Boston Harbor Islands Things to do

Things to do on Boston Harbor Islands

The Boston Harbor Islands are a special treat, a veritable oasis located within the metropolis of Boston. Just fifteen minutes away by ferry, these thirty-two islands and two peninsulas offer visitors an experience unlike any other. Among the most well-known islands is The Graves, located in the farthest eastern corner of Massachusetts Bay, where you can find the tallest lighthouse in all of Boston Harbor.

Boston Harbor Islands, Photo Credits (Courtesy of Boston Harbor island Alliance, Photographer Tom Kates)
Boston Harbor Islands, Photo Credits (Courtesy of Boston Harbor island Alliance, Photographer Tom Kates) by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

The Islands are also renowned for their rich history; lighthouses from various eras still stand sentinel over the seas, and guided tours by Park Rangers provide insight into their timeless charms. Furthermore, the many sandy beaches, scenic hiking trails, and picturesque picnic spots make a visit to the Harbor Islands a perfect day trip away to relax and recharge. Bird watchers will be delighted at the unique wildlife that abounds here, offering a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of life in the city.

Last Friday was a beautiful day in Boston, but we didn’t actually spend the day in the city. The boys and I tagged along with my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and my niece into Boston’s Long Wharf North. We jumped on one of Boston’s Best Cruises Ferries and headed out to explore one of Boston’s 34 harbor islands. We purchased our tickets at the Long Wharf North Ticket Office. The round-trip ferry fares are reasonable. Adult $14, Senior $10, Child $8, children under 3 – free. A family four-pack is $39.

Boston Harbor Islands National Park

The Boston Harbor Islands National Park area features 34 islands encompassing 1,600 acres and 35 miles of underdeveloped coastline within 10 miles of downtown Boston. The islands have hiking trails, beaches, ranger-led tours, camping, kayaking, nature walks, historic sites, and daily programs.

Boston Harbor Islands, Photo Credits (Courtesy of Boston Harbor island Alliance, Photographer Tom Kates)
Boston Harbor Islands, Photo Credits (Courtesy of Boston Harbor Island Alliance, Photographer Tom Kates) by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Boston Harbor Islands: Georges Island

We decided to explore Georges Island. We toured the National Historic Landmark Fort Warren, which is a 19th-century granite stronghold (fort) used during the Civil War.

Civil War Trust Teacher Institute Tour to Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor
Civil War Trust Teacher Institute Tour to Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor by Ron Cogswell

Georges’s original stone wharf was the fixed landing for the island’s main pier – I tried to get a shot of the stone wharf (below left) but as you can see, we were still a little far out! The brick building facing the pier was built to store and service mines between their planting in the harbor’s shipping channels and dates from 1906. We took our self-guided tour of Fort Warren exploring the observation station, the parade grounds, and the old hospital. The old hospital ward eventually became the fort’s library.

We ended our day by visiting The Big Hammock Project. This hammock is set up at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. A professor from the Rhode Island School of Design designed and with the help of students built the big hammock using all recycled materials. We all thought it was pretty cool and comfy too!

Boston Harbor Islands: Thompson Island

On Thompson Island, you can visit the Marine Biological Laboratory, which was founded in 1888 and is now used by researchers from all over the world. This small island boat ride away from downtown Boston is full of surprises for any curious traveler. From tranquil beaches with stunning views of Boston Harbor to a nature center filled with scientific activities and educational experiences, there’s something for everyone on Thompson Island. Whether you come for the day or stay the night, you’ll leave feeling connected to the natural beauty of Massachusetts.

At the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, you can explore the outdoors while learning about the environment and its inhabitants. From hands-on programs like sailing and kayaking to group activities such as orienteering, there’s plenty to keep visitors of all ages engaged and entertained.

Boston Harbor Islands: Long Island

And don’t forget Long Island, which was once home to a vibrant Native American community before becoming a bustling hive of industry during the Industrial Revolution. Long Island, the northernmost island of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, is an adventure-seeker’s paradise. With its captivating scenery, unique wildlife, and unparalleled historic significance, Long Island offers visitors a one-of-a-kind getaway.

Long Island house, Boston Harbor
Long Island house, Boston Harbor by Boston Public Library

Long Island has a slightly larger population than other islands due to its close proximity to downtown Boston – it’s only about 1 mile away. The total island covers over 252 acres and boasts numerous recreational activities such as biking, kayaking, and fishing. Additionally, the surrounding waters are inhabited by porpoises, seals, and humpback whales, making it an ideal place for whale-watching enthusiasts.

Long Island’s history stretches back centuries – it was first used by Indigenous peoples of New England as far back as 3,500 years ago. During the Civil War, the island served as a Union garrison and prison camp. Today, visitors can explore the former campsite and learn more about its implications on the war effort. Furthermore, the island has been part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area since 1996 and is now managed by the U.S. National Parks Service.

Boston Harbor Islands: Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island is home to some stunning sights and activities perfect for families or couples looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Here, you can explore miles of sandy beaches, hike through lush forests, or relax on the picturesque lawns overlooking the harbor. There are also plenty of opportunities to go sailing, swimming, fishing, and snorkeling.

The island is home to an array of wildlife such as seals, whales, and various species of birds including owls, falcons, and ospreys. It’s also a great spot to observe migrating waterfowl which make their way here each year.

Boston Harbor Islands: Bumpkin Island

The diverse environment of Bumpkin Island makes it a great spot for wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for seals, dolphins, porpoises, and even whales in the water around the island. Birdwatchers can get an up-close look at various species of migratory birds that visit the island throughout the year. The unique ecosystem also supports many rare plant species, making it a wonderful place to admire New England’s botanical beauty.

Getting to the Islands

The easiest way to get to the Boston Harbor Islands is by boat. There are several ferries operating throughout the year, offering rides to Georges Island, Thompson Island, Spectacle Island, Long Island, Bumpkin Island, Lovells Island, Webb Memorial, and more. Many of these ferries offer discounts for seniors, military personnel, and children under 12; check in advance to find out which ones do this. Once on the island, you can rent a bike or follow marked trails to explore.

For more info. on the Boston Harbor islands, visit You can also read more about the Big Hammock Project at If you want to see it, you must hurry this is the last week the big hammock will be on the greenway!

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