Emerson - Thoreau Amble

The Emerson – Thoreau Amble is a 1.7-mile (2.74-km) footpath from Emerson’s house to Walden Pond, a re-creation of the route Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and other Concordians may have followed on walks between their homes in Concord and the pond.

Inaugurated in June 2013, the Amble begins from behind Emerson’s house (which is across Cambridge Turnpike from the Concord Museum) to the site of Thoreau’s cottage near the shore of Walden Pond. 

The walk takes 40 to 60 minutes. The unpaved path is uneven in places and requires climbing some short but steepish hills. The trail may be somewhat muddy after rain (though wood chips and boardwalks cover some of the wet places), . Sturdy footwear is recommended.

The path may be difficult for those with mobility challenges who may wish to follow paved Walden Street to Walden Pond instead.

Concord Trailhead

Emerson-Thoreau Amble Sign

You can start your walk on the footpath behind Emerson’s house, or from Heywood Meadow by the Concord Independent Battery’s building.The first part of the trail is swampy, but boardwalks are provided.

The path wanders down to the Mill Brook, which it crosses on a wooden footbridge, then continues to skirt a large cultivated field to the left, plowed in spring, growing in summer, abundant in autumn, and stubble in winter. Turn left when you come to the road and follow the sign to the Concord Ice Company. Continue on this unpaved road straight into fields, then turn left at a Private Property barrier and enter the pine grove, part of the Hapgood Wright Town Forest. The trail crosses the Mill Brook again on a wooden bridge, then through another stand of gigantic pines, to a T intersection: turn  turn left to reach Fairyland Pond.

Fairyland Pond

Fairyland Pond

Fairyland Pond, in Hapgood Wright Town Forest, is a favorite strolling area. Follow the Emerson – Thoreau Amble trail markers skirting the edge of the pond and into the forest following the rill fed by Brister’s Spring. This water source is marked by a slender wooden stick.

Follow the trail up the slope and you will enter Walden Woods land on Brister’s Hill. Brister Freeman was an African-American who lived and farmed on this hill, and gave it its name, in the mid-19th century.

Thoreau's Path on Brister's Hill

 Walking uphill from Fairyland Pond and past Brister’s Spring, at the top of the slope you are in Walden Woods on Brister’s Hill, a small nature preserve featuring Thoreau’s Path.

Thoreau's Path Entrance
Thoreau's Path Entrance

In the mid-1800s, Brister Freeman, formerly enslaved, lived here free and tended fruit orchards for a living. Thoreau wrote about him in his Journal:

Thoreau quote on Brister's Hill

This land, exploited for sand and gravel mining in the mid-1900s, was in danger of large-scale commercial development. It was acquired and protected by the Walden Woods Project, which created Thoreau’s Path, a short walk through the forest past granite slabs bearing quotations from Thoreau, set in the earth.

Map of Thoreau's Path on Brister's Hill

Beyond Thoreau’s Path is the intersection with MA Route 2. There is a pedestrian crossing, and a walk signal, to cross this busy four-lane highway. Cross carefully, and follow the Emerson – Thoreau Amble trail marks into the forest.

Thoreau's Bean-field

Thoreau's Beanfield Stone

Along the way from the highway crossing to the site of Thoreau’s cabin, keep your eye out on the right-hand side of the path for an inscribed granite slab marking the spot where Thoreau is thought to have cultivated beans.

The idea was to raise beans for food and as a cash crop for the necessities which he could not scavenge or provide for himself. As he hoed, he turned up stones, Indian arrowheads, bits of pottery and glass, all making sounds when struck by his hoe that were added to the music of the birds and the breeze in the trees. His labor became a living experience of nature, history, culture and craft: “It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor that I hoed beans…” (—from Walden).

(Bradley P Dean (1954-2006) was a Concord Thoreau scholar, writer and editor.)

Thoreau House Site

Inscription at Site of Throeau's Cabin
Bean-field Road Sign
Site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond
Site of Thoreau's house, with Walden Pond beyond.

The approximate site of Thoreau’s house had been known for years. His old friend, the Concord sage Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) had walked out from Concord in 1872 with a visitor and placed a stone at what he remembered to be the site of Thoreau’s house.

This began the custom, and later visitors—ecological and literary pilgrims, really—also brought stones until the stones formed a substantial cairn.

Exactly a century after Thoreau built his little house and moved here, amateur archeologist Roland Wells Robbins spent three months digging the ground near the cairn until he discovered the footings for the chimney of the house.

Today an inscribed stone marks the place of the chimney, and granite standing stones frame the area the little house covered. A wooden plaque next to the cairn bears Thoreau’s most famous words:

Quotation by Thoreau