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21st-Century Walden

Contemplating nature as Thoreau once did


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 102 feet, Walden Pond, officially known as Walden Pond State Reservation, is a glacial kettle-hole pond and the deepest natural body of freshwater in Massachusetts, meaning the water stays (relatively) cool. A lifeguard staffs 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 small-mouth bass. The reservation is part of the Massachusetts Forests and Parks system and has been designated a 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 tours and walks are offered throughout the summer, covering themes like Literary Talks and The Evolving Forest. 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).

This summer marks the beginning of the expansion of Walden Pond’s visitor’s center, which will offer information about the history and geography of the pond and sell Walden-themed souvenirs when it reopens in 2016. An on-site solar carport will generate electricity for the new building—which will be silver LEED-certified—and it will be constructed using wood from trees cut to make space for the building. Temporary bathrooms and changing rooms are available next to the parking lot. Parking is $8 a vehicle ($10 for non-Massachusetts vehicles), and season-long parking passes (good for all state parks) are available for $60 from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

It’s important to note that the park does not allow dogs or other pets. Neither does it permit grills, camping, or alcoholic beverages. There are no trash cans on the beach, so guests are expected to take their trash with them when they leave.

The bad news about Walden Pond is that no public transportation takes you directly there. Trains will get you to nearby Concord or Lincoln, both an easy bicycle ride from the pond. And many adventurous cyclists ride out from Cambridge and Boston. The reservation is open to the public daily from 5 a.m. to approximately a half hour after sunset. One word of advice: the number of visitors is limited to 1,000, and on hot summer days, that number is often reached by noon. To find out if the park is filled to capacity before driving out, call 978-369-3254. Driving directions from Boston can be found here.

This story was originally published July 20, 2011; it has been updated to include current information.

Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

3 Comments on 21st-Century Walden

  • Chris Duvant on 07.20.2011 at 8:44 am

    Walden Pond

    Such a view to behold. Imagine if thats your view from your bedroom. Stress would go away.

  • Anonymous on 07.20.2011 at 8:49 am


    The article neglected to mention the pond is stocked by the state every spring with brown trout, atlantic salmon, and other species.

    To fish you will need a license from the state which can be had by the day/week/season at mass.gov.

  • Olivera Vragovic on 08.08.2013 at 5:24 pm

    It is my favorite place in the world all the time but especially early morning and late afternoon. A real jewel of nature courtesy to ice age. The water is really clean and pleasant. It is also a biking distance from Concord, a historical town with museums from The Revolutionary War and a cute downtown.

    Also, there is Walter Groupius’s house, father of Bauhaus, now a museum, close by.

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