Boston from Spectacle Island
Boston from Spectacle Island

By Jayne Glennon

Green, brown and white pieces of glass, tumbled smooth by the Atlantic, litter the south beach of Spectacle Island. Atop the grassy hill that leads down to this beach, a lone tree points east, a leafy flag in the wind. Gravel and stone dust trails circle up to the tree and then down and across lowland to the north side of the island and circle again to the top of another slightly taller grassy hill, this one topped by a gazebo. More than five miles of walking trails amid various stubby pine trees, sumac, raspberry vines and wildflowers, climb two drumlins that make up this lovely wind-blown island.

The harbor
The harbor

Spectacle Island is part of the Boston Harbor Islands, a National Park Area. At one time a garbage dump, the dumping ended in 1959 but the island languished for many years. According to the self-guided tour pamphlet created by the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership, "Beginning in 1992, 3.7 million cubic yards of excavated earth from the "Big Dig" were brought out to cap the landfill. The process required more than 4,400 barge-loads of dirt over 5 years." For some reason I'm really glad to know that. Standing atop what used to be under Boston, both hills offer spectacular views of the city, the harbor and the awesome Atlantic.


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Thrilled to have my dear friend Karen join me, we bought $15 round-trip ferry tickets at a booth on Long Wharf. Our tickets included George's Island, but we were to spend the day on Spectacle. The ferry ride was 20 minutes, enjoying the different perspective of the waterfront and seaport. Luxury boats, sailboats, fishing boats, speed boats and a huge oil tanker floated by us before we landed. The visitor's center welcomed all and is the only building on the island other than two gazebos.

Atop the drumlin
Atop the drumlin
Bathrooms, a snackbar and an island history exhibit are open to visitors when the ferries are running. Guided tours are offered by park rangers but we chose the self guided pamphlet.

Following the 10 tour stops in order, the path leads around and up the north drumlin. From here 360-degree views of Boston Harbor were breathtaking. The harbor channel, Logan Airport, many harbor islands, the Boston skyline and the Atlantic surrounded us. We picnicked, soaked in lots of fresh air and then continued the tour. Headed to South Beach along the eastern edge of the island, a massive stone sea wall has been built to hold the island/landfill in place. On the South Beach we spent some time looking at the pieces of sea glass, broken pottery and other items temporarily washed ashore while being relentlessly recycled by the Atlantic. Spectacle Island was a beautiful place to walk with several miles of easy hills. Ferry service runs through Oct. 13.

Spectacle Island walk

  • Date: Aug. 18, 2014
  • Distance: 4.20 miles
  • Weather: Cloudy, 70 degrees, windy
  • Fee: $15 round trip ferry ride
  • Pets: no
  • What I liked about this walk: history of island, ferry ride, open fields, fabulous 360-degree views, tumbled sea glass, bathrooms available
  • What I didn't like about this walk: little shade

From blogs.lowellsun.com/walkingjane/.