New England has a wide variety of mountains and trails to choose from when looking for a good day-hike. The Appalachian Trail, the White Mountains, and Acadia draw visitors from across the world, but I prefer the places with more local character. Tumbledown, a secluded ridge in western Maine, has come to exemplify all that I love about hiking. The Loop Trail, in particular, has a little bit of everything that makes the mountains of Maine so unique and beautiful.
Most visitors stick to the Brook Trail, which is where this hike begins at a parking lot on a dirt logging road. But instead of heading up the Brook Trail, we start by walking another mile up the road, alongside beaver bogs and other wetlands. The Loop Trail comes up soon enough, and climbs quickly into an evergreen forest so dense it can seem cold even in the heat of summer.
This is where the hike gets really interesting. At 0.75 miles along the Loop Trail, you pass beneath a tremendous boulder nestled among the trees. Standing beneath it is a stronger reminder for me of the sheer size of the mountains than even the distant views from the peak. Maine’s mountain landscapes show just what happened in the aftermath of Ice Age glaciers– huge boulders carried down mountains, thin soil leaving tangled roots exposed on the trail, dense and stubby trees. The walk up the Loop Trail so far is like a tour through Maine’s geologic history.
Beyond the boulder, the trail suddenly becomes incredibly steep. Trails this steep aren’t rare in New England, but there’s something about this one that seems more wild, and one brief interruption in the climb always reminds me why. The trail suddenly comes out onto an open rock slab, looking directly up to Tumbledown. I remember my first time looking up at the cliffs, wondering if I should have brought a rope to scale them.
Not surprisingly, the trail gets right back to climbing, and doesn’t let up until you’re at the top. You pick your way through heavily forested boulder fields, a legacy of ancient rock falls from the cliffs. As you reach the top of the climb, things go from steep to insane. You walk along a narrow ledge around an inconveniently-placed tree, using your hands as much as your feet, and then find yourself at a dead end. But it’s not a dead end, it’s the “Fat Man’s Misery”.
In classic Maine fashion, the Loop Trail finds a natural chimney above your head, sticks in a few rebar rungs, and lets you figure out the rest. Fat Man’s Misery is the kind of trail feature that I have yet to find anywhere but Maine– a jungle-gym style trail like Mahoosuc Notch and the Hunt Trail. To navigate the Misery, I have to take off even my small daypack, and wiggle through the cave. It’s only a few feet of crawling/climbing, but when you come out the end, you’re finally on top of the Tumbledown Ridge.
The views from the ridge, once you arrive, bring you back a few centuries. Roads are invisible in the valley below. A few farms and logging cuts stand out in the vastness of the Maine forest, otherwise punctuated only by Webb Lake and rolling mountains.
When I see views like this, I’m reminded that there are precious few places where you can go for a day-hike and see a landscape that seems totally devoid of human impact. Of course, there is humanity down there, but I can never forget that the wilds we have in Maine are something special, something you can’t often find in our modern world.
Tumbledown Ridge hammers that point home. Despite only briefly reaching 3000 feet, the ridge is wide open with views into the valley, out to the White Mountains and Mahoosucs, and up to Saddleback. No matter which direction you look, the most evidence of civilization you’ll see is a solitary farm or a patch of light green where loggers have been. Even on busy days on the mountain, I’ve never run into anyone on the ridge. All is peaceful on the mountain.
The last part of the loop comes when you reach the top of the Brook Trail, and find Tumbledown Pond. The crowds of day-hikers usually stop here, and with good reason. A two-mile hike from the trailhead brings you to an elevated (2600 feet) pond with a rocky shore, good fly-fishing, and views as far as Mount Washington. On a hot summer day, you can’t get much better than an icy dip and then drying off in the sun on the rocks.
The two miles down from the pond to the trailhead are fairly uneventful, but fitting for the end of such a beautiful day. It may not be the most hidden gem out there, but you’d be hard pressed to find more beauty and wildness in a day-hike on the east coast.
For details on this hike, you can check it out in my New England Hiker App on iTunes.
About Ryan Linn
RYAN LINN is the crazed Mainer behind Guthook Hikes, a blog about lightweight backpacking and hiking in New England and elsewhere. He has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, and the New England Trail (from Canada to the Connecticut coast). He is also the developer of Guthook’s Guides apps for the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and more. Check him out at www.guthookhikes.com