Boston Harbor Islands

The Boston Harbor Islands are a group of thirty-four islands in Massachusetts that are a unit of the United States National Park System.



The islands have great historical significance in a number of ways. Archeological sites on 21 of the islands have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and all the islands are considered likely to have significant sites. Evidence indicates that Native American peoples lived on the islands as early as 1000BC and perhaps before they separated from the mainland sometime in the 2000 years previous to that. The highly alkaline shell-fragmented soils which preserve artifacts better than typical New England soils, and the relatively low-intensity use by Euro-Americans, make the islands an archeological treasure.

The islands have undergone many various uses over the years: agriculture, cemetery, fishing colony, fortifications, hospital, hotel or resort, industrial, poorhouse, prison, prisoner-of-war camp, quarantine, sewage treatment, lighthouses, and dumps.

Deer Island has particular significance to Native Americans as a place of imprisonment and interment during King Philip's War in the 1670s. Contemporary Native Americans return each October to commemorate their ancestors' suffering in this tragic slaughter. Indications are that 1000 or more American Indians were forced onto Deer and other of the islands, often to die of starvation. Later Deer Island also served as a quarantine hospital in 1847 to treat the many sick, impoverished Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine.

In 1970 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began acquiring islands for the benefit of the public. In 1985 Boston Harbor was named the most polluted harbor in the nation. After investment of four billion dollars and extensive wastewater treatment efforts by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, improved water quality contributed to widespread support for establishing a national park area.

The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area was established by act of Congress in 1996. The Partnership which governs it is made up of thirteen members appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to represent various Federal, State, City of Boston, and non-profit interests. The Partnership subsequently adopted the name "Boston Harbor Islands, a national park area" in response to Native Americans' objections to the term "recreation" being used for an area they consider sacred.


Flora and fauna

Many of the islands have trees, with some having been planted for shade in recent years. Native plants such as bayberry and beach plum are abundant. Decorative flowers are in raised plantings so as not to disturb possible archeological sites. Many marine and migrating birds are found on the islands. Lovell Island has a large population of European hares put here in the 1940s and 1950s. Gallops Island also has a large population of rabbits.


Get in

By boat

By land

Even though some of the "islands" are really peninsulas, car travel is discouraged. Limited parking is available at Deer Island, Nut Island, Webb Memorial, and World's End.

Long and Moon Islands are accessible by land, but are not open to the public. Access is restricted by a police guard station at the mainland end of the causeway connecting them to the Quincy neighborhood of Squantum.

Public transportation: Take the MBTA Blue Line to Orient Heights station. Then Paul Revere Bus company has transportation to Point Shirley (Buses # 712 or 713.)
By car: Take the I-93 to the Callahan Tunnel. Enter Callahan Tunnel. Turn right onto William F. McClellan Highway. Turn right onto Boardman Street to rotary, go halfway around and continue on Saratoga Street. Saratoga Street becomes Main Street. After passing "Entering Winthrop" sign, take first right onto Pleasant Street. At "Stop" sign, take a right on Shirley Street. Follow Shirley Street to Elliot Street. Take a right and follow Elliot Street around to the left. Take a right onto Taft Avenue and follow to the Main Security Gate.
By car take Route 3A south from Boston to Weymouth, turn left on Neck Street. Follow to River Street.
By car: From Route 3, take exit 14 and follow Route 228 north towards Hingham for 6.5 miles. Turn left onto Route 3A and follow for .7 mi. Turn right onto Summer Street and, at major intersection with Rockland Street, continue straight across. Road becomes Martin's Lane. Follow for 0.7 mile until it dead ends at entrance.
By car: Take Sea Street in Quincy from Route 3A.


Get around


Thompson Island

Georges Island

Peddocks Island

Bumpkin Island

Lovells Island

Grape Island

Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island with Thompson Island in the middleground and the city in the background

Thompson Island

Little Brewster Island

Webb Memorial Park

Worlds End

Deer Island

Other Islands

Other islands are accessible only by private boat which is sometimes discouraged due to rocky shores. Other islands in the park are: Button, Calf, Gallops, The Graves, Great Brewster, Green, Hangman, Langlee, Little Calf, Middle Brewster, Nixes Mate, Outer Brewster, Raccoon, Ragged, Rainsford, Sarah, Shag, Sheep, Slate, and Snake.




Refreshment concessions are available on Georges Island and Spectacle Island.


There is no nightlife on any of the islands, but sometimes there will be beer tastings on George's Island in the afternoon.


There are no motels, hotels or bed and breakfasts in the park.


Costs In addition to transportation costs:

What to expect

Stay safe

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