For scenery, birds and beach that are quintessential Cape Cod, visit Morris Island. The Monomoy Wildlife Refuge visitor center is located on the island along with a small part of the refuge. Take a hike through the woods, marsh, dunes and along the beach to get the full Morris Island experience.
The visitor center has educational and interactive displays describing the nature and wildlife of Monomoy. They also have scavenger hunt packages for kids and binoculars available. Outside the visitor center, be sure to stop and smell the flowers – there are two pollinator gardens with more than 25 different kinds of native plants that provide blooms all year except in the coldest winter months. Behind the visitor center, a boardwalk and stairs lead to an observation deck that provides striking views of North and South Monomoy Islands and Chatham’s South Beach Island. Parking is free and there are restrooms at the visitor center.
The Monomoy Wildlife Refuge offers a self-guided walking tour of Morris Island with informative displays scattered along the trail and guided hikes as well in the summer months. Get trail maps and directions from the visitor center or online. Due to erosion, access to the beach has been rerouted, and much of the trail is under water at high tide. It’s a good idea to start at least 2 hours after high tide and plan to be out of the affected areas again 2 hours before high tide.
The nature trail winds through a variety of habitats that provide nesting and feeding grounds for the resident and visiting wildlife. The loop section of the trail goes through pine forest and marsh then branches out to the beach. Common sightings include horseshoe crabs, seals, songbirds, least terns, common terns, and piping plovers. Due to the climate, the area attracts a wide variety of migratory birds at different times of the year. In all, about 285 species of birds have been spotted in the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge. The Monomoy Wildlife Refuge’s primary objective is protecting natural resources. To that end, areas may be closed to safeguard nesting birds or steer visitors away from dangerous erosion. Likewise, dogs are permitted on the Morris Island section of the refuge only and only in the off-season.
Much of the hike on Morris Island is essentially a walk on the beach. Be sure to wear appropriate shoes and be prepared to get your feet wet. Walking in soft sand can make for a strenuous workout, so head to the shoreline and walk where the sand is still damp from the receding tide for an easier hike. Besides the exercise, of course, the trail along the beach offers some truly spectacular views including seals congregating across the water on Monomoy, the beautiful windswept dunes lining the shore, and clammers here and there harvesting shellfish.
Morris Island has some of the best fishing in the Cape Cod area. Surf fishing is permitted 24 hours a day while the refuge is only open for other activities from sunrise to sunset. Fishing between dusk and dawn is best to avoid boat traffic. With a permit from the town of Chatham, visitors can harvest clams and quahogs. To ensure that the birds have enough food, horseshoe crab and mussel collecting are not allowed.
To explore the rest of the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, head back to the visitor center to find out about the boat rides to the offshore sections of Monomoy. While Morris Island provides a taste of what the refuge is like, boat operators can take you to Monomoy’s Wilderness Islands where you can explore long stretches of beach, sand dunes, salt marshes and freshwater ponds. The scenery is very Cape Cod and the wildlife is fascinating!