287 Gurnet Rd, Duxbury, MA 02332, USA
Owned By: Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc.
The southern portion of Duxbury Beach requires a permit to park or to drive over sand, but pedestrian access is free. Access to Duxbury Bay for shellfishing and paddling.
Duxbury Beach is a 7.5-mile long barrier beach that extends from Marshfield in the north to Gurnet Point and Saquish in the south. It is a clean, beautiful, family-friendly, and accessible place, nestled between Duxbury Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly known as Salt House Beach.
The Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation, owns approximately 4 miles of Duxbury Beach. It leases most of the beach to the town of Duxbury for use by Duxbury residents and the general public.
Some history: This land was within the region of the Patuxet, members of the Wampanoag tribe, who inhabited the area around the Jones River now known as Duxbury, Kingston and Plymouth. Numerous artifacts have been found on Clark’s Island, nearby.
More recently, in the 20th century, people used to drive wherever they wanted on Duxbury Beach, tearing up and flattening the dunes. Then in 1954, Hurricane Carol served as a wake-up call, and citizens became concerned with beach preservation. The dunes were rebuilt, snow fence was installed, and beach grass was planted to help prevent sand from washing away. Eventually a summer traffic patrol was approved.
Back then, the beach belonged to a group of private owners, known as the Duxbury Beach Association (DBA). (Fun fact: In 1964, it was $1 for residents and $2 for non-residents.) In 1975, the beach’s management was reorganized as a nonprofit, becoming the Duxbury Beach Reservation (DBR). Its mission statement included the equally-rated points of restoring and preserving the beaches in their natural state, and maintaining access both for Duxbury residents and the general public. Like its predecessor, the DBR leased the beach to the town.
Disaster struck in 1978, when the infamous blizzard caused 26 major wash-throughs, plus numerous partial breaches. Some dunes were flattened, and deep drifts of sand and stone covered the main parking area. The road to The Gurnet and Saquish was completely destroyed in some sections. After that, beach conservation efforts intensified. It took several years, but a right of way along the bay side of the beach was constructed, sharply delineated by post and cable fencing. Snow fence and grass planting efforts were stepped up, and over time the beach was significantly restored. But the No-Name Storm of 1991 was even more destructive. Again, there were breaches and numerous washovers; many dunes were obliterated, and the road to the Gurnet and Saquish sustained major damage. Grass planting and snow fencing proved once again to be effective remedies. And added to the mix this time was a crackdown on oversand vehicles.
Prior to 1992, vehicles could drive almost anywhere on the beach, but beginning that year, the DBR began restricting traffic to a single lane, east of the dunes. Two crossovers provided access to the beach, and parking was permitted only in a single line in a designated area (this is on Duxbury Beach itself, and not part of Duxbury Beach Park). The DBR measured the beach to see how many cars could fit on it. They set the limit at 500 at any one time, and divided this into 250 resident and 250 non-resident admissions.
You may ask, “Why so many non-residents?” This is another key point in the dilemma. The fact that Duxbury Beach has always been accessible to the public is one of the primary factors in its continued existence. In the 1950s and 60s there were a number of attempts by the state to take the beach by eminent domain. Because the DBA could prove that there was public access to the beach, it was able to maintain ownership. It’s worth noting here that it’s the parking and access fees that pay for beach maintenance – not property taxes.
Readers may be surprised to learn that the shorebird monitoring program, which protects two threatened species — piping plovers and least terns – actually helps to keep the beach open to the public. Funded by the annual lease, this program ensures the protection of these birds as required by the Federal Endangered Species Act. Were it not for the presence of the town’s Endangered Species Officer, large sections of the beach would be closed during nesting season (most of the summer).
On top of that, the town is obliged by the state to keep the right of way out to Saquish open at all times. In other words, Duxbury is bound by state law to keep the road open, and bound by federal law to protect the birds. This all requires money. Where does the money come from? Parking fees! Without recreational access to the beach, there would be no money for ecological concerns. Without tireless efforts to preserve the beach, there would be no beach left to enjoy. It’s an endless cycle . . . and a delicate balance. Amazingly, the ecological damage from vehicles is negligible.
Duxbury Beach is one of the most beautiful places on the South Shore. An occasional visit is absolutely worth the non-resident parking fee. Knowing what the beach – and its caretakers – has sustained over the years makes it seem even more precious. If you don’t like crowds, try visiting at off-hours. It’s just as spectacular on a sunny spring or autumn day as it is midsummer.
To learn more about Duxbury Beach, read the excellent Duxbury Beach Book by Margaret M. Kearney and Kay Foster (2007).
In 2019, over sand vehicle permits cost $190 for residents and $330 for non-residents. Parking in the town lot, which holds 440 cars, is $120 annually. Non-residents can park in an adjacent lot, at Duxbury Beach Park, for $20 per day. While only 500 vehicles can fit on the beach at any given time, permit sales are not subject to limits.
4 miles of sandy beach provide plenty of room to roam. Also consider walking on the unpaved road that runs south from Marshfield on the bay side of the property.
Habitats and Wildlife
A 2018 survey indicates that the numbers of species observed on Duxbury Beach are as follows. Birds: 127, Mammals: 8, and Plants: 36. Some notable residents are the Snowy Owl, the Piping Plover, and the Least Tern. The latter two are considered to be threatened species by state and/or federal law. The Duxbury Beach Endangered Species Program, enacted by the Duxbury Police Department, offers protection during the spring and summer.
Like all barrier beaches, Duxbury Beach is dynamic. Sand arrives and departs at a slow pace. Here at Duxbury, the beach is moving westward toward the mainland. Unfortunately, due to heavy armoring of beaches to the north (sea walls), Duxbury Beach is not receiving its natural nourishment of sand.
There are seasonal dynamics as well. In the winter and spring, the beach is rocky, as northeasterly winds pull the sand out. In the summer and fall, the sand returns, carried in by gentle waves.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: Yes
Size: 4 miles of beach
Hours: 9am to 8pm daily (weather permitting), Memorial Day until Labor Day
Parking: Large on-site parking area requires resident sticker. Non-resident parking (for a fee) is available at Duxbury Beach Park, immediately adjacent.
Cost: Resident sticker required.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Porta-potties. Handicap access ramp and mobility mats. In addition, a beach wheelchair is available by request from a guardhouse attendant at the Powder Point Bridge entrance.
Dogs: Dog walking requires a permit.
Boat Ramp: Yes
ADA Access: Yes
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Atlantic Ocean