Cambridge, MA


Carbon Cheap Travel 001


One Week Bike Camping on Martha’s Vineyard

All of the places referenced in this guide are available in a downloadable Google map to take on the road. 

The Place

Martha’s Vineyard is the unceded territory of the Wampanoag people, who continue to live on the island. The Vineyard is a quintessential New England summer getaway on a glacial moraine seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts in the Atlantic Ocean. There are nor’easter beaten gray shingles, white-washed fences and pastel hydrangeas, quaint harbors with teak sailboats, crumbling stone walls, and crushed clam shell driveways. There are other signatures of island life that are important to understand before visiting: an affordable housing crisis, a culture of seasonal second-home summer residents, and debates over the future of the island due to climate change.

Islands are carbon-heavy destinations. The allure of “getting away from it all,” comes with costs in carbon and cash. At the same time, islands are also some of the most vulnerable landscapes to climate change; sea level rise and storm surge will continue to submerge and transform coastlines and reshape ownership along the water.

Despite its relatively small size at 96 square miles, Martha’s Vineyard has acres of picturesque rural farmland, fishing shacks, public beaches, and (if you’re up for it) a 100 kilometer bike loop. The island has been a popular vacation spot for Black Americans since the early 1900s, when the first Black-owned inn was opened in Oak Bluffs. Today, the island’s population swells during summer months, from 15,000 locals and wash-ashores in the off-season to 100,000 in July and August. Shoulder season in early June and September are ideal times to visit, though the Atlantic stays warm enough for a dip through early October. 

Tourism is centered on the three largest Towns on the island: Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown. Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs are accessible by ferry from Woods Hole at the southern elbow of Cape Cod. Despite its tourist-facing economy, the Vineyard’s coastline is partially private. Town beaches often require a resident permit, and private property signs are sometimes half-buried into the sand. Pick up the Chamber of Commerce guide to the Vineyard, available at the ferry terminal, for a complete list of public beaches. 

A Trustees membership won’t pay for itself on this trip, but if you plan on visiting any of their other properties, it may be worth the investment ($60 for an individual or $80 for a family membership with access to 120 properties across Massachusetts). 

This itinerary is designed for three to seven days, and suggested as a bike-camping trip for a few reasons:
First, it’s an easy first-time bike-camping trip. The Steamship Authority ferry drops you off in Vineyard Haven, a mile and a half bike ride from Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground (MVFC). If you’re ready to ditch your bike after that ride, Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority has a bus stop right outside of the Campground.

Second, Martha’s Vineyard is expensive. The costs of shipping everything out to the island adds a mark-up to groceries, dinners out, and accommodations. Regardless of price point, it can be hard to find a place to stay. The island is oriented toward small BnBs and cottage rentals, not chain hotels. Inventory is limited during the summer months, when the year-round population of 15,000 swells to over 100,000. Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground is by far the cheapest accommodation per night on the island. Bike camping saves on a car rental or the $115 roundtrip to bring your vehicle. 

Third, for new campers, Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground is an easy campground to navigate. Sites are sandy (easy to drive tent stakes into), with picnic benches and fire pits, and surrounded by pitch pines and low-bush blueberries. If the beautiful setting and starry nights  aren’t enough to convince you, there’s also a camp store with toiletries and coffee on brew from 6:30 AM onwards. 

Setting Out

What to Bring

  • A Bike. It doesn’t matter which bike. Thicker mountain bike tires will be sturdiest on the beach, but a fixed speed bike can easily handle the Vineyard’s paved roads and crushed gravel bike trails. If you rent a bike on the Vineyard, the shop will let some air out of the tires to balance on sand. Bikes run about $110/week, and can be reserved in advance at a shop close to either of the ferry terminals. Bring panniers if you have them to balance your supplies.
  • A Backpack. If you don’t have panniers, a 60-Liter hiking backpack is great to haul your gear. Bike-camping is easiest with two people. One person can carry the tent and camping gear, while the other carries clothes, a book, and food. The only times you’ll have to ride with your hiking backpack on is from the ferry to the campsite. Then, dump your hiking backpack, and ride with an everyday backpack with beach essentials, a water bottle, and snacks. 
  • A (Small) Tent. As small as you can go! The island is dewy – bring the raincover regardless of the forecast.
  • Camping Gear. This will vary by your needs. A simple setup (bowl, plate, set of utensils, single burner stove, matches, and pans) is enough. A collapsible cooler bag can keep vegetables cool with ice or freezer packs. During the warmest summer months, a sheet and inflatable pillow will suffice. Bring a raincoat and a warm layer, just in case the weather changes. 
  • Cash. 
    Slices of pizza at Giordano’s, entry fees, and camp supplies are easiest to pay in cash, though almost all restaurants and stores on the Vineyard take credit cards. 

