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Boston: A Runner’s Paradise

Getting there by putting one foot in front of the other

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Running and jogging in Boston, Boston running and jogging routes

The BU campus offers many running routes, including along the Esplanade and the Charles River. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Most people don’t even try to schedule an appointment with John Snyder around lunchtime—unless they’re wearing running shoes and clocking six-and-a-half-minute miles.

“I almost always run at noon,” says Snyder, a College of Arts & Sciences chemistry professor, who can be found pounding the Charles River bike path even when the mercury pushes 95 degrees. “If it’s hot, I make sure my route goes past as many water fountains as possible.”

The BU campus offers many running routes, and among the most popular is hugging the Esplanade and the Charles River. “My favorite run at BU is to get on the river and head west,” says Dennis Hart, BU’s associate general counsel. “I typically run at midday, but when things in the office get hectic, sometimes midday is 3 p.m.”

But there are plenty more footpaths, many surprisingly free of traffic and asphalt. Here are a handful of convenient routes to try at any time of day. And here are some printable maps to avoid having to stop and ask for directions.

Around and about the Charles River

The Charles River loop is a 17-mile-plus biking and running path that extends from the Museum of Science 9 miles upstream on both sides of the river to Watertown. With numerous bridges along the way, you can break the circuit into a run of almost any length. Just head for the BU Beach behind Marsh Chapel and take the Bay State Road pedestrian bridge over Storrow Drive to the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path. There’s also a pedestrian bridge at the end of Silber Way.

River run west (3.6 miles)
Bay State Road Pedestrian Bridge/Larz Anderson Bridge/BU Bridge

At the bottom of the pedestrian bridge, head west (the river will be on your right). After a mile or so, you’ll have to cross River Street and then Western Avenue, two well-traveled cross-city throughways. Cross the Larz Anderson Bridge, then head east. There’s plenty of riverbank running on the way back, and hardworking scullers gliding across the water will keep you motivated. You’ll find a mix of dirt track and asphalt on the way out and dirt available most of the way back. Here a map.

River run east (5.4 miles)
Bay State Road Pedestrian Bridge/Museum of Science/Harvard Bridge

This route has no street crossings and plenty of dirt track. Head east after coming off the pedestrian bridge (the river will be on your left). There’s a fitness cluster at Soldiers Field Playground on the way out, or save some pull-ups for after your run. Not long after passing under the Harvard Bridge (also called the Mass Ave Bridge), an arched stone walkway on the left deposits you on a half-mile spit of island, with nice river views and cool breezes. Watch for tree roots, rocks, and green “goose cigars.” Give the goslings and mums plenty of room, especially in spring. Reconnect with the bike path near the Hatch Shell. Runners rave about the skyline views from the Cambridge side, especially when the sun sets over the Back Bay. You’ll find water fountains at the Community Boating Boathouse, Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields at Lederman Park, and BU’s DeWolfe Boathouse. Here’s a map.

Jamaica Pond loop (6 miles)
Marsh Chapel/Riverway/Jamaica Pond

This is one of the area’s greener runs: lots of foliage, dirt track, and wooded trails. From Marsh Chapel, head south on St. Mary’s Street. Take a left on Mountfort Street and bear right onto Park Drive. Entrances for the Riverway path are located just past the Fenway T station tracks. At first, the lane is mostly dirt, and it snakes along the Muddy River through Olmsted Park. There are several small roads to cross and a tricky intersection at Washington and River streets. A few rock-studded trails cut through the woods, allowing you to get in touch with your inner Vermonter while hopping fallen logs and stream beds. After about 2.2 miles, you’ll reach Perkins Street and Jamaica Pond, which is 1.8 miles around and offers several water fountains, including one at the boathouse. On weekend mornings, expect to dodge dogs, baby strollers, walkers, fishermen, and other runners. Here’s a map.

The Fens loop (2 miles)

Follow the directions above to Park Drive, but instead of bearing right at the Riverway, stay straight on Park Drive and follow the green space into the Fenway. The Back Bay Fens loop is about two miles and marks the start of the city’s Emerald Necklace, linked urban parks designed by 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Mostly dirt, the footpath is wide and flat, passing the Museum of Fine Arts and several vegetable and flower gardens, including the country’s oldest operating wartime Victory Garden. Marshes and small stone bridges add to the hideaway feel. Tack this run onto either end of the Jamaica Pond loop for an eight-mile jaunt. Here’s a map.

Fresh Pond Circuit (8.8 miles)

Cross Storrow Drive by the footbridge and head north on Soldiers Field Road until you reach the JFK Street Bridge (there are heavily traveled crossings at River Street and Western Avenue, but then you will have a fair amount of dirt until you reach Mount Auburn Hospital). Follow Fresh Pond Parkway. After Huron Avenue, the entrance to the pond will be on your left. This portion is 3.8 miles. The 2.2-mile loop around the water is mostly dirt, and there are plenty of dogs bounding about. Best to run in the early morning. There’s a bathroom, several water fountains, and garbage cans for goo packets and Gatorade.

