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Urban Hikes: Blue Hills Reservation

7,000 acres of outdoor recreation just outside the city

Fall is a popular time to hike around Houghton’s Pond, at the Blue Hills Reservation.

When the Hub’s traffic and crowds become excessive, the Blue Hills Reservation, just outside Boston, offers a picturesque and quiet change of scenery.

The Blue Hills — originally inhabited by Native Americans known as the Massachusett, or “people of the great hills” — were named by Europeans, who saw a bluish hue as they sailed along the coastline. In 1893, the 7,000-acre reservation became one of the first areas within the Metropolitan Park System, now the Department of Conservation and Recreation, dedicated to public recreation. The largest park within 35 miles of Boston, today the Blue Hills Reservation offers a wide range of year-round activities, from ice-skating and cross-country skiing to boating, horseback riding, and rock climbing. And with 125 miles of trails along 22 hills, the reservation is a hiker’s haven.  

Reservation rangers recommend that all hikers carry trail maps, which can be purchased at reservation headquarters, 695 Hillside St., or the Trailside Museum, 1904 Canton Ave., both in Milton. Trail maps are necessary, says park ranger Maggie Brown, to navigate the park’s trail system, with its numbered intersections. Hikes range from an easy 30-minute walk around Houghton’s Pond to a challenging three-hour trek up a rocky summit. If you want company, the Blue Hills Adult Walking Club, which meets each weekend, explores these trails.  

A list of suggested hikes is available for those who want to explore the paths on their own. The 3.5-mile Buck Hill Orange to Blue Blaze hike provides a stunning 360-degree view of the metropolitan area from the top of Buck Hill. The Skyline Loop Blue Blazes, a three-mile hike, is another challenging path, taking hikers to the Great Blue Hill, the highest peak on the Atlantic coast south of Maine. From its summit on a clear day New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock, almost 70 miles away, can be seen.  

“The Skyline trail takes you up and over most of the summits in the reservation," Brown says, "and offers some great views and a really great workout.”

The reservation is home to countless plants and animals, including coyotes, turkey vultures, and timber rattlesnakes, an endangered species in Massachusetts. Visitors can also check out the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, a National Historic Landmark, and 16 other historic structures that tell the stories of the original inhabitants and the European explorers who changed the landscape.
 
Reservations or permits are required for some activities, and visitors are requested to check the Web site before heading to reservation headquarters.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.