Boston Harbor Islands
Boston is well known for many things, many of them mentioned within the YAHglobal Top Local lists pertaining to the city. You expect to see information on Harvard, Boston sports history, Irish Pubs, perhaps even tidbits about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (proud bostonians). The last thing you probably expect to hear is about the island experiences that the Boston Harbor and coastline have to offer. A 10 to 30 minute boat ride will have you traipsing through island beach fronts that can have you feeling downright tropical in the summertime, inspecting military outposts overlooking the Atlantic horizon, or even visiting on set locations of Hollywood film. There are 34 islands encapsulated within the official Boston Harbor Island Park with even more notable points of island interest found a quick jaunt across to neighboring ocean protrusions and districts. YAHglobal.Com has put together a quick list of some visit worthy locations along this east coast wonder that will have you showing off a photo gallery to your friends and family completely stumping them as to where in the heck you were that had you island hopping, with or without a tan to show for it.
Passenger Ferry Costs
Harbor Islands Express Ferry offers two-island or multi-island round-trip fares from Boston and Quincy. The round-trip park ferry costs $14 for adults from all points. Multi-ride, family, senior, and group rates are available. Transfers between the Boston and Hingham Routes at Georges (serving Lovells, Peddocks, Grape, and Bumpkin Islands) have an additional fee of $3 for unlimited one-day rides.
Senior (65+): $10
Child (ages 3–11): $8
Children under 3 yrs: Free
School groups (per student): $8
Family four pack (2 adults & 2 children): $39
Quite possibly the most popular of the Boston Harbor Islands is Georges Island, a 39 acre (53 at low tide) transportation center to the islands and home to the National Historical Landmark Fort Warren. Fort Warren was built in 1847 for the purpose of coastal defense, although obviously never used, but nonetheless served as a training ground, Civil War prison and Patrol point until being decommissioned in 1947 and subsequently established for historical preservation and recreation by 1958. Today, Georges Island attracts tourists from all over the world for either a personal experience or guided tour by Park Ranger. The Visitor Center also provides an in depth look into this coastal point of interest through a short film, exhibits, and interactive displays. History buffs aside, families find fun at Georges from May to mid-October with a small scale Fort Warren playground for the kids and plenty of picnic tables and charcoal grills on site for spring and summertime BBQ's as well as theater performances and sports activities. An outdoor cafe runs from Memorial Day weekend into Labor Day.
From downtown Boston, you will need to go to the Long Wharf-North Pier to catch the Harbor Islands Express Ferry. To purchase tickets and view schedules click here or call (617) 223-8666 or for a chat with a park ranger to aid in planning your expedition.
Ready for it? Spectacle Island is quite the "spectacle". There you go, witty travel writing at its best. But seriously folks, this island is one of the harbor park's best outdoor recreational attractions with a marina for boating enthusiasts, two separate lifeguarded sandy beaches, five miles worth of walking and hiking trails, and terraced hills that reach the highest peak of all the Boston Harbor Islands that makes for one of the best views of both the coastal horizon and downtown Boston. There is also a visitors Center offering exhibits, an indoor lounge, restrooms, and an outdoor veranda where you can bring your order from the nearby cafe that opens from the May to September long weekends.
Outside of being obviously "green" in nature, Spectacle Island is also known for its energy conserving initiatives allowing only electric vehicles powered by photo electric panels with excess energy allocated towards the power grid for additional use in the area. Spectacle Island not only is an experience in east coast waterfront fun, it is a lesson in sustainability.
As with Georges Island, you will need to go to the Long Wharf-North Pier to catch the Harbor Islands Express Ferry and/or follow the same directions as above.
Lovells Island is a lovely (did it again!) option for the more feral (respectively) adventurists and campers exploring the Boston Harbor Islands. There are six small camp sites and two larger ones for groups. A small remote beach is perfect for summertime relaxation without the watchful, although protective, eye of lifeguards. You may even want to bring “reef booties” for beach front hiking and for exploring the tide pools that pepper the rocky shoreline whereas flip flops will serve you just fine for shuffling along the sand dunes also found along Lovells.
For those in the mood for less primitive activities, tours of the abandoned Fort Standish and its worn gun batteries, bunkers and weathered foundations make for great and even wonderfully ominous photographs of a time passed.
The same Harbor Express Ferry directions apply to Lovells however to make camping reservations, simply call toll free at 1-877 422-6762 or 1-877 422-6762.
