Stroll down the scenic Charles River Esplanade in the Back Bay Area for beautiful views, sun, and plenty of exercise. Stretching for over 17 miles, visitors can walk, bike, canoe, kayak, and rollerblade. There are even two playgrounds for toddlers and tweens to explore. In addition, visitors can catch free summertime concerts and movie showings at the Hatch Shell. The Shell also features the iconic Boston Pops concert each July 4.
Known simply as the “Esplanade,” the park runs between the Museum of Science and the Boston University Bridge. This paved path, popular with cyclists, roller-skaters and runners, connects the Esplanade to the parklands of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a 1,100-acre chain of nine parks linked by waterways.
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Today Boston’s Charles River Esplanade is a world-famous park that attracts millions of visitors. The Esplanade is on the Boston side of the Charles River.
Pro Tip: Since the Storrow, Drive expressway separates the Charles River Esplanade from the rest of the city you have to know where the pedestrian crossings are to get to the state-owned park.
The park contains a performance stage, playgrounds, ball fields, and community boating on the river. This Boston Landmark comprises part of the Charles River Reservation state park.
Charles River Esplanade Backstory
The nearby Charlesbank Park played a crucial role in Esplanade’s landscape which dates back to 1892. At the time, the park’s primary function was to provide free open-air athletic activities and facilities. Architect Charles Eliot founded a commission to protect the Boston area’s natural resources.
It wasn’t until Bostonian James J. Storrow built the essential dam needed to create the parkland. Later, in the 1930s, officials widened the Boston Embankment thanks to a $1 million gift from Helen Storrow. The state added 2.3 million to Helen’s gift.
Today the current boundaries of the Esplanade stretch from the Boston University Bridge in the west to the Museum of Science Bridge in the east. The treasured Boston Landmark results from the many visionaries who sought for a clean, fresh-aired space of recreation and free thought.
Is the Park Safe?
The Esplanade Association’s goal is to provide a safe, happy environment so the staff encourages visitors to take precautions while running and walking along the Charles, especially at night.
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After a string of local attacks in public parks, the Boston Police Department provided some quick tips for women:
- Run with friends
- Carry a cell phone
- Avoid poorly lit areas
- Take off headphones
- Let someone know when they’re expected home.
Park Hours & Parking
The park is open from dawn to dusk, except for permitted special events.
Storrow Drive has limited parking, but you can find free 2-hour parking at the end of the Charles River, beginning at Storrow behind the police stations and science museum.
Another parking area is at the end of Charles Street. It’s the perfect location to visit the Esplanade, Boston Common, and Public Garden.
Head toward the Charles River on Arlington Street and cross the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge to the Esplanade. The Hatch Shell will be on the right along the river.
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Red Line: Exit at the Charles/MGH stop and cross the Arthur Fiedler footbridge to the Esplanade.
Green Line: Exit at the Arlington stop, walk up Arlington Street toward the Charles River, and cross the Arthur Fiedler footbridge to the Esplanade.
Park Public Restrooms Access
The Esplanade has public bathrooms behind the DCR Hatch Shell, near the Fielder Footbridge. And another at the Dartmouth St. Facility near the Dartmouth St. Footbridge. The restrooms are open from late spring to early fall. Hours vary but are generally 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
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Prohibited Park Activities include:
- Consumption of alcohol
- Commercial activity (except by permit)
- Motorized vehicles
- Feeding wildlife
Massachusetts Bik Rules:
- Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and keep right of the shared path
- Bicyclists must pass on the left with an audible warning.
- Bicyclists are not allowed to ride on the islands.
- Helmets are required for children 16 years old and younger.
- Bicyclists must walk bikes over the pedestrian footbridges.
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Charles River Esplanade Attractions
Harvard Bridge “Smoot Bridge”
The Harvard Bridge is a steel girder bridge carrying Massachusetts Avenue over the Charles River and connecting Back Bay, Boston, with Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is the longest bridge over the Charles River at 2,164 feet.
This Boston neighborhood near the Charles River Basin met the demand for upscale housing. Construction began in 1859 and concluded around 1900. Back Bay features rows of Victorian brownstone homes and today comprises many office buildings, including the John Hancock Tower (Boston’s tallest skyscraper), a fashion shopping center and several luxury hotels.
Hatch Memorial Shell
This landmark institution is the home of the Boston Pops and other performers. The performance center holds stage productions, summer concerts, movies and the Annual 4th of July Fireworks Extravaganza.
Stoneham Playground on the Esplanade
City planners and local parents saw the need for a safe city place for children to play. The split playground has two separate gated areas with a toddler playground for the little ones and a larger climbing structure with swings, monkey bars, and slides for the older children. Designers added plenty of benches for the parents with incredible views of the Charles River.
Community Boating, Inc.
Community Boating is a landmark boathouse with kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and sailboats to rent for day use on the river. Located between the Hatch Shell and Longfellow Bridge, the season runs from April 1 through October 31. CBI provides lessons and boats for youth and adults.
The public boating program offers a variety of boating, kayaking and windsurfing activities. Kids can sail all summer long for only $1.00 in the Junior Program.
The park also has five docks for families and friends to gather and take in the incredible views.
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Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields
The park fields feature two baseball/softball diamonds, a youth baseball diamond, a T-ball diamond and up to five youth soccer fields or a regulation-sized soccer field, all for community use. Before the major renovation project, the areas were often flooded.
The reconstruction project came on behalf of the Boston Red Sox team and honored Teddy Ebersol, a young fan who died in a plane crash.
Charles River Reservation
This 17-mile-long stretch of public recreation is located along the banks of the Charles River and runs from Boston to Cambridge and Watertown. Managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.