The Boston Harbor Islands are a group of small islands in Massachusetts that are a part of the United States National Park System. During the summer season, the islands are open to public daily from 9 AM until sunset.
During spring and fall seasons, the islands are open on an abbreviated schedule.
Note: Pets are not allowed on the islands.
Things To Do & See
The typical island looks like rounded hills that form under glaciers. Some of the smaller islands are based on rocky outcroppings. The larger islands have a variety of landscapes—deciduous trees and thickets of bushes, salt marshes, bluffs, cliffs and, of course, beaches and waterscapes, including lighthouses.
Many of the islands have trees, with some having been planted for shade in recent years. Native plants such as bayberry and beach plum are abundant. Decorative flowers are planted so as not to disturb possible archeological sites.
Many marines and migrating birds are found on the islands.
Special park boats take passengers with reservations from three mainland locations in Boston. Call them directly at +1 617 223-8666 to find out more information about the tour, timing, cost, and pick-up/drop-off location.
- Boston Light Tour to Little Brewster Island.
- Public tour of Thompson Island.
- Discovery tours of the outer harbor.
- Fort Warren, and 1840s vintage fort built to protect the harbor, but obsolete by the time it was finished. It was used for a century for training and patrol and, during the Civil War, as a prison. Guided tours of historic Fort Warren are offered.
- Georges Island is the transportation center for shuttles to other islands. It has a large dock, picnic grounds, open fields, paved walkways, a parade ground and a gravel beach. Georges also has a snack bar.
- Military ruins exist on this large island from Fort Andrews but most are closed to the public. There also over forty cottages, some of which are private residences.
- Views of downtown Boston and Hull.
- Remains of an old stone farmhouse and the foundation of a burned hospital are about all there is to see here.
- Two group picnic areas on the southwest of the island offer excellent views of the Hingham Islands, Sara, Ragged, Langlee, Worlds End, Slate, Grape and Sheep Islands. An outlook shelter on the northwest side of the island offers views of Boston, Peddocks, and Hull, with a partial view of Great Brewster Island.
- A sand spit, exposed at low tide, connects the eastern end of the island to Sunset Point in Hull.
- Fort Standish – remains of this World War I-era fortification.
- A favorite of campers, Lovells has trails that pass by dunes and woods, picnic areas, and a supervised swimming beach.
- Lovells is famous for its shipwrecks, especially the French warship Magnifique in 1782.
- Lovell Island has a large population of European hares.
- Primarily used for agriculture in the past, this island has abundant berries and is managed as a wildlife sanctuary. Grape Island has camping, picnic areas, wooded trails and guided walks.
- Special events include a “wild edibles” tour.
- Spectacle Island features a visitor center and marina. A cafe sells burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, chowder, coffee, tea, and healthy snacks. Sunscreen, hats, books, and cameras are available as well.
- There are two sandy beaches, and five miles of walking trails that lead to the crest of a 157 foot-high hill, giving great views of the harbor and Boston’s skyline. Supervised swimming is offered daily.
- This island, named for the man who established a trading post here in 1626, was leased for farmland for many years. In 1833 the first vocational school in America was built here—a school for orphaned boys. Today the island is home to Thompson Island Outward Bound.
- The island is open to the public only on Sundays between June to August. Programs for schools, youth, and adults are conducted year-round by Outward Bound, Phone: +1 617-328-3900.
Little Brewster Island
- Little Brewster, a 3-acre rocky outcropping, is best known as the home of the 102 ft Boston Light, the country’s oldest continually used lighthouse site (since 1716). Scheduled to be the last automated lighthouse, preservation groups have delayed this and kept lighthouse keepers here.
- This is an active Coast Guard navigational aid facility; the buildings are not open to casual visitors and there are no public restrooms on the island.
- The Boston Light tower is open for group tours during spring, summer, and fall by arrangement only. Call +1 617 223-8666.
- Little Brewster Island is open to private boaters on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12:30 PM-3 PM for drop-off and pick-up only. No docking allowed. Boats must anchor offshore.
Webb Memorial Park
- No boat access. Enter from River Street, Weymouth. Year-round, dawn to dusk. Free parking, restrooms (handicapped accessible).
- This ancient site, valued for its fishing, shellfishing and abundant fruits, was severely contaminated by a fertilizer company over a period of 50 years and later was home to a missile facility. Reclaimed in the late 1970s, this peninsula offers quiet trail walks, picnicking and fishing with views of Boston’s skyline. From May-Oct. a large pavilion is available for rent to large groups.
- No boat access. Enter from Martin’s Lane, Hingham. Limited parking (fee charged). Toilets available.
- The Trustees for Reservations purchased this pastoral landscape designed under Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans and partially developed. Many of the features of Olmsted’s plan for the grounds remain, including gravel paths, formal tree plantings and hedgerows bordering old farm fields. World’s End is formed by two drumlins which overlook Hingham Bay and has rocky beaches, ledges, cliffs, patches of salt marsh and an area of freshwater marsh.
