Exploring Buzzards Bay’s islands can feel confusing when venturing out: because many islands in the area are privately owned, you may not be sure where you’re allowed to explore. To help you discover these wonderfully wild places, we’ve gathered up all of the Buzzards Bay islands that are open to public exploration, as well as the best tips on how to explore them. Whether you want a quick retreat or a full day of fun, a lush place to picnic or a paddle with seals, there’s somewhere nearby where you can soak in some island vibes!
1. Sakonnet Point (Little Compton)
Located at the westernmost border of Buzzards Bay, the waters off Sakonnet Point and coastal Little Compton are scattered with small islands. These islands are mostly stone outcrops with few places to anchor, making them a best fit for experienced kayakers. Put in your kayak at Tappens Beach or South Shore Beach and paddle west along the shoreline, passing countless rocky islands both big and small — a great place to spot seals in the winter and spring! End your trip by exploring East and West Island, two preserved islands where you can go ashore to see huge flocks of nesting seagulls and examine the ruins of an old sportfishing club, all with stunning views of Sakonnet Point Lighthouse.
2. Upper Spectacle Island, Lower Spectacle Island, and Big Pine Island (Westport)
Located in the east branch of the Westport River, these three Westport Land Conservation Trust (WLCT) owned islands are great destinations for a short day trip on a small boat or kayak. You’ll find stunning views and island serenity on their sandy shores and bordering salt marsh. For a long walk, land on the northern edge of Lower Spectacle at low tide, where you’ll find a long crescent of beach and numerous birds gathered on the island’s sand bar. Though these hilly islands are forested, the WLCT has not created trails here, and asks that adventurers stay on the beach. (While on your Westport paddling adventure, you can also take in great views around neighboring islands, but please stay offshore: Great Island is privately owned, and Little Pine Island and Gunning Island are preserved Mass Audubon bird sanctuaries.)
3. Big Ram Island and Little Ram Island (Westport)
Donated to the Westport Land Conservation Trust in 1973, Big and Little Ram Island are made up of broad salt marshes near the mouth of the Westport River’s east branch. The marshes are a familiar landmark for Westport boaters heading out into the Bay — but did you know they’re also somewhere you can explore? Natural river channels and man-made dikes, carved for flood control in the previous century, run throughout the marsh and create a maze of waterways that are great for spotting marsh wildlife by kayak or canoe. We recommend this trip for experienced paddlers who are comfortable using a compass, as the many channels could get you turned around.
4. Upper Cedar Island and Lower Cedar Island (Dartmouth)
Conveniently located just across from the Slocum’s River Reserve canoe launch, Upper Cedar Island and Lower Cedar Island are a great place to start a Slocums River paddling adventure. The Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT) preserved these two islands for their exceptional salt marsh and bird habitat. During the summer, you may spot a pair of osprey nesting on the tall platform on Lower Cedar and hunting over the river! Because both islands are mostly salt marsh, they’re better discovered from the water than by foot.
If you’re continuing your paddle south on the Slocums River from the Cedar islands, you’ll see another island called Pelegs Island. This crescent of rock and salt marsh is privately owned, but provides great views as you pass by.
5. West Island (Fairhaven)
Though it extends far out into the waters of Buzzards Bay, West Island is the only island on this list you can get to without a boat! West Island was connected to the mainland by a causeway in the 1940s, and more than half of this charming island is protected as West Island State Reservation and West Island Town Beach. Hike, swim, snorkel, dig for quahogs, or just relax on salt marsh-lined beaches at this unique spot.
6. Little Bay Islands (Fairhaven)
Fairhaven’s Little Bay is scattered with an array of islands that make for an awesome day of kayak exploration. We recommend launching from Edgewater Street and heading north to circle around the large salt marsh island across from Little Bay Conservation Area, known as Quahog Hill. The Buzzards Bay Coalition protected this island in 2014, making it a great place to spot wildlife; just be sure not to tread on or disturb marsh vegetation. From Quahog Hill, head south to loop around a picturesque, crescent-shaped island in the South Shore Marshes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and stop for a picnic on the white sand beaches of the WMA’s long salt marsh peninsula. As you head back to shore, you’ll pass by a privately-owned island off the end of Wampanoag Drive, where the public is not permitted.
7. Stewart’s Island (Marion)
Just southeast of Silvershell Beach, Stewart’s Island has played a significant role in local history. The island was inhabited by the native Sippican tribe, and was the former location of the Sippican Yacht Club. Now owned by the Sippican Lands Trust, this island’s salt marsh channels and inner lagoons are a great place to kayak. We recommend launching from Island Wharf or Old Landing Wharf to pass Ram Island, which is privately owned, on your trip south. On your way back, stop over on the sandy shoals of Meadow Island, a shallow sandbar where birds like to congregate at low tide.
8. Wickets Island (Wareham)
Smack-dab in the middle of Onset Bay, Wickets Island is a perennial favorite of Onset locals. The sandy beaches around its southern end are a great place to relax and wade in the shallows after a quick boat ride or paddle from the mainland, while its rocky east side has some of the best beachcombing in the area. However, what makes Wickets Island especially unique is its unusually high peak, which the Coalition will soon open as a picnic area with breathtaking views of Onset Bay and upper Buzzards Bay. The Coalition is also renovating the island’s stone pier and staircase to make it safer for everyone to explore. Because we are still restoring the staircase and top of the island, please stay on the beach, and check back for new information on exploring Wickets this fall.
9. Bassets Island (Bourne)
Sandy, propeller-shaped Bassets Island in Pocasset Harbor is popular with boaters, who pull up in the dozens along the island’s southern arm. This end of the island is town-owned, and offers a great place for long, sun-filled days of swimming, picnicking, and beachcombing — especially in late summer, when horseshoe crabs congregate in the shallows to mate. The rest of Bassets Island is privately owned, through its shores offer great views if you take on the challenge of paddling around it.
10. Bull Island (Gosnold)
Bull Island is a small island inside Hadley Harbor, on the eastern end of private Naushon Island. Dinghies and paddle craft can land on Bull Island’s shoreline or at the small wharf on its southern side — just be careful of the many rocks and strong currents around the island. A trail leads around the rocky and sandy perimeter of the island, as well as through its forested center. Whether your plan is to hike, bird-watch, or just enjoy the solitude of a deserted beach, you’ll want plenty of time to enjoy this island’s gorgeous views of Hadley Harbor and Woods Hole in the distance.
11. Weepecket Islands (Gosnold)
The Weepecket Islands are a string of three small, rocky islands off the northern edge of Naushon Island. The largest of the Weepecket Islands, at the chain’s south end, has a beautiful beach on its southwest side where many boaters anchor and come ashore to enjoy crystal clear waters and island serenity. The remainder of the large island and its two smaller neighbors is composed of rocks and scrubby vegetation that serves as a home for many nesting birds. If you’re exploring inland, take special care in late spring and summer, when endangered roseate and common terns visit these islands to nest.
12. Penikese Island (Gosnold)
Situated just north of Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth Islands chain, remote Penikese Island offers a sense of quiet solitude unlike any other place on Buzzards Bay. Formerly the site of a leprosy hospital and a reform school, the island is today a state-owned wildlife sanctuary with crystal-clear waters, abundant bird populations, and miles of trail to explore. We highly recommend taking the boat trip out to this beautiful and fascinating spot. As you travel the island, please note that the school buildings are not open to the public.