The Guide: Boston Harbor Islands

Now that the ferries have started running, it’s time to map out your game plan for a mini ocean voyage. Here’s how to get the biggest bang for your staycation buck.

boston harbor islands guide

Illustrations by Always with Honor

Spectacle Island

The great outdoors have never been so close. This 105-acre spit of natural beauty boasts 5 miles of hiking trails, the highest hill in the harbor, and a scenic beach where you can take a dip without losing sight of the skyline.

Peddocks Island

From June through September, Peddocks is among the four islands that offer primitive camping, sans electricity, showers, or modern toilets. No tent? Act early to book one of Peddocks’s six-­person yurts—reservations tend to fill up months in advance.

Georges Island

Spend some time exploring Fort Warren, once a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. To this day, the lure of the Lady in Black—the ghost of Melanie Lanier, a tall-tale character who was allegedly hanged on the island after a botched attempt to bust her rebel husband out of the prison—attracts paranormal aficionados.

Little Brewster Island

One of the outermost islands in the harbor, Little Brewster is home to America’s first lighthouse. Boston Light still shines bright today—its beams can be seen from 27 miles away. Getting out to this island can be tricky: Ferries are only available as part of island tours, which run from mid-June through early October.

Mark Your Calendar

Six island events you won’t want to miss.

May 7

The first day of the season for the Boston Harbor Island Ferry. Check for schedule and fare information.

May 12

Archaeologist and conservationist Ellen Berkland leads a discussion of Spectacle Island’s transformation from hunting ground to garbage dump to urban oasis.

June 23

Bust out the bathing suit! Supervised swimming begins at Spectacle Island.

June 19–September 4

Catch live jazz from Berklee ­College of Music bands every Sunday afternoon on Spectacle Island. Rock, funk, and reggae bands play Georges Island on Saturdays in July and August.

June–August (select weekends)

Pull on your knickers, pop open a parasol, and get ready to watch some Civil War–era baseball on Georges Island.

September 14

Little Brewster’s Boston Light cele­brates the 300th anniversary of when it was first lit.

Frequent Flyers

More than 200 types of birds have been identified on the islands. Try spotting these species.

Degree of Difficulty
☀ Beginners welcome.
☀☀☀☀☀ Requires Audubon-level determination.

boston harbor islands guide bird 1

Blue Jay

Keep your eyes peeled for this common songbird’s rich blue-and-black plumage.

boston harbor islands guide bird 2

Red-Tailed Hawk

With an average wingspan of 4 feet, this ubiquitous raptor can also be seen stalking prey throughout the city.

boston harbor islands guide bird 3

American Oystercatcher

A name like that needs a beak to match. Make a correct ID by paying attention to the long red bill and stout legs.

boston harbor islands guide bird 4

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Look to the trees for this woodpecker’s mohawk-like streak of red, which runs down the nape of its neck.

boston harbor islands guide bird 5

Red Knot

A long-distance flyer that travels 9,300 miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America, this bird makes the occasional pit stop here.