Guest Blog: Into the Woods at Groton State Forest by Tara Schatz
By 2016 Photo Intern Tara Schatz
Like many of Vermont’s most wild places, Groton State Forest is off the beaten path, nestled between the Green Mountains to the west and the hills of the Connecticut River Valley to the east. This is one of Vermont’s largest publicly owned areas, encompassing almost 30,000 acres, and seven unique state parks. The forest and parks offer plenty of variety for adventurers, who come here to hike, bike, paddle, fish, camp, and relax.
I spent a blissful couple of days in Groton State Forest this summer. My home base was Ricker Pond State Park, but I spent lots of time exploring the lakes, ponds, mountains, bogs, and woods that make this place so special. Here are my favorite adventures in Groton State Forest.
I love exploring the flora and fauna of bogs, and Peacham Bog is one of the largest and most beautiful bogs in all of Vermont. Peacham Bog Natural Area encompasses 728 acres, but the bog itself is about 200 acres. It’s considered a dome bog, which means that it rises slightly above the local topography. I hiked the 4.5-mile Peacham Bog Loop Trail, which took about 4 hours with a stop for lunch. I didn’t see anyone else on the hike, but I did discover an abundance of songbirds (various warblers), millions of dragonflies, and the carnivorous pitcher plant, which was in flower and really beautiful. The Peacham Bog Loop Trail begins at the nature center. Pay careful attention to your map and the signage because there are a lot of connecting trails. The bog itself is a great place for a picnic — just follow the boardwalk to the lonely bench, and it’s about the halfway point if you’re following the loop.
Early Morning Paddling on Ricker Pond
I was lucky enough to score a lean-to right next to the canoe launch on Ricker Pond (Aster), so I took full advantage, and woke up early to paddle into the sunrise. There were at least 5 loons paddling with me through the fog, and they seemed to enjoy playing hide and seek with me as I paddled along. Ricker Pond’s small size was allowed me to paddle along the whole shore and still be back to the lean-to in time for a cup of coffee. Ricker Pond is a lovely, small campground, and just about every site is either on the water or set above it with an awesome view.
Afternoon Swimming at Boulder Beach
Boulder Beach State Park is definitely the place to be for family swimming, picnicking and frolicking. There’s a fabulous sandy beach, and the water is clear and weed-free. It was high summer when I visited, and really hot, at least for Vermont. There were a lot of people at the beach — cooling off in the water or relaxing on the shore, but not so many that it felt crowded. I treated myself to an ice cream at the snack bar, and floated the rest of the day away.
Sunset from Owl’s Head
I asked a local friend where I should hike to catch the sunset, and she didn’t even hesitate for a minute before suggesting Owl’s Head. The trailhead to Owl’s Head is in New Discovery State Park.The trail is moderately steep, and just 1.5 miles, so you can easily hike up for the sunset and be back to your car before dark. This is a great hike for families with kids, and the views are fantastic!
A Hike and a Swim at Kettle Pond
Kettle Pond State Park is probably the most quiet park in Groton State Forest. There are a few primitive campsites that you can hike or paddle to, a trail around the lake, and a canoe portage. The trail is strewn with boulders and the sparkling water of the pond is always visible through the trees. It’s a lovely trail for listening to the loons, or discovering an elusive snowshoe hare. You’ll find a few nice swimming spots along the trail as well.
Visiting Groton State Forest was like escaping back in time. The landscape is wild, the trails uncrowded, and the pace blissfully slow. Plus, Groton provided me with the quintessential summer-in-Vermont vacation I’ve been looking for — camping, swimming, paddling, and hiking. It’s an enchanting place, with a bit of magic for every explorer.