Walden Pond, known around the world as the place where Henry David Thoreau holed up to contemplate the magnificent spirituality of nature, is now a cool spot where Boston-area swimmers and nature-lovers can escape the summer heat.
At 103 feet, Walden Pond, officially known as Walden Pond State Reservation, is a glacial kettle-hole pond and the deepest natural body of fresh water in Massachusetts—consequently, the water stays (relatively) cool. A lifeguard is on duty at the beach from sunup to sundown, Memorial Day through Labor Day. On weekends and most evenings, kayaks and canoes glide across the water, often trailing fishing lines. The pond is stocked annually with trout, but licensed anglers can also hope to catch sunfish, perch, and smallmouth bass. The reservation is part of the Massachusetts Forests and Parks system and is a designated National Historic Landmark.
In the vast recreational universe between contemplation and competition, there is much to do at Walden. Miles of hiking (easy walking) trails run through the reservation’s 335 acres, and bird-watchers may glimpse kingfishers, blackbirds, chickadees, blue herons, and red-tailed hawks flying above the surrounding forest. Guided walks are offered throughout the summer, but calling a couple of days ahead to reserve a spot is recommended. At the pond’s northeast corner, visitors can view the site of Thoreau’s cabin, where he lived from July 1845 to September 1847 (a replica of the cabin stands beside the parking lot).
Opened to the public in September 2016, the new Walden Pond Visitor Center is a state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable facility featuring information about the pond’s history and geography. Walden-related merchandise is sold in the gift shop, and public bathrooms are available. The net zero energy building, meaning that it upholds the highest standards of sustainability, is LEED Gold–certified, which would have made Thoreau proud.
Parking is $8 for Massachusetts vehicles and $15 for all others. Bay State residents can buy a $60 season-long parking pass, good for all state parks, from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
It’s important to note that dogs or other pets are not allowed in the park, nor are grills, camping, or alcoholic beverages. There are no trash cans on the beach, so guests must take their trash with them when they leave.
The bad news about Walden Pond is that no public transportation takes you directly there. Trains from Boston go to nearby Concord or Lincoln, both an easy bicycle ride from the pond, and many adventurous cyclists ride out from Cambridge or Boston. The main entrance to the reservation is open from 7 am to 7:30 pm. All cars must leave the parking lot by 8 pm. A word of advice: visitors are limited to 1,000 and on hot summer days, that number is often reached as early as 9 am. Call 978-369-3254 to find out if capacity has been reached or to reserve a spot on a guided walk. Find driving directions here.