Remains of an old farm house on Bumpkin. Photo Tom Richardson

Camping on Boston Harbor’s Bumpkin Island

By Tom Richardson; Photography by Tom Richardson

When it comes to unique camping destinations, it’s hard to top Bumpkin Island. This 32-acre, scrub- and sumac-covered hillockin Boston Harbor (Hingham Bay, to be precise) is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and offers tent camping in primitive sites scattered around the island. And getting there is half the fun!

Once a summering site for Native Americans, Bumpkin was originally known as “Round Island” by the first English settler(it’s unclear where the name “Bumpkin” came from). In the mid-1600s, a man named Samuel Ward was given property rights to the island, and upon his death bequeathed it to Harvard College. Over the next 150 years, the school leased the island to various tenant farmers (the remains of a stone farmhouse still exist).

In the late 1800s, wealthy Bostonian and philanthropist Albert Burrage secured a lease on the island for 500 years and constructed a children’s hospital on Bumpkin in 1902. The island eventually served as a summer “escape” for underprivileged children from Boston during the steamy months.

During World War I, Burrage transferred ownership of the island to the U.S. Navy, which established a training camp there and transformed the hospital building into an officer’s quarters and sick bay. German prisoners of war were also held on the island for a time. After the war, what was now known as the “Burrage Hospital” reopened as a treatment facility for children suffering from polio. The hospital burned in 1945, but the ruins of its foundation remain. In 1996, Bumpkin was made part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Today, Bumpkin is largely overgrown with brush and sumac trees, and is home to deer and turkey. Well-groomed walking paths (many of them based on former roads) lead to various scenic points around the island. The rock-strewn perimeter is patrolled by herons and egrets, and striped bass cruise just offshore, so bring a fishing rod if you visit!

Campsites run $35 per night, and are equipped with fire pits and picnic tables. Public restrooms are available, and a caretaker is on-site 24/7 during summer to answer questions and help visitors get ashore. Reservations can be made through ReserveAmerica.

While you can access Bumpkin via the Boston Harbor Islands water shuttle, many campers choose to arrive by kayak or boat. Boaters can use one of the free moorings just offshore, or simply drop anchor. Gear and passengers can be dropped off at the island’s pier, and a dinghy is available for public use. Personal dinghies and kayaks can be left on the beach.

Closest launch points for reaching the island include the Hingham Harbor launch ramp, the Weir River (high tide access only), and the launch ramp adjacent to Steamboat Wharf Marina in Hull (which also offers kayak rentals via Nantasket Kayaks), and off Windwill Point at the tip of the Hull Peninsula.

While the island is staffed only through Labor Day, camping is allowed on the island into the fall, although a fire permit must be secured through the Park Service. Fall is a beautiful time to visit the island, and you are likely to have the place to yourself.

Group sites are available on Bumpkin. Photo Tom Richardson