- The Boston Harbor Islands national park area is managed by a unique 13-member partnership called the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership, 617-223-8666, which includes the National Park Service and other public and private organizations. Massachusetts claims 17 of the islands within Boston Harbor Island State Park.
- During the summer season, the islands are open daily from 9AM until sunset. During spring and fall the islands are open on an abbreviated schedule. Special arrangements for school groups are possible for weekdays in spring, summer, and fall seasons. Some sites have additional hours.
- Pets are not allowed on the islands.
- Bicycle riding and rollerblading are not permitted.
- Georges and Peddocks islands have paved walkways suitable for strollers.
- Day-use permits are required for groups of 25 or more.
The islands have great historical significance in a number of ways. Archeological sites on 21 of the islands have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and all the islands are considered likely to have significant sites. Evidence indicates that Native American peoples lived on the islands as early as 1000 BC and perhaps before they separated from the mainland sometime in the 2000 years previous to that. The highly alkaline shell-fragmented soils which preserve artifacts better than typical New England soils, and the relatively low-intensity use by Euro-Americans, make the islands an archeological treasure.
The islands have undergone many various uses over the years: agriculture, cemetery, fishing colony, fortifications, hospital, hotel or resort, industrial, poorhouse, prison, prisoner-of-war camp, quarantine, sewage treatment, lighthouses, and dumps.
Deer Island has particular significance to Native Americans as a place of imprisonment and interment during King Philip's War in the 1670s. Contemporary Native Americans return each October to commemorate their ancestors' suffering in this tragic slaughter. Indications are that 1000 or more American Indians were forced onto Deer and other islands, often to die of starvation. Later Deer Island also served as a quarantine hospital in 1847 to treat the many sick, impoverished Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine.
In 1970 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began acquiring islands for the benefit of the public. In 1985 Boston Harbor was named the most polluted harbor in the nation. After investment of $4 billion and extensive wastewater treatment efforts by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, improved water quality contributed to widespread support for establishing a national park area.
The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area was established by act of Congress in 1996. The Partnership which governs it is made up of thirteen members appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to represent various Federal, State, City of Boston, and non-profit interests. The Partnership subsequently adopted the name "Boston Harbor Islands, a national park area" in response to Native Americans' objections to the term "recreation" being used for an area they consider sacred.
- The land area changes from 3100 acres to 1600 acres as the tide rises from low to high. The typical island, and even the peninsulas, consist of drumlins (rounded hills of till that form under glaciers). Some of the smaller islands are based on rocky outcroppings. The larger islands have a variety of landscapes—deciduous trees and thickets of bushes, salt marshes, bluffs, cliffs and, of course, beaches and waterscapes, including lighthouses.
Flora and fauna
Many of the islands have trees, with some having been planted for shade in recent years. Native plants such as bayberry and beach plum are abundant. Decorative flowers are in raised plantings so as not to disturb possible archeological sites. Many marine and migrating birds are found on the islands. Lovell Island has a large population of European hares put here in the 1940s and 1950s. Gallops Island also has a large population of rabbits.
- Weather is variable, from clear, crisp days to stormy, chilly days. Water breezes make for cooler ferry rides, requiring jackets or windbreakers. Walking shoes, hats, sunscreen are essential.
- Ferries run from four mainland locations to George's Island. Shuttles run a loop between George's and Hull to Lovells, Peddocks, Bumpkin, and Grape Islands. Daily ferry service is available from Long Wharf, Boston to Spectacle Island, and on Sundays only a loop runs from EDIC Pier in South Boston to Thompson and Spectacle Islands.
- Mainland ferry terminals, Phone: +1 617-223-8666, Schedules: .
- Boston, 66 Long Wharf, at Christopher Columbus Park North of the Long Wharf Marriott. MBTA Blue Line to Aquarium stop.
- South Boston, Dock #10, Drydock Av., off Summer Street, at EDIC Pier. Taxi or bus from South Station.
- Hull, 180 Main Street, at Pemberton Point.
- Quincy, 703 Washington Street, at Fore River Shipyard.
- Moorings: Limited docking space is available for private boats at Georges Island on a first-come, first-served basis. On all other islands, docks are available for off-loading only. Small prams are available for anchoring off-shore. For information on moorings for private boats at Bumpkin, Georges, Peddocks and other Boston Harbor Islands, phone: +1 617-223-8666. For reservations and technical information, phone: +1 617-241-9640, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. $10 day use, $25 overnight (2006).
