Monday, September 30, 2013

Tour the Boston Harbor Islands!

I recently spent a day on Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor. What a refreshing outing so close to Boston! Just off shore, with the city in full view, you can experience an island getaway!

Boston Harbor has a surprising number of islands - most people don't realize the islands are even there, let alone 34 of them! Many are part of a combined National and State Park and accessible by ferry from Long Wharf. The islands offer hiking trails, beaches, ranger tours, camping, boat cruises, nature walks, historic sites and various events throughout the warmer months. There are even a few winter tours.

In terms of access, the islands range from rugged and undeveloped in nature  on Bumpkins and Lovells for instance, to nearly fully accessible on Spectacle.

Spectacle Island features a visitor center with exhibits, cafe, gift store, restrooms and a lovely porch for enjoying the views. There is a 1.7 mile perimeter trail around the island which is almost level. Two "summits" are achievable on the north and south drumlins - small hills of glacial deposits enhanced with fill from Boston's famous road project the Big Dig. As you arrive on the ferry, you can get a clear view of the islands terrain and trails.

Most of the trails are stone dust and some are a more hard-packed track. There are gradual long grades as the trail spiral to the top of the north drumlin. The day I was there a young woman traveled to the top of both drumlins in her power wheelchair without assistance and another woman completed the entire perimeter using a wheeled walker. Depending on the drive train orientation of a power wheelchair, some sections of trails may not be navigable due to loose stone dust or grade. A seven passenger "people mover" is used to provide an auto-tour type experience and is a great alternative for wheelchair users who can transfer into it and anyone for whom long grades or distance is an issue.

Georges Island is the second most accessible island - the site of a historic fort with a newly renovated visitor center which is very accessible. You can get into the fort area and parade grounds by wheelchair. Selected interior areas can be accessed via ramps. Since the fort is built into the landscape with multiple levels, a good portion of it resists full access but is still fun to view.

Ferry prices this year are $15 for an adult. The ferries are quite accessible and the ride itself offers a fun tour with changing views of islands, birds, passing boat traffic and even planes taking off and landing at Logan Airport. Spectacle Island is just 20 minutes from Long Wharf, Georges is probably 40 minutes out. Ramps and gangways on Long Wharf, Spectacle Island and Georges Island are navigable by wheelchair. Some assistance may be briefly required on the short portable gangway used to step from the dock into the boat if it is arched. I saw numerous wheelchair users using the ferry system independently on a Saturday afternoon this month.

If you live in the Boston area or are planning a trip to Beantown, consider an excursion to the Boston Harbor Islands!

Ferry Information
Boston Harbor Islands Information

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