Boating, Fishing, and Travel Information for Plum Island Sound, MA
Plum Island is a barrier island located off the northeast coast of Massachusetts, north of Cape Ann. It is approximately 11 miles in length. The island is named for the wild beach plum shrubs that grow on its dunes. It is located in parts of four municipalities in Essex County. From north to south they are the city of Newburyport, and the towns of Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich.
The northern portion of the island is bordered by the mouth of the Merrimack River (in which stands Badgers Rock), the western portion by the Plum Island River in the north (which joins the mouth of the Merrimack to Plum Island Sound), Plum Island Sound in the south (into which empty the Parker, Rowley and Eagle Hill rivers) and the southern portion by the mouth of the Ipswich River (into which the sound empties). The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east. The sound is a tidal estuary.
Developed areas of the island constitute the village of Plum Island, Massachusetts with public beaches, businesses and private residences. The village surrounds a body of water known as “the Basin,” and lies wholly within Newburyport and Newbury, the Newbury portion forming one of three legal precincts of the town. The island’s pristine largest section is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. On the mainland opposite, the Massachusetts Audubon Society operates the Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 1985, The Trust for Public Land added an additional 12 acres to the refuge. Besides providing habitat for birds and wildlife, this pristine coastal habitat is also enjoyed by visitors who come to swim, hike, surf, fish, and birdwatch.
Plum Island is accessed by one road running from Newburyport to the north of the island on a causeway and drawbridge over the Plum Island River. Plum Island Drive runs along the inland side of the island. In the north it is lined with homes. In the refuge it is paved for about half its distance and is a dusty dirt road for the remainder. Along it are numbered parking lots with boardwalks leading to the beach, overlooks and trails, and facilities for the maintenance of the refuge.
Toward the south is the former site of Camp Sea Haven, a therapeutic camp for those stricken with polio. Visitors are restricted from the levelled site. At the southern end of the road, the tip of the island, is Sandy Point State Reservation, a state park. It is for day use only. At the northern end of the road, the northern tip of the island, is the Plum Island Lighthouse, the only lighthouse remaining on the island. It marks the narrow entrance to the mouth of the Merrimack River. The swift tidal currents through the outlet and through the channel between Ipswich Bay and Ipswich Harbor on the southern end make boating and swimming hazardous.
Plum Island has historically been a popular vacation destination. There are numerous lodging options for tourists, including bed and breakfasts, inns, and rental cottages. In addition, there is a population of year-round residents.
From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, the city of Newburyport offers a Friday-Sunday shuttle bus from Plum Island Point to downtown Newburyport and the Newburyport commuter rail station with a connection to Boston.
Helpful Resources for Plum Island Sound, MA
- Plum Island Kayak
- Newburyport Whale Watch
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
- Sandy Point State Reservation
- Mass.gov Saltwater Fishing Public Access – includes interactive public boat launch map
- Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing Regulations & Permit information
- Marinas near Plum Island Sound, MA