A Guide to State Parks Near Boston

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Exploring the parks close to Massachusetts' biggest city

A Guide to State Parks Near Boston

Boston's state parks offer a great way to explore the area's history and discover its natural wonders. Enjoy vacation activities like golfing, lazy days at the beach and paddling a lake without going off-budget. Here's what to know to make the most of a Massachusetts state park experience.

The price of admission

While parks don't charge an admission fee, many charge a day use parking fee of up to $20. If you're planning extensive park time, or think you'll visit repeatedly during the year, get an annual pass for $85. Cars with out-of-state plates pay a couple of dollars more than those with Massachusetts-registered cars. So, if you're visiting friends in state, let them drive.

Don't set limits

With two dozen parks in and around Boston, there's a lengthy list of things to do while in the area. Visit Brook Farm Historic Site to explore 179 acres of 1840s farmland, or visit an early-19th-century granite fort at Castle Island. Listen to free concerts at Hatch Memorial Shell at the Charles River Reservation from June through October. Some parks charge additional fees for activities. You'll pay $27 for 18 holes of golf at Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course or Ponkapoag Golf Course.

Make the most of the experience: stay for days

Camping at a state park from May through October can be a cheap way to overnight in Boston while discovering its natural beauty. Four campgrounds put campers in the heart of dramatic scenery. Camping doesn't have to mean roughing it in a tent. Some parks offer cabins, yurts and spaces with RV hookups.

Boston Harbor Islands State Park: Get back to nature with primitive camping for as little as $10 for an out-of-state visitor, or rent a yurt for $60. Take a ferry or rent a boat to get to the four islands for an away-from-it-all experience. Composting toilets, limited fresh water, no showers and no stores make this a good way to set the stage for experiencing Boston during simpler times.

Camp Nihan Environmental Education Camp: Tucked on 65 acres of forest and marsh, Camp Nihan lies close to historic sites in Boston and Saugus. Stay in a camping cabin for $100 a night if you're from out of state, or camp at the inland campground without hookups or showers for $20.

Harold Parker State Forest: Bring a canoe, kayak or bike to explore ponds and trails rolling through hills and swamplands in 3,000 wooded acres. The $20 campsites are spread out for an authentic camping forest experience. There are no electric hookups, but there's a water spigot at each site along with showers and a dump station.

Wompatuck State Park: Hook up the RV to electric for $26, or rough it in a tent for $20 a night. The park boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the area, ocean swimming at Nantasket Beach and fishing and canoeing in Cohasset Reservoir.

Expect crowds

Being part of an excited, celebrating throng can be an exhilarating experience if it's a chosen experience. It's not so much fun if a quiet getaway was on the agenda. Patriot's Day, the third Monday of April, is one holiday that takes many U.S. visitors by surprise. Massachusetts is one of the few states that celebrate, and it's a state holiday. That means government workers, bankers and many others who usually spend Mondays confined to a workspace are out and about.

The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the earliest in the Revolutionary War. While you might want to start the day watching the Boston Red Sox battle another team at Fenway Park or cheering on runners in the Boston Marathon, get to the parks early to beat the crowds.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.