Walden Pond is a 400-acre (162-hectare) Massachusetts state reservation offering hiking trails, swimming, fishing and historical sights.
It’s one of the most famous and popular state parks in Massachusetts, and a mecca for Thoreau and nature lovers. At all times of year people come to follow the 1.5-mile (2.4-km) trail around the pond and to visit the site of Thoreau’s little house. The walk all the way around the pond takes about one hour at a comfortable pace, less if you walk briskly and don’t linger at the site of Thoreau’s house too long.
The Visitor Center is a Net Zero, LEED-Certified ecological building with its own solar carport for electricity generation, electric vehicle charging stations, even solar-powered parking pass machines. The Center includes a Thoreau Society Shop selling souvenirs. More…
Fires, alcoholic beverages and pets (dogs) are prohibited in Walden Pond State Reservation at all times.
Getting to Walden Pond
Walden Pond State Reservation, open all year, is near the intersection of MA Routes 2 and 126. You can walk from the center of Concord to Walden Pond along Walden Street (1.3 miles, 2.1 km, 20 to 25 minutes) or, more historically accurate, you can follow the Emerson – Thoreau Amble, a re-creation of the footpath Emerson and Thoreau may have followed on their strolls to the pond. More…
If you’re driving or bicycling, from Monument Square in Concord Center, follow Main Street south and turn left onto Walden Street at the first intersection (map). Follow Walden Street (Route 126) for two miles (3 km), cross a major highway (MA Route 2), and look for the Walden Pond State Reservation parking lot entrance on the left a short distance farther along. The pond is on your right, on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. There’s a per-car fee for parking (see below).
If you come to Concord by train from Boston, you will actually pass right by Walden Pond: look for it on the right side of the train after passing the Lincoln station, and a few minutes before arriving at the Concord Center station.
Access to Walden Pond Reservation
Walden Pond State Reservation‘s parking lots—the only legal parking available within a mile of the pond—costs $8 per carload for Massachusetts residents, $15 per carload for others, in summer. Buy your parking pass from machines near the parking lots. Hours of operation change with the seasons, but it generally opens at or soon after dawn, and closes around sunset.
When the lots are full, the pond has reached its full visitor capacity, the parking lots are closed, cars are turned away, and no drop-off or walk-in visitors are allowed. This is to guard against pollution of the pond by the throng of visitors. (As it is, the chemistry of the pond’s water is already being changed by the presence of so many human bodies in it.)
On any hot day in summer—especially weekends and holidays—this means the pond reaches full capacity and closes by mid-morning at the latest. You may have to wait until mid- or late-afternoon before it re-opens.
Replica of Thoreau's House
Henry David Thoreau came to Concord’s Walden Pond “to live deliberately.” This replica is near the parking lots.
He built his little one-room, 10-foot by 15-foot (3 x 4.6-meter) structure in a clearing on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodlot just uphill from a quiet cove. He used mostly recycled materials: old shanty boards; used shingles to cover roof and walls; plaster, lath & horsehair for interior walls; two second-hand windows; and a thousand old bricks for the chimney and fireplace. Total out-of-pocket cost was $28.12-1/2, with the boards, shingles and bricks being over half the cost ($16).
Inside were a bed, table, small desk, oil lamp, and three chairs: “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
He moved into his little house on July 4, 1845, and made it is home until September 6, 1847, except for a trip to Mount Katahdin in Maine, and one night in Concord Jail for refusing to pay the poll tax. Thoreau wrote:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Walk Around the Pond
The walk all the way around the pond takes about one hour at a comfortable pace, less if you walk briskly and don’t linger at the site of Thoreau’s house too long. The most popular path is the one that hugs the shore of the pond all the way around, but there are other trails in the forests surrounding the pond, and yet more trails on Pine Hill in the town of Lincoln, adjoining Concord to the southeast.
Other paths lead around Walden Pond both along the shore and on the glacial esker ridges above. One path goes up to Emerson’s Ridge to a point known as The Lookout which may have presented rewarding long-distance views in Emerson’s time, when the landscape was more heavily cultivated and the forests smaller, but now the forests have grown, obscuring the views.
Site of Thoreau's House
Thoreau wrote: I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor…. My house was on the side of a hill, immediately on the edge of the larger woods, in the midst of a young forest of pitch pines and hickories, and a half dozen rods [100 feet, 30 meters] from the pond, to which a narrow footpath led down the hill.
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.
The small swimming beaches at Walden Pond are crowded in summer with visitors from Concord, Boston and beyond coming to swim in its cool water and take the sun. Lifeguards are on duty on summer days. Shower, toilet and snack services are available at the beach.
Fires, alcoholic beverages and pets are prohibited in Walden Pond State Reservation at all times.
There’s a boat ramp for launching your boat, canoe or kayak. Internal combustion motors are prohibited, only human-power or quiet electric motors.
Walden Pond Geology
Concord’s Walden Pond is a “kettle pond” formed when a huge iceberg-like chunk of glacial ice, buried in the glacial moraine, melted.
The bottom of Walden still has the shape of the chunk of ice that melted here thousands of years ago.
Walden is deep: over 100 feet (30.5 meters) in the middle.
Because waters filter into it from surrounding sandy soils, the pond is essentially oligotrophic, that is, it has few organic nutrients, and therefore few plants grow in it, keeping the water pure and clear. However, nitella algae, over 10,000 pounds of it, grows naturally in Walden’s depths, as does lake quillwort, a plant that grows nowhere else in Massachusetts, and these growths help to give the pond its special character.
Walden is also home to jellyfish of the species Craspedacusta sowerbyi, or “peach blossom,” native to China’s Yangtze River, but present in 44 US states since at least the 1880s. Barely an inch in diameter at their adult hydromedusa stage, you probably won’t see them at all. They live on zooplankton and other tiny creatures, but apparently don’t upset the pond’s ecology too much. Although they can sting, they can’t really hurt humans.
The real danger to the pond’s ecology is the load of “nutrients” added to the pond annually by thousands of swimmers, not to mention those contributed by visiting ducks and geese (fed by humans), and seepage from the park’s toilets. These elements may turn the pond eutrophic, contribute to the growth of algae and water plants, and upset its unique ecology.