Things To Do in Nantucket: Nature and Wildlife

Looking for things to do in Nantucket – the tiny island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts? Keen to escape to nature? Check out these seven gorgeous nature and wildlife destinations on Nantucket that are guaranteed to bring you up-close-and-personal with some of the island’s wild inhabitants.

New England’s most sought-after vacation spot – Nantucket, is the quintessential summer getaway. Some destinations are drop-dead gorgeous year-round, and the former whaling capital leads the pack.

Stretching more than 30 miles off Cape Cod, the island’s beauty is evident. Seated on an enthralling coastline is a visual extravaganza of spellbinding landscapes, sun-drenched beaches, and yacht-packed harbors. 

Things to do in Nantucket - explore the coastline

But the picturesque island has another ace – it’s more than pretty beaches. Nantucket is a paradise for nature and wildlife enthusiasts, and exploring the island by foot is one of the best things to do in Nantucket – it provides an entirely new and exciting perspective of the island’s impressive biodiversity. 

We’ve laid down seven hidden gems in Nantucket, where off-the-grid wanderlusters can get a front-row view of the grandeur of mother nature. 

Coskata Coatue Wildlife Refuge 

Experience nature at its most authentic with a visit to the iconic Coskata Coatue Wildlife Refuge. The surroundings at every bend of this ruggedly stunning coastal paradise beckon for you to stop and connect with nature. 

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

A playing ground for deer, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors – the 16-mile sand trail is dotted with salt marsh, tidal ponds, and maritime oak forests. 

Coskata is the holy grail for bird watching and wildlife sightings. The undisturbed landscape is home to diverse wildlife, including several rare bird species, like the endangered roseate tern.

You’ll also see Turkey vultures circling in the sky, hunting for seal carcasses to eat. Whimbrels wander along the shore while deers maneuver through the tall dunes and bask on the beach.

The Northern harriers cruising over the dunes in search of prey is a quintessential sight, with summer and spring bringing out the American oystercatchers and Piping plovers. 

If you visit during fall, you’ll see an influx of Peregrine falcons, American kestrels and Merlins. Drive past a trail of squawking seagulls and grey seals, and if you’re lucky, you might spot see a whale.

Tupancy Links Trail

A significant chunk of Nantucket can be explored on foot, making the scenic island perfect for hiking. Speaking of hiking, Nantucket is home to some spectacular trails where you can explore the island’s untamed beauty away from the crowds. 

Things to do in Nuntacket - Great Point Lighthouse
Great Point Lighthouse

You get a more serene perspective of the island’s virgin nature with a tour of Tupancy Links. The breathtaking 1.4 km trail is a haven for gorgeous black huckleberry, low bush blueberry, bearberry, beach plum, and pasture rose overlooking the rugged coastlines of North shore. 

The lush green scenery lets you get up close and personal with the island’s wild inhabitants, such as the White-tailed deer, Eastern cottontail rabbits and plenty of songbirds.

One of the most striking things about Tupancy is that you can catch amazing views of the famous Great Point Lighthouse, Dionis Beach, Eel Point and the Whaling Captain’s mansions at the peak.

Serengeti Loop – Middle Moors

Point the compass to Milestone, where a lesser-known refuge gets tongues wagging and ears twitching. Serengeti’s vegetation is made up of bayberry, Eastern pitch pine, sassafras, black tupelo, and scrub oak, grasses and shrubs, and some rare flowers. You’ll also find endangered plant species such as St. Andrew’s Cross and bushy rockrose here.

Red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawk

The dense, lush landscape is sure to turn up some wildlife encounters. A red-tailed hawk sitting motionless in the trees. White-tailed deer flip their tails as they leap over thickets and tall grass. A Chestnut marsh hawk flashing between the shrubs.

Crown your experience at the iconic Altar Rock as you coast along the expansive, endless refuge and take in magnificent views of the Milestone Cranberry Blog, Sconset village, Sankaty Head Lighthouse and glimpses of the Nantucket Harbor.

Linda Loring Nature Foundation

Lace-up your boots for a hike on the Linda Loring Nature Foundation (LLNF) off the south end of Eel Point Road. The easy-to-maneuver trail cuts across coastal shrublands, sandplain grasslands and endangered heathlands. And, of course, stunning views of Nantucket Sound form a majestic backdrop. 

American goldfinch - things to do in Nantucket
American goldfinch

Beyond the multi-faceted landscape, the abundance of birds is another compelling reason to visit the foundation. You can book a birdwatching field trip between late spring and early fall or schedule an intimate private birding tour. 

Don’t be surprised to see snapping turtles on the trail at LLNF. But it is the birds that steal the show. Expect to spot Ospreys, Northern harriers, Double-crested cormorants, Gray catbirds, Song sparrows, Americal goldfinches, and American robins, to name a few.

Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge 

Nantucket’s lush scenery and isolated, rugged terrain are irresistibly alluring for avid explorers keen on shrugging off the stress of modern living and reconnecting with nature. Nestled on the peak of Great Point, the Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge overlooks a stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and dramatic dunes. In this land of dramatic scenery, no two views are alike.

Things to do in Nantuket - see harbor seals
Harbor seals

The wildlife refuge is home to an abundance of life, including the Harbor and Grey seals basking along the shore at Great Point. You can also view a variety of migratory birds like the endangered Piping plovers and Roseate terns, among the flocks of American oystercatchers and Common terns.

Soak in the picture-worthy sunrise and sunset, the idyllic Great Point lighthouse and numerous bird species cruising overhead while seals bob in and out of the water or bask on the shores.

Mass Audubon’s Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary

When in Nantucket, you don’t have to drive for endless miles to get a feel of the island’s natural splendor. Ask any well-seasoned vacationer about the best things to do in Nantucket’s expansive landscape, and they’ll tell you to explore the captivating Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Sanctuary. 

American oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher

Sesachacha Heathlands are arguably the epitome of bird-watching destinations, with more than 300 bird species, including piping plover, American oystercatcher, Eastern towhees, Northern harriers, and Common yellowthroat. 

Catching an intimate glimpse of hundreds of birds in their natural habitat is one of the most unforgettable thrills here. The Sesachacha sanctuary offers undeniably majestic vistas with an abundance of picture-worthy backdrops like the iconic Sesachacha pond – Nantucket’s largest body of salty water.

The sanctuary is also home to some of the rarest habitats like the sandplain grassland, coastal heathland, and huckleberry.

Eel Point Marsh

Eel Point Marsh is one of the most gorgeous and alluring places to see an abundance of birds in Nantucket. Not to mention, the fascinating scenery is close to several saltwater lagoons and a beach.

things to do in Nantucket - seeCommon mergansera
Common merganser

The dramatic rolling dunes harbor an intriguing mix of birds, including a variety of birds of prey, as well as terns, plovers, and oystercatchers. 

The bird watcher’s paradise is also home to plentiful songbirds like sparrows, finches, and snow buntings. And there’s more – you get unusually close to sea ducks such as Mergansers, Long-tailed ducks, Scaup, Common eiders and grebes.

Wrapping up

Nantucket is evolving into one of the most sought-after vacation hotspots thanks to its spellbinding beaches, fascinating history and trailblazing landscapes. The island is also blessed with extravagant bird life and charming lush scenery waiting to be discovered.

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