Monday, August 31, 2015

Walden Pond State Reservation: Pond Path (Blog Hike #542)

Trail: Pond Path
Hike Location: Walden Pond State Reservation
Geographic Location: east side of Concord, MA
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A circumnavigation of the world’s most famous kettle pond.

Directions to the trailhead: In suburban Boston, take SR 2 to SR 126.  This intersection is located 4.5 miles west of I-95 or 10.5 miles east of I-495.  Go south on SR 126.  The state reservation entrance is on the left 0.4 miles south of SR 2.  Turn left to enter the reservation, and park in any of the large blacktop parking lots.

The hike: The date was July 4, 1845 when the author, philosopher, historian, and Concord, MA native Henry David Thoreau went “into the woods.”  For the next two years he planned to practice subsistence living in a small self-built cabin.  Thoreau had built the cabin on a plot of land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson located adjacent to Walden Pond.  Thoreau’s goal was to confront “only the essential facts of life” and therefore learn what nature had to teach.  The result of this endeavor was the writing Walden, a memoir published in 1854 that would become Thoreau’s most famous work.
            Geologically speaking, Walden Pond is a glacial kettle pond, or a body of water that formed at the end of the last ice age by runoff from retreating glaciers.  New England has many kettle ponds, and Walden Pond does not particularly stand out in terms of size or scenic value.  Thus, the Thoreau connection gives Walden Pond its claim to fame.
            What you think of Walden Pond when you leave depends a lot on what you are expecting when you arrive.  If you come expecting the wilderness experience Thoreau had over 150 years ago, then you will leave disappointed.  Walden Pond today lies in suburban Boston, so the sounds of voices, cars, trains, and airplanes are ever-present.  On the other hand, if you arrive expecting a nice pondside woodland walk in a suburban setting, then you will leave quite content.
            Several trails access more remote corners of the reservation, but the Pond Path described here remains the reservation’s most popular and famous trail.  A bookstore operated on-site by the Thoreau Society gives you an opportunity to purchase literary works and other items, and a new expanded Visitor Center was under construction when I came here in August 2015.  Also, be aware that due to this reservation’s location and popularity, the large parking lot tends to fill on warm weather days.  The reservation closes to new entrants when the lot fills, so try to arrive early in the morning to avoid this inconvenience.
Thoreau cabin replica
            Start at the replica of Thoreau’s cabin, which is located near the parking area and beside SR 126.  This cabin is only a replica, and it does not sit on the original cabin’s site, which you will visit later in the hike.  As you would expect given Thoreau’s mission, the one-room cabin with two windows and a brick chimney is purely functional.  Imagine living in accommodations such as these during a New England winter.
State reservation entrance
            From the cabin, walk southwest and carefully cross busy SR 126 on the crosswalk provided.  Follow the paved path as it curves left and descends to arrive at Walden Pond’s main beach.  As you would expect in suburban Boston, this beach gets very crowded on warm summer days.  The main beach is also the start of the Pond Path, which encircles the pond.  As directed by a sign, I chose to turn right and hike counterclockwise around the pond.
            The Pond Path heads west with Walden Pond 20 feet downhill to the left and the hillside rising to the right.  Wire fences lining either side of the trail made me feel like a cow in a corral, but they are designed to protect the surrounding habitat by keeping people on the designated trail.  Ignore some side trails that exit right and lead further from the pond.
Walking between wire fences
            At 0.5 miles, the trail curves right as you approach Thoreau’s Cove.  Thoreau’s Cove is the largest of five separate coves that jut out from otherwise oblong-shaped Walden Pond.  The pond’s size is deceptive: though only 61 acres in area and 1.7 miles in circumference, parts of the pond are over 100 feet deep.
Wyman Meadow
            After crossing a pond inlet on a wooden footbridge, you pass Wyman Meadow, a wet meadow covered in tall green-stemmed plants.  On the other side of the meadow, the side trail to Thoreau’s cabin site exits right.  Take a brief detour from the Pond Path by turning right to visit the historic cabin site.
            At the top of a brief uphill climb, you reach the site where Thoreau’s actual cabin stood.  Of the original cabin, only some stones from the foundation remain.  The stones are surrounded by modern granite pillars and metal chains, which give the area a monument-type feel.  The historic cabin site is a popular place despite the fact that it sits in a clearing in the woods, and it provides another opportunity to ponder on Thoreau’s experiences.
Thoreau's cabin site
            Past the historic site, you could go back to the Pond Path and turn right.  Alternatively, if you are tired of walking between wire fences, there is another trail that leads west higher up the hillside and further from the pond.  I chose to go back to the Pond Path, and I was rewarded by seeing a family of mallard ducks enjoying the gravel pondside area.  On either route the crowds will thin after you pass the historic site.
            At 0.8 miles, the trail climbs slightly to head around Ice Fort Cove and arrive beside the MBTA Fitchburg commuter rail line.  The rail line lies less than 100 feet from the pond, so all westbound trails come together here.  The Pond Path angles left to tread the narrow strip of land between the rail line on the right and the pond downhill to the left.
            After passing around Long Cove, you reach the south side of the lake, where the trail forks.  The trail going straight leads to Heywood’s Meadow, another wet meadow similar to Wyman Meadow, and Emerson’s Cliff, the highest land in the reservation.  This hike turns left to remain on the Pond Path.  Now heading eastbound, the pond stays in view to the left for the remainder of the hike.
Walden Pond
            The trail undulates gently as it passes first around Little Cove and then around Deep Cove.  Deep Cove contains the pond’s canoe/kayak launch, and the boat launch parking lot lies just to the right.  Soon you approach the main beach, which marks the closing of the Pond Path loop.  Angle right on the main paved entrance trail and re-cross SR 126 to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.


  1. Hey, I love your blog.
    What kind of gear do you take with on your hikes? Do you have any information on walkie talkies or GPS devices? I think your readers may like some insight on these tools very much. I have written on most types of walkie talkies. You may be able to find more information elsewhere too.

    Thanks, Joe

    1. Thanks for the post. I tend to go with a minimalist approach to gear. I do only day hikes, and I usually carry only some water, a couple of granola bars, a trail map, a Bible, a compass, and a few emergency supplies (such as a transponder and first aid) in my backpack. I also have a graphite hiking staff, bug spray, a wide-brimmed hat (for hot sunny hikes), and several pairs of hiking boots/shoes. You can only hike as far as your feet can carry you, so the feet are the most important parts of a hiker's body to take care of.