All about the Boston Harbor Islands National Park, including things to do on the Boston Harbor Islands, and Boston Harbor Island activities.
Disclosure: I received complimentary ferry tickets so I could visit the islands. All opinions are my own.
Tidepool investigating, harbor swimming, and fort exploring are all possible within the city limits of the city of Boston. The Boston Harbor Islands, a national and state park comprised of 34 islands and peninsulas (8 of which can be accessed via a public ferry that runs seasonally) offer all of these fantastic, family-friendly activities. If you are looking for a unique, outdoor Boston activity with kids (in season), it’s definitely worth spending a day exploring one or more of the islands.
A Boston Hidden Gem: The Boston Harbor Islands
About the Boston Harbor Islands
In the summer, the Boston Harbor Islands are offering loads of family activities, but even without a scheduled activity, the islands are so much fun. We headed out this past weekend to Spectacle Island, which is best known for tide pools and sea glass, as well as for one of the few island beaches.
Start your adventure at the Ferry Center on Long Wharf, by Christopher Columbus park. Ferries do sell out, so arrive with plenty of time. Decide in advance what time you want to leave the island, because you’ll need to book your departure ferry when you get your tickets. Once on board, the trip to Spectacle Island is about 20 minutes or so, and the journey is fun and beautiful.
The ferries operate seasonally and typically start running for the season in May. There’s usually a free ferry day early in the season. Tickets for that are distributed on a first-come first-served basis and go to Georges and Spectacle Islands.
Visiting Spectacle Island
Spectacle Island offers the Salty’s cafe, running water, rest rooms, a beach, hiking paths, and more. You can bring your own picnic too, just remember that whatever you bring on the island needs to come off the island. After hours clambakes are also offered on select dates.
During our day at Spectacle Island, we spent some time on the beach, went on a sea glass treasure hunt, and then attended the guided tour of the tide pools before heading home. The kids had a fabulous time – they really felt we’d gone on a big trip!
Other Boston Harbor Islands
In addition to Spectacle Island, there are seven other Boston Harbor Islands that are accessible via public ferry in season. Remember to bring along anything you’ll need, including beach towels and sunscreen.
Georges Island – Where you can explore Fort Warren and visit a museum dedicated to the history of the fort.
Peddocks Island – One of the larger islands offering camping and perfect for a family hike.
Lovells Island – Great for camping and tidepool investigating.
Little Brewster Island – Home to the Boston Light, where you can take a Boston Light Climbing Tour. The ferry is only available if you are signed up for the tour.
Grape Island – Picnic areas and hiking are offered on this island.
Bumpkin Island – Camping and wildflower hikes
Thompson Island – Offering Thompson Island Outward Bound, this island is open to the public for exploring on weekends in season. I’ve been for corporate events for an old job, and always enjoyed my time on Thompson Island.
A 2-hour, narrated lighthouse tour is also offered on select days for those interested in specifically seeing the lighthouses in the area.
Boston Harbor Islands Ferry
These eight islands are accessible via ferry service (provided by Boston Harbor Cruises) in season. Check the ferry schedule before planning your visit, because the schedules can vary and in some cases you’ll need to connect to another ferry at Georges Island. Family four-packs are available at a small discount. The ferry terminal in Boston is located at Long Wharf, near Christopher Columbus Park.
Boston Harbor Islands Activities
In addition to the activities mentioned above, the parks offer a variety of programs, including ranger tours and tidepool exploring. Check out the events calendar for more information. Other programs include the junior ranger program and special kid-friendly tours.
For more information, check out their website.
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