PHOTOS BY MARC HURWITZ
A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks, and it happened so quickly that it has left people scrambling in a variety of ways, including how to destress during one of the most stressful periods that we’ve seen in a long time. And while the coronavirus outbreak (at least before this morning’s stay-at-home order) had people going to extremes concerning their everyday lives—from hanging out with crowds as if nothing has happened—there is obviously middle ground. Take the simple act of getting outside, for instance. After all, Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 23 instructions specifically note that the “order does not prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people in an unenclosed, outdoor space such as a park, athletic field, or parking lot.”
But should people be walking with hundreds of others at the Esplanade or Castle Island? [Ed. note: check out this cautionary piece from our friends in Seattle.] Probably not, but there are a lot of quiet side streets where you can walk while keeping a safe distance away from others, or, if you’re a bit more adventurous, you can find some parklands that tend not to be very crowded.
Below are 10 such options, all of which are easily accessible, and all of which are easy walks as well.
1) Milton Landing and Neponset Gorge, Milton/Dorchester
Located right at the Milton T stop on the Mattapan Trolley, this is one of the easiest outdoor spaces to get to either by public transportation or car. The former is where the Neponset River becomes a peaceful cove tucked into the side of Milton Hill and is a small but gorgeous oasis where you can sit on a bench or a wall while soaking in the sun and staring at the water. The latter basically cuts under the Neponset River Greenway and marks the eastern edge of a rather wild part of the river as well as the fascinating Dorchester-Milton Lower Mills Industrial District, which is also worth exploring.
[GPS coordinates: 42.2695028,-71.0661135 for Milton Landing and 42.2708917,-71.0655348 for Neponset Gorge]
2) Marlborough Street, Back Bay
If you’re looking for something much closer to downtown Boston, this mile-long street that runs from the Public Garden to Charlesgate Park is not only one of the most beautiful roads in the city, but maybe in the entire country. Comforting gas lamps, classic old brownstones, and the cover of huge trees help give Marlborough Street the feel of being far, far away from the towering skyscrapers nearby, and more importantly, any crowds that might be found just north along the Esplanade or along such commercial streets as Boylston or Newbury to the south.
3) Pier 7 and Building 114, Charlestown
At a bit more than a mile from the Community College T station, this is one of the longer walks from the subway, but still an easy one that will get you to two little-known spots on the water along the Harborwalk. Pier 7 is a hidden place in the Navy Yard that’s also known as Constellation Wharf, and buried away behind the luxury residences there is a public walkway that leads to a huge deck sticking well out into the water. A pleasant walk north of Pier 7 will lead you to more great views and, eventually, Building 114 where you can call the guard to let you in and sit in the quiet “break room” complete with vending machines and table before heading out back for views of the Mystic/Tobin Bridge high above the structure.
[GPS coordinates: 42.3738125,-71.0493125 for Pier 7 and 42.3794375,-71.0514375 for Building 114]
4) Savin Hill Park, Dorchester
A short walk east of the Savin Hill T station via Savin Hill Avenue and Caspian Way, this tiny park isn’t the best option if you’re looking for a long walk, but if you simply want to get away from everything and everybody for a bit, it would be tough to find a more scenic spot so close to the heart of Boston. From the grassy areas of this little hilltop park, you can catch expansive views of Boston Harbor, looking vaguely like a point along the coast of Downeast Maine with islands far below and the open ocean beyond the harbor. Savin Hill Park is certainly a spot to consider if you’re short on time but need a breather right away, and it’s rarely crowded, which is a big bonus.
[GPS coordinates for Savin Hill Park: 42.3105625,-71.0486875]
5) Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain
Ok, so you’d probably expect big crowds at this park located just east of the Forest Hills T station, and you wouldn’t be incorrect if you stick to the paved roads within it. But this is a huge open space where you can quickly find yourself far away from everyone, though it’s best to grab a map so you don’t get lost. A few lesser-traveled options include the Conifer Path, which takes you past enormous trees—and away from the roads; Linden Path and Willow Path, both of which depart near the main entrance along the Arborway; and an unnamed series of paths east of Hemlock Hill Road that eventually take you to one of the city’s true hidden outdoor gems—the summit of Hemlock Hill, complete with views of the Boston skyline from its rocky ledges.
