Houghton's Pond in Milton, MA as seen from the top of the Great Blue Hill

Head to the Blue Hills

Pack up for this undeveloped swath of land just outside of the Boston metro area that’s ready for near-any outdoor activity.

Whether you dream of squeezing in a weeknight camping trip, or eking out every second of your weekend, Blue Hills Reservation is your Boston-area destination. Blue Hills is a 7,000-acre state park that’s (incredibly) only 15 minutes from the center of Boston (the skyline’s visible from higher points in the park) and offers year-round outdoor fun. The park is flanked by two dozen of the tallest hills in the Blue Hills Chain, including the 635-foot tall Great Blue Hill. The rocky, lush landscape is home to 125 miles of hiking trails that snake through pine trees and travel between marshes and meadows.

Originally inhabited by the Massachusett tribe, or “people of the great hills,” the Blue Hills were named by European settlers and designated as a reservation in 1893. Though ‘reservation’ is often associated with places that Native Americans were sent after being forcibly removed from their own land, in this case, it refers to ‘reserve’ land for public recreation, now managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. And the opportunities for recreation are robust. Swimming, mountain biking, skiing (cross-country and downhill), fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, climbing and birding: There’s truly an activity for everyone to enjoy their time at Blue Hills.

Getting There

From Boston, pack up your gear and provisions and head south on Interstate 93 for about 10 miles toward Milton. There’s a single road that runs through the Blue Hills, making it simple to access any of its attractions. Parking is free at the Houghton's Pond parking lot.


Camp in one of the rustic cabins or tent sites at Ponkapoag Pond, which are run by the Appalachian Mountain Club and located along the banks of the 230-acre pond. There are 20 cabins of various sizes that sleep two to seven people (starting at $210 for a weeklong summer rental for a two-person cabin). The cabins have bunks with mattresses (bring your own bedding), a table and chairs, and a wood stove, but no electricity or running water. The two tent sites on the property cost $100 for a weeklong rental.

The nearby waterfront offers easy access to recreation: swimming, fishing, and paddling, not to mention more hiking trails. In the winter, guests can snowshoe, hike, and cross-country ski if conditions permit. There’s also a lodge on the property that guests can use to recharge (or to charge up device batteries). Campers will want to bring their own stove, lanterns, drinking water, and dishes. Reservations are old-school: first call 781-961-7007 to check availability and then mail in a reservation form. Priority goes to those who’ve contributed 15 volunteer hours over the previous year. For more reservation info, visit ponkapoagcamp.org

Path in the Blue Hills near Houghton's Pond on a foggy morning.


From trails of various lengths and water sports to two-wheeled pursuits, adventurers can launch nearly any outdoor activity at Blue Hills. Leaf-peepers should not miss the foliage colors that cover the park during autumn—and ideal time to hit the trails.  

Hike/Trail Run

With 125 miles of hiking trails, there’s plenty of dirt to walk or run. For a short jaunt, try the .75-mile Houghton Pond Loop. The 2-mile Wolcott Path Loop also offers a nice tour through a hardwood forest. The Hills’ crown jewel, however, is the 15-mile, out-and-back Skyline Trail, which gains about 3,500 feet of elevation. Along the way, hikers summit Hancock Hill, Hemingway Hill, Wolcott Hill, and Great Blue Hill: all viewpoints from which the Boston skyline is visible. Leashed dogs are allowed mostly everywhere at Blue Hills, except for the beach at Houghton Pond. 


Mountain bikers will love the trail variety, from wide carriage roads to technical, rocky forest sections and cruisy hilltop trails. Many of the park’s trails are open to riders, like Great Blue Hill and Fowl Meadow and Houghton’s Pond, but it’s always best practice to check a map to confirm, especially during spring when mountain biking can also be off limits due to muddy conditions. And remember that other trail users have the right of way (bikers must always yield). 


Ponds in the reservation are stocked with trout, and anglers who have purchased a state fishing license can cast for them at Houghton’s Pond, Ponkapoag Pond, St. Moritz Pond, Hillside Pond, Blue Hill Reservoir, and Pine Tree Brook. 


All of the trails at Blue Hills are open to cross-country skiers if snowpack allows (the most rocky trails need additional coverage to open for skiing). Downhill skiers should head to Blue Hills Ski Area, which has four lifts, 16 runs, and offers night skiing. The mountain, in operation since 1950, is generally open from December to March, conditions permitting. 


Horseback riders can also use the trails at Blue Hills, like the 3-mile Little Dome trail that is wide, mellow, non-technical, and lined with trees making for a nice scenic ride.  

Paddle & Swim

Kayakers, canoeists, standup paddlers and other non-motorized crafts can enjoy the water at Ponkapoag Pond. Swimmers are allowed at Houghton Pond (there are lifeguards present during July and August). 

Nearby Highlights

Rock climbers will enjoy the Central Rock Gym in Randolph, right outside of the park. It offers 45-foot-tall lead walls and 3,000 square feet of bouldering. 

Visitors to the Blue Hills (birders in particular) shouldn’t miss the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, which has a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of native wildlife like a rescued river otter and red fox.

If architecture is an interest, the 90-acre Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate is for you. Architect Charles Platt designed the property in 1902, and it features sprawling gardens to stroll through (1,000 tulips and lilies bloom during the spring and summer!). While the house isn’t open for tours, it’s free to stroll around the gardens to admire the grounds.


Trillium Brewing Company is a sprawling establishment with plentiful indoor seating and a large, lush outdoor patio just outside the Blue Hills Reservation. Sip on a famed Fort Point Pale Ale (or non-alcoholic alternative), and sample woodfired pizza, homemade pasta, or one of the seasonal farm-to-table dishes. 

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.