DIY Day Trips to the Boston Harbor Islands

Saturday, August 8, 2020 by Gabrielle Martin

Photography courtesy of Jen Cormier.

Photo courtesy of Jen Cormier. Find her on Instagram: @jscormier.

The Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park is composed of 34 islands and peninsulas, all located within 10 miles of Boston, making these accessible and low-cost DIY destinations for Hinghamites. Overall operation of the Boston Harbor Islands has been impacted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but most remain open to the public. Here’s how to take advantage of the last month of summer: spend an afternoon exploring one of these glorious hidden gems, speckled over our corner of the Atlantic.

Getting There Is Half The Fun! Take Advantage of Ferry Service to Spectacle Island This Summer

COVID-related complications have changed the public ferry schedule. Currently, transport is only being offered between Boston and Spectacle Island, Wednesdays through Sundays. A revised boarding procedure is in place, which includes "touchless" ticketing. Ferry capacity has also been limited to ensure social distancing is possible; as a result, certain areas of indoor seating have been restricted. The ferry is cleared between every trip. Additionally, all passengers are required to wear facial coverings while on-board.

You can buy tickets in-advance online here, though walk-up tickets are also available at the Boston Harbor Cruises Ticket Kiosk on Long Wharf.

  • Adult tickets are $24.95 each.
  • Child tickets are $17.95 each.
  • Senior tickets $22.95 each.

Spectacle Island makes for an excellent day trip destination! This lush oasis offers 114-acres of land, making it perfect for hiking. Pack a picnic lunch and make an afternoon of it! Take advantage of the island’s amazing beaches and go for a swim, look for sea glass, or sit in the sand with a good book. This is a great place to bring your family, friends, or to go by yourself.

Prepare yourself for prolonged sun exposure while visiting; there are very few shady spots on Spectacle Islands.

Exclusive Access Only: BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat)

At the moment, Bumpkin, Georges, Grape, Lovells, and Peddocks Islands are only accessible by independent recreational vessel. With this in mind, it's important to note that these islands will not be hosting campers or offering park amenities (such as Visitor Centers, restrooms, water distribution stations, or concessions) this summer season due to COVID-19. Boaters are asked not to dock on the island floats, as access to these are exclusively reserved for drop-off, pick-up, and emergency access. Plus, dinghies will not be available.

Georges Island by Jen Cormier. Follow her on Instagram @jscormier!

Visitors who can privately access these islands are encouraged to do so. These islands are excellent DIY day trip destinations for an assortment of “passive recreation” activities, such as bird-watching, exploring, hiking (always a great option!), picnicking, or tide-pooling.

Trails and beaches (all unguarded) remain open during daylight hours seven days a week.

In my opinion…  

  • Bumpkin is best for relaxing! This Island offers visitors a quaint charm: it's small, quiet, and beautiful! I recommend taking a trip to Bumpkin Island if you’re looking to unwind; walk the trails lined by windflowers, stop at the slate-and-shell beaches, and explore the remains of an old farmhouse. Fun fact: it's easily accessible by kayak from locations in both Hingham and Hull!
  • Georges is home to the historic Fort Warren, making this Island a great destination for those who want a bit of historic local lore involved in their DIY day trip, like the legend of the Lady in Black.
  • Grape is great for outdoor enthusiasts–plus it’s my personal favorite, just because, well, what’s not to like? This island is ideal for exploring, as it is 54-acres of absolutely undeveloped land. Walk along the rocky shores and look for horseshoe crabs or rays. Visit the east and west drumlins: from the tops, you can see the Blue Hills, Downtown Boston, and several of the other Harbor Islands. Grape Island is also a uniquely great spot to birdwatch; in addition, the island is also home to several types of native trees, animals, and plants (including wild berries)!
  • I recommend Lovells for those who want a no-fuss, no-frills day away. Fun fact: Lovells Island was the site of many shipwrecks, including a French warship! Another fun fact: The Island was one of the locations considered when planning the placement of the Statue of Liberty. Can you imagine?
    Today, life on Lovells Island is much, much quieter: on your DIY day trip here, you might even find you have an entire beach to yourself! It’s a peaceful place to spend a summer afternoon or evening–not to mention picturesque views for our photography enthusiasts! Lovells features stunning sights of the outer Harbor, including Boston Light. Come here to see the most spectacular sunset over the city skyline! And for our Hingham history buffs, you may want to hike to the remnants of abandoned fortifications on the Island.
  • Peddocks is an option off-the-beaten path. But hey, you know what they say: it's all about the journey! Say you really want to make a day of it and Peddocks may be the place to go. It's a great option with something everyone will enjoy! After all, it’s one of the largest and most diverse islands in the Boston Harbor chain, known for its historic structures (which are all currently closed to the public due to unsafe floors and ongoing construction) and a diverse wildlife population. Peddocks is incredibly geographically unique, providing an interesting variety of landscapes for visitors to explore. In fact, the island itself is actually composed by four headlands, connected by gravel bars. Another fun feature? Ever since the mid-1990s, this island has highlighted their efforts towards renewable energy, which included photovoltaic installations. Note: beware of poison ivy here!

