Walden Pond State Reservation: The Complete Guide

Autumn Trees at Walden Pond
Mick Roessler / Getty Images
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Walden Pond State Reservation

Address
915 Walden St, Concord, MA 01742-4511, USA
Phone +1 978-369-3254

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," wrote Henry David Thoreau in his seminal work, "Walden." And because of this act—back on the Fourth of July in 1845—most Americans feel some familiarity and connection with Walden Pond: the serene pool that is preserved for all to enjoy within Massachusetts' Walden Pond State Reservation. Not only is this 62-acre body of water in Concord one of the most renowned in all of New England, but its existence also looms large in literary history, thanks to Thoreau's thoughtful reflections on the two years, two months, and two days he spent inhabiting a cabin on its shore. In lines such as "Our life is frittered away by detail" and "Simplify, simplify," Thoreau spoke a prescient message that is even more relevant in the digital 21st century.

Even without Thoreau, Walden Pond would still be pretty. When the colors of fall leaves reflect on its surface, it's one of the best places in Massachusetts to witness autumn's splendor. Year-round, you'll find Walden Pond State Reservation a place to slow down, to revere nature, to stretch your limbs and your mind. You may not have two years, two months, and two days to spare, but you really should go for a few hours. Here's how to make the most of your visit.

Thoreau's Cabin at Walden Pond
Nick Pedersen / Getty Images

Things to Do

When you first arrive, walk straight from the parking lot to the replica of Thoreau's cabin for a look at the minimalist lifestyle he espoused. Then, follow the Pond Path that traces Walden Pond's shore. (This self-guided tour and map will add context to your walk.) If you're not up for walking the entire 1.7-mile, one-way loop, which takes about an hour, consider going only as far as the actual site where Thoreau built his cabin. Then, double back to the parking lot via the Wyman and Woods Paths: an easy trek of 1 mile that should take you about 40 minutes to complete. To extend your hike, follow additional trails that branch off from the Pond Path, such as Emerson’s Cliff Trail, Heywood's Meadow Trail, and Esker Trail.

Depending on the season, there are many other ways to interact with Walden Pond, including plunging right in! There is a small beach area, and the water often remains warm enough for wading into the early fall. Geologically speaking, this 100-foot-deep swimming pool is a kettle lake, created at the end of the last Ice Age when a humongous hunk of ice broke loose and was left behind. (The U.S. Geological Survey offers a much more scientific examination of the geology and ecology of this National Historic Landmark.)

A boat ramp just off Route 128, open daily from 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., allows access to the lake for paddling your own canoe or kayak (additional parking is available across the street if the small lot is full). Don't own one? Charles River Canoe & Kayak will deliver rental boats to Walden Pond for your use. Other non-gas-motorized boats are also permitted on Walden Pond. You can fish, primarily for trout, from your boat or from pretty much anywhere along the shore. Just be sure to purchase a Massachusetts freshwater fishing license first.

Forest
Alexander Farnsworth / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Efforts to protect the woodlands around Walden Pond began in the 1920s, and the state reservation offers more than 300 acres to explore. Use this trail map to navigate, but don't limit your hiking outings to within the state park's boundaries. The Walden Woods Project, created in 1990 by musician and Eagles founding band member Don Henley, has 170 acres at 14 sites under its jurisdiction; the conservation nonprofit, together with the state, municipalities, and local land trusts, has successfully protected about 80 percent of the 2,680-acre Walden Woods. Most of these lands are open to the public for hiking. 

For Thoreau fans, two worthwhile walks are:

  • The Emerson-Thoreau Amble: The 1.7-mile trail traces the path Thoreau followed from Walden Pond to the home of his Concord neighbor and friend, author Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • Thoreau's Path: Situated on the Walden Woods Project's Brister's Hill property, this interpretative trail features markers inscribed with moving and memorable Thoreau quotations.

There are also easy hiking trails in the 104-acre Adams Woods, adjacent to Walden Pond State Reservation. A 6-mile suggested route begins from the Mount Misery parking lot on Route 117, but you may also access the trailhead off Route 2 and begin a 3.5-mile hike along the Fairhaven and Andromeda Trail. This hiking loop, which is particularly lovely when wildflowers bloom, skirts along the three Andromeda Ponds, named by Thoreau.

