Plum Island Bike Ride

Photo Credit: Robert Gray

Photo Credit: Robert Gray

The wonderful thing about heading out to Plum Island for a bike ride is how many activities you can include in your day. In addition to cycling, pack your day with bird watching, building sand castles on the beach, exploring tidal pools, even take a short hike amongst the beauty of the North Shore. And with downtown Newburyport nearby, you’ll have some great options to grab a bite to eat after you’ve made your memories.

Because there’s nothing incredibly challenging about cycling on Plum Island, it’s well suited for all ages. The entire length of the island is 6 miles. Because it’s flat, it’s a great spot for pulling wheelies on your bike, showing off your no-hand riding skills, and pulling your little kids along in a bike trailer. Definitely don’t try all of those at the same time. In fact, probably just do the last one.

Planning ahead

First of all, if it’s mid to late July, the Greenhead Flies are likely to be out in full force, so you should probably plan an adventure elsewhere. stay away. All those damn flies will ruin your day. Check in with the Trustees of The Reservation on their Crane Beach page for up to date Greenhead Fly information.

Remember to throw the following into your backpack:

  • sunglasses
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • water bottle
  • binoculars
  • bike locks
  • snacks
  • small trash bag
  • windbreakers
  • camera
  • towels
  • beach toys
  • kitchen sink(optional)

You won’t find any food for sale on Plum Island. Definitely bring a snack for everyone. If the flies aren’t out to ruin your day, getting hungry and being six miles from your car just might. And don’t forget water.

You can rent adult bikes from Riverside Cycle in Newburyport.  A 4 hour rental will cost you $20 per bike while the daily rental rate is $30. All rates include locks and helmets. Go for the daily rental so you don’t have to worry about the time when the kids have finally settled into the beach and are happy. There’s plenty of scenery to explore and absorb on Plum Island. It’s not a place to rush things. For weekend rentals, it’s highly suggested that you make a reservation in advance. Give them a call at 978-465-5566.

You can definitely start your ride from Riverside Cycle as it’s only 3 miles to Plum Island. And if you do ride into Plum Island Refuge, it will cost you $2 per bike. If you’re driving a car into Plum Island, the fee is $5 per car.  So if there’s three or more of you planning on biking Plum Island, it’s actually cheaper to all pile into a car.  Yes, that seems a bit weird.

It’s worth calling ahead (978-465-5753) to find out about the status of Plum Island beaches, which can sometimes be closed to provide nesting for the piping plover. While the Plum Island Refuge will still be open and the trip is worth it just for the bike ride, it’s best to plan ahead to avoid disappointment if sand castle making was the anticipated highlight of the day for the kids. After all, a sad, disappointed child is as bad, if not worse, than being attacked by a swarm of Greenhead flies or getting hungry.

Next up, call or checking the website ahead of time to find out if parking lot 6 is open. If so, get there early enough to head all the way down to parking lot 6 on the southern end of the island. It’s the most secluded beach and because there’s only room for about 20 cars in the lot, overcrowding isn’t as big of an issue.

Our Last Word On Parking: In the summertime, parking fills up very quickly on the weekend. If you’re not there by noon, you’ll most likely be waiting in a line to get in. This ain’t Wallyworld.

Like we said, more than just a day on the bike

Regardless of where you park your car, your ride will take you along the main road of Plum Island. While cars are present on this road, vehicle speeds and danger levels are both pretty low, but you still need to pay attention. Especially in the late afternoon when people start to leave.

As you make your way, you’ll spot boardwalks that lead you to various beaches. While there are many places to jump off the bikes and explore on foot, parking lot 4 offers the opportunity to climb up an observation tower and fully orient yourself with the island. After which you can take a walk to explore Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area.

A second observation tower exists at the tip of Plum Island on Sandy Point State Reservation, offering a view of Broad Sound.

Which bike should I bring?

If seeing the entire island on bike is what you’re after, mountain bikes are ideal because after parking lot 4, the road turns to gravel.

If road bikes are your only option, simply start off from parking lot 1, ride to parking lot 4, lock your bikes and climb the observation tower to take a peek of the entire island. After you’re back on the road, walk south for about a half mile, and turn left to take the boardwalk near parking lot 5. This will take you to the beach. Once you’re on the beach, you can hike all the way to Sandy Point State Reservation. This round trip hike will take approximately 4 hours.

Photo Credit: Darryl Whitmore

Photo Credit: Darryl Whitmore

Burrito Time

You’ve earned it.  Agave Mexican Bistro in downtown Newburyport is a great place to eat at the end of the day. Worth mentioning – they have 70 different types of Tequila. We do not recommend you try all of them in one sitting. If pressed to pick one, we’d go for a round of Corralejo Reposada on the rocks. Like we said, you’ve earned it.

Important stuff you need to know

  • Of course, we’ve got a Google Map you can use to build some directions to the parking lot on Plum Island. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has a wonderfully detailed map.
  • Overall, cell phone coverage works great out there but if you’re an AT&T customer, the best connectivity can be found at Sandy Point.
  • Bathrooms are located at parking lots 1 and 4 as well as at Sandy Point State Reservation on the southern tip of the island.
  • Remember, there won’t be food for sale on Plum Island.  Bring snacks!
  • Dogs aren’t allowed
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