Plum Island - Hiking

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A tranquil oasis less than an hour from Boston, Plum Island is a gem of the north shore. With sweeping beaches, acres of marshland, migratory birds, and diverse wildlife, the island offers hikers, bikers, and beach-goers a plethora of options for enjoying a day by the shore.

Written by

Gretchen Stern


0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

33.7 miles


1 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

0 hours


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Though beautiful any time of year, Plum Island is bet enjoyed in the spring and fall, when traffic is lighter. Certain areas of the beaches are closed for Piping Plover nesting during the summer months, but the trails remain open.

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


$5 for cars, $2 for walkers/bikers



Plum Island is a 6-mile barrier island south of Newburyport. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge makes up three quarters of the island. With sandy beaches stretching along the eastern side of the island and over 3,000 acres of diverse salt marshes, Plum Island and Parker River National Wildlife Refuge offer serenity and beauty for hikers with any level of experience.

What Makes It Great

Just over 30 miles from Boston, Plum Island is a tranquil escape from the city. Take a quick stroll along the boardwalk or spend a full day - Plum Island has much to offer its visitors. 

Pick up a map from the ranger and choose the distance you'd like to hike. Short boardwalk explorations can lead you over the marsh or up the dunes to the beach. Along the way you'll find observation towers that give superb views of the island and its waterways. From Parking Lot 4, follow the Hellcat Swamp Trail which guides you to several lookouts and through various habitats.

Spend the day exploring the beaches, towers, and boardwalks. Keep your eyes out for the many species of birds, including the Salt Marsh Sparrow and the endangered Piping Plover.

Bring a bike and cruise around the island on two wheels, 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.

From the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge website: "The refuge headquarters and visitor center is located off island at the corner of Rolfe’s Lane/Ocean Ave. and the Plum Island Turnpike directly across from the MA Audubonbuilding. The administrative officesare open Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 4 pm, and the visitor centeris open daily 11 am - 4 pm."

Who is Going to Love It

Naturalists and bird enthusiasts will revel in the beauty and diversity of Plum Island. Over 300 species of migratory and native birds visit the island each year. With boardwalks and restrooms on site, this hiking area can accommodate nature lovers of all ages. For those seeking more time in the wild, there are miles of trails to keep you busy. And on a beautiful summer day, you can conclude your hike with a visit to one of the best beaches on the north shore.

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. Parking Lot 4 is a great spot to begin the hike. The beach access is often closed here to protect the nesting area of the piping plover, but from this lot you can head to an observation tower or onto a boardwalk trail through the marsh. Parking does fill up quickly, and in the summer, visitors are often subject to a long wait, so for the best bet, explore this area in the off-season or arrive early for a summer hike. Check the Refuge’s website for updates on beach access.

Prepare for the pesky insects - mosquitos and ticks are not uncommon, so wear protective clothing and/or repellent. From July through mid-August, the notorious greenhead flies - aggressive horseflies - plague the island, so plan accordingly if visiting this time of year. Layers and hats can go a long way! 

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Plum Island

Newburyport, MA,
42.812592, -70.813384

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