Even though some of the "islands" are really peninsulas, car travel is discouraged. Limited parking is available at Deer Island, Nut Island, Webb Memorial, and World's End.
Long and Moon Islands are accessible by land, but are not open to the public. Access is restricted by a police guard station at the mainland end of the causeway connecting them to the Quincy neighborhood of Squantum.
- Deer Island
- Public transportation: Take the MBTA Blue Line to Orient Heights station. Then Paul Revere Bus company has transportation to Point Shirley (Buses # 712 or 713.)
- By car: Take the I-93 to the Callahan Tunnel. Enter Callahan Tunnel. Turn right onto William F. McClellan Highway. Turn right onto Boardman Street to rotary, go halfway around and continue on Saratoga Street. Saratoga Street becomes Main Street. After passing "Entering Winthrop" sign, take first right onto Pleasant Street. At "Stop" sign, take a right on Shirley Street. Follow Shirley Street to Elliot Street. Take a right and follow Elliot Street around to the left. Take a right onto Taft Avenue and follow to the Main Security Gate.
- William Webb Memorial Park
- By car take Route 3A south from Boston to Weymouth, turn left on Neck Street. Follow to River Street.
- Worlds End Reservation
- By car: From Route 3, take exit 14 and follow Route 228 north towards Hingham for 6.5 miles. Turn left onto Route 3A and follow for 0.7 mi. Turn right onto Summer Street and, at major intersection with Rockland Street, continue straight across. Road becomes Martin's Lane. Follow for 0.7 mile until it dead ends at entrance.
- Nut Island
- By car: Take Sea Street in Quincy from Route 3A.
Fees and permits
- No entrance fee (but without your own boat, you will need to get ferry tickets to reach the islands.)
- Round-trip passenger fare, including the ferry to Georges Island and water shuttle to five other islands. Adults: $17, seniors (65+): $12, college students & active military with ID: $12, children 3-12: $10, under 3: free, family four pack: $43 (2 adults & 2 children), ten-ticket pack: $140 (2016).
- Walk the trails and beaches. There are no vehicles.
- Sea kayaking is excellent here, but aware that very large ships use the channel areas.
- Fort Warren, and 1840s vintage fort built to protect the harbor, but obsolete by the time it was finished. It was used for a century for training and patrol and, during the Civil War, as a prison. Guided tours of historic Fort Warren are offered.
- Georges Island is the transportation center for shuttles to other islands. It has a large dock, picnic grounds, open fields, paved walkways, a parade ground and a gravel beach. Georges also has a snack bar.
- Military ruins exist on this large island from Fort Andrews but most are closed to the public. There also over forty cottages, some of which are private residences.
- Views of downtown Boston and Hull.
- Remains of an old stone farmhouse and the foundation of a burned hospital is about all there is to see here.
- Two group picnic areas on the southwest of the island offers excellent views of the Hingham Islands, Sara, Ragged, Langlee and Worlds End, Slate, Grape and Sheep Islands. An outlook shelter on the northwest side of the island offers views of Boston, Peddocks, and Hull, with a partial view of Great Brewster Island.
- A sand spit, exposed at low tide, connects the eastern end of the island to Sunset Point in Hull.
- Fort Standish. The remains of this World War I-era fortification.
- A favorite of campers, Lovells has trails that pass by dunes and woods, picnic areas, and a supervised swimming beach.
- Lovells is famous for its shipwrecks, especially the French warship Magnifique in 1782.
- Primarily used for agriculture in the past, this island has abundant berries and is managed as a wildlife sanctuary by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Grape Island has camping, picnic areas, wooded trails and guided walks.
- Special events include a "wild edibles" tour.
- Spectacle Island features a visitor center and marina. A cafe sells burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, chowder,coffee,tea, and healthy snacks . Sunscreen, hats, books, and cameras are available as well. There are two sandy beaches, and five miles of walking trails that lead to the crest of a 157 foot-high hill, giving great views of the harbor and Boston's skyline. Supervised swimming is offered daily.
- Marina rates(2006) Day rate (9AM-5PM): $15 for vessels less than 30 feet; $25 for vessels 30 feet and greater. Overnight rate (5PM-10:30AM the following day): $1.50/foot.
- This island, named for the man who established a trading post here in 1626, was leased for farmland for many years. In 1833 the first vocational school in America was built here—a school for orphaned boys. Today the island is home to Thompson Island Outward Bound.
- The island is open to the public only on Sundays in June, July and August. Programs for schools, youth, and adults are conducted year-round by Outward Bound, Phone: +1 617-328-3900.