6) Agassiz and Garfield Street Historic District, Cambridge
Most people have probably never even heard of these two areas, but they’re both just north of Harvard Square and are among the quietest sections of the city. From Harvard Yard, head north crossing over Cambridge Street and you’ll almost immediately find yourself in a peaceful world, going right on Kirkland Street and then a left into Agassiz on either Francis Avenue or Irving Street, both of which are tree-shaded lanes with huge old houses and the latter of which has been home to such famous people as Julia Child, E.E. Cummings, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. You can then wind your way over to Oxford Street, a little thoroughfare behind Mass Ave whose northern section skirts the Garfield Street Historic District on more little-traveled roads with old homes and whose southern section goes past the peaceful Harvard Law School campus.
7) Western Middlesex Fells, Winchester (access from Hillcrest Parkway)
Even though it’s an enormous area with thousands of acres, the Fells can be a total nightmare if you’re trying to do some social distancing because the main lots—including Sheepfold and the Flynn Rink—are really easy to access and will likely be overflowing with cars as well as people. Because of this, you’re better off heading to a trailhead on a side street, and this road, which is located off Highland Street east of Winchester Center, is rarely crowded. The first two trailheads after the Fells Road intersection are good options, as both of them quickly get you to less-crowded sections of the Skyline Trail and the Reservoir Trail, with the former being a rugged path with great views and the latter being a more mellow trail with water views throughout. Both are very long loop trails, by the way, so they give you the option of a short, quick stroll or perhaps a day-long hike if you have the time and energy.
[GPS Coordinates: 42.4591257,-71.1195537; Map]
8) CCC Camp, Blue Hills, Milton (access from Ridgewood Road)
A sort of bookend to the Middlesex Fells north of Boston, this even larger wilderness area stretches for miles along Route 128 south of the city, and like the Fells, it can be incredibly crowded in spots, while the distant points can be less crowded—though they can typically take a lot of work to get to. This tiny piece of the Blue Hills, however, is almost ridiculously easy to access via a side street just off Route 28 a few blocks north of Chickatawbut Road intersection, but it feels incredibly remote only a few hundred feet in. And the name? Well, this was one of countless projects done as part of a Depression-era public works relief program—and remnants of the camp remain, while deep ravines, babbling brooks, a serene pond, and beautiful woods make for a calming experience only a few minutes from your car.
[GPS Coordinates: 42.2354894,-71.06881; Map. NOTE: While the CCC camp area is shown on the map, Ridgewood Road is not; it is just south of where the “CCC Camp” label is.]
9) Hale Reservation, Westwood (Carby Street entrance)
Rustic cabins and lodges, pristine ponds with quiet beaches, roaring waterfalls, and rugged hills make this sprawling space feel more like something in New Hampshire or Maine than in suburban Boston, which is what helps make this wilderness area so special. And because it is so large—and made even larger by the Noanet Woodlands just to the west—Hale is one of those places where even on the most beautiful day, you can find yourself far, far away from the nearest person. A few of the more isolated spots are Storrow Pond, the cabins east and south of Noanet Pond, and Worthington Lodge, a completely remote structure overlooking Powisset Pond. Hale is a place where you can easily get lost, so make sure you bring a map, compass, and, as a backup, an outdoors app that has GPS capability.
10) Whipple Hill, Lexington (Johnson Road entrance)
If you want to get away from it all and love beautiful hilltop views but don’t want to do much climbing, this conservation area may be for you. By the time you reach the Johnson Road/Winchester Drive parking area for Whipple Hill, you’re already a few hundred feet up, and from there it’s basically a short five-minute scramble to the peak, with endless views of trees and hills to the west and—before the leaves come out—a view of the Boston skyline to the southeast. This is another one of those quick, easy “bang for the buck” hikes with few people around, and if you have time, you can continue on to the south for quite a distance, making your way through thickly wooded parts of Lexington and Winchester all the way to the Arlington border.
[GPS Coordinates: 42.4440192,-71.1830329; Map]
There are plenty of other quiet, peaceful walks in and around Boston that can help lower your stress level during these turbulent times, some of which are done by the Local Walks/Hikes division of the Appalachian Mountain Club (of which I’m a hike leader). Unfortunately, the AMC is basically shuttered for now, as is so much else, but as long as you have a map, a good sense of direction, and hopefully one or two others to go with—keeping at a distance, of course—doing these walks without an organized group is fine because they are all so simple, and a great way to put your mind at ease, even just for an hour or two.