- World’s End offers trails for nature study, cross-country skiing, and, by permission, horseback riding. This is an excellent place to “just go for a walk”.
- Two-thirds of this peninsula, which was once an island, is taken up by the second largest sewage treatment plant in the US. 60 acres of parkland surround plant for walking, jogging, picnicking, and fishing. A 2.6-mile perimeter pathway and another 2 miles of trails on the hills of the island.
- Public areas are open daily from dawn to dusk. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), phone: +1 617-660-7607, offers group tours of the treatment plant.
Fees & Permits
No entrance fee but without your own boat, you will need to get ferry tickets to reach the islands.
Day-use permits are required for groups of 25 or more.
Round-trip adult passenger fare is $17 including the ferry to Georges Island and water shuttle to five other islands. Seniors (65+), students, and active military duty fare is $12, and children age 3 to 12 is $10. Family pack for four is $43 (2 adults & 2 children). Ten-ticket group pack is $140.
Getting to Boston Harbor Islands
Some of these Boston harbor islands are really peninsulas, so you get there by car. Keep in mind that there is limited parking space at Deer Island, Nut Island, Webb Memorial Park, and World’s End. World’s End has an entrance fee. Always, keep some cash handy.
For directions, simply use Google maps or GPS and type in the island names.
Note: Long and Moon Islands are accessible by land but are not open to the public. Access is restricted by a police guard station at the mainland end of the causeway connecting them to the Quincy neighborhood of Squantum.
Ferries run from four mainland locations to George’s Island. Shuttles run a loop between George’s and Hull to Lovells, Peddocks, Bumpkin, and Grape Islands. Daily ferry service is available from Long Wharf, Boston to Spectacle Island, and on Sundays, only a loop runs from EDIC Pier in South Boston to Thompson and Spectacle Islands.
Mainland Ferry Terminals
- Boston, 66 Long Wharf, at Christopher Columbus Park North of the Long Wharf Marriott. MBTA Blue Line to Aquarium stop.
- South Boston, Dock #10, Drydock Av., off Summer Street, at EDIC Pier. Taxi or bus from South Station.
- Hull, 180 Main Street, at Pemberton Point.
- Quincy, 703 Washington Street, at Fore River Shipyard.
Limited docking space is available for private boats at Georges Island on a first-come, first-served basis. On all other islands, docks are available for off-loading only. Small prams are available for anchoring off-shore. For information on moorings for private boats at Bumpkin, Georges, Peddocks and other Boston Harbor Islands, phone: +1 617-223-8666.
For reservations and cost information, phone: +1 617-241-9640, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sea kayaking is excellent here, but aware that very large ships use the channel areas.
On the Island
Once you get to these islands, walk the trails and beaches. Georges and Peddocks islands have paved walkways suitable for strollers. Please keep in mind, vehicles are not allowed on the islands. Also, bicycle riding and rollerblading are not permitted.
Food & Water
Carry water. Occasionally, there may be beer tastings on George’s Island in the afternoon.
Camping is available on three of the islands: Grape, Bumpkin, and Lovells. The season runs from late June and ends Labor Day weekend. Reservations are required and can be made online or call toll-free: +1-877-422-6762. Reservations are not site specific; an island ranger will assign you a campsite or area at check-in. Campers and camping equipment are limited to 14 cumulative days of occupancy.
In addition to transportation costs, camping fees (all prices are per night, four-night maximum stay, 2017):
- Tent site: MA resident $8, non-resident $10
- Yurt: MA resident $55, non-resident $60
- A group site is $35 per night for groups of 1 to 25 people. The fee for more than 25 people is $1/person plus a $25 group charge.
What to expect
Limited facilities are provided: composting toilets, picnic tables, and benches. Some islands have trail-side shade shelters. There are no flush toilets, showers, fresh water, electricity or telephones; and no food or camping supply stores on the islands. It is recommended that campers bring one gallon of drinking water per person per day on the island.
There is a carry-in/carry-out policy as trash receptacles are limited. Leave-no-trace camping applies.
On-island rangers are equipped with emergency communications.
Weather is variable, from clear, crisp days to stormy, chilly days. Water breezes make for cooler ferry rides, requiring jackets or windbreakers. Walking shoes, hats, sunscreen are essential.
- Heed warnings to stay out of some structures. Unsafe floors or other hazards may exist.
- In some buildings where entry is allowed beware of steep drops, open holes in parapets, rusty rebar, railings and pipes, and crumbling concrete surfaces.
- Beware of nesting birds, especially if visiting other islands by private boat. They can be aggressive during this time.
- There is a lot of poison ivy on the islands.
March 16, 2018 4:12 pm
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