  • A Bathing Suit, Book and Towel. Lazy beach-hopping is the best way to spend a few days on the Vineyard.

How to Get There

Megabus and Plymouth-Brockton Bus Lines (PB) operate from Boston’s South Station to the Wood’s Hole Ferry Terminal. Coming from New York City, take the AMTRAK from Moynihan Hall at Penn Station to South Station, and transfer to the bus. You can bring your bike on select AMTRAK routes, and on Megabus in the undercarriage. If you’re driving to the Vineyard, parking in the Steamship Authority lots runs from $10/day. A free shuttle moves people from the parking lots to the ferry terminal.
Regardless of how you get there (public transit preferred), purchase round-trip ferry tickets to the Vineyard at the Steamship Authority Ticket Office, located in the center of the massive ferry lot. Coffee Obsession, the café neighboring the ferry terminal, has a $1.95 small coffee and quick breakfast sandwiches. 

There are two ferries that run to the Vineyard: one to Oak Bluffs, and the other to Vineyard Haven. The ferries switch off every half hour. Choose your ferry carefully: the Vineyard Haven ferry landing is about a mile and a half from Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground, while the Oak Bluffs landing is a hilly four miles. There are trade-offs to landing in Vineyard Haven. West Tisbury (including Vineyard Haven) is dry. Restaurants and grocery stores don’t serve or sell alcohol (though you can BYOB most places). If you’re looking to pick up beer or wine, take the ferry to Oak Bluffs and stop at Jim’s Package Store on the way to the campground.

Once you’re on-island, it’s important to understand the language. When islanders say “up-island” they mean the west side of the island. This is a relic of coastal dialect from the days when Martha’s Vineyard was a whaling port. The further west you go, the higher the longitude is, hence “up island” to the west, and “down island” to the east. Generally, “up-island” includes West Tisbury, Chilmark, Aquinnah, and Menemsha. “Down-island” includes the main towns: Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown. Chappaquick (Chappy) is a small island accessed by ferry (The “On Time I, II, and III”) off the coast of Edgartown. 

Where to Stay

Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground (MVFC) is located near the center of the island, in a sandy pine barren. It’s an excellent launching point for daily rides. The campground is centered around a massive bonfire pit to unwind after a day adventuring around the island. For bike campers, there are four sites that are designated tent-only, without space to pull in a car. These are the “Q” sites, which are set back in the campground, secluded among lowbush blueberries, but close enough to walk to a water spigot and the camp store. There are also one and two-room cabins for rent from $205 per night peak season (book early), as well as RV sites and plenty of tent sites with car access. The “Q” sites don’t have outlets, but the main building and restrooms do to charge your electronics and a portable battery pack, if you have one. 
If you’re wondering why this trip is written for the Vineyard (and not Nantucket, its sister island flung further out to sea), MVFC is the only campground on either island. 

How to Get Around

Once you’ve arrived at the campground, there are a few options: walk, bike, bus, or a combination of the three. It’s an eight minute bike or fifteen minute walk into Vineyard Haven, where you can catch most of the island’s bus lines through the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority. Alternately, there’s a bus stop right outside of the Family Campground (on Bus Route #1: Edgartown to Vineyard Haven Road). 
You can catch the bus directly to Edgartown, or take it to Vineyard Haven to transfer and explore another area of the island. A 3-day pass costs $36, paid in exact cash to the bus driver. The buses run all over the island on six loops. Pick up a map at any station or on-board. Check bus times carefully. Routes up-island run less frequently, and end earlier in the day. Check the schedule and plan accordingly. 
Buses have three bike racks on the front so you can ride once you reach your destination. Biking on the island is easy. Speed limits are low, but the roads are narrow in the more rural areas of West Tisbury and Chilmark. Ride with traffic, and ride on the sidewalk except in downtown areas with posted signs. 

What to Do and Where to Eat: an Itinerary

A Martha’s Vineyard bike trip is best done in out-and-back trips, choosing a different part of the island to explore each day before returning to the Campground. This itinerary is broken into six different trips. Some are suggested for specific days (Chilmark Community Church has $20 lobster rolls on Tuesdays), while other excursions are best at certain times of day (Jaws Beach is crowded without shade at mid-day, but lovely in the early evening). 

The Vineyard is pricey, but there are options across budget. As long as you’re willing to spend a few hours on the beach each day, or hiking through the island’s marshes and coastal forests, you can have a memorable day (including lodging) for $100 solo (less as a pair or group). There are plenty of upscale restaurants on the Vineyard (reservations required during high season), and there’s also the option to cook under the pines at the campsite and buy staples from the grocery store in Vineyard Haven. Supplement a loaf of Vineyard-baked bread and cheese with tomatoes from the roadside farm stands in West Tisbury (carry cash, these places take payment by the honor system). Traveling by bike makes time for unexpected stops, whether a mid-day swim, a pint of blueberries, or an impromptu beer from Offshore Ale.

