5 Great Places to Hike In and Around Boston

From urban jaunts to island outposts, Boston's green spaces offer plenty of ways to get outside.

By Kim Foley MacKinnon, ContributorJune 5, 2017
By Kim Foley MacKinnon, ContributorJune 5, 2017, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

5 Great Places to Hike In and Around Boston

AERIAL VIEW of Fort Warren, a historic Civil War fort used as a prison, Boston Harbor, MA

Explore Georges Island on various trails, or take a tour of Fort Warren.(Getty Images)

Boston's rich history can keep visitors engaged for days with museums, monuments and attractions galore, but sometimes fresh air and exercise are what's needed. Fortunately, you don't have to go far to find plenty of open spaces perfect for hiking, relaxing or working out. U.S. News asked a few Boston experts to talk about their favorites.

Charles River Reservation

"The Charles River Reservation is a fabulous urban oasis of meandering paved paths, perfect for walking or running, shaded by mature trees, right at the river's edge," says Nina Senatore, guest experience ambassador at The Lenox Hotel.

This linear park, which includes both sides of the river, is 20 miles long and abuts Boston University, Harvard University and MIT. The downtown Boston section includes the Charles River Esplanade, where Boston's famous Fourth of July celebrations happen at the Hatch Memorial Shell. Besides hiking, walking and running, you can bird-watch, canoe or in-line skate.

Emerald Necklace

Jamaica Pond(Getty Images)

While Boston's famous Freedom Trail leads visitors to historic sites throughout the city, the Emerald Necklace links some of Boston's most gorgeous parks. Christine Morris, The Boston Globe's travel editor, sums it up succinctly, "The Emerald Necklace chain of parks is lovely."

Composed of the Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park, the 7-mile-long park system stretches from the Back Bay to Dorchester, and includes attractions like a zoo and a golf course. Any one of the six parks makes for a wonderful outing.

The Emerald Necklace was designed more than 100 years ago by none other than landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who was also responsible for the design of New York's Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds and Brooklyn's Prospect Park, among dozens of others across the country.

Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park

Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park(Courtesy of Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park)

The Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, just a quick ferry ride away from Boston's waterfront, is an often overlooked attraction, but Senatore says it shouldn't be. "The Boston Harbor Islands, easily accessible by a quick and inexpensive boat ride from the city, are a great spot for exploration, featuring a Civil War fort and miles of hiking trails," she says.

In total, there are 34 islands and mainland peninsulas in the Boston Harbor Islands system, six of which are accessible to the public via a seasonal ferryboat service. The two most popular are Georges Island and Spectacle Island. On Georges Island, take a tour of Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark. Or, take off on your own to explore the island on various trails. Spectacle Island has a beach, 5 miles of walking trails and lots of ranger-led activities on the island's transformation from a dumping ground to a public oasis. It also offers great views.

Arnold Arboretum

Arnold Arboretum(Getty Images)

Suzanne Wenz, director of marketing communications and PR at the Taj Boston and Boston Park Plaza, loves The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

"One of my favorite Boston rambles is through the Arnold Arboretum," Wenz says. "This urban wild, which is part of the city's Emerald Necklace parks system, is really one of Boston's treasures. The arboretum features an extensive collection of plants and trees from around the world and offers guided tours of the collection by its trained docents. From the conifers to the lilacs to the vine and shrub garden, there's really something for everyone to enjoy."

The 281-acre arboretum, originally designed by Olmsted and Charles Sprague Sargent, was established in 1872. Visitors will encounter meadows, forest and ponds along paved and unpaved trails, and its living collection of more than 15,000 plants is one of the largest in the world. Lilac Sunday, scheduled every Mother's Day, is a beloved daylong celebration of the arboretum's lilacs.

Visitors should make sure to head up Peters Hill, which is the highest point in the Emerald Necklace and offers a lovely view of the Boston skyline.

Blue Hills Reservation

For those interested in more challenging hikes in a less urban environment, the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation, just 13 miles south of Boston, is the perfect escape.

Morris says, "The Blue Hills Reservation in Milton is beautiful and has 125 miles of trails to explore."

The reservation is a popular spot for skiing in winter and hiking year-round. In the Blue Hills chain, there are 22 hills, with Great Blue Hill at 635 feet, the highest elevation. Trails meander through upland and bottomland forests, meadows and marshlands; next to swamps and ponds; and even into an Atlantic white cedar bog.

A great hiking goal is to head up Great Blue Hill to the Blue Hill Observatory & Science Center, a National Historic Landmark. The center is open for tours year-round on Saturdays and from February through December on Sundays. At the entrance to the reservation, Mass Audubon operates the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, an interpretive center for the area that features natural history and outdoor wildlife exhibits.

To experience more of what Boston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Kim Foley MacKinnon, Contributor

Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based editor, journalist and travel writer. Her work has ...  Read more


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