date published: September 13, 2004










If you’ve seen one hotel gym you’ve seen them all. With stairmasters, treadmills and a more or less complete set of free weights, they unquestionably have all the tools you need to get a workout, but they’ll do little to let you know you’re in fact in one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the country. Perhaps you’re stay in town is brief, but when there’s time to exercise, there’s time to get outside and experience your surroundings. Boston is undoubtedly a walking city, but it’s also a running, boating and biking city, with a slew of scenic and physically challenging ways to add vibrancy and even a little sightseeing to your daily workout. And since we know you’re busy, we’ve outlined our favorite places to break a sweat based on their convenience, what they have to offer—from bike trails to boat rentals—and even their visual appeal. So choose the spot that serves you best, leave some space in the hotel gym for someone else and get moving outdoors.

The Charles River Esplanade

Distance from Copley Square: 1.28 miles. Walk north on Arlington Street to the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge where you can cross over Storrow Drive. You can also cross over at the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge.
T Accessibility: Take the MBTA’s Red Line to Charles/MGH and take the footbridge over Storrow Drive towards the river.
About the Course: The Dr. Paul Dudley White Charles River Bike Path is an 18-mile circuit that starts at the Museum of Science and runs along both sides of the Charles River to Watertown and includes several bridges and the Charles River Esplanade. The path is mostly traffic-free apart from a few points when it hits a cross street. For longer and shorter loops and their distances, call the MDC (617-722-5445) and they’ll help you acquire a map. Roller bladers typically stick to the Esplanade or take advantage of a flat, 1.5 mile stretch of Memorial Drive on the Cambridge side of the river—from Western Avenue to the Elliot Bridge—which is closed to car traffic Sundays from 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Water activities including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking, are available for public participation from either the Community Boating house on the Esplanade or at Charles River Canoe & Kayak (see below). A snack bar, restrooms, payphones and drinking fountains can be found by the MDC Hatch Shell.
Scenic Appeal: The Esplanade offers eye candy galore, from people watching to panoramic views of Boston and Cambridge along a glistening Charles River dotted with sailboats. Your ears will frequently be happy too, thanks to the MDC Hatch Shell, site of such nationally renowned events as the July 4th Boston Pops concert and fireworks and other free outdoor events held there during the spring, summer and fall. The Esplanade proper is strictly on the Boston side while the bike trail actually runs on both sides of the river, with great sightseeing and views available on either bank. The entire 18-mile bike path takes you out to the suburb of Watertown, but even an abbreviated trek takes you past Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Museum of Science, not to mention one of the best views of Boston’s skyline.
Equipment Rentals: Charles River Canoe & Kayak, 617-965-5110. Their green-roofed kiosk is located upstream of the Eliot Bridge and downstream of the Northeastern Boathouse on the Boston side of the river. They rent canoes, kayaks, rowboats and HobieCats by the hour or by the day and offer classes and group trips for beginners and veterans.

Southwest Corridor

Distance from Copley Square: 0.2 miles, walk down Dartmouth Street until you reach Back Bay Station. The path begins behind Copley Place, across the street.
T Accessibility: To run or walk its distance take the MBTA’s Orange Line to either Back Bay or Forest Hills. For tennis or basketball courts, Stony Brook station is a good bet, though there are several options throughout the park. The Pierre Lallement Bicycle Path officially starts at the Massachusetts Avenue Station, but may be easier to access from Ruggles Station.
About the Course: The bike path is four miles from start to finish while the total distance from Back Bay station to Forest Hills station is a little under five miles. This flat course crosses over several side streets and is best run during the day. Safety should be a consideration when running or biking after dark.
Scenic Appeal: This long and narrow park runs over and along the MBTA’s Orange Line from Back Bay to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain with the most scenic portions at its start and finish. Your trek takes you past brownstones, community gardens and flower beds in the South End, past Northeastern University and into Jamaica Plain where you’ll find lots of activity—from pick-up basketball games to kickball matches at the fields of nearby Boston English High School (turn left at McBride Street). But perhaps this park’s biggest advantage is its proximity to the “T.” The Orange Line has six stations between Back Bay and Forest Hills, offering several points at which you can turn back toward where you started. 

