Best of Boston: Escape the City at These 3 Campgrounds

Photo: Michael Sean OLeary/Shutterstock

Pockets of deep forest and quiet parkland surround Greater Boston. Target these camping spots for a perfect weekend escape.

One of the beauties of Boston is that you can live there for decades and still find hidden gems right in your backyard. High-ranking among those are the city’s incredible, tucked-away campgrounds. Drive 20 to 30 minutes in any direction, and you’ll hit pockets of rolling woodland, green hill-scape, and state parkland just a stone’s throw from the city center. That makes it easy to slip out of town for a weekend, immerse yourself in nature, and return to work on Monday refreshed and recharged. 

While Bostonians have a variety of camping options at their fingertips, some campgrounds have more acreage, easier access, and a wilder feel than others. With those factors in mind, here’s a local-favorite list of the top three camp destinations within an hour’s drive of downtown Boston. 

1. Boston Harbor Islands

One of the fastest ways to escape the city is to grab a park ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands, four of which are open to camping. Each island offers quiet shorelines, verdant trails, and stunning views of the Boston skyline. 

The islands themselves have a complicated history. They were originally inhabited by Native American tribes, who prized them for their fertile soil, populations of deer and other game, plus easy access to harbor fishing. But when European settlers invaded those Native lands in the 1600s, they forced the Massachusett and other Indigenous peoples off the mainland, turning the islands into holding pens and work camps for Native prisoners

Today, visitors can experience every facet of the Harbor’s complex past by paying a visit to the ruins, historic forts, archaeological sites, and rich wildlife habitat that cover the islands today. The best way to take it all in is via an overnight trip. Bumpkin, Grape, and Lovells island each offer rustic campground accommodations that make it easy to unplug (all three have composting toilets but none offer electricity or running water). Lovells Island is one of the most remote; it’s bookended by ruins and offers views of Fort Warren, Deer Island, and the Boston mainland. Bumpkin Island and Grape Island, both closer to Weymouth, offer great hiking and a good sense of the area’s history.

2. Myles Standish State Forest

Myles Standish State Forest is just 50 miles from Boston and yet feels a world away. A sprawling trail network, lush forests, and a scattering of blue ponds (several of which have designated swimming beaches and are open to paddlers) make it an idyllic place to grab a lungful of fresh air and take a break from the hubbub of urban life. It’s part of the ancestral homeland of the Wampanoag, Pokanoket, and Massachusett

To get to these 12,400 acres of paradise, simply take Interstate 93 south to state Route 3 and get off at Exit 7 south of Plymouth. There you’ll find about 400 different campsites to choose from, including options for tents, trailers, and RVs. You can reserve a site ahead of time or book it the day of. There is a small fee to camp—$17 for state residents—which can be paid online.

Head to the Curlew Pond camping area for the best access to trails weaving through the park’s unique pine barren ecosystem. Or, reserve a spot at the Charge Pond camping area for great swimming, as well as hikes to several of the forest’s glacially carved kettle ponds. Prefer to cast a line? Fearing Pond campground is your best bet; it’s near a handful of pools where you can fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, pickerel, and—in Fearing Pond itself—stocked trout. 

3. Blue Hills Reservation 

Among the biggest swaths of undeveloped land within Greater Boston, the Blue Hills Reservation encompasses about 7,000 acres of rolling forest and wetland just 10 miles south of town. Once home to the Wampanoag, Pokanoket, and Massachusett peoples, Blue Hills remains an important cultural and historical site as well as a recreational jackpot for Boston locals.

About half-a-dozen small peaks make it one of the city’s best places to get in a hike with serious vertical gain, and nearby Quincy Quarries has long been among the city’s most beloved—if most whimsical—urban rock climbing zones. Hikers will find quiet trails threading through the bottomland forest and open meadows, and sharp-eyed birders will spot red-winged blackbirds in the unique white cedar wetland and warblers and grosbeaks in the park’s open meadows. 

The best place to camp within Blue Hills is at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Ponkapoag Camp. This area offers just 20 cabins and two tent sites, so reservations can fill up quickly. However, the campground’s small size and plentiful trail access give it the feel of a true wilderness getaway, making the advance booking well worth it. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.