If you’re an outdoor enthusiast living in Boston, count yourself lucky! Even without a car, adventure is never far away thanks to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), a mass transit system that spans the entire Greater Boston area and beyond. We’ve compiled a list of six of our favorite Boston-area outdoor spaces accessible by public transportation. Whether you’re craving a beach day, looking for a spot to hit the trail, or even want to do some paddling, there are plenty of options available. All you need to do is grab your gear and hop on an MBTA bus, train, or ferry.
Arnold Arboretum | Boston, Mass.
Just a short walk from the Forest Hills Station at the southern terminus of the MBTA Orange Line, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is home to one of the most remarkable botanical collections in the world. You’ll find 2,077 different species of plants and several miles of trails for walking, running, or cycling threaded through the 281-acre preserve. It may seem small, but it’s easy to lose an entire day taking in the remarkable biodiversity.
The arboretum is especially marvelous in spring and summer when you’ll find trees and bushes flowering in just about every color imaginable. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for wildlife! 188 bird species have been recorded there, and you’ll also find snakes, turtles, and frogs.
Boston Harbor Islands | Boston
Just offshore from Boston’s downtown, you’ll find the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. It’s comprised of 34 islands, and you can reach eight of them using the Boston Public Ferry Service at Long Wharf near the MBTA Blue Line’s Aquarium Station. Head out to the islands to hike, bird-watch, check out the tide pools, or just spend a day at the beach. There are even seasonal camp sites on four of the islands: Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells, and Peddocks.
Spectacle Island is one of the most visited in the park. Take a walk up 157-foot North Drumlin Hill for a spectacular view of the city and harbor. There’s also a visitor center and café. The other islands are equally scenic, and host a diverse range of wildlife, military forts, and other historic sites.
Middlesex Fells Reservation | Winchester, Medford, and Melrose, Mass.
The Middlesex Fells Reservation, or “the Fells,” spans the towns of Winchester, Medford, and Melrose just north of Boston and has one of the best systems of hiking trails in the metro area. Interstate 93 bisects the the Fells into an east and west side. To get to the west side take the MBTA Orange Line to Wellington Station and #100 bus to Fellsway W @ Ridgeway Rd. The Bellevue Pond entrance is a short walk up South Border Rd. To access the east side, take the Orange Line to Oak Grove Station. The Gate 58 entrance is just a 10- to 15-minute walk from there.
This 2,575-acre reservation has 100 miles of trails for hikers and trail runners of all skill levels, mountain bikers, and even horseback riders. Just make sure you have a map! There are dozens of intersections and spur trails so it can be easy to get a bit turned around. However, you can use the crisscrossing trails to your advantage by building your own loop hike to catch some of the reservation’s highlights.
Panther Cave is a popular destination for families; you’ll almost always find children (and fun-loving adults) scrambling through the cave and adjacent tunnels. For a quick climb to a stunning view of the city of Boston, hike up to Wright’s Tower. If you’re looking to be near the water, the west side’s reservoirs are a great spot for a picnic, and you can rent canoes and kayaks at the east side’s Spot Pond.
Blue Hills Reservation | Milton, Mass.
Feel like heading south of the city for a hike? The 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation stretches across parts of Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Randolph, and Dedham and is named for its 22 hills. Great Blue Hill is the tallest hill and is also the highest point in Greater Boston at 635 feet high. You can catch views of the Boston skyline from Elliot Tower at the summit.
You’ll find 125 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers of all-skill levels here. It’s also a popular spot for cross-country skiing in the winter and swimming at Houghton’s Pond Recreation Area during warmer months. You’ll can even stay at AMC’s volunteer-run Ponkapoag Camp if you’re looking for a longer getaway.
Because the reservation is so large, there are several different transit options to get there. If you’re coming from Boston, one of the most direct routes is taking the MBTA Red Line to Mattapan Station and the 716 bus to any of four stops adjacent to reservation’s west side.
Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm | Lincoln, Mass.
Drumlin Farm is part of a network of 60 Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries across the Commonwealth. It’s a short 30-minute ride to the farm on the MBTA Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line from North Station to Lincoln Station, followed by a 10-minute walk to the sanctuary.
There are 4 miles of trails, including one that leads to a scenic viewpoint where you can see the Boston skyline and even Mount Wachusett to the west on a clear day. The western half of Hayfield Loop Trail is part of the Bay Circuit Trail (BCT)—for which AMC is one of the lead maintainers—so you can continue on that if you’re looking for a bigger adventure. In fact, hopping on the BCT here is one of the easier ways to reach the trail via public transit.
However, the main attraction here isn’t the trails. Drumlin Farm isn’t just a wildlife sanctuary, it’s also a working farm. The farmyard is bustling with pigs, sheep, cows, goats, chickens, and even a pony. You can also learn about how farm grows crops sustainably. The farm also provides a home for native wildlife that either need to be rehabilitated from injury or couldn’t survive in the wild. You can see some of them in three exhibits, including raptors, owls, pheasants, and fox.
Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Pond Reservation | Chestnut Hill and Newton, Mass.
A short walk from Chestnut Hill Station on the MBTA Green Line’s “D” Branch, these adjacent conservation areas are tucked away behind a shopping mall, but you’d never know it once you hit the hiking trails. There are dozens of quiet wooded footpaths, a large scenic pond, and rocky outcrops for climbing.
The trails here are sheltered by a canopy of old growth trees and wind along the pond, through the forest and past interesting rock formations. You can also cross-country ski on the trails in the winter, and the pond is open to canoeing and kayaking. Hammond Pond Reservation is the hot spot for rock climbers, as it features some of the best rock climbing and bouldering in Greater Boston. Kids will also enjoy scrambling over some of the smaller rocks.