Canoeing and Hiking at Donnell Ponds Public Lands

I finally got around to exploring the mountains and waters Donnell Pond Public Lands for three days over this past Labor Day Weekend.   This is the first combo canoeing/hiking adventure that I’ve taken in several years.  My shoulders have just not been able to handle the paddling, but things worked out this time, due to the limited water travel involved.

Big canoe- compact car

This summer has been a bit of a bust in Maine due to the almost unrelenting humidity and heat, but now that September and cooler weather has rolled around, I am again interested in exploring the best of what Maine has to offer.

From the Natural Resources Council of Maine web site: “The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit includes mountains, pristine lakes, and remote ponds all spread out over 14,000 acres in eastern Maine. There are sites for camping along the pond’s beaches, and great options for those who enjoy paddling. The land included in the unit has grown over the years to reach this expansive size with the help of different conservation groups and generous private landowners.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Maine’s Public Lands, they are an option to the State parks, and Acadia National Park.  Permits are not required if you use established fire rings, and there are no fees for camping, where you are allowed up to 14 days at one campsite. Leave No Trace practices are encouraged.

Here’s a overview of the DP area ( top of map), located some 12 miles east of Ellsworth:

A bit of history from the DP website:   “No notable Native American archaeological findings have been discovered here. During the nineteenth century, attempts were made to extract gold, silver, and molybdenum from Catherine Mountain with little success. The logging that has long been part of the history in the area continues to this day. Recreation and leisure play prominently in the history of the area. For nearly two hundred years before the advent of refrigeration, ice from Tunk Lake was harvested during the winter and stored in sawdust-filled icehouses for eventual sale and distribution. A lakeside fish hatchery on Tunk Lake supplied small “fry” fish for sport fishing until the 1970’s. Wealthy vacationers established an estate on the south end of Tunk Lake in the 1920s. This estate would later end up in the hands of famed Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd and was a recognized historic landmark until it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.   The land conserved at the Donnell Pond Public Lands was assembled in phases with the assistance of numerous conservation partners-The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation.”

Our campsite on Redmond Beach allowed us to put in a full 9 mile day that took in Caribou and then Black mountains via the Caribou Loop Trail.

Approaching Caribou Mtn. summit
Granite land

Here’s a shot of our campsite.  I’m in the tipi, and my hiking pal Guthook is in The One.

Redmond Beach campsite
Another angle

The next day, we awoke early in order to beat the wind and explored much of the North shore of Donnell Pond, checking out the shoreline for possible campsites for future trips.

From our campsite on Donnell Pond

In my experience, the magic hour for wind picking up in favorable weather on lakes and ponds in Maine is 10 in the morning. It is uncanny.

My Bert Libby canoe

We eventually crossed over to the western side of the pond at the narrowest point where we followed the shoreline to the popular Schoodic Beach, which is more easily accessed by a 0.5 mile trail from the Tunk Lake Road/Route 183 parking area. As we were exploring the shoreline on our way down Schoodic beach we came upon two hikers with fully loaded packs trudging through the water heading for the Beach. We stopped and asked the two girls what was going on and one told us she was a student at Harvard University who came up here with her best friend. On the spur of the moment they drove up from Boston to Donnell Pond to camp on Schoodic Beach. When they experienced the overloaded level of camping and merriment there they had bushwhacked up the shore in order to have privacy and escape the noise. One of the girls had also been greatly distressed by the sight of a snake, so they took to aqua-blazing. They jumped at the chance to hitch a ride back to Schoodic Beach in our canoe. They asked us if there were any other places where they could camp for free Guthook steered them to Camden Hills State Park, where I agreed that they would find a better experience camping on the summit of Bald Rock Mountain in Lincolnville.

Tenzing at Bald Rock Mountain’s summit shelter
Schoodic Beach

We beached the canoe on Schoodic Beach and did a relatively quick hike to the top of Schoodic Mountain, a 1,069′ gem of a walk,  and 3 mile round trip that leads to  excellent views of Frenchman’s Bay and the mountains of Acadia National Park.

Schoodic summit view

Carey Kish’s AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast book was my best resource for hiking the Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail that we were able to fit in the last day of our getaway.

Another resource for exploring the area is ‘s excellent review, complete with video footage:  1-minute hike: Caribou Mountain near Franklin

Kish’s 4.9 mile, 3 hour, and 1,060′ elevation info was spot on, as was the description of the extensive open mountain ledges and far reaching views of the Downeast landscape, and full-on views of the Hidden Ponds.   Sometimes we walked over a rooty path, lending a Tolkienesque quality to the experience:

Where’s Guthook? Hint-blue blaze

It was a kick to see the occasional ATV churning up a cloud of dust on the Downeast Sunrise Trail far below, where I’ve biked and even camped on a few years ago.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail is an 85-mile scenic rail trail running along the coast connecting multiple scenic conservation areas, and providing year round recreation opportunities. It is open to snowmobiles, ATVs, horse-back riders, skiers, hikers, bikers, walkers, and joggers. It passes through several sections of the Donnell Pond Public Lands between Franklin and Cherryfield. Here’s the link to my bike-packing experience on the Sunrise Trail.

Exploring Donnell Ponds Public Lands is a must if you haven’t checked it out.  The foliage should be coloring up soon , which will only add to the experience.

I’ve planned several hiking trips for the next few weeks.  Next up- 5 days of  challenging backpacking in Baxter State Park, including a long hiking day which includes The Traveler Loop.

Stay tuned!

 

One thought on “Canoeing and Hiking at Donnell Ponds Public Lands

  1. Mary Doherty

    I love this gem of a place ! Thanks for the history of the area. Next time you’re passing through Ellsworth, let me know. You’d be welcome.

    Like

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