Plum Island, off of the coast of Massachusetts is one of the prettiest American barrier islands in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a wonderful spot for a day trip as you can explore its soft sandy beaches, gorgeous marshes, and diverse assortment of birds. One of the best ways to get around on the island is by bike during the autumn and then stopping for a picnic along the coast.
You can reach Plum Island by taking the Plum Island Turnpike which can be found about 35 miles to the north of historic Boston at a town called Newburyport. If you are wondering how the island got its name, it comes from the beach-plum bushes which produce fruit that’s often used to make jam from.
(photo credit: alex1961)
Most of Plum Island is actually taken up by the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which is a sanctuary about 4,700 acres in size. You will also find the 80-acre Sandy Point State Reservation on the southern tip of the island. Most of the population lives in the charming northern region of the island.
If you’d like to bike around the island there are paved roads in town as well as unpaved and paved roads in the wildlife refuge. It’s pretty easy to get around by bike as the island’s terrain is more or less on the flat side. The wildlife refuge is open every day between sunrise and sunset, but the beaches close down during nesting time in the spring.
A mountain bike is the best type to use if you plan on travelling on the unpaved routes in the south of the island since some of them feature pretty rough gravel. The island is a little less than 10 miles from top to bottom, so you should have enough time to see quite a bit of it if you’re only there for a day trip. Many bikers like to start out in the north of the island by the small Plum Island lighthouse and Merrimack River.
Heading south, you’ll pass through the small town and wildlife refuge before arriving at Sandy Point State Reservation, where you’ll get some superb views of the Atlantic Ocean from. The island’s east side offers a lot of oceanfront beach which you can get to from the wildlife refuge. There are several boardwalks which take you over the sandy dunes to the beach. You won’t be able to bike along the boardwalk, however there are convenient posts where you can lock your bike.
The west region of the island features beautiful tidal marshes that house a wide variety of birds. You’ll find hundreds of different species here with many of them migrating in the spring and autumn. Some of the birds you might spot include the piping plover, American woodcock, gray catbird, snowy egret, wood-warbler, marsh wren, blue-winged teal, marsh hawk, northern shoveler, and great blue heron.
If you’d like to do a bit of hiking while on Plum Island, there are a few nature trails to explore. These include the Hellcat Wildlife Trail and North Pool Overlook. If you’d like to stop on the turnpike before visiting the island you’ll find the Joppa Flats Education Center on the highway just before reaching the island. the center offers bird-watching tours along with some other types of educational programs.
For those who would like to combine a camping trip with a visit to Plum Island you’ll find Salisbury Beach State Park on the mainland just to the north of the island. There’s a large campground here with close to 500 campsites in it. There is also a four-mile long beach and the park is only five miles from the island.