Pooled in a mountain cavity or glacial depression, remote ponds are backcountry oases framed by trees like white pine and hemlock or clusters of fern and sphagnum moss, where shorelines roughened by scattered rocks yield to small beaches of mud. Wildlife—from moose and beaver to golden eagles and blue-headed vireos—converge on these water bodies, making them scenic rest stops on a summer’s hike, where cool breezes off placid waters provide a refreshing respite.
One of the more attractive peaks in western Maine, 3,068-foot Tumbledown Mountain boasts three summits, long, open ridges, a 700-foot cliff, and Tumbledown Pond, a glacial tarn dwarfed on three sides by taller terrain. Start at the Loop Trail and climb steeply to Great Ledges for unbounded views, before shimmying through a passage to the saddle between East and West peaks. Descend the Tumbledown Ridge Trail to the pond to rest and drink in the diverse scenery. Return via the Brook Trail.
Nested beneath North Kinsman’s east cliffs at 3,740 feet, Kinsman Pond is a long pool cut into thick spruce-fir forest; its western boundary is steep mountain slopes while the Kinsman Pond Trail skirts uneven rock trim on the opposite shore. The trail, which begins down at the junction with the Cascade Brook Trail, can be rough as it chases small brooks and cascades through boreal forest to reach the pond. Several large, flat rocks make for good seating just before AMC’s Kinsman Pond Shelter.
Smuggler’s Notch, V.T.
At 3,000 feet, Sterling Pond is Vermont’s highest trout pond. Its forested shores are on the backside of a north-facing ski run, where commanding views of Smugglers’ Notch can be had. Start at the Long Trail on Route 108 near the Smugglers’ Notch picnic area and climb steeply through dense forest before taking a spur trail to Elephant’s Head, a dramatic ledge jutting 1,000 feet above the notch. Continue on the Long Trail to Sterling Pond.
Distance: 2.4 miles
Info: Green Mountain Club, Sterling Section, www.gmcsterling.org; Hiker’s Guide to the Mountains of Vermont (Huntington Graphics)
Tadpoles the size of your hand are a common sight from the banks of Finerty Pond, a serene lake in the Berkshires’ October Mountain State Forest. At nearly 16,000 acres, the state forest is the largest in the commonwealth and contains 7 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT). From Becket Road, off Route 20, take the AT into mixed forest and climb over two peaks—2,200-foot Becket Mountain and 2,220-foot Walling Mountain—before descending to the scenic pond. Return on Finerty Trail, a wide path draped in lush foliage.
Distance: 2.4 miles
Info: Massachusetts Trail Guide, 8th Ed. (AMC Books)
The 1.4-mile loop around Breakneck Pond, located within the 9,000 acres of Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest, is a walk through a kaleidoscope of ecosystems. Swamps dressed in cinnamon fern and marsh marigold, accented by lichen-covered boulders, interrupt white pine and eastern hemlocks, while mountain laurel dominate. Dragonflies dance above beaver dams and islets of white cedar shade carnivorous pitcher plants. From the Bigelow Pond Picnic Area, do a circuit on the East Ridge, West Pond View, and Nipmuck trails.
Info: Bigelow Hollow State Park, 860-684-3430; AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut (AMC Books)
Pine Plains, N.Y.
At the foot of Stissing Mountain, 100-acre Thompson Pond lies within a 15,000-year-old kettle formed by melting ice. The pond and the surrounding land support a rich array of plant and animal species, including 245 land plants, 142 wetland plants, 27 mammals, and 162 birds. Golden eagles are often spotted in the air while rare king rails wade amongst cattails. Park at the Stissing Mountain trailhead to access a landscape populated by stands of aromatic sweet birch yielding to boardwalks over boggy wetlands.
Distance: 3-mile loop
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Catskills Region (AMC Books)
Wawayanda State Park, N.J.
Terrace Pond, on Bearfort Mountain in New Jersey’s Highlands, is a rectangular pond tucked beneath a ridge of violet-hued rocks and boulders called puddingstone—350-million-year-old sandstone conglomerates flecked with quartz and other sediment deposited by the last glacial retreat. Start on the yellow-blazed Terrace Pond South Trail (you’ll return on the blue-blazed North Trail). Pass through mixed oak forests and under a rhododendron tunnel before scrambling over puddingstone cliffs to reach the pond, edged with sweet pepperbush, mountain laurel, and sassafras.