date published: August 6, 2001


DIFFERENT STROKES-Kayakers from Charles River Canoe and Kayak paddle on the Charles River near the Longfellow Bridge.
Panorama's guide to biking, hiking, swimming, sailing and other fun recreational activities in the Hub
by Christopher Wallenberg

Most visitors overlook recreational activities like kayaking on the Charles River or biking along the Esplanade when they plan their stay in Boston. It's the city's historic and cultural landmarks that draws them to our fair burg. Tourists flock to the Freedom Trail, the Public Garden, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the New England Aquarium and other popular sights. Believe it or not, though, Boston actually possesses a treasure-trove of oft-forgotten recreational activities-from hiking and biking to swimming and sailing-that even some locals aren't aware of. Many of these activities can be experienced right here in the city, and you needn't be an adventure-seeker or in top physical shape to enjoy them.

So, in no particular order, here's our survey of the best outdoor recreational activities Beantown has to offer. Sights are listed according to their primary activity. You may be in the middle of an urban jungle, but nature is still all around.

Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat from Charles River Canoe and Kayak (2401 Commonwealth Ave., Newton, 617-965-5110; Soldier's Field Road, 617-462-2513, Boston) and you'll enjoy a spectacular view of the city from the glistening waters of the Charles River. And all that paddling provides a muscle-building upper body workout, to boot. The Newton location is open seven days a week, and the Boston outpost is open Fri-Sun. In Boston, you'll experience magnificent views of the Charles River, one of the most gorgeous urban river basins in the world, ringed by the verdant expanse of the surrounding Esplanade, with downtown and the Back Bay as your backdrop. In Newton, you can explore the nooks and crannies of the Lakes District, stretching six miles from Newton Lower Falls to the Moody Street Dam. Rentals range from $11 per hour for a canoe to $18 per hour for a kevlar double kayak.

The Boston Sailing Center (54 Lewis Wharf, 617-227-4198) on Boston Harbor caters to local sailing buffs with a variety of membership programs. Visitors can enjoy sailing the Harbor on their own private chartered sailboat, led by a captain from the BSC's top-notch crew. The fleet of 55 vessels ranges in size from 23 to 40 feet. Sailers can charter a mid-range J-24 or Olson 25 for $100 per hour, or pony up $170 per hour to board a biggie, the C&C 40. A two-hour minimum is required for all charters.

FUN AND SUN-Rent a rowboat or sailboat on lovely Jamaica Pond;... 

Community Boating (21 David Mugar Way, 617-523-1038), located on the Boston side of the Charles River between the Hatch Shell and the Longfellow Bridge, is the largest and oldest public sailing program in the country. It is one of the nation's premier public sailing facilities and offers membership and training programs that serve the metro Boston community. Out-of-towners can purchase a special two-day membership for just $50, which permits unlimited sailing, windsurfing or kayaking along the River during the two-day period. The boathouse is open Mon-Fri from 1 p.m.-sunset and weekends from 9 a.m.-sunset.

The Jamaica Pond Boathouse in Jamaica Plain (The Jamaicaway, 617-522-6258) rents rowboats and sailboats on picturesque Jamaica Pond, part of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace. This small, natural kettle-hole lake was the first reservoir in America. Non-Boston residents can rent rowboats for $10 per hour, while sailboat rentals run $20 per hour.

The Liberty Schooner (Boston Waterfront Marina, 67 Long Wharf, 617-742-0333) offers two-hour Tall Ship sailing adventures in Boston Harbor. Kids and adults alike can help the deckhands pull and fasten ropes and hoist masts while learning about the history of Boston Harbor. Cruises run daily at noon, 3 and 6 p.m. Private and corporate charters are also available.

Although once-notoriously polluted Boston Harbor has cleaned up its act, the Hub still isn't known for its swimming beaches. There are, however, a handful of picturesque, mostly-sandy beaches within the city limits. Most are run by the Metropolitan District Commission and are staffed by trained lifeguards from June through September. Castle Island (Day Boulevard, 617-727-7177) in South Boston is a popular 22-acre park located on a peninsula that juts out into Boston Harbor. Crowned by Fort Independence, a former U.S. military fortress, Castle Island boasts a swimming area, fishing and picnicking sites, bike paths and concession stands. There are also the nearby Carson, L Street and M Street beaches along Day Boulevard. Carson Beach features a newly revamped bathhouse and kayaks, beach chair and beach toy rentals. Take the Red Line to JFK/UMass and walk north along Day Boulevard or take the City Point Bus from South Station.

