As recently as 1958, this area was an extension of the mainland, the eroding shoreline at the elbow of Cape Cod. Severe winter storms isolated Monomoy Point from the mainland and, 20 years later, separated North Monomoy Island from South Monomoy Island. Ten miles of surf-beaten dunes on the eastern shore of the islands, still-shifting sands that sometimes reach 100 feet in height, give way to salt marsh and then to mudflats on the western shore. The ecosystem is a perfect habitat for migratory birds.
Dubbed a sanctuary for wildlife in 1944, most of 7,604-acre Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge has been designated Wilderness: all of the north island and all but two tracts on the south island. The mainland portion of the refuge remains non-Wilderness. People are known to have lived here from 1711 on, and a lighthouse complex on the south island attests to their presence. Among the migratory birds you may see are grebes, shearwaters, petrels, gannets, bitterns, egrets, herons, swans, geese, ducks, and the endangered piping plover and roseate tern. Hundreds of gray and harbor seals winter along the coastline. Boaters visit the shores in summer.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Monomoy Wilderness.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1944 to provide habitat for migratory birds. Sand stretches for eight miles off the elbow of Cape Cod, forming the barrier islands of North and South Monomoy.
In addition to the two islands, a 40-acre unit on Morris Island is also part of the refuge. This is where the headquarters and visitor center are located. The Refuge contains varied habitats of oceans, salt and freshwater marshes, dunes, and freshwater ponds of which 3,961 acres are designated Wilderness.
Take U.S. Route 6 East to State Route 137 South, to State Route 28 East. Take Route 28 East to the rotary. Take the Main Street exit, up the hill to Shore Road. Turn right and proceed past Chatham Lighthouse. Bear left after lighthouse onto Morris Island Road. Follow Morris Island Road to signs for the refuge on the left, Wikis Way. Limited parking is available at the visitor center.
The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset, except for individuals surf fishing on Morris Island, which is permitted 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open most week days during the winter as staff is available from 10:00 am to 2:00pm and during the summers it is open 7 days a week from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
For more information on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness Area visit http://www.fws.gov/refuge/monomoy/, check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MonomoyNWR, or call 508-945-0594.
To access the Monomoy Wilderness, you must have a boat as the entirety of the Wilderness area is located off shore. Kayaking and other forms of paddling are encouraged. Launch sites are located at the Morris Island Road causeway or other publicly accessible areas of Stage Harbor. The Refuge islands are open from dawn to dusk. During the nesting season, April through September, closed areas are marked with Area Closed or Beach closed signs. Access is not allowed behind the signs by visitors may pass in front of the closed areas. Camping, hunting, dogs, and fires are prohibited within the refuge Wilderness.
Currently sport fishing is permitted on Monomoy. Fly fishermen and saltwater fishermen alike find the thrill of the hunt in fishing for bluefish and striped bass along the beach. Fishing on the Monomoy Wilderness is allowed from dawn to dusk, and fishing on the non-wilderness mainland property is permitted 24 hours a day.
Monomoy has been listed as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Regional site and an Important Bird Area due to its importance to migratory shorebirds. Fall migration, July through October, provides the best shorebird viewing. Offshore sites, especially South Beach and North Monomoy Island, are the best places for shorebird viewing. Horseshoe crabs and Seals can also be seen on the Refuge from the mainland or offshore portions.
The refuge offers limited Wilderness interpretation between May and August at the visitor center in Chatham. In the non-wilderness portion of the refuge, visitors may obtain a trail map and self-guided walk on Morris Island. At each numbered stop there is a write-up of information about the nature there and informative panels alongside the trail. In the summer months when staffing allows, there are guided hiking tours around the trail loop. At the visitor center, there is an exhibit room with displays about the native wildlife, as well as some hands-on games.
Photography of the wilderness area is permitted during daylight areas outside of closed areas. In the non-wilderness portion of the refuge, a 3/4-mile nature trail is located on Morris Island and winds through a variety of coastal habitats. Overlooks on the trail provide views of the refuge's North and South Monomoy Islands. Along the trail, one may come into view of least terns, common terns, willets, piping plovers, and the occasional snowy egret. These birds all summer on the refuge and can be seen near the shore, or in the salt marsh. The refuge also hosts an annual summer photo contest.
Safety and Current Conditions
Plan ahead and prepare with drinking water, insect repellant, and sunscreen. Avoid contact with poision ivy, and check thoroughly for ticks after using Refuge trails.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.