Exploring Nantucket | Visiting Wildlife Refuges

Thanks to the continuous efforts and dedication of the local authorities, the Conservation Foundation and other organizations, and the tight-knit community of Nantucket, the island has more than 50% of perfectly preserved natural habitats and areas where development is not allowed. 

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation owns and is responsible for various natural habitats, including barrier beaches and dunes, salt marshes, ponds and bogs, heathlands and grasslands, hardwood forests, pitch pine and scrub oak barrens, and more.

There are also three stunning wildlife refuges on this small island which you can visit to admire the untouched local flora and fauna.

You can plan ahead and book a local private residence or other available accommodation near the wildlife refuges you plan to visit when going on a trip to Nantucket. Luckily, there is a wide variety of available houses, cottages, lofts, and other dwellings open for rent for visitors to the island, in all neighborhoods and areas of Nantucket.

So, how do you decide which of these wildlife refuges is the best one for you?

Read on to find out more about these three breathtaking wildlife refuges and parks on the island of Nantucket.

The Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge

This is one of the eight wildlife refuges in the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is hard to reach as it is located on the tip of the Coskata-Coatue peninsula and the Great Point Light area of the island.

The refuge was established in 1973 and includes a variety of habitats, such as intertidal areas and barrier beach dunes.

It is home to a wide variety of migratory birds, shorebirds, seabirds, and marine animals such as seals. When visiting this refuge, some of the birds you can spot are piper plovers, American oystercatchers, and numerous gulls, raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl species.

Apart from being a birdwatcher’s dream destination, the refuge is also a preferred spot for surf-fishing for striped bass and bluefish and nature photography. 

To get there, you will need to cross about 5 miles of sand via an oversand 4WD vehicle with a permit from The Trustees of Reservations.

At the refuge, you can enjoy visiting the Great Point Light lighthouse and some stunning ocean views.

Right next to the area is the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge.

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife refuge includes some of the most scenic beaches, the biggest red cedar forest in New England, and leads to the famous Great Point Light lighthouse on the northernmost point of the island.

You can get there only via a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a special beach driving permit, or by boat offered by the Trustees of Reservations of Nantucket, or take a Conservation Foundation Tour around the park.

The Coskata-Coatue Park has more than 16 miles of trails that visitors can explore. The area includes coastal forests, endless beaches, and dunes, tidal ponds, and you can even spot rare plants such as the prickly pear cactus on some of these trails. When you reach the lighthouse, you can enjoy a picnic and a majestic view, and if you are lucky, you may spot some frolicking seals near the shore.

The beach by the lighthouse is popular among anglers and families. Still, it is remote enough to offer a quieter and more private experience than some of the more popular beaches offer.

Mass Audubon’s Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary

At the third wildlife refuge of Nantucket, visitors can enjoy some of the rarest habitats in the state of Massachusetts, including sandplain grassland and coastal heathland.

You can also see the largest brackish water pond in Nantucket – the Sesachacha Pond. This pond is a top-rated destination for birders from around the country. You can spot more than 300 bird species there, as well as other wildlife, including deer and rabbits, and some raptors. Birdwatchers visit the sanctuary to enjoy the view of wading birds such as lesser yellowlegs, egrets, herons, whimbrels, and more, along with the cormorants, gulls, black and mallard ducks, minnows solo, oldsquaws, buffleheads, and eiders.

The pond is home to various migrating fish, such as blueback herring and American eels, which come to the pond to reproduce or to live and spend the rest of their lives in the ocean.

Next to the pond, you can see the barrier beach, the pond habitat, as well as the swamps and coastal heathlands.

This refuge too can only be accessed via a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a permit because the roads are made of soft sand. You can enjoy hiking through it as well.


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