Hiking enthusiasts owe a debt of gratitude to the Metropolitan Parks Commission of 1893, which had the foresight to set aside the 7,000 acres known as the Blue Hills Reservation for public use, making it possible for Bostonians to flee the city on a whim for a slice of wilderness as close as a suburban shopping mall.
Minutes from downtown, with 125 miles of trails, the reservation stretches over sections of Quincy, Dedham, Milton, and Randolph. In summer the 22 hills are carpeted in green, with rocky outcrops affording sweeping views of metropolitan Boston. Great Blue Hill, the highest at 635 feet, looms over a diverse expanse of bottomland forest, marsh, swamp, and Houghton’s Pond, where swimming is permitted. Rich in archaeological legacies of colonial and early American farmers and quarry workers, the Blue Hills were home to the Massachuset Indians, “people of the great hills,” for many centuries. With its varied terrain, the reservation is a sanctuary for coyotes, copperhead snakes, turkey vultures, and the endangered timber rattlesnake. The Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center, which sits at the top of Great Blue Hill, is a National Historic Landmark and is open to visitors. The observatory has kept the longest continuous daily weather record in the United States, dating back to 1885. The Blue Hills Trailside Museum, the interpretive center for the reservation, is managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Some of the many other ways to enjoy the Blue Hills: canoeing on Ponkapoag Pond and the Neponset River, camping in Appalachian Mountain Club cabins, fishing (state license required), mountain biking in designated areas, and rock climbing at the Quincy Quarries Historic Site.
Because of this year’s late winter storms, some trails may still be partially blocked by fallen debris. Parks personnel are working to remove the debris, but warn visitors to use caution on all trails.
The reservation is open dawn to dusk. Swimming is permitted only in designated areas at Houghton’s Pond. Permits are required for groups of 25 or more. For more information, call reservation headquarters at 617-698-1802. The Great Blue Hill and Houghton’s Pond sections are accessible by taking the Red Line to Ashmont station and from Ashmont, the high-speed line to Mattapan. The Canton and Blue Hills bus services the Trailside Museum and Great Blue Hill on Route 138. For the Houghton’s Pond area, exit the bus at Blue Hill River Road. Cross the road and walk one mile east on Hillside Street. Find a trail map and guide here.