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Cruising on Squam Lake --- the Real "Golden Pond"

Sometimes outdoor scenery in movies looks so gorgeous that it's almost hard to believe it's real. That was my reaction when I saw the 1981 movie "On Golden Pond". The lake and surrounding woods were stunning.
09/11/2015 01:46pm ET | Updated September 11, 2016
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Sometimes outdoor scenery in movies looks so gorgeous that it's almost hard to believe it's real. That was my reaction when I saw the 1981 movie "On Golden Pond". The lake and surrounding woods were stunning. They were integral components to this poignant story about an aging couple and their family headed by iconic actors Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

But did such a glorious and unspoiled region really exist or was the setting created, even in part, from the magic of special effects? I hadn't thought about the movie again until I spent a few days with friends in northern New Hampshire just before this past Labor Day.

We were mulling over our plans and deciding which day to go hiking and which day to head out for pancakes at Polly's Pancake House. One friend asked if we remembered the movie, if we knew the heart of it had been filmed nearby at Squam Lake and suggested taking a cruise there as an option. In unison, we said "absolutely let's go!"

So here's the truly wonderful news ---there really is a "Golden Pond" and it's still in the same pristine and idyllic condition as it was over 30 years ago. Squam Lake is in Holderness, New Hampshire. The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center (Center) operates several different types of cruises on the lake. We opted for the 90 minute "Explore Squam" cruise and our only regret was that the cruise wasn't even longer. Information about the cruises as well as self-guided tours and hikes in and around the Center can be found at: www.nhnature.org or by calling (603) 968-7194.

We cruised around much of the lake and its numerous islands in a comfortable, canopied pontoon boat and had use of complimentary binoculars. Squam Lake is home to a bald eagles nest, bald eagles and loons. However, as we started out, our guide warned us that we might not spot loons or bald eagles. Happily, within a few minutes we saw bald eagles soaring overhead, loons diving for fish and one loon perched completely standstill on the edge of a rock.

The lake's beauty is maintained through strict building codes and other environmental protections. Houses have to be built with materials that are in harmony with the woods. Some homes blend in so well that they're difficult to spot even using binoculars. While there are a few summer camps, there is no commercial development. All of these efforts contribute to making Squam Lake beautiful and tranquil.

What about the locations in "On Golden Pond"? We slowly cruised past Purgatory Cove where fishing and other important scenes were filmed. And, yes an actual home on Squam Lake was used in the movie and is still there. Our guide said they no longer cruise past the home for a reason consistent with the efforts to preserve Squam Lake. The owner has allowed nature to take its course and the front of the house, so visible from the lake in the movie, is now obscured by trees and other natural plants. Not seeing the home wasn't a disappointment since spending time on Squam Lake was such a joy.

Experiencing Squam Lake, and reliving scenes from "On Golden Pond," was very special. Learning of the ongoing efforts to maintain the beauty and wildlife of Squam Lake and the area made the visit even more reassuring. That means, hopefully, that many generations will be able to enjoy the beauty of the real "Golden Pond."