10 Top Hiking and Walking Trails near Boston
Although Boston has a compact downtown of winding old streets, it has an astonishing wealth of open space and parkland where you can walk and enjoy the urban landscapes framed by trees and grass. The wide Charles River runs within blocks of busy downtown, bordered by a wide esplanade park, and from its busiest hub at Park Street and the Boston Common stretches a green swath known as the Emerald Necklace, connecting parks, fens, ponds, public gardens, and an arboretum in a continuous 1,100-acre chain linked by seven miles of walking paths.
All around the city are leafy suburbs with vast parks and reserves of public lands that include gentle hills to climb for views back at the city skyline, and miles of trails along the rivers and bay. Many of the walking routes pass close to Boston's tourist attractions, including historic sights and world-class museums and universities. One traces the route of the Minutemen at the battles of Lexington and Concord.
1 Emerald Necklace
More than 100 years ago, the preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned a long green space connecting downtown Boston to the suburbs. This Emerald Necklace he designed has survived intact, and today connects more than 1,000 acres in six different parks from the Boston Common to Franklin Park. You can walk the entire seven miles or any part of it, either returning on foot or by public transportation (nearby stops are marked on the excellent Emerald Necklace map). On its way to Dorchester, the route passes two major art museums, Boston's famous Swan Boats, a stunning rose garden, the historic Fenway Victory Gardens, three ponds, a wildflower meadow, the Arnold Arboretum, and a zoo.
The Emerald Necklace begins with the Boston Common and Public Garden, continuing along the tree-covered park in the center of Commonwealth Avenue, lined on either side by rows of distinguished brownstone and brick town houses that were homes to the "Boston Brahmins." You can walk the portion from Charles Street, through the Public Garden and the length of Commonwealth Avenue for a 2.5-mile round-trip, or add another 1.6 miles by strolling through the Fenway community gardens and the rose garden. A popular side trail on the Emerald Necklace circles Jamaica Pond; the main trail runs along its south side, where there is a scenic overlook.
Address: Shattuck Visitor Center, 125 The Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts
2 Battle Road Trail
The beautiful level path through forests and riverside wetlands seems far removed from its historic context - the first shots of the American Revolution and Paul Revere's famous ride. Along with sections of the Battle Road, where the British troops were harassed by Minutemen firing from behind stone walls, the trail follows the route of the Minutemen as they moved from their first skirmish with the British troops on Lexington Green to the battle at Concord Bridge. Here, the small band of ill-armed farmers stood off the British, who scuttled back to Boston without having seized the Colonists' stockpiled weapons and munitions in Concord as intended.
Along the five-mile route, you'll want to stop to read the historic markers, see the displays and multi-media presentation in the visitors center, follow a few side paths, visit Hartwell Tavern, and look around Concord Bridge. The trail is open year-round, although the visitors center is open only April through October.
Address: 250 North Great Road, Lincoln, Massachusetts
3 Blue Hills Reservation
The 635-foot summit of Great Blue Hill is the highest of the 22 Blue Hills protected by the 7,000 acres of the reservation stretching across parts of Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Randolph, and Dedham, south of Boston. Climbers are rewarded with sweeping views of the entire metropolitan area from its rocky top, but this is only part of the park's 125 miles of trails. Some lead to sites with evidence of Native American presence here, others past remnants of early farms and old quarries.
The park protects natural habitats that you can explore on trails that lead past ponds, marshes, and swamps, and through high and lowland forests, meadows, and an Atlantic white cedar bog. The six-mile Skyline Loop involves some serious exercise, with rock scrambles and a lot of ups and downs. Maps are available at the headquarters, and the rangers are helpful in suggesting and describing routes. Also in the park are the Blue Hills Trailside Museum and the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center, at the summit of Great Blue Hill. You can get to the park by public transportation.
Address: 695 Hillside Street, Milton, Massachusetts
4 The Atlantic Path and Halibut Point
A scenic two-mile walk along the shore, over rock ledges that slope to the sea, begins just past the Emerson Inn on Cathedral Avenue in Rockport and continues to Halibut Point State Park. Here, you will find 2.5 miles of trails along more rocky shore and around a granite quarry that has been filled by springs. An interpretive trail explains the quarry's operation and the fascinating history of this point. Granite quarried and cut here was used for paving stones and to build Boston's Custom House Tower. You can learn more about Halibut Point's and Cape Ann's granite quarrying and natural history at the visitor center and museum.
The views along the coast reach across Ipswich Bay as far as the coast to New Hampshire and Maine. Birders will like this park, with its rocky coast covered in bayberry and shad, good habitats for small birds. The Atlantic Path continues from the far side of the park.
Location: Rockport, Massachusetts
5 World's End
The gentle hills and rocky shorelines of 251-acre World's End, 15 miles from the city on the south shore, has something for everyone: hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, canoeing, birding, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Like the harbor islands, the hills of World's End are drumlins, left by retreating glaciers, which also scraped bare the granite ledges that are now covered in blueberry bushes and cedar.