Winter Activities

If you're seeking Thoreau-level solitude, you won't find it in the warm-weather months at this popular and historic destination. In the winter, however, the Pond Path and its offshoots are quiet and crowd-free. Once there's snow on the ground, sturdy boots or snowshoes will steady your stride. Don't venture out onto the pond in winter: Even if it appears fully frozen, it likely is not.

Where to Camp

There is no camping at Walden Pond State Reservation. You'll need to travel a bit if you want to follow Thoreau's lead and spend your escape immersed in nature. The nearest campgrounds include:

  • Spacious Skies Minute Man Campground: A dog-friendly destination about 20 minutes northwest of Walden Pond in Littleton, MA. Choose from RV, camper, and tent sites, or book a rustic rental cabin. Amenities include a heated outdoor pool, rec hall, free movie library, playground, and two dog runs.
  • Berry's Grove Campground: About 35 minutes north of Walden Pond in Tyngsboro, MA, this campground can be found on the shores of Lake Mascuppic. Dogs and tent camping are not permitted, but RVers will find full-hookup sites available year-round.
  • Hanscom Air Force Base FamCamp: This campground, located just 15 minutes northeast of Walden Pond, is open exclusively to eligible military and Department of Defense cardholders. Families will find 10 tent sites and 73 RV sites, including 56 full-hookup sites and 17 partial hook-up sites, available on a first-come basis year-round (no reservations accepted).

Where to Stay Nearby

In Concord, MA, you can actually book a suite that was once Thoreau's home at Concord's Colonial Inn. A Historic Hotels of America member property, the inn is composed of interconnected buildings, including one that has stood here on Monument Square since 1716. Dine at the inn's dark and atmospheric Village Forge Tavern, where colonial troops stowed munitions and other supplies during the American Revolution. 

If you're a gourmand, consider staying one town over at the Inn at Hastings Park in Lexington. This Relais & Châteaux property is owned by Chef Trisha Pérez Kennealy, who teaches cooking classes for guests in addition to overseeing the inn's sumptuous dining offerings.

If a chain hotel is more your speed, the Best Western at Historic Concord in West Concord is a good value for the money.

How to Get There

If you're traveling from Boston, it's just under a 40-minute ride train ride to Concord; You'll want to take the MBTA Fitchburg commuter rail line, which connects Boston (North Station), Waltham, and other stops with Concord; from the train station, it's 1.6 miles to the entrance to Walden Pond.

Of course, you can also drive and park at the state reservation, located at 915 Walden Street (Route 126), Concord, MA. Be aware that the parking lot sometimes fills up on peak summer and fall weekends, and there is a fee of $8 per vehicle for Massachusetts residents ($30 for out-of-staters) year-round.

Accessibility

Massachusetts State Parks' Universal Access Program seeks to ensure equal access to outdoor recreational opportunities. At Walden Pond, the Thoreau House Site Trail is designed for accessibility, as are the visitor center and restrooms. Three beach wheelchairs, including one floating chair, are available to guests and may be reserved in advance by calling 978-369-3254.

Outside the park's jurisdiction, there is a Handicap Assessed Loop Trail on the Walden Woods Project's Brister’s Hill site and Town Forest land. Although not ADA-accessible, the trail is assessed and mapped to help visitors make informed decisions before setting out.

A sunset at Walden Pond
Vath. Sok / Getty Images

Tips for Your Visit

  • Dogs are not allowed at Walden Pond State Reservation. Leave any other pets at home, too.
  • Bikes are not allowed on Walden Pond trails.
  • You will need a Visa or Mastercard to use "pay and display" machines in the parking lot, or download and use the YODEL parking app
  • Massachusetts residents only can buy an annual pass, valid for parking in all Massachusetts state parks.
  • Got kids? They'll enjoy the story walk panels posted along the accessible, half-mile Woods Path.
  • Visit the Walden Pond State Reservation website to view the current month's programs, including guided walks, talks, clinics, and hands-on activities.
  • Download this brochure to learn more about Walden Pond before you go.
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Walden Pond State Reservation: The Complete Guide