Everyone’s Invited: Boston Harbor Islands You Can Drive To

Several of the spots included in the Boston Harbor Islands are actually peninsulas that can be reached by car! What easier way to make a DIY day trip of it than to drive there?

  • Nut Island has a rather unique story of how it came to be: it once was an island in Boston Harbor, but over time, became connected to part of the mainland in Quincy through a short causeway. Nut Island is a fun place to fish with friends. Wake up early and make your day down to this scenic spot. Bring some iced coffee in a cooler, breakfast snacks, maybe a radio–start your day the right way!
    If fishing’s not your thing, not to worry: you can still enjoy Nut Island. Sit in the sea breeze, go for a bike ride, or take a walk instead!
  • World’s End is now open in a controlled manner, meaning they require a reservation made in advance. You can reserve your time/day passes here. If you’re looking for a suggestion, I’d say this is a great spot to spend your golden hour! Take some pictures with friends or family as you enjoy your DIY day trip together.
  • To aid in the prevention of spreading COVID-19, the main parking area at Webb Memorial is currently closed; you can find up-to-date information about their operation here. When available, Webb Memorial is an excellent option–and it’s dog-friendly, so this is my pick for where to bring your furry friend!

Your DIY Day Trip Made Easy: What To Bring On Your Boston Harbor Island Getaway

  • Make public safety priority number one and pack your mask!
    Face coverings are required while onboard the public ferry, if that is your transport of choice, but are also strongly recommended on the Islands.

    • You should also plan to bring wet wipes and/or hand sanitizer!
  • Pack a meal, several snacks, and lots of water: While water will be available on the boat trip to and from the island, water fountains on the Islands will be turned off due to COVID-19.
    You don’t want to run the risk of dehydrating on your day out, so be sure to bring plenty of water that will last you the whole day.
  • Sun protection is sunburn prevention: Plan to pack sunscreen, a hat, and/or sunglasses to keep cool!
    Some Islands, like Spectacle, specifically warn against expecting any shady spots.
  • Creature comforts can come in handy: Picnic areas will not be available on the Islands, so if you’re going to want somewhere soft to sit while snacking and sunbathing, pack a picnic blanket.
    Another creature comfort that might enhance your trip would be a portable speaker!
  • Looking for something engaging to do with your group?: Use the Boston Harbor Islands downloadable self-guided materials.
    They offer several resources that encourage environmental engagement on apps such as Naturalist and See.
  • If you’re going to swim: Bring a towel (or two)!
  • Plan to take your trash with you: Bring a bag or bin to carry-out any trash you create during your Island stay.

A Local Island Getaway

A lot of summer plans have been impacted by coronavirus-related closures, but these DIY day trips to the Boston Harbor Islands remain an easy and safe way to travel with your friends and family!

There may still be partial park closures so it’s always best to double-check operating procedures while planning your trip for the most up-to-date information. Most of the islands are open to the public; however, Thompson Island is closed to the public until further notice, as well as Long, Gallops, Moon, Little Brewster, and The Graves.

George's Island by Jen Cormier. Follow her on Instagram @jscormier!

In addition, it's important to acknowledge that many islands have limited access during bird breeding season (from April through August), including islands in our very own Hingham Harbor: Sarah, Langlee, Ragged, and Button Islands.

Make the most of the journey and the destination as you explore the local landscape! Which Boston Harbor Island is your favorite to visit and why? Let us know in the comments below.

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