Located just 20 minutes south from the heart of downtown Boston, the Arnold Arboretum is a magical escape that most locals aren’t even aware of. Tucked away in Jamaica Plain, the space has been maintained by Harvard University for over 150 years. The landscape is transcendent, offering everything you’d ever want out of a green space. There’s ponds, hikes, and winding trails. Towering tree lines that remarkably have some evergreens you’d rarely see outside the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Oh, and did we mention that the highest natural point in Boston proper is in the Arnold Arboretum? Skyline views of the city await. At 281 acres, the Arnold Arboretum is the type of place that could host thousands of people at the same time and still feel secluded. But even so, this is rarely the case as you’ll often find few people around you as you enter the park. With something to offer in all four seasons, the limits of vocabulary don’t do justice for what this place is truly like. Nevertheless, we hear people frequently use words like “stunning”, “peaceful”, “majestic”, “rare”, “picturesque”, “serene”, and “calm” to describe the Arnold Arboretum. In terms of accessibility, a car will get you to the Arboretum in 20 minutes from downtown. The orange line will get you there in 40, walking included. If you’re feeling active, you can similarly bike there in 40 minutes. No matter what neighborhood you live in, this quintessential getaway can provide you a weekly reprieve, if not daily if you’re close enough.  So let’s get into the good stuff. As we move along in this guide, what follows is a curated list of locations within the Arnold Arboretum that are sure to soothe your soul.


One of the least-known hidden treasures in all of Boston, Peter’s Hill is a special place.  At 240 feet above sea level, Peter’s Hill offers a stunning natural viewpoint of the city and also represents the highest natural point in Boston. The summit is accessible via the south end of the Arnold Arboretum, as you travel across Peter’s Hill Road. The circular path surrounds the hill, offering multiple ways to get to the top. At the top, there are multiple rocks available for seating, in addition to trees you can lounge under. Remarkably, you’ll almost never find crowds at the top, no matter when you go.  Peter’s Hill is the type of place that naturally provokes wonder and peace, a perfect retreat for contemplation, journaling and quiet.



As you travel north in the Arnold Arboretum, the other high natural point is Bussey Hill at 200 feet above sea level. While it doesn’t boast the same views as Peter’s Hill, the surrounding area is gorgeous.  Walking alongside the Conifer Path on the way to Bussey Hill, you’re met with a towering tree line where West Coasters will feel right at home. The area is full of evergreens, normally seen only in Washington state and Oregon. One visitor called it “an oasis of nature in the city.” To approach the summit, you travel up the winding trail on Bussey Hill Road, which is surrounded by open green spaces. Once at the top, there’s also benches for lounging.



At the northernmost end of the Arnold Arboretum are three ponds: Dawson Pond, Faxon Pond and Rehder Pond. This is a beautiful area to walk through, as you travel down nearby Forest Hill Road. This area arguably gets most foot traffic on the weekends. But even still, as one visitor puts it, the Arnold Arboretum is “so large you don't feel crowded.” The wildlife and sounds are exquisite, while the soothing calm of the ponds providing the perfect backdrop for a daily stroll.



