trail here, based on other maps I’ve consulted. I will have to return to explore whether this is feasible, or if it crosses private property.)

Schoodic Mountain (1069 ft.) and Schoodic Beach (dark pink on map)— You can ascend Schoodic Mountain from the south or from Donnell Pond Public Lands. From Donnell Pond Public Lands, the path up Schoodic Mountain is roughly 1.8 miles if you counter-clockwise, or 1.3 if go clockwise. (The loop is about 3 miles in total.) I recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise, so you end at glorious Schoodic Beach. You’ll find the Schoodic Mountain trailhead at the far end of the parking area, farthest away from the kiosk and close to the port-o-potty. This leg, though steep, seems slightly less steep than its alternative. You follow it 0.9 miles to the final 0.4-mile leg that takes up to the AMAZING summit — it’s open and rocky, with views everywhere. The descent to the beach is quite steep. Walk to the mid-way point of the beach to find the 0.5-mile leg back to the parking area. This path is gentle, ascending at a gradual incline.

Also, the Schoodic Mountain trail hooks up the great trail system on Baker Hill and Long Ledges.

Black Mountain (1094 ft.) and Tunk Lake (orange on map)— From the parking lot off Black Mountain Road (which has space for just about three vehicles), you walk up the dirt access road about 50 feet before taking a left onto the footpath. The trail is marked with a sign for Big Chief Trail. Then you climb steeply for 0.7 miles before you reach an intersection. To get to the summit, take a right. The path descends briefly before climbing again to a GLORIOUS top, at 1.3 miles, with views for miles in every direction. There is some rock scrambling involved close to the summit. At the summit, you can go left to do a short loop to head back to the trail head. Or, if you go right, toward Caribou Mountain, you will reach in 0.4 miles or so a blue-blazed trail that descends into the woods on your right. If you follow this down, it will take you to a quiet, sandy beach on Tunk Lake in about 1.1 miles. It would be great if someday the state made a path from the beach back to the Black Mountain trailhead. We bushwhacked it successfully, using our GPS, but a trail would have been nice!

Black Mountain Cliffs from Schoodic Beach (blue on map)— Those who want a more subtle, but still beautiful and challenging, hiking experience than up Schoodic Mountain can head in the opposite direction up the Black Mountain Cliff Trail. This is a steep, short hike to a trail that lines a mossy, tree-lined ridge, with views here and there of Schoodic Mountain from between the trees.

Caribou Mountain (960 ft.) and Redman Beach (light green and dark green) — Parking for Caribou and Catherine mountains is about 0.1-miles before the actual trailhead on Dynamite Road. Look for a small dirt parking area about a mile in on your left. Then walk a bit farther down the road, and you’ll see the trail on your left, before the bridge. In another 0.2 mile, you’ll come to the intersection for Catherine Mountain. Continue another 0.6 miles to the intersection with the Caribou Mountain loop. It is a short, steep climb to this point. From the intersection, you can go right and follow a ridge with some marvelous views, or you can head left, down to the valley between Caribou and Black Mountains. If you head down, you might be disappointed that there is no official path to the secluded Rainbow Pond. As far as I could tell, you have to bushwhack to its shores if you want to glimpse it. From the Caribou Loop intersection, it is 2.8 miles to Black Mountain. The ascent up Black Mountain from this direction, like all of the ascents in this preserve, is steep!

From the parking area at the end of Schoodic Beach Road, the hike to Redman’s Beach, a long stretch of sand with views of Schoodic Mountain, is about 4.3 miles, and entails a steep climb up the Black Mountain Cliff Trail and down the backside of the mountain. If you want to access the beach from Caribou Mountain’s trailhead off Dynamite Brook Road, it’s a a roughly 4.1-mile hike up and down steep Caribou Mountain.

Catherine Mountain (942 ft.) (light pink on map)— Parking for Caribou and Catherine mountains is about 0.1-miles before the actual trailhead on Dynamite Road. Look for a small dirt parking area about a mile in on your left. Then walk a bit farther down the road, and you’ll see the trail on your left, right before the bridge. In another 0.2 mile, you’ll come to the intersection for Catherine Mountain. The climb is quick, about .7 miles, and steep, and takes you to great views. There are two paths on the summit — one is interior, more gentle, and takes you through the woods; the other rims the open ledges and offers lovely views. If you continue past the summit, you can follow the blue-blazed 0.8-mile trail all the way down to Route 182, where there is a parking area off the side of the road. I didn’t see a trail sign here, but the path is blazed all the way from the parking lot to summit.

Caribou Mountain Loop (green on map) — The total loop, starting and ending at the parking area off Dynamite Brook Road, is almost 8 miles, and includes the summits of Caribou and Black mountains. You can hike down two side trails to reach sandy beaches on Donnell Pond or Tunk Lake.

Directions: There are several ways to access Donnell Pond Public Lands. See the official map for ideas on where to park. The trailhead to Tunk Mountain and Tunk Stream is off Route 182; they are both well marked with visible signs from the road. The largest parking area is off Schoodic Beach Road, off Route 183. The parking area for Black Mountain, off Black Mountain Road, is quite small — just about big enough for three cars. There is also a parking area for Caribou and Catherine Mountains off Dynamite Brook Road that is big enough for several vehicles. All of the roads in Donnell Ponds Public Reserved Lands are well-maintained dirt roads, passable by low-clearance vehicles as long as you drive carefully.

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Let me know if you have any trail updates or corrections!