Walking Tour 6 - Walden Pond

1.5 miles (2.4 km) around the pond, 40- to 60-minutes’ walking time on the Pond Path, + sightseeing time (Thoreau's house site).

About Walden Pond

Walden Pond is a 400-acre (162-hectare) Massachusetts state reservation offering hiking trails, swimming, fishing and historical sights. It’s open from dawn to dusk all year. Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the reservation. Alcoholic beverages and fires are also prohibited. For boats: oars, paddles or electric motors only.

Note that in summer, particularly on hot days and weekends, the pond may reach full capacity and may close by mid-morning at the latest. You might have to wait until mid- or late-afternoon before it re-opens. Drop-offs of visitors (without parking) are never allowed. These capacity limits are for safety, and to protect the pond's water quality.

A parking fee supports the park’s operations: $8 for a car with Massachusetts license plates, $30 for others. Parking lots are on the east side of Walden Street (MA Route 126) south of MA Route 2. Buy your parking pass from a machine in the parking lots, or via the Yodel App on your smartphone, or buy a pass in advance on the MassDCRParks website. There are electric vehicle charging stations near the Visitor Center.

The ACA-compliant Wood Path leads from the parking lots along the west side of Walden Street (MA Route 126) and into the forest to Thoreau's house site.

Walden Pond Visitor Center

Walden Pond Visitor Center

The ACA-compliant Visitor Center, next to the parking lots, is a Net Zero, LEED-Certified ecological building with its own solar carport for electricity generation. The Center includes a Thoreau Society Shop selling Thoreau, Walden and Concord-themed merchandise.

Getting to Walden Pond

Walden Pond State Reservation is southwest of the intersection of Walden Street (MA Route 126) and MA Route 2. There is no public transportation to or from the pond. 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, for a more historically accurate experience, 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.

Walden Pond, Concord MA

Walden Pond on a beautiful day.

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 (MA 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 (east) side 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). Bikes are free.

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.

Autumn moment at Walden Pond.

Replica of Thoreau's House

Henry David Thoreau built a tiny house at Walden Pond and lived here for "two years, two months and two days." You can visit a replica of his house next to the Walden Pond 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.

Bust of Henry David Thoreau

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. —Thoreau

Walk Around Walden 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 Pond Path, the one that hugs the shore of the pond all the way around, but there are other trails in the forests surrounding the pond.

The easiest path is the ACA-compliant Wood Path. After crossing Walden Street (MA Route 126) from the parking lots, turn right (north) and follow the stone-dust path along the west side of the road and then into the forest, ending at the Thoreau House Site.

Note that in the cold months, gladed stretches of the trails may be snowy and/or formidably icy and slippery.

A lazy afternoon at Walden.

A gladed stretch of the Pond Path in February: solid ice!

Swimming & Boating at Walden Pond

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.

Dogs (and other pets), alcoholic beverages and fires are prohibited in Walden Pond State Reservation at all times.

 There’s a boat ramp for launching your boat, canoe or kayak. Internal combustion engines are prohibited, only human-power or quiet electric motors are allowed.

The swimming beach at Walden Pond.

Boater fishing on Walden Pond

Thoreau fished here, too.

Geology of Walden Pond

Walden Pond is deep: over 100 feet (30.5 meters) in the middle. It's a “kettle pond” formed when a huge iceberg-like chunk of glacial ice was buried in the glacial moraine, and later melted, form the pond right there.

The bottom of Walden still has the shape of the chunk of ice that melted here thousands of years ago.

Although a few small springs feed Walden from the surrounding slopes, no stream of water comes into, or goes out of Walden—which is why it's so important to protect its water quality by limiting visitors and activities here.

Warning: Walden is deep water!

Because waters filter into it via springs 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.

Snow tracks at Walden Pond

In winter, Walden reminds visitors that a glacier created it....