Like many other families, this year’s April vacation was of the staycation variety. But after keeping it local for a few days, I felt the urge to cast the net into new territory. So we embarked on what my kids call a Mystery Trip. We set out in the morning equipped with a days’ necessities (snacks, misc. spare clothing, a reloaded Starbucks card) and only a very loose game plan.
Since my older son recently finished a book report on Henry David Thoreau, I thought Walden Pond was a great place to start. I have to admit that although I grew up in Massachusetts, I’ve never been to Concord or the surrounding areas. I took a gamble in hopes that it would be enough to hold the interest of my foursome, spanning from Kindergarten age through ‘tween.
In the end, it was easy to fill an entire day checking out the sites. As a matter of fact, we saw only a fraction of what there is to see. In addition to Walden Pond, there is at least a full day of Revolutionary War landmarks to explore, gorgeous parks, a charming downtown, great easy hiking trails, a fantastic playground perfect for toddlers through elementary age, and one particularly awesome ice cream shop.
Here’s a run down of the sites we managed to see and those we’ve added to our list for a return trip:
Walden Woods, Concord (website)
Walden Woods is made up of 2680 acres, surrounding Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau lived from 1845-1847. At the Visitor Center parking lot, there is a reproduction of Thoreau’s simple, one-room cabin which is left open for kids to explore. We picked up a trail map and followed the easy hike from the parking lot to the actual site of Thoreau’s original cabin.
Visitors from all over the world visit this landmark and bring small stones to leave in piles next to the location where Thoreau’s cabin once stood. My kids loved checking out the stones and reading the inscriptions. The hiking trails are clearly marked and well maintained….most remarkably noted by my kids, there was not a piece of litter in sight.
Admission is free, but parking is $5 per car. Worth noting, I’ve been told that the pond gets very busy in the summer months.
Minute Man National Historical Park (website)
Minute Man Historical Park is not only beautiful, but filled with several important landmarks from the opening of the Revolutionary War. Several of them we missed because we spent a most of our time at the North Bridge, site of “the shot heard ‘round the world.”
The North Bridge visitor center is housed in a early 1900’s mansion, with an expansive walled garden perfect for a spontaneous game of tag (such diversions probably explain why we missed so many other landmarks). The Center also houses some interesting relics like original uniforms and The Hancock Cannon (stolen from the British and smuggled to Concord). There was also a volunteer in authentic Militia dress on hand to answer visitors’ questions (which in the case of my kids, mostly revolved around his musket and assorted ammunition).
We plan to go back this summer to visit the other parts of Minute Man Park that we missed, such as Hartwell Tavern (Rt. 2A, Lincoln). It was closed the day we visited, but this restored period home is staffed from Memorial Day through mid-October with Park Rangers dressed in colonial attire. Also on our to-do list is to hike part of The Battle Trail which includes landmarks such as the capture site of Paul Revere.
Other sites in and around Concord for our return visit:
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, located on Bedford Street in downtown Concord.
We drove by on our way out of town and if it weren’t for my carload of exhausted kids, I would have pulled over for a closer look. Sleepy Hollow was designed in the natural garden style, in keeping with the aesthetic principles of local author Ralph Waldo Emerson. He and several other writers are buried in Sleepy Hollow’s “Author’s Ridge”, including Louisa May Alcott, William Ellery Channing, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thoreau. It’s winding trails and rambling landscape look perfect for exploring, you can be sure that I’ll be going back come October (’tis the season for graveyard visits).
The Wayside: Home of Authors. 455 Lexington Road, Concord.
The Wayside dates back to 1717 and was home to three families of authors during the 19th century, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, children’s author Harriett Lothrop (pen name Margaret Sidney), and Louisa May Alcott. For fans of Little Women, it is The Wayside that is described by Alcott in her 1868 classic. The Wayside is open to the public for an admission fee, guided tours available.
Ralph Waldo Emerson House. 28 Cambridge Turnpike, Concord.
Home to Emerson from 1835 until his death in 1882, Emerson House contains many of his original furnishings and memorabilia. The home is still owned by the Emerson family, but open to the public from late April through October, Thursdays through Saturday. Admission is free for kids 7 and under, $7 for adults.
Breaks & Refueling:
I highly recommend Bedford Farms Ice Cream (68 Thoreau Street, downtown Concord) for refueling. Housed in an old train station, the list of flavors is impressive and the ice cream is decadent. Our favorite, Muddy River (chocolate with “a river of peanut butter”)!
For post-ice cream recreation, Emerson Playground is just down the street from Bedford Farms at the corner of Thoreau and Stow Streets. Great for all ages, even toddlers. In summer months they have a splash fountain open to the public (although the pool is for Concord residents only). This is a great spot for burning off some steam before the drive home.
The Mystery Trip was definitely a success. Concord is the perfect day trip for combining just enough outdoor activity with a child-friendly dose of sightseeing. And ice cream.