Freshwater secrets, paddle optional
With more than 300 ponds on Cape Cod, choosing a mere 10 is a thankless task. Finding them can be even trickier. Unlike bay and ocean beaches, where signs point you in the right direction, towns on the Cape like to keep these warm freshwater locales a secret. Many of these ponds have limited resident-only (with requisite sticker) parking. Fortunately, they are near town centers, so you can grab a bike and go have a dip.
GREW’S POND, FALMOUTH
The town’s favorite swimming hole is where generations of residents learned how to swim before tackling rough ocean waves. Located in Goodwill Park, Grew’s has a sandy beach, lifeguards, volleyball court, restrooms, a picnic area, and nearby playground. No sticker is required and parking is free. From Main Street, Route 28, turn left on Gifford Street and drive 1.5 miles to the park entrance on the left.
HAMBLIN’S POND, MARSTONS MILLS
Marstons Mills is a treasure trove of ponds, including Muddy, Round, Middle, Little, Long, and Shubael. But if you ask most children in town where they learned to swim and where they spent most of their summer, they’ll mention Hamblin’s Pond. It has a roped-off swimming area with a shallow grade that’s canvassed by lifeguards, so it’s good for families. Children will love the ice cream truck that makes a daily run. From Route 6, take exit 5 and head south on Route 149. Go straight at the rotary and drive 0.5 mile to the cemetery and turn right. Follow the road to the pond.
HAWKSNEST POND, HARWICH
There are no signs leading into Hawksnest State Park, no campsites, no paved roads. But once you arrive, you’re thankful for the undeveloped setting. Only people-in-the-know come here to swim. There’s no beach to speak of, just a small opening that leads to fresh water. The primitive feel extends to the shoreline, nestled amid a forest of maples, pines, and birch. Take exit 11 off Route 6 and turn left onto Route 137 south. A quarter-mile later, turn right onto Round Cove Road. Go slow on the dirt road and pull over when you see the glimmer of water on your right.
SCHOOLHOUSE POND, CHATHAM
A small sandy beach, benches, and a row of pines mark the entrance to the pond. If you plan on parking in the small lot, you must have a resident sticker or befriend a local. Otherwise, bike over from town. Houses are hidden among the trees along the shore. Walk on the sandy pond floor and watch the geese fly overhead. Serenity accomplished. From Route 6, take exit 11 and continue onto Route 137 south. Turn left on Old Queen Anne Road and 0.8 miles later, turn right on Sam Ryder Road. A left turn onto Schoolhouse Pond Road will bring you to the parking lot.
FLAX POND, BREWSTER
Any pond at Nickerson State Park will do nicely after a morning of riding the Cape Cod Rail Trail or strolling the bayside beaches, but Flax’s size and shoreline are perfectly suited for swimming. Try to reserve a campsite on the water’s edge (camping areas 5 or 2) and bring a kayak. Bring your food down to one of the picnic tables and join the party. Take exit 12 and turn left onto Route 6A. Less than 2 miles later, you turn left at the sign for Nickerson State Park onto Flax Pond Road.
GREAT POND, EASTHAM
A stone’s throw away from the Cape Cod Rail Trail, Great Pond is a wonderful spot to cool off after a long ride. The long sandy beach is popular with families, and the seagulls flying overhead say you are not far from the Cape Cod National Seashore. Enter the rotary on Route 6 and continue going east on 6 for another 2.6 miles. Turn left onto Samoset Road, opposite Town Hall. Take a right on Great Pond Road, just after the bike path. The water and parking will be on your left.
DYER POND, WELLFLEET
A 15-minute walk northwest of the Great Pond parking lot on Cahoon Hallow Road, skirting Turtle Pond to your right, brings you to this gem. Walk on the fallen pine needles to the water’s edge and it feels like a remote mountain lake in Vermont, not a pond just down the road from the après-beach scene at The Beachcomber bar. Go here in the shoulder season months to have it all to yourself. About 10 miles east of the rotary on Route 6, turn right on Cahoon Hallow Road. The Great Pond parking lot (resident sticker required) is on the left. Bike up from the beach.
LONG POND, WELLFLEET
Far more accessible than Dyer Pond, Long Pond sits across from a large parking lot on Long Pond Road. Blessed with a grassy area for picnicking, a beach, and a gentle slope that leads to the hourglass-shaped pond, Long Pond is a family favorite. From Route 6, look for the right turn onto Long Pond Road, just east of Cahoon Hallow Road.
GULL POND, WELLFLEET
Park in the large lot and walk down to the narrow strip of beach. Surrounded by rolling hillside, this is a kettle pond, a glacially carved hole that retains deep, clean water. Canoes are stacked at one end of the beach and many fishermen grab one to try their luck hooking a smallmouth bass. Take Route 6 into Wellfleet and turn right onto Gross Hill Road. A sharp left onto Gull Pond Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road will lead you to the parking lot.
WILLLIAMS POND, WELLFLEET
If you continue on the dirt Schoolhouse Hill Road, you reach a spit of land that separates Gull and Higgins ponds. Leave your car and you will find a narrow water passage cut through the land. This sluiceway, as it’s called, was supposedly created by Native Americans to catch herring during their seasonal run. There are two parking spaces (stickers are necessary) to swim in Higgins, but the best mode of travel is by canoe. (Rent one on the shores of Gull Pond at Jack’s, www.jacksboatrental.com.) Paddle into Higgins and then onward to remote Williams Pond through another sluiceway. This is where Henry David Thoreau visited a Wellfleet oysterman he would write about in “Cape Cod.’’ It’s also where architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer built his house on the shores, camouflaged by the trees. Take Route 6 into Wellfleet and turn right onto Gross Hill Road. A sharp left onto Gull Pond Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road will lead you to the parking lot. Rent a canoe and continue north to Higgins and Williams ponds.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels .com.