Little Brewster Island
- Little Brewster, a 3-acre rocky outcropping, is best known as the home of the 102 ft Boston Light, the country's oldest continually used lighthouse site (1716). Scheduled to be the last automated lighthouse, preservation groups have delayed this and kept lighthouse keepers here.
- This is an active Coast Guard navigational aid facility; the buildings are not open to casual visitors and there are no public rest rooms on the island.
- The Boston Light tower is open for group tours during spring, summer, and fall by arrangement only, ☏ .
- Little Brewster Island is open to private boaters on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12:30PM-3PM for drop-off and pick-up only -- no docking. Boaters must anchor off shore.
Webb Memorial Park
- No boat access. Enter from River Street, Weymouth. Year round, dawn to dusk. Free parking, restrooms (handicapped accessible).
- This ancient site, valued for its fishing, shellfishing and abundant fruits, was severely contaminated by a fertilizer company over a period of 50 years and later was home to a missile facility. Reclaimed in the late 1970s, this peninsula offers quiet trail walks, picnicking and fishing with views of Boston's skyline. From May-Oct. a large pavilion is available for rent to large groups.
- No boat access. Enter from Martin's Lane, Hingham. Limited parking (fee charged). Toilets available.
- The Trustees for Reservations purchased this pastoral landscape designed under Frederick Law Olmsted's plans and partially developed. Many of the features of Olmsted's plan for the grounds remain, including gravel paths, formal tree plantings and hedgerows bordering old farm fields. World's End is formed by two drumlins which overlook Hingham Bay and has rocky beaches, ledges, cliffs, patches of salt marsh and an area of freshwater marsh.
- World's End offers trails for nature study, cross-country skiing, and, by permission, horseback riding. This is an excellent place to "just go for a walk".
- Two-thirds of this peninsula, which was once an island, is taken up by the second largest sewage treatment plant in the US. 60 acres of park land surround plant for walking, jogging, picnicking, and fishing. A 2.6-mile perimeter pathway and another 2 miles of trails on the hills of the island.
- Public areas are open daily from dawn to dusk. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), phone: +1 617-660-7607, offers group tours of the treatment plant.
Other islands are accessible only by private boat which is sometimes discouraged due to rocky shores. Other islands in the park are: Button, Calf, Gallops, The Graves, Great Brewster, Green, Hangman, Langlee, Little Calf, Middle Brewster, Nixes Mate, Outer Brewster, Raccoon, Ragged, Rainsford, Sarah, Shag, Sheep, Slate, and Snake.
- For park event listings phone: +1 617-223-8666, or check the web .
- Public tours, ☏ . Special park boats take passengers with reservations from three mainland locations in Boston. for details.
- to Little Brewster Island for Boston Light Tour.
- to Thompson Island for public tours,
- and for discovery tours of the outer harbor.
- Boston Harbor Islands On-line Store. Show your support.
Refreshment concessions are available on Georges Island and Spectacle Island.
There is no nightlife on any of the islands, but sometimes there will be beer tastings on George's Island in the afternoon.
There are no motels, hotels or bed and breakfasts in the park.
- Camping is available on three of the islands: Grape, Bumpkin, and Lovells. The season runs from late June and ends Labor Day weekend. Reservations are required and can be made online or call toll-free: +1-877-422-6762. Reservations are not site specific; an island ranger will assign you a campsite or area at check-in. Campers and camping equipment are limited to 14 cumulative days of occupancy.
Costs In addition to transportation costs, camping fees (all prices are per night, four night maximum stay, 2017):
- Tent site: MA resident $8, non-resident $10
- Yurt: MA resident $55, non-resident $60
- A group site is $35 per night for groups of 1 to 25 people. The fee for more than 25 people is $1/person plus a $25 group charge.
What to expect
- Limited facilities are provided: composting toilets, picnic tables, and benches. Some islands have trail-side shade shelters. There are no flush toilets, showers, fresh water, electricity or telephones; and no food or camping supply stores on the islands. It is recommended that campers bring one gallon of drinking water per person per day on the island.
- There is a carry-in/carry-out policy as trash receptacles are limited. Leave-no-trace camping applies.
- On-island rangers are equipped with emergency communications.
- Heed warnings to stay out of some structures. Unsafe floors or other hazards may exist.
- In some buildings where entry is allowed beware of steep drops, open holes in parapets, rusty rebar, railings and pipes, and crumbling concrete surfaces.
- Beware of nesting birds, especially if visiting other islands by private boat. They can be aggressive during this time.
- There is a lot of poison ivy on the islands.