Day Trip! Exploring the Beautiful Boston Harbor Islands

Cheryl Maguire

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 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. The ferry 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 are interested in a longer adventure you can bring your tent and camp out at one of the campgrounds located on the islands of Grape, Bumpkin, Peddocks, and Lovells. If you don’t have tent Peddocks offers six Yurts for rent.

Our favorite island accessible by ferry is the small island called Bumpkin. You can hike around the entire island in about an hour with the Boston skyline visible from most points. The trails are well maintained and easy to walk. There are picnic tables if you bring your breakfast or lunch, you can enjoy island views while you dine. There is also a beach which is across from Hull. During low tide, a sand split connects the mainland of Hull to Bumpkin.

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. There are three different structures still present on the island. One 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.

Georges Island is the largest and most popular Boston Harbor Island accessible by ferry which encompasses 53 acres. The main attraction at Georges Island is Fort Warren. It was built between 1833-1860 and served many purposes. During the Civil War, Fort Warren was a prison for Confederate officers and government officials. The fort was also a training ground and patrol point. Today the fort is considered a National Historic Landmark. You can either visit the museum or take 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 scenic views of the city of Boston. Similar to Bumpkin, the trails are easy to walk. Before you explore the island check in at the visitor’s center to learn about possible events or shows that may be held throughout the day.

If you are not interested in traveling by ferry then you may be interested in Worlds End which is the largest of the Boston Harbor Islands at 275 acres and accessible by car. You have a choice of two different types of experiences when you visit. There is a steep (my FitBit said 35 flights) slow climbing hill path which if you choose you will be rewarded with remarkable views of both Boston and Hull. If you would rather 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. You can experience both rocky beaches along with both fresh and saltwater marshes. If you receive permission you are able to horseback ride or cross country ski.

The Boston Harbor Island offers a unique nature and historical experience for the day or several days. Before you visit 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 as we do, it is always a new adventure.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Trip Tips