Hiking in the Blue Hills Reservation

Jessie asks:

Any hiking trail recommendations in blue hills? seems like there's a lot of options!



Some answers via Twitter

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Above the horses

Try visiting the ranger station on Hillside Street, above the horse stables next to the state police building and lot. Buy a detailed Blue Hills map (I think they've gone from $2 to $3, but well worth it).

In the adjacent literature rack will be the hiking club sked and another for DCR event. There is also a recommended hikes flyer.

The map shows all the trails, including the trail numbers (appear on trees) for when you invariably get turned around.

Blue Hill Suggestions

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The Blue Hills have so many trails that you can spend more time planning out a hike than actually making the hike itself. It's good to have an idea of where you're going, but it can also be nice to let serendipity lead the way. (It's not like hiking in the White Mountains, where a wrong turn can lead you miles in to the wilderness.) You can grab a map or print this one (or download it to your phone).

Then, either pick an area you plan to hike in. The park is divided up by roadways in to three main areas north of 128, and one to the south (yes, the highway was built right through the middle of the park; this was several years before Overton Park v Volpe). From west to east these are:

  • Great Blue Hill (between 138 and Hillside St
  • Tucker and Buck Hills (between Hillside and 28)
  • Chickatawbut Hill (between 28 and the Quincy Quarries)

And the Ponkapoag area to the south of 128. I'll actually start with that area: it's pretty flat with a good network of trails, which can get wet in wet weather (no issue now).

North of the highway, the three sections are connected by the Skyline Trail, which runs the length of the park and crosses pretty much every little nubbin of a hill. It's steep and rocky in places but well-marked, and splits in two in the Great Blue Hill (GBH) section. The Blue Hill sector (park either at Trailside Museum on 138, or the main parking at Houghton's Pond); there may be a small lot off Unquity Road, too) is very nice and well-traveled. Most of the trails up Great Blue Hill are well-trammeled and rather steep and rocky. An easy-to-follow loop that takes an hour or two depending on your speed is from the Trailside Museum to GBH via the Skyline Trail. Great views from the top of the hill! You can make a more mellow lowland loop via wider trails in this section.

The central section doesn't have quite the elevation of GBH or Chickatawbut, but nice as well. You can make some nice loops there as well, and Buck Hill has great views from the top. Park at Houghton's Pond or along Route 28. (The 240 bus from Ashmont also stops at the corner of Route 28 and Chickatawbut Road; if you make a good connection at Ashmont it's under 40 minutes from downtown. Other buses serve the east side of the park in Quincy, but aren't as frequent, especially on weekdays.)

The east section sees somewhat sparser use as it's further from the main parking areas. The hills are nice, and the lower trails down towards the Great Cedar Swamp are much quieter than what you might find further west. You can easily spend a day wandering through the park and not come close to repeating a trail. And if you get lost, you are never more than a 15 or 20 minute walk from a road that you can walk back to where you started.

My personal faves

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Do take a trail map -- you're unlikely to get badly lost without one, but it's more fun with one, because you can see where various trails lead. A compass is also not a bad idea, since some trail junctions are sort of ambiguous and hard to represent on a map. I like the section east of 28 best, simply because it doesn't see as much use. The area around the Great Cedar Swamp sees very few people IME, and the area north of Chickatawbut Road maybe even fewer, especially if you get off the Skyline Trail. Note that there is a "controlled" deer hunt (not sure how that differs from an uncontrolled deer hunt) in the Blue Hills on November 6-7 and December 6-7 so you probably don't want to be hiking on those days (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/blue-hills-controlled-dee...) for details.

If you do the Skyline trail

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If you do the Skyline trail all the way from one end to the other and back, it's about 15 miles and around 4000 feet of elevation gain (in lots of little pieces)--roughly the same as a Mt Washington hike!