As you’ll discover, the Arnold Arboretum stands in contrast to city life. One person captures this perfectly saying, “the park is quite large so you forget you are in Boston… I go for the peace and quiet, not to be surrounded by people.” This is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to highlight it as one of our Boston getaways. As it hugs the eastern part of the city, it provides you with a contemplative reprieve from the competitive demands of a city like Boston. In a remarkable report from Yale University, we learn, “the studies point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” The science is clear: getting at least two hours each week in green spaces is essential for our well-being. The goal of visiting the  Arnold Arboretum then, would be to start developing a lifestyle of reflection and contemplation. Long before these scientific discoveries were made, we see Jesus adopting these same rhythms in ancient Israel, often retreating into nature. This would later be coined silence and solitude, just one of the compelling rhythms we see built into his way of life. For Jesus, what happened in the wilderness became the fuel for him to go back out and be equipped to engage the culture around him. You may agree that this has never been more relevant than in modern-day times. When we’re out in nature and captivated by its beauty, it often produces a wonder and heightened awareness of the world around us. How could such a beautiful place exist? That wonder can lead to an awareness of the One who created all the transcendent beauty that surrounds us. And here’s the transformative part — we can allow that awareness to drive us into connection with God. For Jesus, this is what getting away was all about. Being out in nature was about who he connected with whilst he was out there. When we encounter God in these environments of refreshment, we are able to acquire the strength and perspective we need to go back out into the world. We need this to love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. These rhythms are essential for our well-being. As we see from the science, they are built into the very fabric of our existence. We benefit spiritually, mentally and physically from these environments of refreshment. For much of human history, these were our natural habitats. You could argue that the construction of modern city life is unnatural in this sense, as the constant busyness and distraction prevents us from getting perspective and moments of reflection. So especially living in Boston, modeling this “in-and-out lifestyle” will help us thrive amidst the weariness of 24/7 connectedness and hustle culture. We’ll leave you with a few practical tips before you wander into the Arnold Arboretum, which include:

1) Pick a time & place

Scheduling time to get away is essential. The bustling nature of life in Boston increases the need for intentionality. So consider where you will regularly visit in the Arnold Arboretum and when it's practical to do that. Is it before work in the morning? Is it midday during lunch?

2) Start small & build

When it comes to developing contemplative rhythms, success simply equals to showing up. Nothing more. If you’re making the effort to get away regularly, you’ve already hit the goal. But remember, habits are formed by starting small. Rather than saying we’re going to visit the Arnold Arboretum for 90 minutes every morning, try retreating for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times a week. If you get in a rhythm doing that, maybe increase that to an hour in the Arboretum for 2-3 times a week. And so forth.

3) Put your phone on silent

Consider keeping your smartphone on silent. Why? Because to be connected while you’re attempting to disconnect would be counterproductive. Resist the urge to pull it out and over time, build up your tolerance.

4) Consider your wiring

While some of the spots we’ve featured in the Arnold Arboretum are stationery, there is no “right” way to do this. If you like to be active, consider engaging your body by walking through the pathways for a stroll. Take in all the sights and sounds.

5) Bring a blanket or hammock

This is a great option, especially if you regularly visit the Arnold Arboretum. Stash it in your backpack and enjoy the experience of laying out in the alcoves alongside the river.

6) Bring a journal

Learning to be present with yourself means taking a regular temperature of your thought-life. That said, fight against the urge to stuff away your thoughts by actively processing them through this form of feeling prayer. How are you feeling? Why are you feeling that way? Write it down. Name the emotions coming up - envy, greed, sadness, grief, etc. Like Jesus, our emotions are a place to meet with God.

7) Contemplate scripture

This ancient practice, called Lectio Divina, involves picking a small passage to meditate on. Even if you haven’t read scripture in ages (or ever), this could be as small as a Psalm, a Proverb or the words of Jesus in the gospels. Let’s say a verse comes up about humility or loving your neighbor, we then pray for a greater understanding of how to model that in our lives. See what comes to mind. You can pick up a copy of the new Passion Translation here.

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude is hard for us. Sometimes it feels like we suffer from chronic short-term memory loss, only able to see what we don't have or how our circumstances are less than ideal. And while there might be truth in that, this perspective causes us to miss the precious things of life that are sitting right in front of us each and every day. Take some time to write down prayers of gratitude, even for the smallest of things.

9) Be silent

With the city at a distance, Arnold Arboretum is the ideal environment for silence. Which goes to say, consider the concept of a “silent retreat”. Embrace the sounds around you. The birds. The breeze. And start becoming more aware of yourself.

We’ll leave you with this: start today. The Arnold Arboretum is an oasis in the middle of Boston, take advantage of it. You can literally be there later today or tomorrow. This quintessential getaway is waiting to give you a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life.


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