Spending the night on an island in Boston Harbor may sound rather daunting. Island campers have always had to travel by boat, bring their own water, and pitch their own tents. Without any phones, bathrooms, or electricity, even the most seasoned campers might deem such an excursion “roughing it.”
But now at Peddocks Island, there is a kinder, gentler, more hipster-friendly option: yurts that can be rented by the night. Each of these tentlike cabins has electric lighting and power outlets. There is running water at the campsite, and restrooms with flush toilets just a short walk away.
It is the kind of sweet setup that appeals to the less rustically inclined, and what Philip Griffiths, the newly minted president of the Boston Harbor Island Alliance, calls “glamour camping.”
The new yurts on Peddocks — accessible by ferry from piers in Quincy, Hingham, and Hull — are part of a plan to attract more visitors to the island and turn it into a camping mecca for all ages and levels of experience, from seasoned survivalists to novice backpackers. Thus far, it has been a success. With little advertisement, the six yurts have been booked every weekend.
“I really see camping as a major selling point of this island,” said Susan M. Kane, a Scituate native who is the islands district manager for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state agency that manages Peddocks.
Camping is offered as an official activity at four harbor islands — Grape, Bumpkin, Peddocks, and Lovells — but that does not stop people from camping at the others (there are 34 of them). They are teeming with visitors during the day, but at night they can be lonely places, sparsely populated by a smattering of campers and a few seasonal residents.
Kane has seen some interesting situations develop out there. She said she has, on occasion, seen people attempt to claim ownership of an island and establish their own rules. Whenever Kane is dispatched to an island to address a situation like that, the people involved are almost always cooperative, and the disputes are settled quickly and easily, she said.
On Peddocks Island and the other official camping islands, things are much more orderly. The camping season runs from the end of June until Labor Day weekend, and campsites must be reserved in advance.
Although the yurts on Peddocks are already booked for the rest of the season, DCR officials suggested that would-be campers check online for availability, as people sometimes cancel.
Until recently, the public was not encouraged to visit Peddocks, a former military post named Fort Andrews that served as an Italian POW camp during World War II. But much work has been done to make it tourist-friendly, and DCR officials hope the yurts will allow more people to discover the island. New signs are being installed around the island, and a state-of-the-art welcome centergreets new arrivals.
When you arrive at the island’s pier, you will see a white wooden clapboard chapel that was standard on military bases during World War II (there were 1,500 identical chapels built at bases across the country). The chapel is undergoing renovations: It has a new roof, and will soon receive replacement doors and windows salvaged from an identical chapel that was at the South Weymouth Naval Air Station, which has closed.
The welcome center is at the end of the pier, in a stout red-brick building that was built in 1910 as a guardhouse and held the cellblock for soldiers gone bad. It was fully restored in 2011. The place where soldiers were once locked up holds photo displays, educational exhibits, restrooms, and conference and event space.
You will see two imposing brick buildings that were part of Fort Andrews. These barracks are among 14 buildings left over from the military installation that date to the turn of the last century. A dozen dilapidated and decaying buildings were torn down, and others were weatherproofed, locked up, and secured.
On the west side of Peddocks, there are summer cottages and the remnants of an old fishing village that has been around for more than a century. The summer residents own the cottage buildings but do not own the land underneath them. Visitors should stay away from these private homes and respect the residents’ privacy.
The yurts are near a brick observation tower on the East Head of the island, on a landscaped campground overlooking Hull Gut. A wooden fence along the edge provides a place to take in sweeping views of the harbor. There, gentle sea breezes filter through the leaves of maple trees. Long strands of invasive bittersweet vines sway in the wind.
“It’s one of the best views,” said Kane.
The yurts — round, wood-framed structures with canvas walls and screened windows — provide plenty of room for six people to sleep comfortably. There are two sets of bunk beds, a double cot, a table, and benches to sit on. Four power outlets stand ready on the wall. There are tables and grills for meals. If you venture outside at night, turn on the electric light outside your screen door to find your way back. The yurts cost $40 per night.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Angelika Paul, 38, of Stoneham arrived at the yurt she rented for herself and her two young children: 5-year-old Alex and 3-year-old Jen. They had taken the ferry from Hingham for an overnight adventure, and when they landed she pushed them and their luggage in a black wheelbarrow to get to the campsite. She looked at the yurt and smiled.
“It’s quite beautiful,” she said. “The alternative is being in a tent,” but with the yurt, it’s like, “Oh good, ahouse to go into!” She later wrote about her family’s camping experience on her blog, in a glowing review of their island adventure.
Visitors can explore the island, and walk past birch trees, oaks, and evergreens. There are even wild turkeys and deer.
“Deer swim surprisingly well,” Kane said.