Boston Duckling Walk

by (Aug 2011)

Since we moved from the Midwest out to the East Coast five years ago, my kids and I are now huge Robert McCloskey fans. We couldn't avoid falling in love with his beautifully illustrated books, they are simply part of the culture out here - so much so, that Make Way For Ducklings, written in 1941, is the official book of the Commonwealth.

We never tire of reading McCloskey's blueberry-picking-with-bears adventure (Blueberries for Sal) and the story of a young girl losing her first tooth in Maine (One Morning in Maine). But the story of a mother and father duck, making their way into Boston to find a place to raise a family, is not only timeless. It is remarkably close to our own struggle, and one that we see so often, especially in Cambridge.

In the book, Make Way for Ducklings, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard initially arrive in Boston's Public Garden. When it seems too dangerous a place to raise their family, they fly over to an island in the Charles River close to the Longfellow Bridge and the Hatch Shell (an outdoor concert venue, not named for the hatching ducklings - though kids might get the wrong impression).

After the ducklings hatch, Mrs. Mallard teaches them everything they need to know to be a duck while Mr. Mallard ventures out to explore the Charles. The family plans on meeting up at the Public Garden in a week. To meet her husband, Mrs. Mallard and her brood of 8 ducklings cross Storrow Drive (even back in 1941 they needed the help of a policeman), and march up Mt. Vernon Street to Charles Street, where they turn at the corner bookstore (now a fancy 7-Eleven), cross Beacon Street and settle in the Public Garden.

I have wanted to retrace the ducklings steps for a while now, but was always held back. For one, I imagined it to be difficult to navigate around MGH, Storrow Drive, and Beacon Hill with two young kids. I also didn't think my kids could handle that long of a walk. And, I figured that I needed some kind of map, tour guide, or program to follow. After a brief Internet search, I only came up with a walk suggested by a group called "walk Boston" ( This is a nice 1.5 mile walk, but it doesn't follow the story exactly (instead of coming up Mt. Vernon Street to Charles Street, like the ducklings did, this walk takes you straight up Beacon Street to the Public Garden, and back to MGH along Charles Street).

Despite my initial reservations, and armed with a copy of the book, we decided to use McCloskey's detailed illustrations to go map out our own version of a family Ducklings Walk in Boston. Instead of starting at the Public Garden and flying over Beacon Hill (as in the book), we chose to focus entirely on the ducklings, starting where they were born near MGH, and tracing their adventure to finally end our journey at the Public Garden (where there was an easy route back to Cambridge on the red line, Park Street stop if need arose).

It wasn't so hard to navigate around, thanks to the two footbridges that allowed us to cross safely over Storrow Drive (no steps, the walk would easily be done with a stroller). The kids handled the walk fine with the help of snack breaks (CVS near MGH and the 7-Eleven on Charles Street). They really got into taking pictures, studying McCloskey's illustrations and finding the objects they recognized: the Longfellow Bridge, the little island, the trees, roads, buildings, the windows on the Church of the Advent on Mt. Vernon Street, the steeple on the Charles Street Meeting House. They loved watching the real geese and ducks in the river.

It was interesting to see how things have changed: the trees are now much bigger, the Longfellow Bridge is under construction, several sailboats are moored at the duckling island, Storrow Drive is much bigger and busier, people and cars look different. Other things haven't changed: the towers on the Longfellow Bridge, the basic architecture of the buildings on Mt. Vernon Street, and the upside-down hearts on the iron fence at the Public Garden.


The route starts at Charles/MGH, T stop on the Red Line. Parking at MGH is expensive and difficult to find, so if you're driving in from the west, it would be worth parking at Alewife and riding the red line to the MGH stop. From the north, you could park in Kendall Square South Garage and ride the T, or walk over the Longfellow Bridge. Another option is also parking at the Boston Common Garage (underground), getting on the red line at Park Street and riding one stop over to MGH, or walking down Charles Street to MGH for a longer walk, but you could end back at the Common to get your car.

The Route

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  1. Starting at the Charles/MGH T-stop, exit out towards the CVS, cross over Charles Street. Take the footbridge over Storrow Drive to the Charles River.
  2. At the bottom of the footbridge, walk towards your left, towards the Community Boating building. You are now walking on the "Esplanade." Directly across from the Hatch Shell, there is a nice partially fenced in dock, where you can see great (relatively safe) views of duckling island and the Longfellow Bridge.
  3. From the Hatch Shell, cross over the Arthur Fiedler footbridge (it is clearly labeled), towards Beacon Street. At the bottom of the footbridge, turn left then head back towards the Hatch Shell on to David G. Mugar Way (it is a small sidewalk, but a somewhat safe distance from Storrow Drive).
  4. Turn right on to Mt. Vernon street. You should be able to look right behind you and see the Hatch Shell. This is where the ducklings would have crossed, with the help of Policeman Michael (we used the help of the Arthur Fiedler footbridge).
  5. Proceed up the hill on Mt. Vernon Street - don't worry, it's not like San Francisco steep.
  6. Turn right onto Charles Street, about the third street down. It's the one with all the fancy shops, and the 7-Eleven on the corner.
  7. Proceed down Charles to Beacon, and across Beacon to the Public Garden. Now you can find the little bronze duck statues in the Garden. The frog pond over in the common is also worth a visit.

Food/Snacks/Restrooms along the way

  1. CVS, 155 Charles Street, Boston, MA
  2. Starbucks, 97 Charles Street, Boston, MA
  3. Grocery/convenience store on the corner of Charles & Mt. Vernon Streets
  4. Seasonal restrooms near the Hatch Shell and Boston Common Frog Pond
  5. Plenty of little shops/restaurants along Charles Street.

Games to Play

  1. Read the book along the way. There are nice benches on the dock directly across from the Hatch Shell to read the beginning of the story, up until the ducklings start on their adventure.
  2. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about art and drawing - have younger children look at the illustrations and find the scene right before their eyes. Also, find shapes in the drawings and in the real world (curved arches of the bridge and decorative work, straight lines in the bridge towers and the buildings and view of Mt. Vernon Street.) Maybe older kids can draw their own sketches.
  3. If you see ducks, watch them and see if they model what you see in the book (McCloskey studied real ducks when he was writing and illustrating this book). Can kids tell the difference between the male and the female mallard?
  4. Bring a camera and take pictures to match the scenes in the book.
  5. Compare and contrast. What was different in 1941 to today? The same?
  6. When you get to the Public Garden (assuming you started at MGH), go back to the beginning of the book and study the illustrations of the Public Garden at the beginning.

Scavenger Hunt

charles street Below is a one-page PDF of pictures taken on the walk. You can print this out for your child to match up with the book, or to carry along on the walk to see what they can find.