Trails skirt saltwater marshes and cross woodlands and meadows that are important habitats for birds and native plants. From its hills and shore are views of the Boston skyline, and winding through the park under a canopy of trees are carriage lanes designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. These carriage paths and walking trails combine to create 4.5 miles of moderate hiking. Although World's End is managed by the Trustees of Reservations, it is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park area.
Address: Martins Lane, Hingham, Massachusetts
6 Charles River Reservation
Boston and Cambridge share the Charles River, which flows in a wide band between them. On each side is a green strip with walking and cycling paths that make good loops, thanks to the well-spaced bridges. The Charles River Reservation is a linear park that stretches 20 miles upriver from Boston Harbor. On the Boston shore, it includes the wide Esplanade, and on the Cambridge side it runs past the scenic campuses of Harvard and MIT. The best view of the Boston skyline is from the MIT shore, with the river as a foreground, dotted with sailboats.
Various local trail networks join, leave, and intersect the trails along the river. The Charles River Link is a 16-mile trail along one of the most scenic stretches, connecting green spaces in Newton, Wellesley, Needham, Natick, Dover, and Medfield. The Wellesley Trails network, which it includes part of, follows the Charles River, continuing through the Town Forest and past Longfellow Pond. The portions of the riverside paths on the Boston end are heavily used by cyclists, rollerbladers, and runners, so walkers need to be alert and stay to one side to avoid annoying encounters. For less traffic and more nature, head for the suburban riverside paths.
7 Breakheart Reservation
Almost unknown to any but those who live nearby, the 640-acre Breakheart lies along a wild section of the Saugus River, north of Boston. Inside its hardwood forest are two lakes and seven hills, rocky outcrops just over 200 feet in height, but high enough above the woods for views of Boston and southern New Hampshire. Hiking trails circle both lakes, border the river, and form loops throughout the park. The riverbanks are popular with birders. In the summer, the park may be crowded with swimmers at the lake beaches, but even then you're likely to have its trails to yourself.
Address: 177 Forest Street, Saugus, Massachusetts
8 Appleton Farms Grass Rides
Borrowing "rides," the English term for a carriage path, Appleton Farms' grassy foot paths were originally bridle paths, and five of them converge like spokes of a wheel at the "Roundpoint," a clearing with a large granite pinnacle in the center. This and three other stone pinnacles were given to the Appletons, whose gentleman farm this was, when the old Harvard library was torn down. The family had long-standing ties with Harvard. In addition to the Grass Rides, Appleton Farms maintains six miles of footpaths, bridle paths, and farm roads open to walkers and equestrians (the latter by permit).
Appleton Farms Grass Rides includes a mix of forest, fields, and wetlands, which were once more extensive than they are today, but were drained by early farmers. You'll see examples of skilled stonework in the bridges and culverts around the property. The wetlands here are spring feeding stops for migrating marsh birds and for migrating hawks in the fall. The extensive grasslands are home to one of New England's largest bobolink and meadowlark populations. Visit the working farm to gather bread and cheese at the dairy store for a picnic.
Address: 219 Country Road (Route 1A), Ipswich, Massachusetts
9 Middlesex Fells Reservation
With 2,575 acres of rocky, hilly terrain, the Middlesex Fells attract serious hikers, as well as walkers out for a stroll in the woods. The former will find a demanding five-hour hike on the seven-mile Skyline Trail, across a boulder-strewn terrain of woods and ponds, with repeated climbs and descents. The main trail leaves Bellevue Pond, where white blazes lead up Pine Hill, topped by an observation tower with sweeping views across the reservation to Boston. Head north from the tower, following blazes on the rocks.
More than 100 miles of trails lead through the reservation, revealing meadows, ponds, Wright's Tower, and Virginia Wood, site of a vanished mill village called Haywardville. Here, you'll find an interpretive trail through the hemlock forest describing its history. The park reveals a lot more local history, of timbering, quarries, ice harvesting, and water that powered local mills. A trail map, available at the visitors center, will direct you to trails that include the Rock Circuit and Crystal Springs loops in the eastern Fells and to the Cross Fells Trail that traverses the whole property. Allow more than four hours for the 3.7-mile Rock Circuit, one of the park's most difficult.
Address: 4 Woodland Road, Stoneham, Massachusetts
10 Mount Wachusett
The tallest mountain near Boston, at a height of 2,006 feet, Mount Wachusett is popular with skiers in the winter and hikers the rest of the year. On clear days, the view extends to Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, and the Boston skyline. Surrounding the summit, the 3,000-acre Wachusett Mountain State Reservation protects forests, mountain meadows, ponds, streams, fields, and a raised bog, all of which you can explore on its 17 miles of hiking and walking trails. The reservation includes 3.9 miles of the Midstate Trail, which runs through the state from the New Hampshire line to the Rhode Island border.
The largest area of old growth forest in eastern Massachusetts is inside the park, with trees more than 350 years old. Balance Rock, where two large boulders stand stacked one on top of the other, shows the force of moving glaciers at the close of the Ice Age.
Address: 345 Mountain Road, Princeton, Massachusetts