On the Water, Salem

Good advice on your first visit to Misery Island: don’t let the name fool you!

WHAT:Two small islands in Salem Sound
WHY:A unusual walk on an island sitting smack dab in the middle Salem Sound, stunning views in all directions

If ever an island was misnamed, Misery Island would be it.

And that goes twice, because there is a Great Misery and Little Misery version. A Trustees-owned and managed property, Misery Island’s two protected areas include a north-facing cove, referred to locally as Cocktail Cove, and the tidal area between Little Misery and Big Misery.

The islands attract a flotilla of pleasure boats in the summer which anchor or moor in one of the two protected areas. Swimming, drinking, grilling and sunbathing are popular activities for mariners, but the good news is that the crowd rarely disembarks from their ‘floating porches’, leaving the quiet island paths to the more adventurous. Laced with trails through thickets, fields, rocky coves and woodlands, Big Misery is a revelation. Stumbling upon coastal foundations and a concrete hilltop Stonehenge add to a delightful one-hour hike. 

At the center of the island are bathroom facilities, and both islands feature small, rocky beaches perfect for searching of small pieces of sea glass. Little Misery is indeed little and visitors should take caution as poison ivy covers much of the upper reaches. That said, there is a path that leads south from the small beach, up a hill, and at the top is a wonderful hilltop aerie where I hang my legs over the rock cliff, grab my binoculars and look out at passing boats and the Baker Island lighthouse. 

How to get there

Both Miserys cover 87 acres just off the coast of the North Shore towns of Beverly and Manchester and are owned by the Trustees of Reservations. For a brief description of the area and its history, check their site here.

The islands are easily accessible via boat or sea kayak — heck, and experienced SUP paddler could reach them from the mainland — but there is good news for those who don’t have access to a watercraft: A small passenger ferry cruises to Big Misery in the summer, so with some planning and proper fun gear, you can get out to the island, take a hike, swim in the chilly North Shore ocean, kick around a couple of coves, and, at low-ish tide, you can even wade over to Little Misery and explore its small charms.