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The beach at Squam Pond.

Squam Road solitude

I find the east shore of Nantucket to be the most quiet and peaceful shoreline of the island, especially during fall and winter, and I've found innumerable ways to explore this part of Nantucket with my dog in all kinds of weather.

Now that the hunting season is almost over - only a few deer hunters with muskets are out there now - it's relatively safe to venture out. And this hike is on the beach and a dirt road, so it's pretty safe. It's a hike I'm excerpting from my first book, "Walking Nantucket: A Walker's Guide for Exploring Nantucket on Foot." On this hike you should not feel confined to the route if you want do some exploring the time. Sometimes, I'll walk on the beach for the first or second part of this walk. Or, I'll walk all the way to Quidnet, walk back to Squam Pond on the beach and then back to Wauwinet on Squam Road the rest of the way.

Dogs are definitely welcome on this hike, as traffic is light on this road. This year, especially, there doesn't seem to be as much construction on Squam Road right now and with landscaping and gardening season over, fewer vehicles traverse this road.

Pretty Path–Squam Pond

Length: 2.4 Miles

Difficulty Rating: **

Dogs: Yes

Children: Yes
 

 

The Area

Ponder the catbird. It is your basic, robin-size bird with nothing more than a black-capped head to break up the monotony of its gray body. Ever opportunists, these talkative, warm-weather migrants descend on Nantucket each spring to do more than just mate. One of their missions seems to be bilking the unwary summer renter out of whole loaves of bread, crackers, and even salt-and-vinegar potato chips. They’re polite scavengers that appear almost tame, gaunt, and migration-weary—a ploy they engage to endear doting admirers.

To appreciate fully this slate-colored scavenger that winters as far south as Central America, you must be in its element—which is all of Nantucket’s underbrush. My own favorite spot is anywhere along Squam Road and around Squam Pond, where thickets of raspberry, beach rose, wild grapes and low scrub oak make perfect cover for the vocal catbird. In fact, one bird hidden in this dense Nantucket tangle can give the impression that a dozen are carrying on an avian conversation like a chattering flock of jays or a cawing murder of crows. And the catbird call really does sound like a cat’s meow, combined with an exhausting repertoire of other peeps, chirps, and tweets that make it tough to believe you’re listening to just one type of bird.

Nantucket’s eastern shores are some of the least populated parts of the island. Walkers (and catbirds) who venture anywhere from Great Point down to Tom Nevers Head can find solitude at almost any time of year. Squam Road, which runs between Wauwinet and Quidnet, is a perfect place to concentrate on the natural sounds of Nantucket’s wilderness.

 

What You’ll See

Take your time to listen for the catbirds as you walk along Squam Road. Also, watch for the barn, bank, and tree swallows performing their aerial ballet in search of bugs.

When you walk down the beach path off Squam Road, keep your eyes open for a view of the Squam Pond—a kettle hole created when a giant block of ice left by the glacier melted during the Wisconsin Era, 15,000 years ago. The pond attracts ducks, gulls, several varieties of herons, and, of course the omnipresent red-winged blackbird. In warm weather, be prepared for the smaller flying and biting bugs that all moist inland areas nurture.

Once you’re on the beach, the rest is up to you. If you’re a fan of folklore, walk about a half-mile north and you’ll be at Squam Head. In Algonquian, the name of this spot, Wanashquiompskut, means “at the top of the rock.”

Legend has it that a family by the name of Bunker buried its nest egg of gold near their house at Squam Head. After a band of French pirates burgled the Bunker home and kidnapped Captain Bunker in 1695, they forced him to guide their ship through Nantucket and Vineyard sounds to Tarpaulin Cove. Bunker managed to escape, but the whole ordeal rattled him so much that he forgot where he buried the family fortune. For years, he and his kin dug holes around their homestead in search of the gold but never found it.

For those with angling on their minds, however, there is fishing gold in this area. Bluefish and striped bass can be caught spring through fall, three hours before and three hours after low tide all along Nantucket’s ocean shores.

 

When to Go

The relative peace and quiet of Squam Road makes this a good walk any time of the year. In the warmer months, you are rewarded by the smell of beach roses and the opportunity to cool your tired, hot feet once you’ve reached the water. Spring and summer are also fantastic for sunrises, and on the night of a full moon, the big orange disk rising out of the ocean makes this an easy sell at dawn. In winter, you can’t beat the sunsets, because there’s usually a half sky of clouds waiting to be painted by the sun’s fading rays.

In late summer and early fall, I bring all the containers I can carry so I can pick the wild grapes. Their vines grow all along Squam Road, nearly suffocating the bushes and trees that support them.

 

The Walk

The walk begins at the gatehouse and parking area owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and staffed by the Trustees of Reservations, near the end of Wauwinet Road and just before the Wauwinet Inn. From the parking area, walk out to Wauwinet Road and turn left, walking southwest past the air hoses on the north side of the road and down to the next left, Squam Road. Follow Squam Road beyond the 17th telephone pole to between houses #55 and #49 on the ocean side of this dirt road.

You’re headed for a strip of beach accessed by a narrow public way between two private properties. A short distance after the 17th pole, the road heads downhill. Just before a large gate on the ocean side of the road, find the grassy trail blocked by two boulders meant to keep vehicles out.  Turn left onto the trail and continue on to the beach.

This walk has no loop, so to return, simply walk back the way you came.

