Washburn Island on the Shores of Waquoit Bay

washburn island shores

washburnOne of the largest and last undeveloped coastal properties in Cape Cod, visitor-friendly Washburn Island awaits on the shores of Waquoit Bay. The 330-acre island is part of the 825-acre Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Massachusetts state park system.

A Day Trip to Washburn Island

Though you’ll need a boat to visit the island, it’s a popular destination for day trippers and overnight campers alike. Although it may remain closed again through the 2024 season for overnight camping, it is a perfect spot for a day trip while you are out on the water. There are plenty of trails for explorations throughout the island. Campers and walkers should keep a lookout for the poison ivy and be sure to secure their food from the raccoons washburn4that also call the island home.

Located on the Falmouth side of Waquoit Bay, the island’s beaches, along with South Cape Beach protect the narrow entrance to the bay. Visitors enjoy forests of pitch pine, beaches along Vineyard Sound complete with gently swaying beach grass and fragrant salt spray rose. Washburn Island consists of barrier beaches and trails through scrub pine and oak forest and around the marshes and ponds.

History of Washburn Island

washburn2The island has had a variety of uses throughout the years. It was home to three farms in the 1850’s when one imagines the grazing sheep and cattle could be spotted from the shores of South Cape Beach. The property was acquired by Henry Bryant in the 1890’s, where he constructed a three-story house and built a hand ferry connecting Washburn Island to the mainland. Following Bryant’s death in 1912 the island was sold to the Washburn family who constructed a home, stable, and boathouse. A fire in 1926 destroyed the home, and the Hurricane of 1938 washed away the causeway the Washburns had built to the mainland.

Washburn’s Critical Role in the D-Day Invasion

falmouth museums 2Following these disasters on the island, the federal government leased Washburn in the 1940’s and built some infrastructure on the island, including a recreation and recovery center.  The gentle slope of the beach was an ideal spot for the critical amphibious landing training that occurred on Washburn Island in preparation for the monumental D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, Normandy, France.

Many of the military units that stormed the beach on Normandy, first received their amphibious training and combat skills at Washburn Island. The facilities were demolished following World War II, and the property was returned to the care of Florence Washburn, who allowed locals to recreate on the island.

Current History

In 1976 the town of Falmouth passed up an opportunity to buy the island from the Washburns when voters rejected the chance to purchase the island for 2.75 million. This spurred residents to band together to pressure the state to buy Washburn after a developer submitted plans to put luxury homes on the island. The commonwealth acquired the island in 1983 and has incorporated it into the state park system.

Camping on Washburn

The island also sports ten primitive campsites available by reservation. Nine of the sites are suitable for groups of 4 or less with two tents, and one site can accommodate groups of up to 25 people. There are 3 composting toilets to support these sites.

You will want to check their website to get up-to-date information about campsite reservations as they are currently trying to staff for the 2024 season.  Historically island managers have stayed on the island seasonally, greeting visitors and helping to be sure the campsites are running smoothly. If would like to camp out, be sure to contact the Waquoit Bay Reserve for updated information.

The island has been staffed seasonally since 1990 and is well worth a trip into Waquoit Bay!

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