A tranquil oasis less than an hour from Boston, Plum Island is a gem of the north shore. Kayakers can enjoy a quiet paddle in the marsh on the protected inland side or explore the ocean side for a more dramatic experience.
Plum Island is a 6-mile barrier island south of Newburyport with access to both inland marsh and open ocean. The marshland abounds with waterfowl, many of which are seeking refuge during migration. More than 300 species of native and migratory birds visit this area each year, especially during peak migration in early spring and early fall. Enjoy a peaceful paddle on Plum Island Sound as you meander through salt marsh protected by towering dunes, visit Sandy Point State Reservation or Sawyer’s Island for a lovely picnic, or hop out of your boat post-paddle to enjoy even more of what the island has to offer.
What Makes It Great
Just over 30 miles from Boston, Plum Island is a tranquil escape from the city. Kayaking on Plum Island will put you in the heart of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses much of the island. Naturalists and bird enthusiasts will revel in the beauty and diversity of Plum Island.
A full circumnavigation of Plum Island is approximately 19 miles. Take your sea kayak up the island on the ocean side, parallel to the beach. Watch out for rough waves and steep drop-offs. At the tip of the island, you’ll pass through the mouth of the Merrimack River and return to your starting point via the placid and scenic Plum Island Sound.
For those seeking a quieter and less dicey paddle, explore just the inland side. Drop your boat at the launch opposite Lot 1. If you arrive early enough or in the off-season, you should be able to snag a spot nearby. During peak months, be prepared to wait for parking, as beachgoers flock to the island. Paddle south along the Sound, watch for plentiful shorebirds, and take a break at Sandy Point State Reservation Beach, and return via the Sound to your starting point.
Whatever your route, aim to paddle at high tide to avoid being stranded or disoriented when exploring the marsh.
Note: landing in the marsh and on certain beaches that are closed to protect piping plover nests is prohibited. Pay close attention to tide schedules and wear a Coast Guard Approved PFD May 15 – September 15, as per park rules.
Who is Going to Love It
Adventurers and casual nature lovers alike can choose their pleasure when paddling here. A cruise through the Plum Island sound can offer views of abundant birds and quiet, sparkling waters, while a full circumnavigation of the island brings rougher waters and a chance to paddle the ocean waters.
Pre- or post-paddle activities abound as well. Bring a bike and cruise around the island on two wheels, take a hike through the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, stop in at Bob Lobster, a quintessential seafood shack, for a lobster roll, or make a date to head into Newburyport, an adorably quaint seaside town, for dinner and drinks after your hike.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are multiple parking lots on Plum Island. Regardless of where you park, you’ll pay a $5 entry fee to the ranger at the main gate. The boat launch is opposite Lot 1, and is available for use year round, sunrise to sunset. Stop at the ranger station for more detailed information on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, beach closings, facilities, and a map.