Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books)
Address:Sunset Drive, Newburyport, MA
Hours:Dawn to dusk daily
Fee: $5 per car; $2 if on foot or bike
Bathrooms: At Lot 1 (spring through fall); portable toilets available at other locations in the park (see map)
Water/Snacks: None

This barrier island wildlife refuge is a haven for birds and people alike, with trails, beaches, and salt marshes.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by: Kim Foley MacKinnon

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to provide a feeding, resting, and nesting habitat for migratory birds. Located on Plum Island, a barrier island, it is home to more than 300 species of resident and migratory birds as well as other animals. It is a critical habitat for the federally threatened piping plover.

Humans, however, can also enjoy a variety of activities at this special place, including swimming, hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, and, of course, birdwatching. In winter, this is one of the best places to spot snowy owls, which hunt in the open salt marshes.

Hellcat Interpretive Trail is a good hike for kids. The 1.5-mile trail has numbered posts that correspond to a narrative brochure (pick one up at the trailhead, refuge headquarters, or the entrance gatehouse). Take the Dune Loop part of the trail to go up a 50-foot-tall dune for a 360-degree view of the island. If you have a canoe or kayak, you can launch across from Lot 1.

The great thing about the reservation is the small number of other visitors you’ll encounter, since the refuge limits cars. Particularly in summer, plan to come early or arrive late to get in. If you can, go to the Sandy Point State Reservation beach all the way at the end of the island for fantastic views and swimming.

Remember: Greenheads, an aggressive blood-feeding horsefly, visit the refuge in large numbers from July through mid-August. Call ahead to see if they are present. If they are, don’t go! They will make your visit utterly miserable. Also, sometimes the refuge closes due to crowds, weather, or special events.

Plan B:

Make sure to stop at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center (Trip 79) for exhibits and more information.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Newburyport offers many dining options.


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