While there are many fantastic adventures to be had while visiting Nantucket, an absolute must do is the drive to the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, an excursion that ends at Great Point Lighthouse. The Trustees of the Reservation own this Refuge of dynamic, raw and beautiful coastal conservation lands. Spread out over 1,110 acres are two long peninsulas, vulnerable and exposed to all of nature’s elements. Shifting sands and storm surges continuously reshape the dunes, beach and coastal vegetation. The only thing that seems 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 Fisher Real Estate activity when venturing to Nantucket.
History of Great Point Nantucket
Great Point Lighthouse sits on the northernmost edge of the island and is one of the first visible signs of the island when traveling by ferry. It was originally built in 1874 out of wood but was destroyed by a fire in 1816. The following year a stone structure was built to replace the wooden lighthouse — this lasted until 1984 when a storm demolished the lighthouse. In 1986, it was once again reconstructed to the structure we still see standing today. Located on the northeast 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 is seen up to 14 nautical miles away on a clear day.
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 will drive along the ocean with your tires nearly touching the water’s edge. This is an experience not often found elsewhere in the country. You will see vast sand dunes, salt marshes, dwarfed cedars, heather, beach plum and even small patches of cacti. The seascape 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
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 for them as you are knee deep in the surf. The true test of a Nantucket fisherman is to catch this “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 weren’t able to bring out to the island. The most consistent spot to fish is at the point, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Sound.
Wildlife at Great Point Nantucket
Over the last 10 years Nantucket has seen a significant increase in grey seals. They have learned to call the point home. Though cute, if the seals are on the sand, the Trustees of the Reservation advise you to stay away from them. They can be territorial and have made it difficult for fisherman to reel in their fish to the beach due to challenging you to a game of tug of war! Because seals are their main predators, the Great White Shark has been seen in the waters off of Great Point. A few years ago, some fisherman witnessed a seal attack from a Great White shark. I am sure they will never forget this once in a lifetime experience!
The refuge is home to the most optimum birding on Nantucket. Osprey, seagulls, artic 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 species of piping plovers will occasionally shut down portions of the trails to vehicles due to their scarcity. 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
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. Depending on the time of year this will cost $140-$160 but a day pass is also available. The Gatehouse attendant will be able to answer any other questions and give you a map. Before leaving the gatehouse parking lot, it is imperative that you deflate your tires. Most tires require pressure to be at 15 PSI in order for your vehicle to gain traction on the soft sand. Failure to do so will result in a call to CB Towing. On your way out, refill your air at the pump right by the Wauwinet (it’s free).
After deflating your tires, the refuge is yours to explore. Enjoy a once and a lifetime experience to cruise the raw and dynamic landscape and spot the marine and bird activity. Nantucket does a phenomenal job to preserve 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.
The landscape and wildlife of Great Point Nantucket is a must-see adventure. Plan a minimum of 3 hours for your excursion, the lighthouse is the most remote one on the Island. Pick up food from your favorite sandwich shop and hop in your four-wheel drive vehicle to experience the Coatue-Coskata Refuge. Beach chairs are included at most Fisher vacation rentals, are available to rent in Town, or borrowed from your hotel or bed and breakfast. Don’t forget bug spray, it can get quite buggy. Walking is not advised as it’s a 5-mile roundtrip trek and 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 big and little sail boats.
Great Point Nantucket is a very unique experience that anyone visiting should take part in. Not only does the land feel untouched, it also gives you 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