If you prefer swimming in natural pools of water like I do, you’ll make it your mission to swim in as many of Cape Cod’s kettle ponds as possible.
Hundreds of the shimmering pools of water, formed thousands of years ago by melting glaciers that left behind bowl-shaped swimming holes, pockmark the Cape.
Now that I’ve got friends with a house there, I’m slowly visiting as many of them as I can.
A dip in a kettle pond clears my head. Strands of aquatic plants might tickle my toes and a small fish might nibble my kneecap, but that’s part of the adventure. And it’s nice to know that great white sharks, which patrol Cape Cod’s ocean beaches looking for seals to snack on, don’t live in fresh-water kettle ponds.
Here’s a guide to a dozen Cape Cod kettle ponds I’ve visited in the last few years.
Flax Pond, Dennis
Several ponds on the Cape are named Flax, so it can get confusing. This one, off Setucket Road in Dennis, is popular with dog lovers and kids who like the rope swings. Park in a dirt lot, walk a few hundred feet down a pine needle-covered path and you’ll find a small sandy beach. The swimming experience earns high marks –– I swam all the way across the pond, which is roughly twice the length of Barton Springs Pool and surrounded by small docks and tall trees.
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Upper Mill Pond, Brewster
This pond is bigger, and the pair of floating docks just offshore make it an irresistible destination. Walk down the boat ramp right into the cool, shimmery water and head straight for them. They make great platforms to practice dives from or stretch out for a nap.
Slough Pond, Brewster
You won’t see many homes ringing this kettle pond, but if you swim directly across from the main public entrance ramp, you’ll come ashore at Camp Mitton, which serves young people who have experienced trauma or crisis.
Sheep Pond, Brewster
This 152-acre gem is located just off the Cape Cod Rail Trail, making access easy for cyclists. It’s more protected than nearby Seymour Pond, so the water tends to get less wind whipped. Families will appreciate the small beach area (beware of aggressive ducks). There’s trailer parking too.
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Great Pond, Wellfleet
Wellfleet boasts two Great Ponds, but you’ll want to visit the one on Cahoon Hollow Road. From the parking lot, walk down the long series of steps to the pond. Turn left to access the beach area, popular with families. We turned right, hung our towels on the split-rail fence, and jumped in. This one gets top marks for swimability –– not too many houses along its perimeter, just a curtain of green trees. Dreamy.
Horse Pond, Yarmouth
Park in the small pullout on Higgins Crowell Road near the Yarmouth Police Department and strike out on the shady path through the woods, which will deposit you at the foot of a beautiful kettle pond filled with clear water and surrounded on one side by luxurious private homes. You’ll have to dodge the lily pads, but that’s a small price to pay for this secluded experience.
Little Sandy Pond, Yarmouth
This kettle pond comes with its own recreation area, complete with tennis courts, plenty of parking and a restroom. A trail takes you down to a man-made beach and a roped-in swimming area. There’s also an ugly cement bulkhead, but once you start swimming you won’t notice it. A water tower is tucked in the woods on one side, too, but other than that there’s little development here –– just lots of lush trees crowding around the pond.
Seymour Pond, Brewster
This large, inviting pond is situated right along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and it makes a great cooling-off point during a hot summer bike ride. Stash your wheels on the bike rack, settle in on a bench, admire the trees (including one with a strange, U-shaped trunk) and wade in for a blissful dip in this popular oasis. The sandy bottom is smooth and plant free. Plus, the ducks like it here.
Big Cliff Pond, Brewster
Nickerson State Park in Brewster is home to this glinting, king-sized kettle pond. Locals pay $8 to park; out-of-towners pay $15. But admission gets you access and easy parking at Big Cliff and three other delightful ponds. On windy days, the water gets choppy. A swim area is roped off and a trail circumnavigates the pond.
Flax Pond, Brewster
Like I said, Flax is a common name for the kettle ponds on Cape Cod. This one, also in Nickerson State Park, gets busy, but if you walk past the main beach and follow the signs to the boat rental area, you’ll discover a spacious and much less-crowded spot to throw down a towel on a bed of soft pine needles. Expect perfect water temperatures, and for best results swim all the way across the pond, to the campground on the other side.
Flax Pond Recreation Area, Yarmouth
We chalked up our third Flax Pond in Yarmouth. This charming, pint-sized kettle pond comes with a roped-off area for kids to swim, plus an anchored platform a few dozen yards offshore suitable for leaping. Toss your bag down on the amphitheater-style bench seats and wade on in.
Long Pond, Yarmouth
We biked along the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Yarmouth, then picked our way through suburban streets to this long, narrow kettle pond ringed with houses. We jumped in at the Davis Road boat ramp, but didn’t like the forest of tentacle-laden aquatic plants that tickled our toes. Another, larger beach is located near Saint Pius X Church off Station Avenue. It’s popular with kayakers, too.