Monday: Vineyard Haven
If you arrive in the afternoon, check in and drop your things at the Campground, and take the #1 bus into Vineyard Haven for a quick lunch at The Net Result. Choose your lunch from the tanks inside, and take it out to eat on the picnic tables outside, or across the street in the gazebo overlooking Vineyard Haven’s harbor (walk through the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority parking lot to find it). What’s caught is what’s available. The lobster bisque is excellent. Pick up snacks at the Stop and Shop nearby. If you forget your book (or finish it), grab a copy from the local bookstore, Bunch of Grapes, or look through one of the island’s Little Free Libraries (fair warning: you’re most likely to find discarded Jonathan Grisham thrillers and Danielle Steele romps). Bring your supplies back to MVFC on the #1 bus, and, if you have time, bike 20 minutes down to Lake Tashmoo Public Beach for a dip and the sunset. 
If you arrive on a Friday, Grace Episcopal Church serves one of the best deals on the island: $35 for two lobster rolls with chips from 4-7 PM. Order ahead online for pickup in the center of Vineyard Haven.
Tuesday: Chilmark and Menemsha
A Chilmark and Menemsha centered day calls for seafood. This trip is recommended for Tuesdays, when Chilmark Community Church serves lobster rolls from 4:30 to 6:30 PM. Plan a longer bike ride, or take Bus Route #4 (West Tisbury-Chilmark-Menemsha) up-island to Chilmark. The first stop is Menemsha Hills, a 211-acre preserve owned by the Trustees. The Hills are free to enter and explore across 3 miles of trails through glacial erratics bounded by high-bush blueberry and holly plants. The Hills are connected by a short path to the Brickyard, a nineteenth century industrial landscape that produced 800,000 bricks that were shipped across Buzzards Bay to mainland Massachusetts and beyond. Spend a few hours wandering the trails before continuing on, by bus or bike, to Menemsha. Menemsha is the small fishing village featured in Jaws. Piles of lobster traps are stacked by the working waterfront, where fishermen and lobstermen haul their catch in the early mornings and late afternoons. Stop by Creekville Art and Antiques for a vintage postcard on your way into town. If it’s a Tuesday, pick up a lobster roll from the Chilmark Community Church, or order a stuffed clam from Menemsha Fish Market and sit down on Menemsha Beach for one of the best sunsets on the island. Catch the #12: Chilmark Sunset Bus to the #4, and transfer back to the #1 bus in Vineyard Haven.

Wednesday: Edgartown and Chappaquiddick
Shift down-island to explore Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, or Chappy on Wednesday. Take the #1 bus to the outskirts of Edgartown, the picturesque whaling capital of the island, and ask the bus driver to stop at Morning Glory Farm for a bakery treat and fresh vegetables. Edgartown’s crushed clam shell driveways, and bouquets of hydrangeas are stunning. The streets are also congested with tourists, and it can be a long wait for a cup of coffee. If you’re patient, order breakfast at the Rosewater Cafe, or just “touron” watch down Water Street to Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. Sink your feet into the sandy white sand at Lighthouse Beach, and then skip the line of cars sitting in traffic to board “The On Time” out to Chappaquiddick. 

Shifting sands driven by hurricane storm surges have disconnected and reconnected Chappaquiddick to Edgartown throughout its history. Today, the island is sparsely populated. The roads on Chappaquiddick are sandy and rutted, making it difficult to bike. You’ll move more slowly on Chappy, so bring extra snacks and water. Bike down Chappaquiddick Road to Mytoi Japanese Gardens, owned by the Trustees (admission free for members or $5). The Japanese maples and pines in the temperate botanical garden were almost destroyed by Hurricane Bob in 1991, but they have been restored by a team of landscape architects. Mytoi is a reflective space that manages to feel entirely removed from the rest of the island. 
When you’ve finished strolling the 14 acres, continue biking down Chappaquiddick Road to Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, also owned by the Trustees (admission is included in the Mytoi fee). The shifting sandbar looks out across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s hot, the dune system shifts sand across the beach with the winds, and shorebirds colonize the shore in flocks. Egrets wade in the saltmarsh behind the barrier beach, while stands of windswept cedars, oak, and pines rise from the grasses. In short, Cape Poge and Wasque, south of Cape Poge, are magical coastal habitats. The beaches are also extremely hot, lack shade, and are occasionally interrupted by Jeeps off-roading down the beach. Spend an afternoon swimming alongshore before biking back to the Chappaquiddick Community Center to visit the ice cream window on Wednesdays between 3 and 4 PM for a bowl of ice cream (however little or much as you’d like) for $5, toppings included. Take the ferry back to Edgartown, and catch the #1 bus back to MVFC to make dinner. 

