What to Do

Hiking on Nantucket

Daytrippers lugging a couple of kids may find the walk from the ferry docks to Children's Beach a hike enough, but for those of the walking persuasion, Nantucket offers miles of walking and hiking trails second to none.

At present 46 percent of the island is held in trust by one of several conservation groups. This preservation effort has opened up vast areas of the island for walking and hiking.

Allen Reinhard, a town selectmen as well as a ranger for the Conservation Foundation, has been hiking through Nantucket for decades and offers insight into some of the best places to see.

Reinhard notes that despite its tiny size, Nantucket is made of two geologic zones. The northern part of the island is part of the New England glacial moraine, an area covered by glaciers during the last ice age. But southern portions of the island are part of the glacial runoff, areas not overrun by the glacier, but subject to the effect of the waters melting off the glaciers as they began to recede. This creates two distinct geologic settings and the unique opportunity to hike through varying topography in a very small area

Reinhard notes there is no bad day, or no bad place to walk on the island. You don't even need open spaces. Reinhard notes walks through Nantucket Town can be rewarding as any of the more outlying areas, with its unique architecture and fascination history. He recommends the walking tours offered by the Nantucket Historical Society as a good place to start.

For those who were prefer to get a little more into the open, Reinhard suggests the Sanford Farm off Madeket Road. The property is composed of three separate parcels amounting to nearly 1,000 acres with more than 15 miles of trails. The properties are jointly managed by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Nantucket Land Bank Commission.

The full walk is approximately 6 miles from beginning to end, and includes 21 interpretive markers along the way. There are shorter routes for those with less time or energy. Printed maps are available at the parking areas.

While the Sanford Farm is located on glacial runoff, The Squam Farm and Swamp properties are located the glacial moraine and offers dramatically different conditions.

The adjacent properties are connected by walking trails, but accessed via different parking areas. The Squam Farm entrance is located off Quident Road, while the Squam Swamp entrance is located off Wauwinet Road.

Each property contains marked trails with interpretive markers. The Squam Swamp trail loops for about a mile through the property and foundation officials urge visitors to remain on the marked trail to avoid becoming disoriented in the confusing terrain. Squam Farm offers a number of looping trails through meadows, hardwood forests and past vernal pools.

The properties are home to some of the few hardwood forest remaining on Nantucket, known on the island as hidden forests because they grow in depressions left by the glacier and are invisible at long distances.

Squam swamp also contains one of the few fresh water streams on the island. Because of the sandy soil most water drains directly into the ground, but in this area, the clay soil left by the glacier allows streams to form.

Reinhard also recommends The Middle Moors property, where he serves as ranger. The property is home to Altar Rock, once thought to be the highest point on the island, but in modern times has been relegated to number four at 100 feet above sea level.

Regardless of its ranking, it is still a dramatic spot to see the rolling hills and moors fall off toward the eastern and northern shores. On a clear day you can see the Atlantic Ocean, Polpis Harbor and Nantucket Sound.

The property is adjacent to other preserved land and together they create more than 4,000 acres of open land. The property includes Milestone bog, once the largest cranberry bog in the world.

The properties are crisscrossed by single track roads passable by four-wheel drive vehicles and mountain bikes and additional narrow hiking trails. Reinhard lives at the Heath House ranger station on the eastern portion of the property May through October patrolling the property and providing information to visitors.


Fog wraps the beach at Cisco during an evening walk.

Inquirer and Mirror photo