One of the most famous places in New England is also an attractive, surprisingly unspoiled state park property that allows swimming, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. Walden Pond was home to author Henry David Thoreau for a few years in the mid-1840s—he wrote about his time there and his reflections on life in Walden, perhaps the most famous American book about living simply—and that legacy helped establish the site as a National Historic Landmark. The wooded park has 462 acres of protected open space, and visitors can pop into a replica of Thoreau’s cabin along on the path between the parking lot and the pond. (The real cabin was actually located at the far side of the pond—that site is marked with squat stone pillars surrounding the cabin’s original hearth stone.) On the shore, there are condoned-off swimming areas in summer with a sandy beach and lifeguards. There are also bathrooms and changing rooms at this end of the pond. You’ll often see hearty swimmers slowly traverse the 1.7-mile circumference, which is 102-foot deep in spots and was created by a melted glacier (and if you come at sunrise you’re likely to see swimmers who meet to cross the pond together). A striking visitor center opened in 2016 and is located in the parking lot; it includes a small store with books, T-shirts, and other Thoreau memorabilia. There are no food concessions here.
Keep in mind that the pond gets half a million visitors a year and on busy days, when it reaches capacity, rangers turn people away. It’s an appreciated practice—if you’re already inside. To avoid the disappointment of driving up only to see the sign WALDEN POND CLOSED / NO DROP OFFS NO WALK INS / REOPEN TIME 2:30, check the lot’s status on Twitter @waldenpondstate or by calling the main number. Plan to arrive by 9:30am on a summer weekend or very hot weekdays.