It's hard to believe, but Revere was once one of the premier resort destinations in the country, brimming with amusement park rides and dozens of seaside hotels. At the center of it all was Revere Beach (Revere Beach Boulevard, 617-727-4708), now the oldest public beach in America (opened in 1896). Those days are long gone, replaced by the kitsch and honky tonk charm of fast-food joints like the near-legendary Kelly's Roast Beef. The beach still exists and lifeguards are on duty from June through September.

The 62-acre Lovell's Island (617-727-5290) in Boston Harbor is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area. It boasts a long, somewhat pebbly swimming beach with tide pools, as well as camping facilities, hiking trails and picnic tables. No lifeguards are on duty here. Ferry service is available from Long Wharf to George's Islands. From there, take the water shuttle to reach Lovell's, Gallop's, Peddock's, Thompson, Bumpkin, Grape or Little Brewster islands. Call Boston Harbor Cruises at 617-723-7800 for departure times.

... travel north to the gorgeous white sand beaches of Cape Ann;...

Boston beaches are nice, but if you're looking for the real deal (we're talking wide, white sandy shores and cool blue ocean surf), head to Cape Ann on the North Shore, about 45 minutes from the city. The glistening sun and surf draws beachgoers from all over the region. Crane Beach (Argilla Road, 978-356-4351) in Ipswich is a wildly popular, four-mile long white sand beach. Good Harbor Beach (Thatcher Road, 978-281-9790) in Gloucester is distinguished by the tiny offshore island that is connected to the beach during low tide. Wingaersheek Beach (Atlantic Street, 978-281-9790), located within walking distance of downtown Gloucester on Ipswich Bay, features a white sand beach, cool tide pools for the kids, climbing rocks and the all-important snack bar. Finally, Singing Beach (Masconomo Street, 979-526-2000), situated off Route 127 in Manchester-by-the-Sea, earned its moniker from the squeaking sound that's created by beachgoers walking across its squishy sand. There are restrooms and a snack bar. Visitors must walk a half mile from the parking areas and the commuter rail station in town.

There are some great beaches along the South Shore of Massachusetts as well. There's the three-mile-long Plymouth Beach (508-830-4095) off Route 3A in Plymouth, about 30 minutes south of Boston. More than an hour from Boston lies Horseneck State Beach (508-636-8816) in scenic Westport along the South Coast, which features sand dunes, picnic areas, a public boat ramp and nearby campsites.

A DAY AT THE BEACH-Walden Pond in Concord, immortalized by writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, features swimming, hiking, boating and other outdoor activities.

If you're willing to make a day-trip or overnight stay, there are dozens of dazzling beaches along the 30-mile stretch of the Cape Cod National Seashore (508-255-3421), some boasting sand dunes that tower nearly 100-feet high. The beaches along this national treasure include Coast Guard and Nauset in Eastham, Marconi in Wellfleet, Head of the Meadow in Truro and Race Point and Herring Cove in Provincetown. The best beaches, however, are the town-run variety with their wind-swept, glittering sand dunes and surf-worthy waves. The National Seashore also features nature trails, biking trails, campgrounds and picnicking spots. Stop by the Salt Pond Visitors Center in Eastham for more information and to obtain maps.

Closer to home lies bucolic Walden Pond, immortalized by writer Henry David Thoreau in his famous essay Walden, where he sought to "live deliberately" in a tiny cabin in the woods. Because of Thoreau's influence, Walden Pond is considered the birthplace of modern conservation. You can seek that same enlightenment at the 400-acre Walden Pond State Reservation (978-369-3254), which offers hiking trails, canoeing and fishing, a replica of Thoreau's cabin and, of course, swimming in the cool, clear waters of the pond. To escape the crowds at the main beach, venture to one of the many small swimming coves located all around the lake.

THE WHEEL DEAL-Take a leisurely spin around the city on a Boston Bike Tour, departing from near the Boston Common Visitor Information Center.

