On the “Real” Golden Pond

What would bring a son the Golden State to a small lake in New Hampshire?

It was a film I saw when I was a kid, the three time Academy Award winning On Golden Pond (1981). The real Golden Pond is to be found in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region and it’s real name is Squam Lake. I planned to spend a few days here sketching and nature loafing.

I would be visiting a few of the filming locations and taking a Squam Lake Natural Science Center pontoon boat ride around the lake to take in the natural beauty of the lake in it’s fall foliage.

On our 90 minute ride we visited some of the bays and islands of the serene New Hampshire lake. We hoped to see two of the emblematic species of this region: common loon and bald eagle. We had no luck with the eagle but near Kimball Island, I spotted four loons and our captain took us over for a closer look.

During the filming of On Golden Pond, the cinematographer noted that it was hard to get good shots of loons because they were so shy and would dive out of view when approached (they are known as “divers” in Britain). Since the 40 years since On Golden Pond was filmed, the lake has become more and more popular with more visitors and boats and house on the lake. As a result the loons are used to the presence people being around them and allow close approach.

IMG_6796A Nature Center pontoon boat passes by Holderness’ famous dock on it’s way to Squam Lake. Behind the boat is the boathouse that Henry Fonda almost took out as he speed away from the dock in the film.

One of the locations featured in the film is the public boat harbor in Holderness. It is know as the Squam Boat Livery to the locals. It was here where legendary film actors Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, playing Ethel and Norman Thayer, stopped to have their vintage 1951 Chris-Craft wooden boat refueled. The wooden boathouse looks very much the same when they filmed here in 1980. What is notable is the tourist industry that has grown up because of the success of the movie. The restaurant next the the harbor is named “Walter’s Basin” a reference to the trout that almost got away in the film who was named “Walter”. The are inn and bed and breakfasts with the name “Golden Pond” in them.


I stood on the bridge, right where Katherine Hepburn pulled her car up to get the mailman to help look for Norman Thayer and Billy after their boat accident in “Purgatory Cove”. (If you haven’t seen the film this is all meaningless, so go watch On Golden Pond!)

Purgatory Cove

The scene where the boat accident was filmed was near Kimball Island. (This scene scared me when I watched it as a kid). On our boat tour we passed by the cove and our captain pointed out the two rocks featured in the famous scene.

We left we again found a small raft of loons.


The second unit shot footage of a car driving through the Lakes Region. Some of this unused footage was featured in the opening sequence of the sitcom Newhart, including the main road in Sandwich.

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