 

Getting There

Don’t expect to shorten the walk by skipping the stroll down Squam Road and driving to the public way. Because the dirt road is so narrow and the brush so thick and overgrown, there is no room to park anywhere along this section of the road.

Traveling from town by car or by bicycle, turn from Polpis Road onto Wauwinet Road and follow it until you reach the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s red-trimmed gatehouse, adjacent to a dirt parking area. You can park on the right side of the parking area. NRTA bus riders have a long walk to reach the gatehouse, because the ’Sconset via Polpis bus stops at the start of Wauwinet Road.

Without further ado, here's the walk.

Squam Pond

The Area

Ponder the catbird. It is your basic, robin-size bird with nothing more than a black-capped head to break up the monotony of its gray body. Ever opportunists, these talkative, warm-weather migrants descend on Nantucket each spring to do more than just mate. One of their missions seems to be bilking the unwary summer renter out of whole loaves of bread, crackers, and even salt-and-vinegar potato chips. They’re polite scavengers that appear almost tame, gaunt, and migration-weary—a ploy they engage to endear doting admirers.

To appreciate fully this slate-colored scavenger that winters as far south as Central America, you must be in its element—which is all of Nantucket’s underbrush. My own favorite spot is anywhere along Squam Road and around Squam Pond, where thickets of raspberry, beach rose, wild grapes and low scrub oak make perfect cover for the vocal catbird. In fact, one bird hidden in this dense Nantucket tangle can give the impression that a dozen are carrying on an avian conversation like a chattering flock of jays or a cawing murder of crows. And the catbird call really does sound like a cat’s meow, combined with an exhausting repertoire of other peeps, chirps, and tweets that make it tough to believe you’re listening to just one type of bird.

Nantucket’s eastern shores are some of the least populated parts of the island. Walkers (and catbirds) who venture anywhere from Great Point down to Tom Nevers Head can find solitude at almost any time of year. Squam Road, which runs between Wauwinet and Quidnet, is a perfect place to concentrate on the natural sounds of Nantucket’s wilderness.

 

What You’ll See

Take your time to listen for the catbirds as you walk along Squam Road. Also, watch for the barn, bank, and tree swallows performing their aerial ballet in search of bugs.

When you walk down the beach path off Squam Road, keep your eyes open for a view of the Squam Pond—a kettle hole created when a giant block of ice left by the glacier melted during the Wisconsin Era, 15,000 years ago. The pond attracts ducks, gulls, several varieties of herons, and, of course the omnipresent red-winged blackbird. In warm weather, be prepared for the smaller flying and biting bugs that all moist inland areas nurture.

Once you’re on the beach, the rest is up to you. If you’re a fan of folklore, walk about a half-mile north and you’ll be at Squam Head. In Algonquian, the name of this spot, Wanashquiompskut, means “at the top of the rock.”

Legend has it that a family by the name of Bunker buried its nest egg of gold near their house at Squam Head. After a band of French pirates burgled the Bunker home and kidnapped Captain Bunker in 1695, they forced him to guide their ship through Nantucket and Vineyard sounds to Tarpaulin Cove. Bunker managed to escape, but the whole ordeal rattled him so much that he forgot where he buried the family fortune. For years, he and his kin dug holes around their homestead in search of the gold but never found it.

For those with angling on their minds, however, there is fishing gold in this area. Bluefish and striped bass can be caught spring through fall, three hours before and three hours after low tide all along Nantucket’s ocean shores.

 

When to Go

The relative peace and quiet of Squam Road makes this a good walk any time of the year. In the warmer months, you are rewarded by the smell of beach roses and the opportunity to cool your tired, hot feet once you’ve reached the water. Spring and summer are also fantastic for sunrises, and on the night of a full moon, the big orange disk rising out of the ocean makes this an easy sell at dawn. In winter, you can’t beat the sunsets, because there’s usually a half sky of clouds waiting to be painted by the sun’s fading rays.

In late summer and early fall, I bring all the containers I can carry so I can pick the wild grapes. Their vines grow all along Squam Road, nearly suffocating the bushes and trees that support them.

 

The Walk

The walk begins at the gatehouse and parking area owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and staffed by the Trustees of Reservations, near the end of Wauwinet Road and just before the Wauwinet Inn. From the parking area, walk out to Wauwinet Road and turn left, walking southwest past the air hoses on the north side of the road and down to the next left, Squam Road. Follow Squam Road beyond the 17th telephone pole to between houses #55 and #49 on the ocean side of this dirt road.

You’re headed for a strip of beach accessed by a narrow public way between two private properties. A short distance after the 17th pole, the road heads downhill. Just before a large gate on the ocean side of the road, find the grassy trail blocked by two boulders meant to keep vehicles out.  Turn left onto the trail and continue on to the beach.

This walk has no loop, so to return, simply walk back the way you came.

 

Getting There

Don’t expect to shorten the walk by skipping the stroll down Squam Road and driving to the public way. Because the dirt road is so narrow and the brush so thick and overgrown, there is no room to park anywhere along this section of the road.

Traveling from town by car or by bicycle, turn from Polpis Road onto Wauwinet Road and follow it until you reach the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s red-trimmed gatehouse, adjacent to a dirt parking area. You can park on the right side of the parking area. NRTA bus riders have a long walk to reach the gatehouse, because the ’Sconset via Polpis bus stops at the start of Wauwinet Road.