Most people have heard of Walden Pond. Whether you are from Massachusetts or California, the wooded home of one of America’s most famed writers, Henry David Thoreau, has garnered international fame. While Thoreau championed self-reliance, Walden Pond is only a little over a mile from historic Concord center and is now right off of Route 2, making it a very easily accessible slice of the wild.
Now known as Walden Pond State Park, it offers trails for hiking, a pond for swimming and fishing, and, of course, the chance to see the site where the legendary Thoreau lived. A model of his small cabin sits at the entrance/exit to the parking lot (which costs $8 for MA plates and $10 for out of state) and is worth checking out. The actual site sits directly across the pond from the main beach, and is worth walking to, although don’t expect much.
Walden Pond itself is a fascinating geologic feature. The majority of the New England landscape was carved by the unfathomable mile-high glaciers that covered the area during the last Ice Age. As the glaciers receded, they left behind a changed landscape. Cape Cod, for example, is the mass of sediment pushed south by the glacier, eventually forming a permanent landmass.
Walden Pond is what’s known as a “kettle pond.” Kettle ponds are formed as glaciers recede, leaving huge chunks of ice in their stead. The giant ice chunks sink into the ground and eventually melt, creating a pond with some very unique features. Because of the way the ice chunk sits into the ground, the shape of the pond resembles that of a kettle, with a short embankment before a straight down drop off into the depths. Most people are surprised to find out that Walden pond is over 100 feet deep!
Another unique feature of kettle ponds is that, due to their steep embankments and the fact they they were formed suddenly by glaciers, they have no inlet or outlet. At times Walden has to be closed for cleaning. The inlet/outlet means there are naturally no fish in the pond, but it has been stocked over the years with bass and a few other species and fishing is possible there, although you probably won’t catch anything big and it’s all catch-and-release.
Because of the lack of streams, Walden’s water level can vary from year to year depending on rainfall. Currently, due to the relatively dry summer, it’s down about 5 feet from its normal level, which is actually great for visitors. Due to erosion on the steep banks, there are very few points to access the water when the level is high and they get very crowded quickly. With the slightly lower water level, a small ring of beach has been created that surrounds the whole pond. It allows access everywhere, which mitigates the crowding that normally happens at people’s favorite swim spots away from the main beach. If you’re not the type to swim, the loop around the pond itself is a beautiful 1.6 mile stroll, and there are plenty of other trails that also connect with other local conservation areas in Concord and Lincoln.
Walden is on route 126 off of Route 2 in Concord, Massachusetts. The only legal place to park for Walden is in the State Park’s lot right across the street from the beach entrance, although if you don’t mind walking you can street park in Concord center and walk the ~1 mile to the pond. If the lot is full, they will “close” the park until crowds dissipate somewhat. During the summer, I would recommend avoiding Walden on the weekends, because it is almost always full and getting there can be a major pain. But if you need a slice of the wild, and a nice swim, Walden should be on your warm-weather checklist!