“I have a room all to myself; it is nature.” –Henry David Thoreau
From a historical, cultural and conservation perspective, Concord’s roots run deep. It was the site of the first battle of the American Revolution and home to many historic and literary figures including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. Colonial charm and chic style blend nicely in this picturesque town. Concord’s a top spot for history buffs and day-trippers alike. And with more than 35 percent of the town dedicated to open space, it is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and served as inspiration to the original envrionmentalist, Henry David Thoreau.
Walk Deliberately in Walden Woods
Thoreau famously lived “deliberately” for two years in Walden Woods finding comfort and joy in nature. “We need the tonic of wildness,” he said and any outdoorsman would easily agree. Today, Walden Woods covers 2,680 acres of land that is protected and managed by several organizations. The gem of course is sparkling Walden Pond, a 102-foot deep kettle pond. With an estimated 700,000 visitors per year, it is a treasure for historians and naturalists alike.
Because of so many visitors, the narrow trail looping the pond can feel anything but secluded in the summer. If like Thoreau, you “thrive best on solitude,” then a visit after snowfall will do the trick. With modern life humming gently in the background, you will not mistake this for a backcountry experience. But the history of the woods and unassuming beauty of the pond have an aura all their own.
There are several points of interest including the pond and a small overlook referred to as Emerson’s Cliff. The original site for Thoreau’s cabin is marked by modest granite pillars just north of the pond. About a half-mile out are Boiling Spring and Bear Garden Hill two famous sites of study. Don’t miss Brister’s Hill, which thoughtfully interprets Thoreau’s philosophy. There is a fee for parking and the grounds are open sunrise to sunset.
Minute Man National Historic Park
While “the shot heard round the world,” may not ring in your ears, the whisper of history surely will at the Minute Man National Historic Park. This 967-acre walking museum commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. The park runs through several scenic towns along a fairly uninterrupted five-mile trail. With nearly one million visitors per year, Minute Man is hardly a well-kept secret. But what insiders know is that in winter months, Battle Road Trail is one long, ungroomed track. Travel by foot, Nordic ski or snowshoe to enjoy the history and the scenery.
A good place to start is Meriam’s Corner heading east to Hartwell Tavern. Sorry, you won’t find any tapped kegs here. But the 2.5-mile trek along a tree-lined carriage path brings you past the Olive Stowe House and the Noah Brooks Tavern, both of which date to the late 1700s. The Hartwell Tavern, built in the 1730s, stood watch over the events of 1775. For a brief escape into the woods, check out the vernal pool trail.
No feature on Concord would be complete without Estabrook Woods. Slightly off the beaten cultural path, this protected space offers the simple tranquility of more than 1,000 acres of uninterrupted woods between Concord and Carlisle. The bulk is owned by Harvard University, with the Punkatasset Hill area preserved by the town. Punkatasset, Native American for Broad Topped Hill, is one of the town’s highest points. It served as an overlook during the American Revolution. The trails are wide, easy and well-marked. The loop around Hutchins Pond takes about half an hour with one stream crossing. The woods are a favorite among locals and of course were once traversed by Thoreau. There is roadside parking along the west side of Monument Street.
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Great Meadows is a naturalist’s delight. The Refuge preserves and protects 3,800 acres of freshwater wetlands. It spans seven towns and covers 12 miles of land along the Concord and Sudbury Rivers. As you would guess it is host to a diverse number of plant and animal species. But the biggest draw by far is the incredible array of birds that migrate or nest in these meadows. The Refuge has documented more than 220 bird species and offers a handy seasonal checklist. Winter visitors are likely to spot Sparrows and Red-tailed Hawks but could also catch sight of Great Blue Herons.
Great viewing happens at the observation tower, viewing deck and on the trails; interpretive signs throughout guide visitors. The easy 2.7-mile Dike Trail loops a marsh pool. No surprise, there is historic significance to this land too. Treasures from days past are often unearthed here. Native Americans called this area “Musketahquid” or grassy banks, and the settlers called it “Great River Meadows.” This is a favorite destination for snowshoers for its ease, beauty and tranquility.