May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations, Summer

Boston's Harbor Islands go green

For hundreds of years, the boston Harbor Islands were the last place a sensible parent would take a kid. Over the centuries this cluster of 30 islands has housed internment camps for Native Americans during King Philip's War from 1675 to 1678 and for Irish immigrants in the 1800s; a prison for Confederate soldiers; hospitals for psychiatric patients and disabled children; a factory that made glue from dead horses; and a massive sewage dumping ground.

Despite such a legacy, in the fall of 1996 Congress designated this site the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. And today, after a $4-billion-plus harbor clean-up project, what used to be a sewer has now become a welcoming retreat. Now in summer, six of the islands are staffed by rangers and volunteers and are accessible via the ferry ($8 for adults, $6 for kids under 12) that leaves every couple of hours just a few steps from another family favorite, the New England Aquarium. On weekends June through October, park naturalists lead salt-marsh and tide-pool tours, first-time campers' programs, kayak trips, and treasure hunts. Hikes are no longer than a mile and a half, so even young kids can handle them.

Campers can pitch their tents on Lovell's, Peddock's, Grape, or Bumpkin, each with ten to 12 first-come, first-served sites, many with tables and grills (free permits required). On Lovell's, you'll share the island with a resident rabbit colony. Climb the easy 200 yards to the overlook where, amid thickets of sumac, wild blackberry, and roses, you'll catch views of the islands that don't betray a whiff of their past. For details, call 617-223-8666 or visit

— Catherine Buni

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

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