We who embrace the annual chill of winter in order to explore the mountains are equally enthusiastic when New England’s beaches beckon us in summer to enjoy their sun-soaked soft sands, refreshing breezes, and invigorating surf. Sure, we can acknowledge that western ski resorts have an edge on winter [Maybe — ed.], but when it comes to beach season, those landlocked mountain states simply can not compete.
New England’s beach game is on point, perhaps no more so than at a pair of Massachusetts beaches along the North Shore.
About 11 miles long, Plum Island Beach in Newburyport (www.newburyport.com/plum-island-beach) is a barrier island that shelters Plum Island Sound, the Plum Island River, and the mouths of the Parker, Rowley, Eagle Hill, and Ipswich rivers. It is a favorite destination for those interested in sunbathing, fishing, hiking, or simply exploring coastal wildlife habitats.
The island gets its name from the wild beach plum shrubs that grow in its dunes, but the sands famously cast a purple hue at high tide due to tiny crystals of pink pyrope garnet. The Great Marsh grasslands between the island and the mainland are laced with tidal creeks that channel through the mud flats, tidal estuaries that fortify shellfish beds. Most of the island, which encompasses the city of Newburyport and the towns of Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich, is managed by the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Plum Island Beach is on the north point of the island, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Merrimack River at the mouth of Newburyport Harbor. The beach, home to the historic Plum Island Light House, looks out across the harbor to Salisbury Beach.
A trip to Plum Island Beach on the North Point beckons exploration to both Plum Island Center and the Refuge. The Center in Newbury features restaurants, ice cream, and convenience stores. Traveling southward on the island, the Refuge encompasses 4,700 acres, including more than 3,000 acres of protected salt marsh that supports more than 300 species. Sandy Point State Reservation is at the southern end of the island, where the beach looks out over the water to Crane Beach.
Positioned about 30 miles northeast of Boston, and immediately north of Cape Ann, Ipswich’s Crane Beach (thetrustees.org/place/crane-beach-on-the-crane-estate) attracts more than 350,000 people annually to its shores. Revered not only for its four miles of white, sandy Atlantic beachfront and dunes, Crane’s 1,200 acres are also home to a diverse wildlife habitat and the North Shore’s largest coastal pitch pine forest at Castle Neck.
Visitors can safely access Crane’s pristine features via more than five miles of hiking trails traversing through the habitat. The dunes are protected by elevated boardwalks and fencing, while fencing also protects sensitive wildlife, including the nesting sites of the threatened piping plovers. An unwanted resident – at least as beachgoers are concerned – are the green-eyed horse flies known as greenheads, which typically make their appearance mid-July through August.
With views out to Ipswich Bay and a not-too-distant Plum Island, beachgoers at low tide can wade out to the exposed sand bars, where boats also frequently drop anchor.
Matt Boxler can be reached at [email protected].