jamaica pond

Distance from Copley Square: 3.65 miles.
T Accessibility: Take the MBTA’s 39 bus from Copley Square to Pond Street in Jamaica Plain, then proceed down the street.
About the Course: Two paths, one for joggers another for bikers and roller bladers, encircle the pond in a flat oval that measures 1.49 miles around. A small fitness station can be found on the Jamaicaway side of the pond while a snack bar, drinking fountains and restrooms can be found at the Jamaica Pond boathouse.
Scenic Appeal: Jamaica Pond is often referred to as the jewel of the famed Emerald Necklace created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The pond itself is actually an ancient glacial kettle hole, 65 feet deep and the cleanest natural body of water in the city. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to swim, but you can fish (with a license) and the pond is stocked annually with salmon and trout. It’s also home to a variety of wild animals. Most frequently seen are swans, geese and ducks milling about the pond, but fox and deer have been known to pay a visit.
Equipment Rentals: JP Boathouse on the Jamaicaway (617-522-6258) rents rowboats and sailboats by the hour for use on the pond. Private water crafts are not permitted.

The Arnold Arboretum

Distance from Copley Square: 4.36 miles.
T Accessibility: Take the MBTA’s Orange Line to Forest Hills Station, cross South Street to The Arborway and walk over the hill to the main gate.
About the Course: As one of the area’s largest green spaces (265 acres in all), a run or bike around the Arboretum can follow a wide variety of trails, both paved and unpaved. But perhaps its best feature for exercise is its hills (Bussey and Peter’s), which are some of the highest in the city. Maps and markers can be found throughout the park to help keep you on track. Water fountains are located near the gates and a restroom is available in the office which is open Monday–Friday 9 a.m.–4 p.m., weekends noon–4 p.m.
Scenic Appeal: Plant enthusiasts will be in heaven as they run among thousands of plants and trees from all over the word, including an impressive bonsai tree collection that can be seen down the Chinese Path in the center of the park. Save your stretching for when you reach the top of either hill, both of which boast spectacular views of the Boston skyline and the surrounding area—especially in the fall at sunset.

Franklin Park

Distance from Copley Square: 4.57 miles.
T Accessibility: Take the MBTA’s Orange Line to Forest Hills Station, then board the MBTA’s 16 bus to the golf course. The park is also within walking distance. For directions call 617-265-4084.
About the course: The largest of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks in Boston, Franklin Park includes an 18-hole public golf facility (the William J. Devine Golf Course) that is the second oldest public course in the country. Golf legend Bobby Jones used to practice here, honing his golf game while attending Harvard. The course measures 6,009 yards from the blue tees, 5,622 yards from the white tees, and 5,240 yards from the reds. Wide open fairways and receptive greens make for a friendly, pleasurable golfing experience. For those who would prefer to run or bike, the terrain is hilly and best tackled during daylight hours.
Scenic appeal: This park may feel slightly off the beaten path but as home to the Franklin Park Zoo and nearby Forest Hills Cemetery (the final resting spot of literary giants Eugene O’Neill and e.e. cummings), it’s well worth the trip. The zoo has undergone countless improvements over the years and cares for giraffes, kangaroos, gorillas and boasts a breathtaking butterfly house.

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One of the best ways to enjoy Beantown may be on two wheels, biking past city sights with the wind whipping across your face, paying no mind to the traffic jams that plague the car-bound. Of course with cobblestones, potholes and a streetplan that dates back to the Revolutionary War, biking around Boston can serve up some rough terrain. If you’d prefer a more structured route, most bike shops sell maps of the state’s urban and rural biking paths, some of which we’ve already told you about here. Or combine some sightseeing with your ride by enlisting the services of Boston Bike Tours & Rentals (refer to listing, page 54). A knowledgeable and, from what we hear, entertaining guide leads you on one of several different tours of Boston-area sights. Specialized tours follow Paul Revere’s ride out to Lexington on the Minuteman Bikeway. Or try the Bike, Beach and Brew tour which takes riders along Boston’s waterfront and concludes with a visit to the Harpoon Brewery. For those without wheels, the company offers bike rentals at a reasonable price, as do the following shops:
  • Back Bay Bikes & Boards
    336 Newbury St., 617-247-2336
    Easy access to the Charles River Esplanade near the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge.
  • Community Bicycle Supply
    496 Tremont St., 617-542-8623
    In the South End a short ride from the Pierre Lallemont Bicycle path in the Southwest Corridor.
  • Cambridge Bicycle
    259 Massachusetts Ave., 617-876-6555
    In Central Square in Cambridge, near the Dr. Paul Dudley White Charles River Bike Path.