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Visiting Cuttyhunk Island and the Elizabeth Islands

Visit Cuttyhunk Island and Elizabeth Island graphic

Looking off the coast of Woods Hole on the southwest corner of Cape Cod, you can't help but notice the collection of small islands that sit between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound.

These are the Elizabeth Islands, which are part of Dukes County, along with Chappaquiddick Island, Nomans Lands, and Martha's Vineyard, and mostly uninhabited.

The furthest of the islands from the Cape, Cuttyhunk, is the only one with an actual settlement where people live year-round. It's a secluded paradise where you'll feel like you're in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and can spend the day in peace.

Visiting Cuttyhunk Island isn't easy, but is worth the effort if you're looking to relax away from the chaos of Cape Cod's summers, if only for a few hours.

Here's what you should know about Cuttyhunk Island.

About the Elizabeth Islands

As you sit looking at the water from Woods Hole's Great Harbor, you can't help but notice that Nonamesset Island, Uncatena Island, and Naushon Island are incredibly close to Cape Cod. As a result, it might seem strange that they're not favored destinations for locals, but there is a very good reason for that.

You see, the Forbes family owns the majority of the Elizabeth Islands, and, therefore, they are private property that you can't visit without special permission. Unless you're a close personal friend of a member of the family, you won't have much luck getting authorization either.

Of the seven main islands and nine islets that make up this region, only two aren't owned by the Forbes family: Penikese Island and Cuttyhunk Island.

Penikese Island has a colorful history, as it was a leprosy colony from 1905 and 1921, and later became the site of Penikese Island School, which operates a treatment center for juveniles dealing with alcohol or opiate addictions. There was also a long-term treatment center on the island for a couple of years, but it shut down in 2017.

The other island, Cuttyhunk, has a year-round population of just ten people, although about 400 people live there during the summer. If you plan to visit the Elizabeth Islands, Cuttyhunk is your likely destination because its the only location with any amenities.

Aeriel Photograph of Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth IslandsGetting to the Island

The main issue with visiting Cuttyhunk Island is that it's a difficult location to reach. Locals aren't complaining, however, because the lack of transportation to the area means fewer tourists and allows them to keep the atmosphere quiet and secluded.

The easiest way to get to Cuttyhunk Island is on your boat. The island has a marina where you can dock your vessel and spend the day wandering through town. Many visitors sleep on their crafts in the harbor, as well, since accommodation on the island is lacking.

The other way to reach the island involves taking the ferry from New Bedford. The Cuttyhunk Ferry Company has regular routes between New Bedford and Cuttyhunk year-round, including two sailings per day throughout most of the summer. There's also the Cuttyhunk Water Taxi, which operates as a charter on an as-needed basis. You'll have to book your trip on the water taxi ahead of time.

From Cape Cod, you can also hire a charter to take you to the island, should you want to stop for a look, or even spend the night.

Things to Do

Some believe that there isn't much to do on Cuttyhunk Island, and that's true to a certain extent. The lack of bustle is a draw for visitors, however, as the island is quiet and an excellent place to relax in the summer.

There aren't any bars or malls on the island, and you can't buy liquor at all. There is a single market where you can pick up the essentials, along with a restaurant and a raw bar, but you won't find much else.

As a result, if you plan to spend the night at one of the island's bed and breakfasts, it's recommended that you pack everything that you'll need with you.

One way to spend your time on Cuttyhunk Island is enjoying the beaches. The entire island is lined by beaches, with the most central being Barges Beach on the island's east side. You can walk to the beach from the ferry terminal or the marina, and it extends a fair distance into the Atlantic, allowing you to find a secluded section on which to relax.

If you're spending more than a few hours on the island, you might also want to do some hiking through its interior. Trails run all over the island, and you'll even come across some picnic tables if you're going to stop for a quick meal.

Fishing is also a significant draw in the waters around Cuttyhunk Island. If you're looking for a new place to fish this summer, try the area around Cuttyhunk because you can make an entire weekend out of it and will have a safe harbor in which to spend the night.

Explore Somewhere New

When you live on the Cape, there's very little reason to leave because you'll have everything you could ever want right at your fingertips.

Cuttyhunk Island is one reason to venture off Cape Cod, however, because it provides perhaps the region's quietest atmosphere, giving you some peaceful time to yourself.

It's challenging to get to Cuttyhunk Island, but if you're willing to put in the effort, being able to spend some time there is the ultimate reward.

Published January 9, 2020 in Get to Know Cape Cod, Exploring Our Area