Have you thought about visiting the Boston Harbor Islands on your next trip to Boston? Home to the Boston Red Socks, Quincy Market and the Freedom Trail, Boston attracts thousands of tourists every year to its historic neighborhoods and beautiful harbor.
However, many visitors (and even some locals) don’t realize that they are just a mere Boston Harbor ferry ride away from one of the city’s best off-the-beaten path destinations, the Boston Harbor Islands. How exciting to know that this less touristy side of Boston exists.
Guest contributor and frequent visitor, Cheryl Maguire, is here to take us on a lovely tour of the Boston Harbor Islands. Take notes for your next trip to the area.
Tips to explore Boston Harbor Islands, MA
Every year we love to visit the Boston Harbor Islands, located just off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. As far as islands go, these may be missing the Caribbean turquoise blue ocean, but they do offer awe-inspiring views along with significant historical buildings.
You may be thinking at this point, “I’ve never heard of it.” Well, you would not be alone. Many people in Massachusetts are unaware of that this beautiful travel destination exists so close to home.
The Boston Harbor Islands is a National and State Park consisting of 34 different islands or former islands. Eight islands are accessible by a public ferry, which operates from May until October and departs from either Boston, Hingham or Hull. You pay one fee at a departure point regardless of the number of times you get on or off to visit each island.
If you’re interested in a longer adventure, there are various campgrounds located on the islands of Grape, Bumpkin, Peddocks, and Lovells. If you don’t have a tent, Peddocks Island offers six yurts for rent.
Take the ferry to Bumpkin Island for a look at Boston Harbor history
Our favorite island accessible by ferry is the small island called Bumpkin. Hiking around the entire island takes about an hour with the Boston skyline visible from most points.
The trails are well maintained and easy to walk, and there are picnic tables to enjoy island views while enjoying a nice lunch. There is also a beach area across from Hull, which connects the to Bumpkin Island during low tide via a sand split.
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The island has beautiful flowers and vegetation dating back to the 1900s. Wildlife such as turkeys and deer have crossed our path while we were hiking many times. There are three different structures still present on the island, each one worth visiting.
One historical structure is a former hospital built in the 1900s for children with disabilities which is mostly in ruins. Another is a naval training camp which was used during WWI. Lastly, there are some stone walls still standing of an old farmhouse.
Visit Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark on Georges Island
Georges Island, which encompasses 53 acres, is the largest and most popular Boston Harbor Island accessible by ferry. The main attraction at Georges Island is Fort Warren. Built between 1833-1860, the fort has a long and varied history.
During the Civil War, Fort Warren was a prison for Confederate officers and government officials. Later, the compound was also a training ground and patrol point.
Today the fort is considered a National Historic Landmark, and visitors can choose either a visit to the museum or a ranger-guided tour to learn more about the history of the island including the ghost, The Lady in Black who allegedly still haunts the place.
Allow for at least 2 hours to explore the fort and enjoy the scenic views of the city of Boston. Similar to Bumpkin, the trails are easy to walk. Before exploring the island, however, make sure to check in at the visitor’s center to learn about possible events or shows that may be held throughout the day.
Enjoy the view at World’s End
If you are not interested in traveling by ferry, the largest of the islands, World’s End, is accessible by car. There are two different types of experiences when you visit the island, which is 275 acres.
There is a steep (my FitBit said 35 flights) slow climbing hill path which leads to remarkable views of both Boston and Hull. If you’d prefer a nice leisurely walk around the island, there is a mostly flat path you can select instead.
In 2003, a survey was conducted and found Worlds End has 301 different plant species. The island has a shoreline of rocky beaches, and both fresh and salt water marshes can be found here. With proper permission, visitors can horseback ride or cross country ski.
Plan your trip with our Boston Harbor Islands Guide
The Boston Harbor Islands offer a unique nature and historical experience for the day or several days. Before you visit to check the calendar of events along with any special exhibits. We have witnessed different art exhibits displayed on various islands.
Some of the programs offered are yoga, music, kayaking and vintage base ball (spelled with a space). Even if you visit more than once like we do, it’s always a new adventure.
Here is a helpful map of all the islands to create your Boston Harbor tour. And you can also find individual island maps.
Tips for a Boston Harbor Island tour:
- If you are a Massachusetts resident or know someone who is, check your local library for discounted passes for the ferry. You can also receive a free parking pass to Worlds End from the library. Sometimes there are also free Boston ferry offers.
- If you are visiting more than one island, leave plenty of time to catch the ferry since it may only run one time during the day (if you miss it you may be stuck there!).
- Georges Island is the only island which has a snack bar. Bring food and water if you plan to visit the other islands.
- If you are traveling with children ask a ranger about the junior ranger program.
Extend your trip to Boston
While you’re in Massachusetts, save time on the itinerary for these ideas.