Massachusetts

Walden Pond | A Whimsical Walk through Nature and History

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

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Crystal clear water at Walden Pond

Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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.
Sign welcomes visitors to Walden Pond
Sign welcomes visitors to Walden Pond.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Don't be fooled by the busyness of the main beach - peaceful shores lie just a short walk away.
Don’t be fooled by the busyness of the main beach – peaceful shores lie just a short walk away.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
On the path to Thoreau's cabin site.
On the path to Thoreau’s cabin site.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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's surface is clear, tranquil, and undisturbed.
Walden Pond’s surface is clear, tranquil, and undisturbed.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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.
A replica of Thoreau’s cabin greets visitors near the parking lots.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
The replica’s interior showcases Thoreau’s decorating sense.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
A statue of Thoreau contemplates nature outside his cabin.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Wyman Meadow takes walkers by surprise - it is an unexpected landscape semi-hidden in the forest.
Wyman Meadow takes walkers by surprise. It is an unexpected landscape semi-hidden in the forest.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Looks like we're on the right path!
Looks like we’re on the right path!
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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.
This post helps mark the place where Thoreau built his cabin years ago.
Posts mark the place where Thoreau built his cabin years ago.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Visitors can read about Thoreau and his "personal experiment."
Visitors can read about Thoreau and his “personal experiment.”
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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“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.”
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Rocks and stones decorate the sign beside Thoreau's cabin site.
Rocks and stones decorate the sign beside Thoreau’s cabin site.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Stacks of rocks are next to the sign at Thoreau's cabin site. This is a practice called rock balancing.
Stacks of rocks are next to the sign at Thoreau’s cabin site. This is a practice called rock balancing.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Rock balancing is revered for the persistance and care that it takes. Some places even hold rock stacking competitions.
Rock balancing is revered for the persistance and care that it takes. Some places even hold rock stacking competitions.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Thoreau's old woodshed is marked by this stone and a pile of sticks.
Thoreau’s old woodshed is marked by this stone and a pile of sticks.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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.
Natural surprises are all over Walden's trails.
Natural surprises are all over Walden’s trails.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
“What is once well done is done forever.” -Thoreau
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Walden’s trails take walkers right up to the water in some places.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Walden’s serene surface is exceptionally clear.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
The MBTA Fitchburg Commuter Line reminds visitors of the area’s history (and transports many commuters.)
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Walking around Walden Pond is sure to be an enriching experience for all.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
When you go, say “hello” to the ducks.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
More cairns evoke Walden’s unique, peaceful aura.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
One last shot of Walden's almost surreal beauty.
One last shot of Walden’s almost surreal beauty.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
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.