Happily, for the traveling hiker, this is not hype. The home of the Red Sox has gone green in a big way. And for the traveling hiker, Boston is a compelling destination.
Boston is well oriented to the adventurer afoot because, as one of America’s oldest cities, it was designed long before the invention of the automobile. And in modern times, the city has made a concerted effort to make itself foot-powered-friendly.
The Traveling Hiker was impressed by the state’s “Healthy Heart Trails” program. I hiked trails around Boston newly posted with the logo of a green heart. Kudos to the Commonwealth for promoting the health benefits of hitting the trail.
Although not an island city like New York, downtown Boston is nearly surrounded by water—the Charles River and Boston Harbor—and many of the city’s best walks are riverside or harborside jaunts. I particularly liked hiking long lengths of HarborWalk, which extends for more than 40 miles along Boston’s waterfront, connecting commercial and residential districts, natural and historic areas
Another plus for the pedestrian is Boston’s public transit—first rate and far-reaching. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, called the “T” provides one of the most extensive subway, bus and water transport systems in the world. To reach all of Boston’s trailheads quickly and easily, purchase a low-cost one-week visitor pass.
Other reasons why so many favor foot travel are less flattering to the city: Boston’s traffic jams are legendary, parking scarce and expensive, and the streets a tourist-torturing tangle.
True, traffic is less maddening and the city far greener now thanks to the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, the “Big Dig,” completed in 2007. The mega-project rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93), the chief highway through the heart of Boston, into a tunnel under the city. The project also included the construction of the Ted Williams Tunnel (extending Interstate 90 to Logan International Airport), and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in the space vacated by the previous I-93 elevated roadway.
Nevertheless, don’t drive in Boston. Don’t bring a car to Boston or, if you do, leave it in the hotel parking lot. In Boston, the car-free traveling hiker is the carefree traveling hiker.
The best way to get oriented to Boston is by taking a bike tour from Urban Adventours. The “Boston City Bicycle Tour” tour is one of the most enjoyable tours I’ve ever taken—by any conveyance! The route was packed with sites—historical, cultural, natural, and whimsical. Adults appreciated the guide’s lively narration and all the kids along on the ride had a grand time.
Boston by bike is a good way to catch up on the city’s progress and pedestrian opportunities. Like so many cities across America in the 1960s, Boston embraced a massive redevelopment project designed to revitalize the city. Unlike those elsewhere, Boston’s renewal actually worked—on both grand and human scales.
Boston integrated cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks, adapted old buildings to new uses, and generally improved the quality of Beacon Hill, Back Bay and other neighborhoods, now a delight to wander.
Boston didn’t shunt history into museum exhibits but integrated it into the fabric of modern life. Thus, for the urban hiker, the city is a delightful collage of history and high-tech, colonial charm and the contributions of the many ethnic groups that make up the metropolis.
Begin exploring Boston on the Freedom Trail, the best-known urban walking trail in America; it’s a showcase of Revolutionary War era history that attracts visitors from across the nation and around the world. Black Heritage Trail celebrates the contributions of Boston’s African-American community, which settled a part of Beacon Hill during the 19th century.
“America’s Walking City” is better known for its human history than its natural history, for its street-life not its wildlife. However, many natural attractions of compelling interest to the hiker are scattered about greater Boston.
From the Harbor Islands to the Blue Hills, from Middlesex Fells to World’s End, Boston’s green scene offers the hiker plenty of room to roam. Blue Hills Reservation, located only ten miles south of downtown, beckons with 150 miles of trail that explore a generous mix of New England landscapes, from estuaries to hills, meadows, beaches, ponds, swamps, and historic farms and houses.
The park system fringing Boston occurred not by happenstance but by design. The city’s Metropolitan Parks Commission, formed in 1892 by parks booster/Harvard President, Charles Eliot, secured substantial amounts of greenery and placed it in the public domain before the turn of the century. Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted sketched out a series of preserves around the city known as Boston’s “Emerald Necklace.”
Apparently, Boston was thinking green—and going green—way back when. The Traveling Hiker is happy to report that it’s still leading the way.
The Traveling Hiker: BOSTON
Tips: Walk and take public transit; don’t drive. Buy a one-week Visitor Pass. ($15.00) for unlimited rides on Boston’s transit system.
Tours: Bike tours of Boston offered by Urban Adventours,; Amphibious tour of harbor and city by Boston Duck Tours
Trails: Harbor Walk, Freedom Trail, Harbor Islands, Great Blue Hill, Ponkapoag Pond, World’s End
Tales: WalkBoston by Robert Sloane, chairperson WalkBoston
Lodging: Seaport Hotel, Fairmont Battery Wharf
Information: Greater Boston Visitors & Convention Bureau, 888-SEE-BOSTON