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Trail trials: Kettle Pond offers relatively flat trail with a view

  • Kettle Pond State Park, in Groton, Vt., includes a three-mile trail that circles the pond and is accessible for children and adults.

  • The author's wife heads from the boat launch toward the Kettle Pond Loop Trail at Kettle Pond State Park in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

  • A view of Kettle Pond from the southern portion of the loop trail at Kettle Pond State Park in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. The trail covers three miles around the perimeter of the pond and is accessible to both children and adults.

  • A kayaker and two canoeists enjoy the placid waters of Kettle Pond in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

  • A homemade sign along Vt. Route 232 attempts to play down leaf-peeping hopes south of Kettle Pond State Park in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

  • Maple leaves show off splotchy early fall colors along the Kettle Pond Loop Trail at Kettle Pond State Park in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

  • Sequential blue blazes mark a portion of the northern route of the Kettle Pond Loop Trail at Kettle Pond State Park in Groton, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 9/24/2020 9:33:39 PM
Modified: 9/24/2020 9:33:32 PM

Husbands of the world, take heed: You will never truly be able to read your wife’s mind. So just stop trying. Now.

I’ve kept my partner for life informed during my hikes this summer, surprisingly through text messaging even while deep in the woods or up on a mountaintop. She’s appreciated getting the updates, which led me to believe — by her tone of voice — that she felt she was missing out on something.

So I tried last weekend to find a route that would be both wife-friendly and also a fair workout for both of us. Her requirement: flat. Mine: woodsy. With a recommendation from Valley News staff photographer James Patterson, we headed to Kettle Pond State Park in Vermont’s Groton State Forest.

James and his wife have hiked the 3.2-mile loop before and gave it a good review. I can understand why. Kettle Pond is only an hour from the Upper Valley. It’s secluded, beautiful, placid and smack in the middle of leaf-peeping country. (Ignore the handmade sign along Vt. Route 232 proclaiming a COVID-19-related delay to the season.)

However, there is flat, and there is flat. My perception involves minimal elevation gain, exactly what you get with the Kettle Pond Loop Trail. My wife’s definition is entirely different ... as I learned and she discovered over 2½ bursitis-inducing hours.

The beginning of the trail gave my better half a false sense of what was to come.

From the parking lot, the blue-blazed route starts with a flat cinder path, lined with stones, that leads to a portage trail and wooden dock on Kettle Pond’s eastern shore. Before hitting the water, a sign points to the right to mark where the loop trail begins in earnest; at the outset, all you see are rocks in or wood planks crossing mud.

The path settles into its routine after a short bit, alternating a dirt track with roots and stones. The latter two predominate; you’ll find few level surfaces for your footfalls. (Well, this is the woods, after all.)

Groton State Forest offers loads of recreational options, camping among them. Kettle Pond boasts seven well-built wooden lean-tos and one remote tent site for overnight excursions, complete with fire pits, picnic tables and, in one case, a nearby privy. Several folks were wrapping up their breakfasts and preparing for the hike out as we passed.

Kayakers and canoeists will also find Kettle Pond appealing. There’s the easy walk of the portage trail, and all of the sites are close enough to the water that accessing them by boat is an appealing option. (Find a map at vtstateparks.com/assets/pdf/grotonremote.pdf.)

The loop trail rarely leaves sight of the pond. Owls Head Mountain, at 1,958 feet, lords over the trees to the east; Kettle Mountain, all 2,171 feet of it, rises gently to the west. Foliage was already showing the opening signs of the changes to come. The route becomes rockier on the pond’s south side, and you pass a private residence whose aged dog is both friendly and — if you wave hello — easy to frighten.

The loop trail finally ends at an access road that terminates in the state park’s group camping area. The only evidence of the trail’s existence are the words POND TRAIL written on a piece of plastic-covered cardboard tacked to a tree.

By that point, I wasn’t sweating from exertion so much from the sound of my wife’s voice.

The first indication should have been when she viewed the pond’s length from the boat launch.

“That’s like 10 miles away!” she gasped.

“No, it isn’t,” I retorted.

“It is!”

“No, it isn’t.”

At hike’s end, my wife agreed the trail’s 3-mile length wasn’t the issue. She wants to exercise more, and she’s taken steps — pun intended — by regularly walking or cycling the Mascoma River Greenway from end to end this summer. Unfortunately, that’s a paved route; the chances of finding something similar in a forest are between slim and none.

An uneven surface, no matter how flat, treats sore hips and backs unkindly. For the love of my life, it’s on to the ibuprofen.

For me, it’s back to the drawing board.

And, perhaps, extra-sensory perception training.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

IF YOU GO

Starting point: Kettle Pond State Park, Groton, Vt.

Getting there from here:
I-91 north to Exit 17 (Wells River); turn left onto U.S. 302 west; after 8.7 miles, turn right onto Vt. 232 north. Kettle Pond access is
7 miles up, on the left. About an hour’s drive from Upper Valley.

Route: Loop trail, 3.2 miles long. Easy.

Time: 2-2½ hours.

Be advised: It’s best to take this trail around the pond in a counterclockwise direction from the parking area; trailhead is hard to find going clockwise.

Several spots on the path require traversing across rocks and roots, so use care and take your time. Watch for private residence on south shore and the very friendly dog that resides there.

Also: Kettle Pond is one of many places within the Groton State Forest open to hikers, kayakers, canoeists and campers. Visit vtstateparks.com/assets/pdf/groton_trails.pdf for more information.

— Greg Fennell




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