Walden Pond in historic Concord, MA is the perfect destination for literature fans, nature lovers, and anyone wishing to simply get outside.
By Bethany Bourgault
Jul 11 2018
Henry David Thoreau may have put it on the map back in 1854 when he published Walden, but Walden Pond is definitely a nature retreat full of surprises and delights still today. Visitors can take a swim in the 64 ½-acre pond, explore the replica of Thoreau’s historic cabin, or take a whimsical walk on any of the reservation’s hiking trails — where explorers are sure to encounter charming wildflowers, friendly critters, lovely walkways, unexpected coves, and breathtaking vistas of the whole pond.
Walden Pond is the perfect example of what geologists call a “kettle pond.” There are many famous kettle ponds on the Cape, but this one is much more accessible for those of us who live inland. Over 12,000 years ago, a glacier carved it into the landscape, and fresh groundwater filled it to the top. The now 102-foot-deep pond houses a variety of freshwater fish and is extremely clear on a nice day.
Walden Pond is famous for more than its natural beginnings. Its literary representation is said to have played a key role in the founding of both the Transcendentalist movement and the conservation movement. The land was actually owned by another famed Transcendentalist author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lent it to Thoreau for what he called his “personal experiment.” The two were both residents of Concord, MA, and shared ideas and companionship frequently. Thoreau loved the area for its untouched wilderness, and began his two-year quest for human nature in its purest form by living simply and naturally — sans the clutter and distractions of society.
The site of Thoreau’s original cabin is marked by stones and small plaques along one of the hiking trails around the pond. When I visited, I was surprised to see how small it was. He built a one room cabin, furnished with a bed, desk, fireplace, three chairs and nightstand in just about 10×16 feet. A replica of the cabin is located nearer to the parking lots, easily accessible for those who may not want to make the trip out to the original site. The Concord Museum has Thoreau’s bed, desk and chair in its collections.
Aside from capturing the hearts of transcendentalists and nature lovers alike, Walden Pond has a rich history of recreational use. The Fitchburg Railroad built a small amusement park on the western shore in 1866, which was used for functions, fundraisers, and community games. Even though it burned down in 1902, visitors today can still swim, hike, boat, fish, picnic, or simply relax on the shores at the pond. In the winter, Walden’s trails are a popular destination for cross country skiers and snowshoers.
It’s easy to see why Thoreau was so drawn to this place in particular when he began his “personal experiment.” The all-around beauty of Walden Pond and the delightful little details seemingly hidden from the big vistas — it truly is a natural wonder. Perhaps your visit will inspire you to pursue your own literary aspirations. It certainly inspired some great Thoreau-based humor in my friend and me. He asked if I had a Thoreau understanding of the place for this post. I threatened to Thoreau him into the water if he questioned my research. But don’t worry — we Thoreau-ly enjoyed our visit to Walden Pond.
Walden Pond State Reservation. 915 Walden Street (Rte. 126) in Concord, MA 01742. (978) 369-3254.
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.