Runs a little farther afield

Harbor loop (9.5 miles)
Dorchester/South Boston waterfront

For a pleasant seaside run, hit the waterfront in South Boston. Take the subway to Park Street, change to the Red Line, and get out at the JFK/UMass station. Head east along Morrissey Boulevard toward Shaw’s supermarket. Cross the pedestrian overpass and continue east to the University of Massachusetts main entrance road. There you’ll find salt air, planes banking overhead from Logan International Airport, and the start of a waterfront trail.

Follow the shore along Savin Hill Cove, past the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Continue around to Carson Beach, where you can run down by the water for a good stretch if it’s not too crowded with bathers. At City Point and Castle Island, also known as the “sugar bowl,” circle the causeway around Pleasure Bay. Pass Fort Independence and head back. A series of water fountains can be found along William J. Day Boulevard. This route offers a mix of asphalt and dirt track, plus a decent amount of grass. Here’s a map.

Boston Marathon lite (9.4 miles)
Newton/Brookline/Back Bay

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. This route takes in the final leg, including famous stretches such as Heartbreak Hill and the Haunted Mile.

Take the Green Line to Woodland station in Newton. The ride takes about 25 minutes. From the T station, follow Washington Street to the right. At Commonwealth Avenue, make another right at the fire station. This four-mile stretch through the Newton Hills is pedestrian-friendly, with dirt tracks cutting through wide grassy medians all the way to Boston College. It includes Heartbreak Hill, at the marathon’s 20.5-mile mark (the 3.5-mile mark for you). Plenty of stately homes and fancy cars allow you to see how the other 10th lives.

After Boston College, divert around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which offers a 1.5-mile loop, or stick to the marathon course by bearing right onto Chestnut Hill Avenue toward Cleveland Circle. The route becomes urban, with plenty of asphalt, oblivious pedestrians, car exhaust, and traffic lights. Head left on Beacon Street to Kenmore Square, then pick up Commonwealth Avenue. As you turn right onto Hereford Street, picture the sidewalks 10-deep with cheering fans rather than surly meter maids and orange-vested men with jackhammers. Wheel left on Boylston Street for that final push to the Hancock building at Copley Square. There’s a CVS just after Dartmouth Street where you can pick up something to quench your thirst. Here’s a map.

BU cross-country track team runs

For longer runs, check in with BU’s cross-country track team. As a gift for Terrier head coach Bruce Lehane, squad members Jochen Dieckfoss (CAS’04) and Jordan Jones (CAS’04) compiled a list of 25 runs that start and end at Marsh Chapel, complete with maps and photos. Lehane has been kind enough to share the wealth here.

Lehane’s favorite?

“Up the Muddy River dirt path, across Boylston Street to the dirt path along Olmsted Park, across Jamaica Pond, and into the Arnold Arboretum paths,” he says. “That’s a good run for much of the year, as it provides softer footing, cover from the winds, shade, and a bit of respite from the pressures of the city.”

The BU Running Club offers companionship to runners of all abilities who like a little company to help the miles pass. The group stages runs every morning, afternoon, and evening, from Marsh Chapel. It also holds workshops and is a source of the latest information on races and rides to starting lines.

But of course not all running begins and ends in or around BU. For a list of races around the region, visit here.

This story originally ran October 22, 2009.

8 Comments

8 Comments on Boston: A Runner’s Paradise

  • BuRunner on 10.22.2009 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks!

    Great ideas! I’m saving this article to refer to it year round for running ideas! As a senior, I was getting really sick of my traditional river runs and fens runs after more than three years…I’m psyched to try the new loops! Thanks again.

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks so much for this article! I’m so excited to try out some of the paths!

  • kcornuelle on 09.09.2010 at 11:14 am

    Comments below were posted when this story was previously published.

  • Anonymous on 09.10.2010 at 8:34 am

    bridge closing info

    Unfortunately, “the pedestrian bridge at the end of Silber Way, formerly Sherborn Street” is now (as of last night) closed for construction. The alternative is the bridge at the BU beach, right behind Marsh Chapel.

  • Frank on 10.11.2011 at 1:35 pm

    Great timing! Coming down next week for a conference!

  • John on 09.18.2012 at 7:37 am

    If you like running on the streets of Boston, join hundreds of folks from BU at this weekend’s Honan 5K – Sunday, September 23rd. You can sign up for free by putting BU in the promo code on the race registration page. Hope to see you there.

  • RiverRunner on 09.18.2012 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for the great article! Running in the morning provides great views, and I will be sure to check out some different paths!

  • anon on 09.18.2012 at 3:47 pm

    It’s worth noting that there have been assaults on runners at night on the Esplanade, when it’s often poorly lit. Men and women runners alike should exercise caution, run during the daylight, and run with someone else if possible. Please use common sense with respect to night running. Also, watch out for buses/trains/planes/segways/pedestrians/etc! (Okay, not so much planes.)

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