Face it—if you like dramatic ocean scenery complete with rocky ledges, windswept headlands, and trails that seem to teeter above the water, there are few places better than the coast of Maine. The problem is, the coast of Maine—especially the part where it gets really rocky and remote—is pretty far away, with some areas impossible to do in a day trip unless you like getting home after midnight (which technically wouldn’t be a day trip, by the way).
Instead of hitting faraway places like Acadia National Park, Camden, and the Harpswells, where can you go that’s, say, 100-200 miles closer to Boston but has the same feel to it? A few spots do exist, with one of the closest to the city being a pretty magical one in Hingham called World’s End, which is so close to downtown Boston that you can literally see it, and while it can be just a slight pain to get to if you don’t have a car, it’s really not that bad if you plan it right.
World’s End is a 250-acre Trustees property that sits at the end of a peninsula in Hingham Bay, which is connected to the southern section of Boston Harbor and is protected in part by Hull and Peddocks Island. The park is weirdly shaped, with the bottom part looking like a baseball glove and the top piece being smaller and consisting of two oval hills called drumlins (the lower part also has two drumlins, one of which has spectacular views). The combination of hills, large treeless areas, and carriage paths designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted make for scenery that really can’t be found in too many places; Olstead also designed the Arnold Arboretum, Boston Common, the Fens, and more (including Central Park in New York), so think of World’s End as having a bit of a city park feel in a somewhat isolated seaside space.
Getting to World’s End by car is pretty simple—you drive down Route 3A from Quincy and Weymouth, then continue straight on Summer Street at the rotary just outside of Hingham Center, take a left on Martins Lane after about a half-mile, and take it to the end where there’s a gate for the place. For those without cars, you can take the Greenbush Line to Nantasket Station and then walk north on Summer Street where, after a quarter-mile, it crosses Summer Street and becomes Martins Lane. However you get there, once you enter the World’s End parking area, one of the best routes is the one described here, which is mostly a clockwise hike and follows along much of the shoreline. (Make sure you get a map, which will make things much easier.)
One of the carriage trails starts right from the parking area; Weir River Road cuts through a mix of deep forest and marshland with the ocean soon showing up on the right. A tidal marsh runs along the left side and there are trails here and there that you can take to get a better view of it, including one about a half-mile in that leads to a rock outcropping with remarkable views of the marsh and the meadows. You can continue on this trail to Barnes Road (or reverse back and continue on Weir River Road to Barnes) where you will find yourself on a classic Olmstead walkway complete with towering old trees, grasslands to the right, and the marsh on your left. A spur trail eventually goes off to the left, which leads to an elevated boardwalk and a “bird blind”—basically a shelter where you can watch birds and other wildlife. This is one of those truly peaceful places where you could spend an hour or two, and it’s a good place to have the camera ready not just for birds but also for the bucolic scenes all around.
Eventually, you’ll need to leave the marsh, returning to Barnes Road where it soon ends at another carriage road and a bridge to the left that goes over the inflow/outflow of the tidal marsh—and yes, if you didn’t find yourself paying at the gate, just past the bridge is where you’ll need to pay depending on the setup on the given day. (As of this writing, it’s $8 per person.) On the northern edge of the bridge you’ll take a narrow trail that goes left to the ocean, then jogs right and follows the water far below. This is a relatively short path that turns right after about a quarter-mile and returns to the carriage road, but the scenery is mesmerizing from start to finish—and if it’s really windy, you’ll feel it here because it’s so exposed, but well worth dealing with for the water views.
Taking a left on the carriage path, you’ll quickly encounter a fork just after Pine Hill (one of the four drumlins); take a left on Brewer Road, which keeps the ocean on the left and which skirts Planters Hill before dropping down to the windswept causeway and sandbar connecting the top and bottom sections of World’s End. This is one of the few spots where you get ocean views to both the left and right, and if it’s not too windy (which is almost never), a place to take a break and soak in the salt air and the scenery.
Once you leave the causeway and are on the upper section—which is technically considered the World’s End part of World’s End, if that makes any sense—you’ll come to another fork where you’ll take a left and start climbing along the edge of one of the drumlins. Keep to the left on this pathway for another quarter-mile and be on the lookout for another spur trail that heads left toward the water. This trail more or less ends on a bluff overlooking the ocean and is another great place for a break, as the views of the Boston skyline, the Blue Hills in the distance, and the water all around are something special—and there are often bird sightings in this area as well, so don’t be surprised to see a hawk or two while you’re out there. Once you return to the carriage road, go left and continue to stay to the left, eventually entering some deep woods where you may just encounter a deer, then do a clockwise mini-loop at the very tip of World’s End where you’ll see the very end of Hull through the trees. Soon you’ll start heading south after leaving the tip, and you’ll find another intersection where, once again, you take a left. This will bring you back to the causeway and the bottom part of the park.
From the causeway, take a right to return to Brewer Road, climbing the path with the ocean now to the right, and at the next intersection near the top of Planters Hill, take a sharp left, which will take you to the summit where there are benches, grasslands, views of Boston Harbor and much of the Hull peninsula, and the open ocean further back. Planters Hill is the highest point in the park, and it certainly feels like it, especially the trail dropping down through the open fields looking toward the causeway in the distance. Carefully descend this trail (it can be dicey when wet), which will bring you almost back to the causeway, but take a sharp right just before it, which will have the ocean (and Hull) off to the left. After another quarter-mile you’ll come to a left turn back on Weir River Road but instead of heading back to the entrance, take another quick left on a narrow trail which leads to a part of the reservation that’s much, much different from what you’ve seen so far.
Rocky Neck is the “thumb” of the baseball glove, and it’s mostly separate from the rest of World’s End, not only geographically, but as just mentioned, in overall feel as well. Doing a little clockwise loop along the water here, you’ll feel like you’ve entered the aforementioned Acadia National Park, with dark and pointy coniferous trees giving a distinct Northwoods vibe to the area. A number of trails go here and there in this part of World’s End, but by keeping the ocean to your left at all times, you’ll get some of the best views, including a few spectacular ones of the Weir River and parts of Hull and Hingham. Eventually, the trail returns to Weir River Road where you’ll be back at the parking area in about 15 or 20 minutes.
Hingham is one of the most charming towns in the Greater Boston area, and its seaside areas are particularly nice, with World’s End perhaps being the highlight. It may not be the wilds of Downeast Maine, but if you only have a few hours to burn and want to feel like you’re far, far away from everything, you can do a lot worse than this absolutely gorgeous preservation area.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THETRUSTEES.ORG/PLACES-TO-VISIT/SOUTH-OF-BOSTON/WORLDS-END.HTML