The other day, I wanted a quiet morning walk in the heart of the National Forest. I decided to go to Church Pond. I threw my water shoes in my car as well as regular gear. I would need them to cross the modest Swift River at the start of the trail.
From Conway I drove out the Kancamagus Highway 14.9 miles to the Passaconaway Campground on the right. Driving into the campground, I took the first left-hand loop road and drove around to the two car parking lot for the Church Pond Trail on the left, just after the campground caretaker’s trailer.
There was already one car in the lot.
I put on my water shoes, tied my hiking boots together and flipped them over one shoulder, grabbed my trekking poles and pack and crossed the Swift River, only about a foot and a half deep at that point, with a moderate current.
On the other side, I kept going in the woods for another 60 yards or so to another channel and crossing, though the water was shallower and almost stationary. Entering the woods on the other side, I hid my water shoes in the brush and put on dry socks and hiking boots.
I settled into an unhurried walk on the flat trail. The trail into Church Pond is only 1.1 miles. It is good to savor it. Walking beneath tall pines and hemlocks, I passed the east junction with the Nanamokomuck Ski Trail on the right, and in another 0.1 miles passed its west junction on the left.
The Church Pond Trail continued, and I soon reached the long series of bog bridges through a wetland. I walked out from under shady trees into warm sun. Green sphagnum moss carpeted the ground, tamaracks and red maples rose above, the leaves of the maples aflame with early red. Occasional warblers flirted crazily about, feeding before heading south.
Through the trees to the west, I could see the ledges on the long Green’s Cliff. Further north the cliffs on Owl’s Head peeked above the trees. I was content being in the middle of the mountains with no sound of civilization, walking through a lush wetland and ringed by a rugged landscape of trees and stone.
The trail bore right, then left up a low wooded knoll. I walked out to an opening on top. Below, Church Pond curled part way around the knoll, the bulk of the pond on the south side. The water reflected the piercing blue of the sky. The Sandwich Range rose dramatically in the distance, with the higher Mounts Tripyramid and Passaconaway.
Here, I met the person with the other car. With binoculars in hand he climbed up the knoll towards me from the pond’s edge. He had seen a kingfisher. I had heard it already. He mentioned the warblers back above the boardwalk, and a few of their names that I can’t remember.
We looked at a map that showed the nearby Little Church Pond which neither of us had been to. There was no trail to it. It would be a scratchy wet bushwhack, and make a good future destination.
After he left, I went down and sat on the shore. To get a photo of the lake and Mount Passaconaway, I had to take my boots off and walk out a way to see around brush on the shore. The bottom was surprisingly gravelly, and I walked around a little.
Church Pond is the last remnant of a post glacial lake called Lake Passaconaway that filled much of this wide valley 15,000 years ago. The pond is named for the 19th century landscape artist Frederick Church.
After a snack, I climbed back to the knoll and continued a short way on an old loop trail, now defunct. I didn’t get far. Then, I parted the brush out to a little eastern cove on the pond, and sat on my vest on the mossy shore. It was an exceptionally peaceful spot.
Owl’s Head cliffs shone in the distance. Under the water were rows of bladderwort, a plant that captures and digests water bugs. Around me were many cranberries, and that captured my attention for a while. It is nice when you can taste the landscape as well as see it, smell it and feel it.
I headed back to the knoll and continued back out the trail on the bog bridges, enjoying the flaming red maple leaves. Later at my car after crossing the swift river, I changed from water shoes to my comfortable low Merrills, and looked forward to a cup of coffee in town.