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A Guide To Enjoying The Charles River

- By Cristy Maldonado
Sailing-Cristy Maldonado
(Photo: Sailing in the Charles River Basin) credit: Cristy Maldonado

There was no better time than this past Father's Day holiday to visit the Charles River Basin. Filled to the brim with families, active types, and sunbathers, the basin was teeming with activity and the joie de vivre that only Bostonians associate with summer. Now that summer has officially started, there's no better time than the present to get out and enjoy activities on or alongside the Charles River. This guide will offer you plenty of ideas to help get you out of the house and into the sunshine.

A Little History

The Charles River has not always been a popular recreational area. Industrialization and damming since the mid-1600's led to the river's pollution, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the unpleasant scent of the basin repelled Boston's Back Bay residents. Environmental concerns that arose in the early to mid twentieth century prompted environmental groups in Massachusetts to take an interest in the River, transforming it into the park that it is today. Currently, the river is regarded as a recreational water park and home to the largest Fourth of July celebration in the United States, drawing over 1 million spectators every year. It is impossible to enjoy the Boston skyline without partaking in the Charles River.

17.1 Miles of Trails

Whether you are a biker, runner, walker, rollerblader or skateboarder, the bike path along the Charles River Basin offers enough pavement to take you wherever you wish to go. For those living outside of Boston, portions of the trail can also be found in Cambridge, Watertown, and Newton. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation website lists trails maps and other useful information. Visit the DCR's Charles River Webpage to learn more.

The Charles River Esplanade Association

The Charles River Esplanade Association, formed in 2001, is a non-profit organization that maintains and protects the Esplanade walkway from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge and offers free summer programming. The day of my visit was officially the Esplanade Association's first of many "Sunday Fun in the Park" events, where free activities are held outdoors all along the walkway.

Activities include individual and family yoga, volleyball, badminton, and other lawn games. Visit The Esplanade Association to learn more about upcoming Sunday Fun events including a schedule of activities.

Tours and Rentals

Within minutes of entering the Esplanade area, tour groups both by foot and bicycle were hard to miss. If you would like to see other nearby sights and get a taste of Boston history, one of these tours may be right for you. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau conveniently lists a number of tour companies, many of them including excursions to the Esplanade and larger basin. Visit The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau for more details.

Cycling-Cristy Maldonado
(Photo: Cycling on the Charles River) credit: Cristy Maldonado


The Charles River is also great for kayaking, sailing, and windsurfing with schools in both Boston and Cambridge offering both introductory lessons and summer long programs. Charles River Canoe and Kayak has four locations on the river and offers both rentals and lessons. AMC Boston Windsurfing and Community Boating Boston Inc. also offer windsurfing and sailing lessons respectively.

Windsurfing-Cristy Maldonado
(Photo: Windsurfing on the Charles River) credit: Cristy Maldonado


Facilities to make your outing more enjoyable are conveniently located steps away from the Arthur Fielder footbridge. A concession stand is within close proximity of the Hatch Shell selling cold beverages, finger food, and ice cream. An ATM is nearby as well. Restrooms are located directly behind the Hatch Shell and are lit at dusk to making them easy to find.

Cristy Maldonado is a Boston-based blogger in constant pursuit of fun activities in the city. Read more of her work at Get Out: Planning an Urban Safari In Boston.

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