Parker River National Wildlife Refuge; Newburyport, Massachusetts

Last Visited: Saturday; May 26, 2012

What to do here:  Parker River National Wildlife encompasses the southern 7 miles of Plum Island in Newburyport, MA.  It is a lovely spit of sandy land that has the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and Plum Island Sound on the west side.  It is a wonderful spot for lots of activities and is very popular during weekends in the summer season (traditionally Memorial Day weekend in May through Labor Day weekend in September) that include the following activities:

  • Beaches:  Plum Island is home to several stretches of long lovely beaches that run the entire length of the island including all the way to Sandy Point State Reservation at the southern tip of the island.
Beach at gatehouse entrance to Parker River NWR in Newburyport, MA

Beach at gatehouse entrance to Parker River NWR in Newburyport, MA

    • Bicycling:  Parker River NWR is a relatively gentle ride that is about 10 miles long in total if you start at the visitor center before the park entrance or about 7 miles from the parking lot near the Gatehouse entrance beach area.  The last few miles of the ride south is a dirt road however it is well maintained and is a reasonably pleasant ride.
    • Bird Watching: Parker River NWR is a popular place to observe shorebirds with several observation towers and, a bird blind and lots of different species to enjoy observing.

  • Hiking:  Parker River NWR has several interpretive trails and places to walk, however you shouldn’t go there if your primary goal is to get in a good hike.  A couple of these walks are very interesting and have great views.
View from dune walk portion of interpretive trail at Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area at Parker River NWR

View from dune walk portion of interpretive trail at Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area at Parker River NWR

  • Hunting: Waterfowl hunting is permitted at designated areas on the mainland across Plum Island Sound.  Please contact the refuge headquarters for more details on this area and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
  • Small Boat use:  Kayaks, canoes and other small boats are wonderful for touring the sheltered waters of Plum Island Sound and also provides a nice workout.
  • Scenic Views:  Parker River NWR has many spots with lovely panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Plum Island Sound and two observation towers to enjoy the view from.

  • Special programs:  Parker River NWR has numerous special programs that include tours to closed areas by naturalist guides and many kid-centric programs.  For more information stop in at the visitor center or give them a call at (978) 465-5753

Favorite Activities:  Parker River NWR is a great place to take your bicycle and the 15 – 20 mile roundtrip ride (depending on where you start from) is pretty consistently flat and gentle with lots of great views including Sandy Point State Reservation at the southern tip of Plum Island.

How to get here:  Plum Island is just outside Newburyport and a short drive from Greater Boston.  Take Interstate 95 to to exit 57.  From exit 57 turn onto Route 113 East and then continue onto Route 1A South.  From Route 1A south take a left onto Rolfe’s Lane.  At the end of Rolfe’s Lane take a right onto Plum Island Turnpike.  The visitor center is on your right shortly thereafter and if you go about a half mile further take a right onto Sunset Drive which takes you into Parker River NWR.  If you’re using a GPS device the address of the main visitor center is the following:

6 Plum Island Turnpike
Newburyport, MA 01950

Facilities, Fees and other information:  Parker River NWR does charge a entrance fee of $5 a car or $2 per person walking or biking in.  The visitor center has facilities along with the changing house in the beachouse area right after the entrance to Parker River NWS.  There are also pit toilets at a couple other locations further down the island however the facilities right after the entrance gate are the last ones with running water (this is important to keep in mind on a hot day).  Dogs are not permitted in most areas so as to not disturb wildlife and sections of many beaches are closed during nesting season for the endangered piping plover (roughly from May 1st to September 1st).  For more information please go the official website for Parker River NWR