Perhaps we should have named this list “Ex-Military Outposts of Boston” as Peddocks is also home to a decommissioned fort, Fort Andrews specifically. But unless you insist upon touring the old barracks, you would sparsely know of its existence on this large 188 acre island, that includes hiking trails, salt marshes, interesting geological features, and swimmable waterfronts. Peddocks is one of the few islands that has private residence cottages, so please don't go knocking on what you think is a B & B open for business, unless of course you are invited which can occur from time to time if you happen to befriend one of the owners when crossing paths along one of the enjoyable walking paths and you don't come across as being some sort of machete wielding creeper in the woods. Sorry, our imaginations run wild from time to time. On that note, Peddocks was also used as the site for the mind twisting Scorsese film Shutter Island, which may help you better visualize the land and seascape.
Camping re-opens on Peddocks Island in the summer of this year (2011) after undergoing construction to improve the integrity of the island. Reservations can be made by calling toll free at 1-877-422-6762. Peddocks Island connects via ferry directly from neighboring Georges.
Grape Island is one of the few in the park district without a fort or other historic structure, although rich in Native American history and early American farming. Grape responds dramatically to the low tide by doubling in size to 100 acres so you will want to plan around tide charts when visiting the island as it is home to an abundance of wildlife with berries (black, bay, and rose hips), birds, and superior natural aesthetics that separates itself from its cross water surroundings. Wooded trails that vary in level of intensity, or relaxation, are perfect for walks and hikes with picnic and camp grounds available as home base. Grape Island and its ocean vicinity is popular for sea kayaking, although there are no rentals available on any of the islands you can find everything you are looking for by visiting Boston Harbor Marina Rentals. Grape Island also connects via ferry from Georges.
Great Brewster Island
Great Brewster Island is not available by public ferry, which makes it one of the coolest of the harbor islands. Less accessible means less crowded means more adventurous. That's our cup of Boston tea. A bird's eye view of Great Brewster island lures you to its shoreline with a 100 foot tall weather beaten cliff side in the background and vegetation that includes apple and pear trees and a sea gull colony that can get quite justifiably aggressive if you overstep your boundaries during nesting season. If you can get there you will be dazed by its secluded yet tumultuous (tide activity makes it tricky to come ashore) beauty.
So how do you get there? Private boat rental is the only passage so check with Boston Harbor Marina Rentals once again and discuss options and get advice as to when to best approach Great Brewster Island. Limited capacity outback camping permits are available by calling the park office at 781 740-1605 ext.205.
Little Brewster Island
Great Brewster's little brother or sister, Little Brewster, is a popular choice for lighthouse enthusiasts (there are many) as being home to Boston Light, a lighthouse standing proud and beaming its beacon 27 miles out to sea since 1716. It is the oldest continually used light station in the U.S.. Because it is active and used by the U.S. Coast Guard the house is not open to the public for an interior tour, however there is a climbing tour available which allows participants the opportunity to climb the 76 steps to Boston Light's peak. Ferry service is only available when you sign up as part of the tour that in addition to providing access to the station exterior, includes a 3 hour expedition guided by a park ranger and access to two other lighthouses in the harbor; Long Island Light and The Graves Light. The tour leaves from the Moakley Courthouse Dock across from the Barking Crab Restaurant in Boston Harbor. Call 1-617-223-8666 for details
Individual Fares for 2011 Boston Light Tour
$35 Seniors (65+ yrs.) & Active Military
$29 Children (3-11 yrs.)
$0 Children (under 3)
All tickets also carry a $1.99 service fee
Schedule for 2011 Boston Light Tour
Summer - June 18 to September 4
Fridays—10:00 AM and 1:30 PM
Saturdays—10:00 AM and 1:30 PM
Sundays—10:00 AM and 1:30 PM
Fall - September 10 - 25
Saturdays—10:00 AM and 1:30 PM
Hull – Nantasket Beach
The town of Hull, Massachusetts is quite the escape from city life in nearby Boston. Hull is a full on beach town complete with seafood eateries, surf shops (and surf!), white sand seashell collecting Nantasket Beach, fishing, funky shops and other ocean front attractions found along the promenade that lines it's Atlantic Coast.
Nantasket Beach is recommended as an overnight stay from Boston as you most certainly will not want to leave after spending an afternoon along this friendly scenic shoreline community. Visit the Clarion Nantasket Beach Hotel Resort to make reservations.
Take the ferry from Boston at Long Wharf for frequent service to and from Hull.