Considering its proximity to the urban-suburban world, Ponkapoag is remarkably isolated. You have to take a mile-long dirt road through the woods to reach it. The buildings are the only ones around the pond, which means dark, star-lit views from the pond shore. And not that many people come visit the area; most are drawn instead to the hillier terrain north of I-93.
There’s great hiking from camp along wide easy-walking forest paths, plus easy access to the massive trail system in the hills north of I-93. You can check out the entire trail network with the official park map, but the best trail in the Ponkapoag area is definitely the Bog Boardwalk. Find it on the western end of 230-acre Ponkapoag Pond, where an extensive white cedar swamp blankets boggy shallows and wetlands. The Boardwalk is made up of a continuous series of wide wooden planks that penetrate deeply into the swamp, allowing you to experience a rare ecosystem that few of us ever venture into otherwise. In addition to the distinctive cedar trees, you’ll also find carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants in the low-lying vegetation alongside boardwalk, plus a variety of other unusual plants uniquely adapted to life in this highly acidic environment.
We walked the Boardwalk on Saturday. It was a wet and exciting experience. The water seemed high—perhaps due to the extensive June rains—and many of the wooden planks were actually floating in one- to two-foot deep water. This made for some exciting footwork. Each time I stepped on a floating plank, my weight would push it to the bottom, where it would stabilize and I would carefully shuffle along the slippery surface. Sometimes it would sink deep enough into the murk that it would disappear from sight, making it necessary to proceed by feel.
Overall, the Boardwalk was far more fun than scary. Even if you fell in, you wouldn’t get wet past your thighs (or waist at the deepest spots). But it does provide an excellent segue to talk about some of the essential gear you should bring for an overnight visit to Ponkapoag:
Key gear to bring to Ponkapoag:
Sandals: Bring a good pair of sandals for venturing onto the Boardwalk. Otherwise expect to get your shoes and socks soaking wet or go barefoot. Sandals are also ideal for venturing into Ponkapoag Pond for a wade or swim. It’s a shallow pond and the bottom is covered with lots of slimy mucky muck.
Water or Water Treatment: Potable water is not available at Ponkapoag, which means you need to either bring enough with you to last your stay or treat the water from Ponkapoag Pond (the only available source). If you opt to treat the water, I would definitely recommend a filter; it’s hard to obtain pondwater without floating debris in it. It would be a great place to try a gravity filter like the Sawyer Water Treatment System (right) or the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter; simply fill up the large bladder, hang it in your cabin, and let gravity do the work for you.
Lots of Light: Many of the cabins are large and spacious and none of them have electricity. If you’re with a group, bring along a bright lantern of other light to illuminate the interior at night. And don’t forget a headlamp or flashlight for your personal use.
AMC recently completed a map of the property, which is available for free download.