Tuesday, August 14, 2012


On a beautiful cool, sunny morning, my brother Drew and I took the short, easy and very scenic walk into Church Pond on the north side of the Kancamagus Highway. For several reasons, this trail is lightly traveled: the trailhead is hidden away in the Passaconaway Campground; the Swift River must be forded at the start of the trail; and the footing approaching the pond is very muddy.

We parked at the trailhead (room for two cars), put on our water shoes, and waded the river and a second, smaller branch stream a little farther along. Then we reached the former loop junction, where the signs were still in place. The eastern loop of the Church Pond Trail is no longer maintained by the Forest Service due to extremely boggy terrain. The west part of the loop remains open.

The next section of trail is a needle-carpeted stroll under tall pines.

The last few tenths of a mile approaching the pond leads through an extensive swampy area. The bog bridges that were placed here some years ago are largely rotted away, with numerous protruding metal spikes waiting  to trip the unwary. Because of the dry summer, the footing wasn't too wet through here on this day.

Green's Cliff looms to the northwest. In his 1916 regional classic, Passaconaway in the White Mountains, Charles Edward Beals, Jr. admired Green's Cliff as "a truly magnificent and imposing rampart." Beals devoted an entire chapter to Church Pond and its trailless neighbor, Little Church Pond, which were then known as the Deer Ponds. 

Drew making his way through the swamp on the final approach to the pond. This is a great birding area in early summer, but the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with.

The official trail now ends atop a gravelly hillock covered with red pines, known simply as "The Knoll," overlooking Church Pond.

A couple of side paths lead steeply down to shoreline openings with beautiful mountain vistas. This view looks SW to the Fool Killer, North Tripyramid and Scaur Peak.

Looking south towards the Sabbaday Brook valley with the Sleepers at its head and Potash Mountain on the left.

A closer look at the Sleepers.

Next we followed the abandoned eastern loop along high ground to the east, and dropped down on a faint path to  a premier sitting rock on the eastern finger of the pond. This view looks west towards the main part of the pond with Sugar Hill beyond.

Good view from the rock north towards Mt. Tremont and Owl's Cliff.

Owl's Cliff has some impressive rock faces. For an account of an exploration of these, click here.

Watching some Belted Kingfishers patrolling this end of the pond.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

Back at the shore below The Knoll, a vista of Passaconaway and Potash.

Church Pond has some of the best mountain views of any water body in the Whites.

In the gravelly clearing atop The Knoll.

Lots of nice easy walking on the Church Pond Trail.

Looking east along the Swift River.

Wading the river to return to the trailhead after a great morning walk.
(This post is a little late in coming because our main computer, which has our photo files, was unavailable for a few days due to a construction project.)  


  1. Steve, what a wonderful post about a wonderful place! Last summer was the first time I'd ever visited this spot. And then afterwards, I wondered why it took me so long to go there! Perhaps I was subliminally spooked by the prospect of doing the water crossings. But as it turns out, it's pretty easy, especially in late summer.

    Also, I liked the link to your Owls Cliff exploration of May 2009. On a visit to Owls Cliff, I recalled reading your posting, and it served as an inspiration to whack down to the top of the west cliff. As you indicated in your posting, there was indeed "a discouraging amount of descent" at the outset. And for sure, there were portions where the conifers were very thick. However, just as you discovered and reported, it was worth the effort!


  2. Thanks, John - Church Pond certainly has a high reward-to-effort ratio. It's a great spot in winter, too, though the river crossing is dicey at best. That's also the best time to visit Little Church Pond, which has an awesome view up to Green's Cliff.

    Owl's Cliff is a great wild spot, maybe visited more by rock climbers than hikers.


  3. I had an opportunity to visit Church Pond last summer, after having it on "the list" for a long time. It certainly is a great spot! We didn't do the loop since it was no longer maintained and I heard horror stories of how muddy it was, but it certainly was a worthwhile trip. Beautiful Pics! We were fortunate enough to have the place to ourselves! I also recall the bugs being bothersome along the way. Still a unique area. Great Pics!

    Hiking Lady

  4. Thanks, Hiking Lady! The eastern part of the loop always had one real bad muddy section near the pond. In June the mosquitoes are fearsome along the trail, unless there's a strong breeze. In many visits to Church Pond over the years I have rarely seen anyone else there.


  5. Nice photos Steve!
    Rachel and I will go back on a sunny day.
    My column tomorrow in the Weirs Times is about our Church Pond hike. Those spikes sticking up on the rotten log bridges certainly are a little scary. We had fun in the mud and getting over and under the blowdowns on the closed section of the loop. Did I tell you that on the knoll someone had pitched their tent?! Enjoy your blog, bests, Amy P.

  6. Thanks, Amy! Look forward to seeing your column. Yes, you definitely have to keep your eye out for those spikes. The knoll does look like it's been camped a bit. I sure wouldn't drink the water from the pond!


  7. Hi Steve. I've always wondered about this loop. I did read in the guide that you had to cross Swift River and has always deterred me for that reason. Would you say it's knee high in normal conditions or even lower?

    I love the views you have toward Potash. I was up there not too long ago (maybe a year or so) and I don't recall having views toward Church Pond. I believe that side (north) is too wooded for a view. Are you aware of any northern view from Potash to Church Pond?

    Great post!

  8. Karl,

    Thanks for your comment. I would say that the ford of the Swift at the start of the trail is typically knee-deep in summer, though the level was lower on this visit. The good thing is you can tell immediately whether it's doable or not, since it's so close to where you park.

    There is a partial view of Church Pond from Potash if you drop down a few yards on ledges on the north side of the summit. It's a standing view, looking over the trees.