Penikese Island

Discover a peaceful and windswept natural paradise of rocky beaches, rolling hills, and rich birdwatching opportunities on Penikese Island. Situated just north of Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth Islands chain, this wildlife sanctuary offers a day of exploring the remote island’s trails, shorelines, and pristine waters, all set against a beautiful backdrop of Buzzards Bay.

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Penikese Island is a state-owned wildlife sanctuary with crystal-clear waters, abundant bird populations, and a sense of quiet solitude unlike other places on Buzzards Bay. If you have access to a boat, then we highly recommend you check out this beautiful and fascinating spot for a walk, picnic, birdwatching, swimming, snorkeling – and a history lesson.

Penikese Island is perhaps best known for its role as an isolated leprosy hospital in the early 1900s. But its modern history extends much deeper. In the 1870s, the island was home to the Anderson School of Natural History; one of the school’s graduates went on to found the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. More recently, Penikese Island was home to a residential reform school for teenage boys from 1973 to 2011. The school offered an alternative to lockup for delinquent youth, and the island’s rustic surroundings, the hard work it required, and the interdependent “family” it created helped students advance and grow. Since 2019, the Penikese Island School has been reimagined as an immersive educational experience where Penikese Island serves as a classroom for school trips and youth camps.


A group of people walking on Penikese Island with a view of Buzzards Bay

Experience a wild and spectacular walk with 360-degree views of Buzzards Bay from the grassy trails on Penikese Island. (Photo: Robert Price)

Experience a wild and spectacular walk with 360-degree views of Buzzards Bay from the grassy trails on Penikese Island. (Photo: Robert Price)

Grassy, unmarked trails stretch up Penikese Island from the beach and boat dock past the former school buildings. (Please note that the school buildings are not open to the public.) The island’s terrain is hilly and its paths are rough and uneven in spots, so wear sturdy footwear and watch your step. To avoid trampling nests, eggs, and chicks, please stay on the mowed trails during bird nesting season, from April 1-August 15.

From the dock or the cluster of school buildings, head west on the trails to reach the island’s high point, where you can take in a panoramic view of Cuttyhunk and Nashawena islands, the Atlantic Ocean and Vineyard Sound, and even the Aquinnah Cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard. (Take care around the open cistern at the end of the trail.)

For a longer journey, walk north on the stone wall-lined path past the buildings. This trail will lead you to a small cemetery overlooking the entrance to Buzzards Bay – a reminder of the island’s past as a leper colony. From here, you can reach the island’s northernmost beaches; these rock-covered shores make for an interesting exploration and a wide-open view of the Bay’s busy waters.

Habitats & Wildlife

Penikese Island has some of the healthiest waters in Buzzards Bay. Lush eelgrass meadows carpet the shallows, providing an important habitat for fish and shellfish. Because of these pristine waters, Penikese is one of the best places on the Bay to go snorkeling – just tie up your boat, don your mask and snorkel, and hop in to see what underwater creatures you can find!

The island’s grassy hills and rocky beaches serve as a critical nesting colony for seabirds – particularly gulls and terns, including the endangered roseate tern. These birds are sensitive to disturbances, which makes remote Penikese Island an excellent place for them to breed. For birders, the island is a hotspot for dozens of species of seaducks, shorebirds, and songbirds.

Penikese Island is undergoing active habitat restoration, and Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife staff are present on the island during spring and early summer to manage birds. To keep nesting birds safe, please follow all posted signage and stay out of restricted area. No pets are allowed on the island, and certain areas are off limits to public visitors due to the concentration of nesting birds.

Property Owned By

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is responsible for the conservation – including restoration, protection, and management – of fish and wildlife resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.

Size: 75 acres
Hours: Daylight hours
Trail Difficulty: Intermediate
Dogs: No
Facilities: Dock
Boat Ramp: No
Lifeguards: No
ADA Accessible: No

Please follow all posted rules and regulations at this property.

Address & Contact Information
Gosnold, MA 02713
41.450774, -70.922730

Please follow all posted rules and regulations at this property.

Penikese Island
Gosnold, MA
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Upcoming Events Near Here

Falmouth Road Race
Sun, August 18
Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights,
Buzzards Bay Watershed Ride
Sun, October 06
Sakonnnet Point to Woods Hole,
Buzzards Bay Coalition Golf Tournament
Fri, October 18
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The Bay Club,

Nearby Places To Go

Church’s Beach

Take an island excursion to Cuttyhunk and discover Church's Beach, a Buzzards Bay paradise with crystal-clear waters.

Lookout Park

See views of Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the Bay at Lookout Park on Cuttyhunk.

Menemsha Hills

Hike through Martha's Vineyard's diverse habitats and take in stunning views of Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands at this large Chilmark preserve.

Current Issues

Oil Spills

New laws and better plans have made the Bay safer from oil today than it was 10 years ago. But oil spills remain a constant threat. That’s why the Coalition continues to advocate for the strongest possible protections for Buzzards Bay.

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