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Walking on Plum Island Beach

What to Bring

Walking shoes   Backpack
Hat   Sunglasses
Sunscreen   Comfortable pants
Windbreaker   Insect repellent
Water   Snacks


  From Boston, take I-95 North
  Take exit 57 for route 113 east
  Drive through Newburyport and under the route 1 bridge, then turn left down to the harbor
Turn right and drive straight on Water Street, becoming Plum Island Turnpike
After the bridge over Parker River, turn right on Sunset Drive to follow sign for Parker River Refuge
Refuge entrance is about half a mile down the road
  Good to know in advance

Restrooms available at parking lot 1 and parking lot 4

  Refuge map available at the Refuge entrance
  Refuge quickly fills to capacity in summer months - arrive as early as possible
  Refuge closes at sunsetóif you exit after the Refuge has closed, automatic barrier will open as you drive up to it
  Mosquitoes can be abundant in summeróbring insect repellent
  For beach access status, call Refuge at 978 465 5753
  No dogs allowed
  Stay on trails
  Carry-in, carry-out trash policy
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Walking on Plum Island Beach

ID Card

Overall rating: Three-Star Rating Three-Star Rating Three-Star Rating Three-Star Rating Three-Star Rating
Difficulty: 2/5
  Time from Boston: 1 hour
  Duration: Half day

$5 per person or $2 to walk in a bicycle

  Main activity:


  What do our ratings mean?
Walking on a beach across a National Wildlife Refuge, hearing the waves crashing on long, sandy beaches, watching birds and deer nearby… What else would you want on a day off?

Plum Island is a 6-mile long barrier beach that extends south of Newburyport. Most of it makes up the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, which is visited seasonally by nearly 300 bird species.

This walk is a nice introduction to the extraordinary diversity of the Plum Island scenery. You will walk both on the beach and on the main Refuge road, which offers wonderful views on the Plum Island River marshes and the Broad Sound.

Leave your car on parking lot 1 on your left after the Refuge entrance. Walk up the boardwalk at the far end of the lot to access the beach. Start walking south (on your right) on the beach. You will first see a beach access road and another boardwalk a bit more than 0.5 mile after your departure point. After about 1 mile on the beach, you will see another boardwalk that connects back to the main road. Take it across the dunes to arrive back at the main road. Turn right on the road to retrace your steps and walk back to your car. Allow about 2 hours for the walk at a leisure pace.

Once back at the parking lot, you can also take your car to explore the Refuge further. One nice stop is parking lot 4. There, you’ll find an observation tower—climb it up to get a feel for Plum Island’s lay of the land. Then, walk back on the main road for about 100 yards to explore Hellcat Swamp Trail, which extends on both sides of the road. There is a photography blind at the end of the trail that will have children and adults alike excited!

You can also drive further south to the tip of the island. From that point you will drive on a gravel road, so drive safely and watch for pedestrians and bikers. Sandy Point State Reservation is the end of the road, at the tip of the island. There is another observation tower there which offers a nice view on Broad Sound, protected from the ocean by Plum Island. You can also access the beach, though you may find more people there than elsewhere on the beach. Drive back the way you came on the Refuge road. If you are back when the sun starts to set, stop again at the observation at the parking lot 4 and enjoy the silenceómost visitors will have probably left by then. Watch for deer, which appear often along the road between there and parking lot 2 in the evening.

By then, you may want to explore the Refuge without your car. For that, see also:
Biking across Plum Island
HIking on Plum Island Beach

Please note that the beach generally closes from April 1st to mid-August to provide nesting for the piping plover, a threatened shorebird. The Refuge itself stays open, and you can still walk up and down along the main Refuge road, and explore Hellcat Swamp Trail. However, you may feel frustrated if beach access is closed. During this period, we suggest to call the Refuge to get an update of the beach status.

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