Your Destination Guide to Boston

Destination Guide Boston - Your Destination Guide to Boston, MA

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Explore The Boston Harbor Islands

Explore The Boston Harbor Islands
Explore The Boston Harbor Islands

© Doc Searls

Does all the water surrounding the city of Boston lure you to the seashore? Without traveling far or long, you can experience the sea up close, find a place to lace up your hiking boots, and maybe even pitch a tent: Boston boasts an archipelago of islands, 34 in all, within reach by ferry from the city docks. With five departure stations on the mainland, ferries deploy from early morning until the afternoon during the summer months. The islands offer a respite from the concrete of the city, as well as an array of activities. Not only a getaway for hikers, campers, and those longing for time at the seashore, the islands have become an attractive choice for corporate events, wedding receptions, and parties.

The Boston Harbor Island Partnership, a collaborative group of governmental and nonprofit agencies, is the official caretaker of the area, which became a national park in 1996. A total of 1,200 acres of land, spread out over no more than 50 square miles, cover historic and archeological sites, open space and wildlife habitats, and 35 miles of relatively undeveloped shoreline. Several of the islands have visitor services.

Please note that although ferries are accessible and provide staff assistance for people with disabilities, the islands themselves are not fully accessible for handicapped visitors. Georges and Spectacle Islands, however, do have some areas that are suitable for wheelchair use.

Bicycles and pets other than service dogs are not allowed on the islands, but are permitted in the peninsula parks (on the walkways of Deer and Nut Islands, Webb Memorial Park and World's End). To limit travel time between islands (which are especially crowded on summer weekends) it's recommended that visitors focus on one island per day. However, if you get started before noon, you could likely visit two islands on the same day.

Island Overview:

Spectacle Island - Created by giant glaciers, this island got its name from hills connected by a sandbar that resembled a pair of spectacles as European explorers approached the area centuries ago. Today, only a 10-minute ferry ride from downtown, Spectacle Island has a visitor center, café, a marina, and five miles of hiking trails ending on a hill with panoramic views of Boston and the harbor. A swimming beach, supervised by lifeguards, is open to the public in summer. Programs such as "Snow Day on Spectacle Island" and "Winter Shelter Building" also teach visitors about the biodiversity of the island during the winter months. In summer, enjoy (free) Sunday afternoon jazz concerts on the lawn, and the much anticipated Summer Shack Clambake on Thursday nights. Private events can be scheduled in advance (see Web Site www.islandalliance.org).

Georges Island - At the center of Georges Island stands the monumental Fort Warren, surrounded by picnic grounds, fields and paved walkways. The fort, put up by the U.S. Government for coastal defense in 1847, was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and as a military training facility until decommissioned in 1947. Guided tours of the National Historic Landmark are available spring through fall, and park rangers will share its history, including the ghost story of "The Lady in Black": According to legend, the wife of a Confederate soldier was captured when attempting to assist in her husband's escape, and then hanged in a black gown on the premise that she was a spy. There are those who claim that she still walks the halls of the fort, and that you can hear her cries in the night.

Boaters can use the dock at Georges Island on a first come, first serve basis, and private events can be scheduled. Sunset cruises are offered during the summer.

Grape, Bumpkin, and Lovells Islands - These islands draw visitors for day trips and overnight camping experiences. With bountiful hiking and walking trails, ranger tours, and picnic facilities – and still the Boston skyline in sight - the islands also offer rustic camping (no trash receptacles, flush toilets, showers, fresh water, electricity or telephones).Without supply stores on the islands, campers are strongly encouraged to plan ahead. Camping permits are required before arriving (reserve online at www.reserveAmerica.com, or call 877-422-6762.)

Grape Island, one of the most popular camping islands, acts as starting point for sea kayaking tours led by park rangers and sometimes, professional kayaking instructors. Groups are kept small – a maximum of five individual kayaks - to make sure participants are safe and get the assistance they need. The tours are usually designed either for beginners, or for more experienced kayakers, with a minimum age requirement depending on the event. See website (www.bostonislands.com) for details.

Peddocks Island - With its 184 acres reaching almost 300 at low tide, Peddocks is one of Boston Harbor's largest islands, and also has the longest shoreline. Like many of the Boston Harbor Islands, Peddocks Island has played a pivotal role in defending the city from military attack. In 1776, over 600 soldiers were placed on Peddocks to ward off the Brits, in case they were to attempt a return. Later, in the early 20th century and through the end of World War II, the island was home to Fort Andrews. Many structures are left as a reminder of the role these islands played in Bostonian and U.S. military history.

Thompson Island - The Thompson Island Conference Center offers both indoor and outdoor venues for special events, providing a private setting for any occasion. The "Outward Bound" education center on the island offers outdoor adventure and learning programs for youth to inspire teamwork and leadership. (www.thompsonisland.org)

Little Brewster - "The Boston Light Climbing Tour" takes you on a three-hour adventure starting with a boat ride to Little Brewster where you disembark and walk the steps of "Boston Lights" – a National Historic Landmark and the oldest lighthouse station in the United States. From here, you can witness an impressive view of Boston Harbor. Narrating rangers and experts offer visitors the facts along with the experience.

Great Brewster - The largest of all the harbor islands, Great Brewster is equipped with walking trails as well as great views of Boston Inner Harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and four lighthouses, including the Boston Light.

Island Information

  • General Information:
  • • For more information on activities, events, and camping reservations, visit: www.bostonislands.com or call 617-223-8666
  • • Map of the Boston Harbor Island Parks: bostonislands.org/isle_maps.html
  • Transportation:
  • As peninsulas, Deer Island, Nut Island, Webb memorial Park and World's End Park can be reached by public transportation, and by car.
  • Ferry Departure:
  • • Boston at Long Wharf: Frequent departures to Spectacle and Georges Islands (and free service between the two). You can connect to other islands from Georges Island.
  • • South Boston at EDIC Pier: Limited service to Thompson Island. Free connections to Spectacle Island.
  • • Quincy at Fore River Shipyard: Ferries to Georges Island, with free connecting ferries to Spectacle Island.
  • • Hingham at Hingham Shipyard: Ferries to Grape, Bumpkin, Peddocks, Georges, and Lovells Islands with free connecting service to Spectacle Island.
  • • Hull at Pemberton Point: Ferries to Grape, Bumpkin, Peddocks, Georges, and Lovells Islands with free connecting service to Spectacle Island.
  • • For fees, schedules and to purchase tickets on-line, visit: www.rezweb.com/wta or call 617- 223-8666 for more information.

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