I usually agree with Miley Cyrus on one thing (and one thing only): “It’s the climb.” But sometimes… it’s really the view. The view from the top of Great Blue Hill on a clear day is absolutely spectacular. The entire hike is enjoyable; the climb is pretty fantastic… but the view? It’s the view. (Use your best Miley voice to sing that last sentence!)
The hike to the top of Great Blue Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA can be summited from a few points. We chose to start at Trailside Museum, a popular starting point. Up and back, it’s about a mile hike with 430 feet of elevation gain. It’s steep in parts and very rocky—really fun to climb in my opinion! Proper foot wear is a must.
When you get there, park in the lot to the right of the museum, closest to the ski hill. Take a look at the posted map to see where you are going. You can also download the Blue Hills Reservation map to the “Books” app in your phone—a great tool to keep in your pocket. Find the steps where the red dot trail begins. This is a great place for a photo!
I’ve done this trail many times, and it’s great almost year round. Two times I’d avoid the trail: when it might be covered with wet leaves and when it might be covered with snow or ice. There are tons of enormous granite boulders to traverse, and they can become slippery.
It was a beautiful and clear—yet hot—day when we last visited. My sister-in-law was visiting with my nieces and nephew: 14, 11, and 3 years old. We were wondering how the 3 year old would manage, but we decided to plan well and to go for it. You never know what you can do until you try!
How do you plan for this hike with a 3 year old? First of all, you bring water for the climb and snacks
for the top. Those are basically non-negotiables. Next, you tell the child that you are hiking to a tower at the top of the hill! That might provide some motivation. If you’re my niece, the motivation could also be seeing the animals at Trailside Museum at the end of the hike; however, also if you’re my niece, when you finally get to the end of the hike you’ll be too tired and rather get ice cream than see the animals! Finally, you bring a basket and a clipboard for a scavenger hunt. She was super duper into finding things. It kept her very focused on both nature and, importantly, on moving ahead. I highly recommend a scavenger hunt of some sort when hiking with little feet, and I’ll write a whole new post all about it.
We also brought a scavenger hunt that I made for the big kids (my sister-in-law and myself included). This scavenger hunt was a game that kept us focused on the nature around us and also helped build some new vocabulary words for the 11 and 14 year olds. Basically, this is what happens when you hike with your aunt who is also a teacher…! They love games and really seemed to enjoy it—it wasn’t too much like school, I promise. I’ll write another post about that scavenger hunt, too.
About 10 yards up the hill, the 3 year old took a fall, and we all immediately thought we’d have to call it a day…. But to our surprise, she got right up, dusted off her knees, and kept going! We were impressed—and relieved! It reminded me… it’s a good idea to bring a small first aid kit on hikes, especially when you’re with little kids. I’ll have to invest in one soon.
The climb up Great Blue Hill is a bit steep and very rocky with enormous pieces of granite. You’ll also see the Blue Hills Ski Area to your right. You’ll notice lots of pine trees and birds. Stop every once in a while to soak it all in—and to catch your breath.
¾ of the way up the hill, you’ll cross Summit Road. It’s the access road for the weather observatory that is at the top. The Blue Hills Observatory is open for tours on the weekends or by appointment. It was founded in 1885 and still provides lots of meteorological research and information for the public. They have a great website that is worth checking out, and you can follow them on instagram.
Cross over the road and continue following the red dot trail. Soon you’ll reach the top, where you’ll see Eliot Tower. It was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s program to provide jobs during the Great Depression. They also built the Chickatawbut Overlook Tower, which is a good starting point for another hike, which I wrote about here.
Eliot Observation Tower is a good place for your snack or picnic. There are picnic tables there and stone walls to sit on. Find a shady spot and cool off. This is also a great place to play make-believe. The tower is the perfect setting for your story with knights, princesses, dragons, or evil witches.
If your little one needs a restroom at the top, well… welcome to the “bush bathroom”, as we call it! There are restrooms at the bottom at Trailside Museum.
Once you have caught your breath, climb the stairs to the top of the tower. The view is simply spectacular.
On a clear day, you’ll see the skyline of Boston to the north, the harbor islands to the northeast, Houghton’s and Ponkapoag ponds to the east, and Mount Wachusett to the west. I highly recommend bringing binoculars. My 14 year old niece was amazed at the view, more astonished when she looked through the binoculars, and once she realized that binoculars can actually be focused, she was completely stunned: “You can see the cars on the streets in Boston!”
Really, friends: cue Miley…”It’s the view.”
When you return down, don’t come down exactly the same way. The red dot trail is a loop. Look for the entrance next to map; there is a step down leading down the trail. Follow it for a while, but keep a look out for marker 1082, where you take a sharp left. The way back down is more wooded and less rocky. It’s a very easy walk. Unfortunately, my 3 year old niece was tired and her mom carried her—Supermom to the rescue!
The whole loop with little 3 year old feet, a stop for snack and bush bathroom, and time spent at the top of the tower took us 2 hours. I’ve done it in 40 minutes with my fitness friends. It can really vary. Leave yourself time to enjoy the climb and the view.
If you have time and energy when you return to the bottom, visit Trailside Museum. If you don’t have time and energy when you return to the bottom, make sure you come back to visit Trailside Museum. It is a small natural history museum with outdoor wildlife exhibits of rescued animals. My favorite to watch is the lonely otter, but there are quite a few other interesting animals. The outdoor area is open daily year round, and the indoor area is open Tuesdays through Sundays. It’s $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 2-12…. Or join the Audubon Society as a family for $65 and gain free entrance to all the Audubon locations (and get a free gift and feel like you’re putting your money towards a good cause, too!!).
This is my favorite hike in Massachusetts so far. Let me know what you think about it!
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How would you keep a 3 year old moving on a trail? Is it the climb or the view that does it for you? What is your favorite hike?