Tag Archives: island

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

Overview

Established in 1996, there are 34 separate sites encompassed within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.  Not all of the areas are islands, some, like Worlds End, are the tips of peninsulas with roads accessing them from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  The park is a managed by a hodgepodge of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boston Light on Little Brewster Island (open to ranger-led tours in the summer months).

Highlights

Worlds End, Governors Island, Webb Memorial State Park, Spectacle Island

Must-Do Activity

It is probably best to pick one island and thoroughly explore it by catching a ferry from Long Wharf North in downtown Boston, Hingham Shipyard, or Pemberton Point in Hull.  We chose Georges Island which is mostly taken up by Fort Warren, which dates back to 1850.  During the Civil War, the fort served as an artillery base and a prison.  The National Park Service (NPS) operates an excellent museum on the island and shows a film on its history.  Georges and Spectacle Islands are the only two islands that offer food for sale, plus they have water taxis leave from each dock to access many of the other islands.

Best Trail

Spectacle Island has five miles of hiking trails and also contains the highest point within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area at 157 feet in elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site of the first lighthouse in America, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island can be seen from Georges Island and is open to guided tours in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/boha/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Passengers ferries charge fares, but there is not an entrance fee to the islands or Webb Memorial State Park.

Road Conditions

Most of the islands do not allow private vehicles, but you can bring your bicycle onto the ferries.  Webb Memorial State Park, Deer Island, Worlds End, and Nut Island are accessible by paved roads in the Boston area.

Camping

There are yurts on Peddocks Island and tent camping is allowed on Bumpkin, Grape, Peddocks, and Lovells Islands from late June through Labor Day.  Backcountry permits are required for stays on undeveloped islands.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Explore More – During the Civil War, who wrote the lyrics to “John Brown’s Body” while serving at Fort Warren?

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Overview

The Outer Banks of North Carolina have sparked the imaginations of travelers ever since British colonists landed here in 1585.  If you are seeking undeveloped beaches that have changed little over the centuries then this is the place to go.  The 70 miles of barrier islands protected as Cape Hatteras National Seashore are interrupted only by small seaside villages and one long section by Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Bodie Island and Hatteras Island are connected by bridges, but Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry.

Highlights

1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke Island Campground, beaches

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located at iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse where you can learn about shipwrecks, pirates, and the monumental effort to move the 208-foot tall brick structure in 1999.  Further down Highway 12, pick up a free ferry to Ocracoke Island, a renowned vacation destination.  Several campgrounds are found along the seashore, including one on Ocracoke.  Since this remote strip of sand is not easy to get to, you will want to spend at least a night or two.

Best Trail

Walking the beach and collecting seashells is the most popular diversion, but there are also the Hammock Hills Nature Trail on Ocracoke Island and Buxton Woods Nature Trail on Hatteras Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, dating back to 1823, but it is not open to enter inside.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except a fee is charged to climb Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved and there are designated access points to drive on the beach.

Camping

There are four NPS campgrounds and they all take reservations.

Related Sites

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Wright Brothers National Memorial (North Carolina)

Explore More – The Outer Banks are known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” so how many shipwrecks have been recorded in this area?

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/chis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

This design we created to celebrate Joshua Tree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – What are the four species of sea turtles that nest on the park’s beaches?