Everybody in the Boston area who enjoys the outdoors has visited the Emerald Necklace, the series of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead that run through Boston and Brookline. What you might not know is that there’s another emerald necklace surrounding Boston. It’s called the Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway.
The Bay Circuit Trail curves around Boston from Plum Island and Ipswich in the north to the Duxbury/Kingston on the south shore, linking 57 communities. Think 128 or 495, but for people, not cars. Volunteers and community organizations have been working to complete the trail since it was first conceived in 1929. Currently about 180 miles of the proposed 200 miles of trail are open to the public.
When you arrive at the trail, you’ll have access to a wide array of outdoor activities. The entire Bay Circuit is open to hiking, picnicking, and in the winter, snowshoeing. Some sections of the trail are suitable for bicycling and cross country skiing. The trail also connects you to areas where swimming, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, and car top boating are permitted.
If you consider the Circuit as a wheel surrounding Boston, there are a number of transportation “spokes” you can use to get to the trail. Those spokes vary in length from 15 to 30 miles. A trip from Boston to the Bay Circuit can take as little as a half-hour or become a fun day’s journey in itself, depending on the spoke you choose and your mode of transportation.
Getting There by Car
The fastest way to get to the Bay Circuit Trail is by car. All the major automobile arteries leading in and out of Boston (including the Mass Pike, I-93 and 95, Routes 1, 2, 24 and 3) cross the trail. When you reach the trail, you can leave your car in one of approximately 130 parking areas that are scattered along the trail.
The drive from downtown Boston to the trail usually takes well under an hour, though if traffic is bad, you’re on your own. Gas for the round trip costs anywhere from $7-8 (for a hybrid) to $30 (if you take a big SUV to carry all your family, friends, and gear).
If you don’t want to drive, the MBTA Commuter Rail is a good alternative. Almost every line has a stop that lets you off within a mile of the Bay Circuit. Bicyclists looking to ride the trail can bring their wheels on the train anytime except during weekday rush hours.
The fare either is $6.25 or $7.25 each way for the ride on the commuter rail between Boston and the Bay Circuit. The trip out from downtown takes 45 minutes to an hour and you get to sit and relax while you ride, bypassing any traffic snarls on the roads.
By Bike or on Foot
If you want to get to the Bay Circuit under your own power, some of the spokes are trails in their own right. You can take the Minuteman Bikeway from Somerville to the Bay Circuit in Bedford. Another route follows the Charles River Reservation paths from Boston to the Charles River Link Trail which connects Wellesley with the Bay Circuit in Medfield.
There are other groups working to convert abandoned railroad beds and local paths into similar trail systems. Of course, you can also walk or ride your bike on a wide variety of existing streets that lead to the Bay Circuit - just watch out for traffic!
The bike trip from downtown Boston to the Bay Circuit can take two or three hours, but it’s free. The trip on foot is also free, but a hike from Boston to the Bay Circuit takes long enough that you might want to find a place to stay once you reach the trail so you can come back on another day. There are campsites available at some points on the Bay Circuit, but you may need to apply for a permit in advance.
Detailed information about roads, parking lots, commuter rail stations, connecting trails, camping, and more is available on maps provided by the Bay Circuit Alliance, an organization created in 1990 to help coordinate the trail’s growth and maintenance. You can download the maps from their website or get a printed version for $25 by calling the Alliance office in Andover.