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A fantastic trip and relaxing change from Revolutionary Boston is a visit to the Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. At the Islands you can visit a Civil War era fort, swim, picnic, hike, bird watch, camp, enjoy a concert, or just delight on the wonderful, narrated cruise through the Harbor. For the younger visitors there is even a playground with an amazing view of the Boston skyline. The Islands are a cooperative effort between the National Park Service and various Commonwealth, City and private groups.
The park itself features 12 islands and peninsulas, and even the oldest active lighthouse station in the United States (used since 1716, only accessible via a special “Lighthouse Tour”); practically, you can visit a maximum of two Islands per day – visiting a single Island requires at least ½ day, but don’t rush. There is a snack shack with a seafood menu on Georges Island, but the food quality can be variable – so you may want to pack a lunch. There is an expertly-staffed pavilion on the Rose Kennedy Greenway between Quincy Market and Long Wharf to help plan your visit, purchase ferry tickets, etc.
Although ferries run from several suburban locations, most visitors will take the ferry the north side of Long Wharf (by Christopher Columbus Park); the ferries take you to either George’s or Spectacle Island. From George’s Island, during the summer, there are connections to other islands. Fares are: Adults, $15; children 4-11, $9; over 65, $11, inter-island, $3. Regular service runs May through Columbus Day in the fall, but there are various winter visit opportunities. Definitely visit the website for current and detailed visiting and transportation information.
There is a very well done Visitor Center on Georges Island with interpretive exhibits highlighting the Islands’ history, their role in the defense of Boston, the impacts of changing military technology, even the respective diets of enlisted men and officers – fascinating even for the non-military-oriented visitor. Unless you know you want your stop to be Spectacle Island, stop here first, watch the eight minute video and plan the rest of your visit. Rangers are there to help.
There are excellent Ranger-led tours of the Civil War era Fort Warren, which was built between 1833 and 1861 (self-guided tours are also available). During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison for over 1,000 Confederate personnel, the most famous the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. Fort Warren remained active through the Spanish-American War and World War I. During World War II, it was part of the harbor’s defense from German U-boats. Over the years it was modified to accommodate changing cannon technology. It was permanently decommissioned in the 1950’s when guided missiles obsoleted cannon for coastal defense.
A visit is highly recommended and suitable for all ages. Handicap access, however, is limited; please check the website for detailed information.
Useful links for a Boston Harbor Islands visit:
The official Boston Harbor Islands website.
National Park Service website.
National Park Service map of the Islands, download here.
Boston Harbor Islands YouTube channel, here.
The Boston Harbor Island Alliance website.