If you're wary of being herded like glazed-eye mallards onto a crowded Duck Tour boat, we've got just the thing for you. Boston Bike Tours (near the Boston Common Visitor Information Center, 617-308-5902) offers riders an up-close and personal view of the city. Journey through the city's neighborhoods on two- and three-hour bicycling excursions. You'll enjoy a leisurely guided tour along the Charles River Esplanade and Bikeway or through the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed "Emerald Necklace" (the string of public parks that includes Boston Common, the Esplanade, the Fenway, the Jamaicaway, the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park). However, you don't need Lance Armstrong's stamina to enjoy this endeavor. These four- to eight-mile tours are decidedly low-impact. Also, you'll be outfitted with a snazzy, 1950s-style Raleigh Retroglide Beach Cruiser, complete with vintage frame design and whitewall tires. The bike tours avoid most major thoroughfares, so there's no fear of being bulldozed by one of Boston's notoriously errant drivers. Each sojourn can be tailored to suit the particular group. And if you want to go off on your own, rentals are available for $5 per hour or $25 for the day.

The more adventurous may wish to rent a mountain or racing bike from a local shop for a solo venture. Bike and equipment rentals are available at several area shops, including Community Bicycle Supply (496 Tremont St., 617-542-8623) and ATA Cycle (1773 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-0907). Rentals run from $5 per hour to $20 for the day.

If you want to get away from the crowds along the Esplanade, or if you're searching for a more rigorous workout, there are several bike paths you may want to explore-most prominently, the Minuteman Bikeway, a paved, 10-mile commuter and recreational bike thoroughfare that begins near the Alewife "T" station on the Red Line and ends in Bedford. Nearly all of the two-lane, 12-foot wide former railroad right-of-way parallels Paul Revere's historic ride through Arlington, Lexington and Concord. Visit for more information or to find a list of other Greater Boston bike paths. For the profoundly ambitious among you, there's the Boston-Cape Cod Bikeway, a 125-mile biking and walking trail that stretches from Boston to the Cape and winds its way to Provincetown at the tip.

If you want to truly escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, venture just eight miles south of Boston to the 7000-acre Blue Hills Reservation (695 Hillside St., 617-698-1802) in Milton. There are more than 150 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as horseback riding paths. Trek to the summit of the 635-foot Great Blue Hill, the highest vantage point on the Atlantic Coast south of Maine. When you reach the top, you'll enjoy a great view of the nearby city. You'll also find the Blue Hill Weather Observatory in Eliot Tower, a national historic site. At the base of the hill, there's the Trailside Museum, which houses live animal exhibits, including white-tailed deer, otters, red foxes and bobcats. Bucolic Houghton's Pond, near the entrance to the reservation, features swimming and fishing (license required). There are also tennis courts, ballfields, playgrounds, picnic areas and a concession stand.

The crown jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park (Route 1 and Route 203 East, 617-635-7383), is the city's largest public reserve. There are more than two miles of jogging, biking and walking paths, including one of the country's best cross country running courses. Also located within this 500-acre green space is the Franklin Park Zoo, an 18-hole golf course, 100 acres of wilderness, sporting facilities and picnic areas. Atop Schoolmaster Hill, you'll find the shack where Ralph Waldo Emerson taught pupils all the way back in the 1820s.

Walden Pond State Reservation and the Boston Harbor Islands also offer opportunities for hiking, as does the 40-mile long stretch of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Refer to Beaches section in this story.

 ...hit the fairways of Franklin Park, the second oldest public golf course in America.

Boston boasts some of the most historic golf courses in the country. The Country Club in Brookline was home to the Ryder Cup in 1999, and Salem Country Club recently hosted the U.S. Senior Open. Unfortunately, many of these courses are private. However, there are several excellent golf courses that are open to the public and located within the city limits. The William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park (One Circuit Drive, 617-265-4084) is the second oldest public golf course in America. It features 18 holes of golf with sand traps and water hazards. Club and cart rentals are available. A snack bar allows hungry golfers something to chew on besides each other's rising handicaps.

You can also try your swing at the verdant George Wright Golf Course (420 West St., 617-361-8313) in Hyde Park. The 6,357-yard course features 18 holes with top-notch greens, bunkers and water hazards. The pro shop rents clubs and carts, and there's a snack bar. Other notable area courses include the Brookline Golf Club (1281 West Roxbury Parkway, 617-730-2078), an 18-hole public course, and the Newton Commonwealth Golf Course (212 Kenrick St., Newton, 617-630-1971), an 18-hole set-up distinguished by its rolling hills.

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