Dip a toe in the kettle ponds of Cape Cod
Sep 9, 2021


Pam LeBlanc wades into Sheep Pond. Chris LeBlanc photo

You can keep your chlorine-infused swimming pools and crowded ocean beaches. When in Cape Cod, I head for the kettle ponds, shimmering pools of water formed when huge blocks of ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age, leaving behind depressions that eventually filled with water.

In all, about a thousand kettle ponds pockmark the Cape, and if you love swimming as much as I do, they serve up the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Seven swimming holes to splash in around Austin

I’m visiting a friend who has a family home midway up the Cape this week, and as I always do when I visit, I’m making it a point to take a dip in as many kettle ponds as possible.

Kettle ponds make great swimming holes

A girl flies through the air on a rope swing at Flax Pond. Pam LeBlanc photo

If you prefer swimming in natural pools of water like I do, this is the stuff of dreams. It’s also nice to know that the burgeoning local population of great white sharks, drawn to Cape Cod by the exploding population of seals, never visits these inland ponds. (For the record, I’m a fan of sharks and scuba dive with them frequently. I just don’t like bobbing at the surface without gear on when they’re in the area.)

In the three days I’ve been here so far this year, I’ve swum in four ponds – Flax Pond, a circular, pine-lined oasis of tea-colored water where you might find a kid swinging off a rope swing tied to a tree but you won’t find crowds; Upper Mill Pond, where you can glide out to a pair of floating docks and take a breather; Slough Pond, which you can swim directly across on your way to investigate a kids’ camp on the other side; or my favorite, Sheep Pond, a hidden gem of a swimming hole with a peaceful lagoon and some overly-friendly ducks.

Skip the ocean, hit the kettle ponds

Two sailboats bob on Upper Mill Pond. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

These ponds feed my insatiable desire to swim in natural bodies of water, where strands of aquatic plants tickle my toes, and a fish might nibble my kneecap at any moment. I love the adventure of it, and the feeling of getting close to nature. I’ll swim to the center of one of these ponds, spin slowly around to admire the surrounding screen of trees, then dive beneath the surface before surfacing like an otter.

Something about swimming this way, in a deep, kettle-shaped pool designed by nature, without stripes on the bottom to guide me or walls to constrain me, makes me happy to the core. It feels old-school, and I bet it hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.

So many visitors to Cape Cod are bent on finding the ocean. I like the occasional swim there, just for fun, but when I really want to log some distance, I’ll take the ponds every time. Next time you’re in Massachusetts in the summer, you should too.


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