Signup for our Newsletter
Receive our latest updates by signing up for our newsletter!
Discover an astonishing diversity of plants and animals within this extraordinary mosaic of protected property that is part of the 20,000 acre Great Marsh ecosystem.
The sanctuary is an outstanding destination to enjoy hiking, picnicking, bird watching, wildlife photography, and general nature study. From the parking area, one can access a series of marked trails that traverse the oak forest uplands and skirt the salt marsh, all highlighting the Sanctuary’s unique natural features, including scenic overlooks, and viewing areas.
Prior to English settlement, people known as the Pawtucket—a branch of the Pennacook from southern New Hampshire, occupied villages on both banks of the Parker River. They made their living on the resources of the Great Marsh and its islands and gathered nearby upland resources such as sassafras roots and hickory nuts. The largest village was Old Town, with a smaller settlement on the Mill River tributary east of Oxpasture Hill in Rowley. Six thousand years ago, as the Great Marsh was forming, earlier Maritime Archaic people discovered it. Their oyster and mussel shell heaps underlie the soft-shell and sea clam middens of the Algonquians who followed them.
Five well-marked trails now lead through magnificent coastal woodlands to several viewpoints, including a viewing platform offering panoramas of the Great Marsh. See excellent examples of natural salt pannes, pools of tidal-influenced water.
Sawyer’s Island, a one-mile hike from the parking area, has spectacular vistas from every direction, including an active Osprey nesting platform.
From the launch near Sawyer’s Island parking area, paddle inland up the Mud Creek, or down into Plum Island Sound. Explore the Parker River, Plum Island River or various tidal creeks on the backside of Plum Island.
See excellent examples of natural salt pannes, pools of tidal-influenced water. A glacial remnant, salt pannes offer important habitat for coastal shorebirds and waterfowl.
Salt marshes give way to wooded uplands with shagbark hickory, white oak, and sassafras with no two leaves the same. In September, look for the bright red blaze of Salicornia in the salt marsh.
This sanctuary serves as critical migratory bird habitat and important breeding grounds for many species of birds, fish, and crustaceans. Bring binoculars to observe an array of songbirds along the wooded trails; shorebirds, egrets and herons in the salt pannes and an active Osprey nest from Sawyer’s Island.
Professor Chandler’s Long Walk:
This is the main trail on the Sanctuary and leads to the eastern-most part of the sanctuary where walkers have a spectacular view of the salt marsh. The salt marsh portion of this trail floods at high tide. Please plan your visit accordingly.
A short trail that passes through a field along the edge of a woodland and offers a view into the salt marsh.
Part of a loop with Professor Chandler’s Long Walk, passes through a mixed forest where Sassafras trees are common.
Another loop off Professor Chandler’s Long Walk, meanders through an oak and hickory forest along the edge of the salt marsh.
A trail leads to a small hill from which walkers can view the salt marsh, a tidal creek, and salt pannes.
The island consists of open field with wooded edges and is bordered by salt marsh. Stands of oak and hickory on the northwest edge of the island provide a lovely sheltered picnic area. A portion of the island - though protected by a conservation restriction - is still privately owned, and we ask that you respect the fence-marked boundary.
Terrain: Tidal, marsh, open ocean
Distance: 1-6 hours
Best months: October or November, when the insects have departed, and when you can float among the scoters, long-tailed ducks, goldeneyes, mergansers, and possibly harbor seals.
Launch your boat into Mud Creek. There are endless opportunities for exploring.
Patmos Road, Rowley. (Opens in Google Maps)
Latitude 42.749676, Longitude -70.836568
From the Sanctuary parking area, use Patmos Road to either hike or drive the one mile route to access Sawyer’s Island. Please use caution when walking along Patmos Road. Parking at Sawyer’s Island is limited to two vehicles.
From intersection of Route 133 and Route 1A in Rowley:
Go north on Route 1A. In 2.8 miles, turn right onto Stackyard Road. In 0.1 miles, bear left onto Patmos Road (a.k.a. Far Division Road). Trailhead and parking are 0.25 miles ahead on left. Paddle launch and additional parking are 0.8 miles further down Patmos Road.
From intersection of Route 113 and Route 1A in Newburyport:
Go south on Route 1A. In 5.75 miles, turn left onto Stackyard Road. From this point, follow directions above. Ample Parking
Paddle Launch: Park at Sawyers Island, carry boat across field to the put in location along edge of Mud Creek. Best 2 hours before and after high tide.
82 Eastern Avenue
PO Box 1026
Essex, MA 01929
Greenbelt thanks the photographers whose work is featured prominently on our website: Jerry Monkman, Dorothy Monnelly, Adrian Scholes, David Alden St. Pierre & Neil Ungerleider