Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous depending on the route you choose to take. It’s just a mile to hike to the top of Caribou Mountain from the Caribou Mountain Trailhead, but you can continue to hike a 6-mile loop, making for an 8-mile hike.
How to get there: From Route 182 in T10 SD (between Franklin and Cherryfield), turn onto Dynamite Brook Road and drive about 1 mile to a small parking area on the left. The trailhead to Caribou Mountain Trail is a short walk farther down the road and to the left, just before a one-lane bridge. The trailhead is marked with a blue blaze on a small boulder.
Information: Caribou Mountain of Hancock County lies in the Donnell Pond Unit, 15,384 acres of reserved land in townships of T7 SD, T9 SD, T10 SD; and the towns of Franklin and Sullivan.
The acquisition of the Donnell Pond Unit took place in 1988 through a complex, fiveway land trade and purchase transaction. Previous owners of the property were Prentiss and Carlisle, Diamond Occidental Corporation, and the Bryan family, according to the 2007 Downeast Region Management Plan by the Maine Department of Conservation. Over the years, land has been added to the unit, including 6,915 acres the bureau acquired from the Pierce family in 1994.
The Caribou Loop Trail travels to the summit of both Black Mountain and Caribou Mountain, creating a 6-mile loop. A few different trails lead to the loop, so hikers have the option of starting from a few trailheads. The quickest way to the loop is by hiking the 0.9-mile Caribou Mountain Trail, but other access points include the Schoodic Beach-Schoodic Mountain Trailhead and the Big Chief Trailhead.
The acquisition of the Donnell Pond Unit took place in 1988 through a complex, fiveway land trade and purchase transaction. Previous owners of the property were Prentiss and
Carlisle, Diamond Occidental Corporation and the Bryan family, according to the 2007 Downeast Region Management Plan by the Maine Department of Conservation. Over the years, land has been added to the unit, including 6,915 acres the bureau acquired from the Pierce family in 1994.
The land was assembled in phases with the assistance of numerous conservation partners — particularly The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy and private landowners committed to conservation.
The unit lies at the center of the Tunk Pluton, a 70 square-mile granite intrusion rich in quartz and feldspar, according to the 2007 management plan. Approximately 91 percent of the land is forested, with most of the remainder being open wetland and high-elevation ledge outcroppings.
Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land is open year round for visitors to enjoy a multitude of activities, including hiking, hunting, snowshoeing and fishing. Be aware than many access roads are not plowed in the winter unless timber harvesting is occurring.
“The combination of topography, bedrock geology, and shallow soils has produced a fire-prone environment; producing a diverse mosaic of natural communities,” the report states. “In areas with moderate soil accumulation, the post-fire forest type is typically aspen and birch. Where thin soils occur in the higher terrain on open balds that have burned, black and red spruce are the dominant species. The vegetation is transitional between that of the spruce-fir/northern hardwoods typical of northern Maine, and the more temperate forest characteristic of southern Maine.”
Access to the reserve is free, but visitors are asked to follow a few rules. Pets are allowed if on a leash. Campsites are first-come, first-serve, and is limited to 14 days in any 45-day period. Hunting is permitted, though special rules apply. For example, hunters cannot discharge weapons within 300 feet of any picnic area, camping area, parking area, posted hiking trail or other developed area, and loaded firearms are not permitted at campsites or on hiking trails.
For information, call 941-4412 or search for Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land at www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/index.pl.
A comprehensive description of the land and its uses can be found at http://www.state.me.us/doc/parks/programs/planning/downeast/Downeast%20Management%20Plan.pdf.
Personal note: I walked along the top of Caribou Mountain for the first time on April 18, 2013, by hiking up the 0.9-mile Caribou Mountain Trail and following the Caribou Loop Trail along the long ridge to several spectacular outlooks. I didn’t have the time to continue to Black Mountain and around the 6-mile loop, but I was happy to be able to check Caribou Mountain off my list of Maine mountains hiked, and I had already hiked Black Mountain via Big Chief Trail.
Compared to other trails in the reserve, the trails on Caribou Mountain seem to be less traveled. Some of the blue trail markers along the ridge have faded and a portion of the trail is overgrown. Nevertheless, it’s clear that someone has recently put effort into marking the Caribou Mountain Trail with both tape and blue blazes.
While it isn’t my favorite hike in the area (having the contenders of the beautiful Black, Schoodic and Tunk mountains), Caribou Mountain — with its mossy woods and interesting boulders — is definitely worth exploring.