The islands are open daily in the summer from 9:00 a.m. to sunset and weekends in the fall and
spring. There is a ranger station information kiosk at Long Wharf next to the ferry ticket booth.
The Boston Harbor Islands are great places to explore the natural beauty of Boston Harbor. There are over 30 islands but 3 of them receive the bulk of visitor traffic. There are also a couple which do allow camping. The islands are part of the National Park system. Admission to the islands is free but unless you have your own boat, you will need to take a ferry to get there. The ferry is $15 per person round trip and since it is not operated by the National Park service, your National Park Annual Pass will not do you any good. Luckily, the boat trip is quite lovely. A junior ranger program is available and the badge is one of the only badges with color on it which is quite exciting for National Park junkies like myself. Currently, there is one book and one badge for all the islands but they are in the process of creating individual badges and programs for each of the three major islands. All the park service is waiting on is money to print the new pamphlets which is currently being held up by the government sequester. Thank you politicians for once again screwing things up!
We visited Spectacle Island which has a very interesting history. It was named for its spectacle shape (two mounds with a thin isthmus in between) in the 1600s by settlers but the island changed shape dramatically through the centuries that followed as it become a trash dump. It was even the location of a rendering plant at one point and several families lived on the island. Finally, in 1959, they stopped using the island as a dump. Unfortunately, nothing was done about the sewage leaking into the bay until the early 90s when the island was cleaned up and filled in with the dirt from the infamous "Big Dig" which put the highway underground in downtown Boston. Fast forward to 2013- the island is beautiful and once again flourishing with lush plant life and clean beaches. The beaches are still a beach combers dream with plenty of sea glass and pottery fragments left to discover. There are even a few soles from cobbled shoes to discover. Since it is a National Park, it is a federal crime to remove anything from the beaches. Walking trails meander around the island and atop its two drumlins (mounds left from glaciation). The view of Boston from the north drumlin is especially nice. A small swimming beach is a nice escape when the weather heats up. There is a small concession area as well as several displays inside the Visitor's Center.
Good to know: All trash brought to the island must be packed out. There are no trash cans on the island. Plastic bags can be picked up at the visitor center should you need them.
My daughter and I have done several trips to the Boston Harbor Islands. They are easily accesible from Boston Harbor (take the blue line to the Aquarium stop, or a quick stroll from Quincy Market). Several ferries run back and forth from the islands each day. The easiest islands to get to are George's Island and Spectacle Island, the others you will have to transfer boats to get to. I will focus on George's Island.
George's Island is primarily the location of Fort Warren, which defended Boston Harbor and was active throughout the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. I remember one day when my daughter was 8, I made the comparison that she was very 'oh, I love historical things. Learning is fantastic' whereas I (the adult) was more 'oh, I love historical things, but just as it relates to me pretending I'm on an episode of Ghost Adventures". ;-)
Fortunately, it is easy to do both. Exploring this fort is always fun. My daughter and I like to make up stories and joke around, so we have pretended to be ghost hunting here, we have pretended to be on Jurassic Park, there is no limit!
Finally, two important tips! The weather on the islands can vary drastically from Boston. You will want to bring along a sweatshirt, but nothing too heavy, something small you can tie around your waist when not in use, because it's not necessarily *always* going to vary that much! Also, there are no trash cans available. What you bring with, you MUST leave with. So please remember that if planning on having a picnic lunch on the island!
Wow, what a great place for families. You have to take the ferry over and you can go to any of the islands throughout the day depending on which type of ticket you buy. Georges Island is the biggest island with an old historic fort where you can explore. Some areas require a flashlight, but it's a lot of fun for the kids. In the center of the fort is a huge grassy area for families to sit and picnic. Food is available, but you can also bring your own. One of the other islands has been re-landscaped with the remains of the Big Dig dirt! I haven't been to all of the islands, but have also been told by a friend that you can camp overnight at one island. The ferries get crowded so try to leave early in the summer months to get a seat. It is seasonal so check ahead to see opening dates and ferry schedules. We loved it and plan to go back!
Close to this urban area is a series of more than thirty islands, each of which has its own unique flavor. Only six of these islands are reachable by public ferry; the rest are accessed by private motorcraft. The six islands are part of a hub-and-spoke system that revolves around the main island, George’s Island, where there is free water shuttle service to the other five.
• George’s Island: Old fort, beach, restrooms, snack bar
• Lovell’s Island: Remains of a fort, lifeguarded beach, hiking, and camping
• Spectacle Island: Two beaches, visitor center, docking area, restrooms, snack bar, walking trails, and great harbor views
• Peddock’s Island: Camping, hiking, and bird-watching
• Bumpkin Island: Ruins of a farmhouse and children’s hospital; camping allowed in
• Grape Island: Varied wildlife; camping allowed There is also a direct ferry from Long Wharf to Spectacle Island. School and youth groups can arrange overnights to Thompson Island’s Outward Bound Program.
There is also a direct ferry from Long Wharf to Spectacle Island. School and youth groups can arrange overnights to Thompson Island’s Outward Bound Program.
This was a lot of fun. We went out to the islands and were able to get off for a time and do some walking/hiking, explore some of the old buildings, and visit the lighthouse. The boat ride itself was nice also. Be aware of the schedules for pickups so you don't get stuck on the island longer than expected. This can be a long day for little ones anyway. Definitely a fair weather activity, I don't think it would be that enjoyable on a rainy day.