Thursday: Aquinnah 
Set out early for Aquinnah to beat the crowds, and visit Wednesday to Sunday to visit the Aquinnah Cultural Center Museum. Catch the #2, #3, or #4 bus to West Tisbury Town Hall to catch the #5: West Tisbury-Chilmark-Aquinnah. Flag the driver to let you off at Orange Peel Bakery, a Native-owned bakery run by Juli Vanderhoop. Get baked goods (bring cash, the bakery uses an honor system jar) or pizza after 12 PM before getting back on the bus to Gay Head Lighthouse. The stunning red, orange, and brown Aquinnah Cliffs overlook one of the most sweeping views of the Atlantic. They also highlight the accelerating pace of coastal erosion due to climate change: the Gay Head Lighthouse on site was moved 129-feet back from the cliffside in 2015. Bring water and sunscreen to spend a few hours on Aquinnah Public Beach (it’s worth noting, whether you want to join in or run away, that the beach abuts popular nudist spot, Moshup Beach). 

Finish your visit to Aquinnah at the Aquinnah Cultural Center Museum, aimed at facilitating daily experiences for tribal members, and educating the general public about the Aquinnah Wampanoag experience. The #5 bus runs hourly close to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, and requires a transfer to the #4 bus, and then the #1 bus to get back to the Campground. 

Friday: Oak Bluffs
Before the weekenders arrive, visit the Jaws Bridge, located on Beach Road between Joseph Sylvia State Beach and Edgartown Beach. Wake up and grab coffee from the Camp Store at MVFC, then bike into Vineyard Haven and pick up a “Woofer,” a $6 breakfast sandwich from the Black Dog Bakery, or sit down for a meal at ArtCliff Diner. 

Bike along Beach Road over the VH-OB Bridge into downtown Oak Bluffs. Spend a few hours wandering through downtown, admiring the “Gingerbread Cottages.” The brightly painted cottages are the relics of a nineteenth century Methodist Campground centered around the iron Tabernacle in the heart of Oak Bluffs. Visit the Martha’s Vineyard Meeting House Association Museum (adult admission: $3) to see the inside of a cottage and learn more about the Revival congregations held each summer. 

For lunch, pick up a cheap slice of pizza from Giordano’s downtown, followed by an ice cream cone from Mad Martha’s Ice Cream. Stop to take in the views at Ocean Park before you bike east along Beach Road along Joseph Sylvia State Beach. There’s almost always a crowd gathered in the afternoon to watch people jumping off the bridge where Steven Spielberg filmed Jaws in the 1970s. Take the plunge off the Jaws Bridge into the channel flowing between the Atlantic Ocean and Sengekontacket Pond (the scene of a daysailer massacre in the film) and dry off under the sun while the crowds head to dinner. 
Bike or catch the #13 bus to Oak Bluffs and stop by The Ritz, a dive bar with live music. End Friday night at Back Door Donuts for desert, open from 7 PM to 2 AM each night. Take the #1 bus back to the Campground, or bike back with lights on. 

Saturday: West Tisbury
Spend the day away from the crowds in West Tisbury at Long Point Wildlife Refuge. The 632 acre property has a two mile trail through sandplain grasses, a golden beach with gentle waves for swimming, and paddleboard and kayak rentals. Passes are reserved in advance through the Trustees website (free for members, $5 for pedestrian walk-ons). 

Wake up, pack a sandwich, and bike along the well-maintained bike paths through Manuel F. Correllus State Forest to Plane View, a diner at Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Spend an hour watching Cape Air planes take off and land over an omelet and coffee. Then bike down Waldron’s Bottom Road, turn left onto Scrubby Neck Road and finally right onto Hughes Thumb Road to check in at the Long Point Wildlife Refuge gatehouse. Swim in the Atlantic or Tisbury Great Pond and bask in the sun until you’re ready to head back. Bike along Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and ride up to the West Tisbury Town Hall to catch the #2, #3, or #4 bus to the Polly Hill Arboretum.

Finish your day with a walk through the Arboretum, which specializes in plants of Martha’s Vineyard and the Atlantic coast. Polly Hill, the namesake of the Arboretum and a skilled horticulturalist, introduced over 80 cultivars to the gardens, including a stunning understory of azaleas that bloom in late spring. The Arboretum is open from sunrise to sunset each day. Catch the #2 or #3 bus back to Vineyard Haven, and transfer to the #1 back to MVFC to cook a final campstove dinner, or head into Oak Bluffs to eat at Offshore Ale Co, an island brewery. 

Your journey ends with a return trip to Woods Hole on the Steamship Authority ferry. Check out of the Campground by 11 AM and ride your bike eight minutes to the ferry terminal. You can purchase a return ticket from the station if necessary. Load your luggage and your bike into the bus, and enjoy the view out the window on the return to Boston.