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Venturing Out to Great Point Nantucket


Beach Life

Danno Lynch
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Great Point Nantucket Photo by Connor Cassidy

While there are many fantastic adventures to be had on Nantucket, its an absolute to see the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. The excursion ends at Great Point Lighthouse and features terrain unlike anywhere else on island.  The Trustees of Reservation own this refuge of dynamic and raw coastal conservation land.  Spread out over 1,110 acres are two long peninsulas exposed to all of nature’s elements. Shifting sands and storm surges continuously reshape the beach, dunes and their coastal vegetation.  The only thing that’s constant is the iconic Great Point Lighthouse (although you’ll read below that even the lighthouse is interminable).  Visiting the famed light house is a highly recommended activity when venturing to Nantucket.

nantucket beaches

History of Great Point Nantucket

The Great Point Lighthouse sits on the northernmost edge of the island and is one of the first visible signs of Nantucket when traveling by ferry. It was originally built from wood in 1816 but was destroyed by fire in 1874.  The following year a stone structure was built to replace the destruction, which lasted only until 1984 when a storm demolished the lighthouse.  In 1986, the lighthouse was once again reconstructed and remains standing today.  Located on the north-eastern point of the island, the Great Point Lighthouse is vital to many mariners. It helps them navigate the shoal-filled waters and protects them from running a ground on the shallow rips.  The white flashing light can be seen up to 14 nautical miles away on a clear day.  

Lynx at Great Point – Photograph by Gina O’Callaghan

Getting to the lighthouse is an adventure that island visitors must take. The landscape of Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge is pristine and raw.  On the trek out to Great Point, you drive along the ocean, with your tires nearly touching the water’s edge. You can see vast sand dunes, salt marshes, dwarfed cedars, heather, beach plum and even small patches of cacti.  The landscape is constantly shifting with the winds and the tides. Each trip you take (and I suggest taking more than one for this very reason), you are bound to see change, making each excursion different than the last.

Fishing Great Point Nantucket

Great Point Nantucket
Surfcasters Fishing – Great Point Nantucket – Photograph by Quint Waters

For centuries, marine life has drawn fisherman who are looking to catch Nantucket’s four main species of fish to Great Point. This includes striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore.  There is no better fishing experience than seeking out these fish and casting as you are knee deep in the surf.  The true test of a Nantucket fisherman is to catch a “Nantucket Slam” from the beach at Great Point, a feat rarely accomplished.  Before you head out, stop into Bill Fisher Tackle for rod and tackle rentals, a tide chart or any other gear you need while on the island. The most consistent spot to fish is at the tip of Great Point, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Sound.

Wildlife at Great Point Nantucket

Great Point Nantucket - Quint Waters
Snowy Owl – Great Point Nantucket – Photograph by Quint Waters

Over the last 10 years Nantucket has seen a significant increase in grey seals.  They have learned to call the point home.  Although the seals appear friendly, the Trustees of Reservation advise visitors to stay away from all wildlife.  Seals can be territorial and have even made it difficult for fisherman to reel in their fish. Due to the increasing seal populations, Great White Sharks have been increasingly seen in the waters off of Great Point.  Recently, a fisherman witnessed a seal attack from a Great White. These are just a handful of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that await you at Great Point!

Great Point Nantucket
Piping Plovers – Great Point Nantucket – Photograph by Quint Waters

The refuge is also home to the most optimum birding on Nantucket.  Osprey, seagulls, Arctic turns, jaegers and shearwaters are inhabitants of Great Point.  In the winter months, you can see the elusive snowy owls, white pelican and greater white-fronted goose. The endangered piping plovers will occasionally shut down portions of the trails to vehicles due to their diminishing populations. Call the Wauwinet Gatehouse at (508) 228-6799 before planning your trip to make sure the Refuge is open to vehicles – especially in the summer months. These birds lay their nests in the lowest possible terrain to avoid the strong winds, that will sweep them away.  Their nests in the tire tracks are almost impossible to see. 

Plan Your Trip to Great Point

Great Point Nantucket

When planning your trip to Great Point, it is imperative to have a four-wheel drive vehicle and an Oversand Vehicle Permit specifically for Great Point.  Rent a Jeep at Young’s (they all come with stickers) or other affordable rentals.  If you have an appropriate vehicle, you will need to purchase an Oversand Vehicle (OSV) permit at the Gatehouse in Wauwinet or online. Depending on the time of year this pass will cost $100-$160, but a day pass is also available.  The Gatehouse attendant will be able to answer any other questions and will give you a map.  Before leaving the gatehouse parking lot, it is imperative to deflate your tires. Most tires require a pressure of 15 PSI in order to gain traction on the soft sand. Failure to deflate will inevitably result in a call to CB Towing.  On your way out, refill your air at the pump right by the Wauwinet (it’s free!).

Great Point Nantucket Photograph by Connor Cassidy

After deflating your tires, the refuge is yours to explore.  Enjoy a once and a lifetime cruise in the raw and dynamic landscape while spotting marine and bird life. The Trustees do a phenomenal job of preserving our island and share it with thousands of annual visitors. Please respect the habitat, leave nothing behind and enjoy the very unique trek to the breathtaking Great Point Lighthouse!

Great Point Nantucket Photograph by Connor Cassidy

Plan a minimum of 3 hours for your excursion, as the lighthouse is the most remote location on island.  Pick up food from your favorite food stop and hop in your four-wheel drive vehicle to experience the Coatue-Coskata Refuge. Beach chairs are included at most Fisher vacation rentals, and are available to rent in Town or to borrow from your hotel & bed and breakfast. Don’t forget bug spray, as it can get quite buggy. Walking is not advised; Great Point is a 5-mile roundtrip trek and it can be very difficult to walk on the soft sand for long distances. During the Rainbow Parade and Opera House Cup, viewing out at Great Point is the best spot on the island to watch the race.

Great Point Nantucket
Opera House Cup – Great Point Nantucket – Photograph by Quint Waters

Great Point Nantucket is a very unique experience that anyone visiting should take part in. Not only does the land feel untouched here, but Great Point also presents endless amounts of beauty to behold.

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, Nantucket, MA (508) 228-6799

CB Towing, Nantucket, MA (508) 521-0393

Young’s Rentals, Nantucket, MA (508) 228-1151

Written By

Danno Lynch

Danno, a native from Medfield, Massachusetts and fell in love with the beauty and serenity of Nantucket at a young age