For five glorious days and four nights, my family (twin 8-year-old girls, husband, and I), spent a car-free vacation in Martha’s Vineyard at the end of June with four other families and despite my husband’s doubts about not bringing the car over, I am happy to say that family biking in Martha’s Vineyard is not only doable but a ton of fun! Plus, we saved money by not bringing the car on the ferry.
We booked a two-room rustic cabin which comes stocked with bunk and double beds, fridge, firepit, two plastic camp chairs, and propane grill at the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground in Vineyard Haven. The campground is located just under 2-miles from the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal and about 4.5-miles from the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal.
We each brought our mountain bikes, and I towed a Burley Travoy trailer. My husband attached a rear rack and affixed panniers to his bike for extra storage. The kids packed their clothes and stuffies in their backpacks. Since we did not have to worry about tents or cooking gear, we were able to travel light. We brought sheets, a toiletry bag, lightweight folding chairs (2), mugs (2), plates (4), lightweight blankets, lightweight towels (4), our clothes and a couple of pairs of shoes, and a small cooler. The campground store is stocked with everything you might need for a long weekend including breakfast and grilling items, hot coffee, dish soap, basin for washing dishes, and firewood. Breakfast was usually bagels toasted on the grill, cereal, and bananas and coffee for us. One of the nights we cooked up sausages and hamburgers. The other meals we ate at local restaurants. We also tested the limits of the Burley trailer by making a beer run at the nearest liquor store located 4 miles away near the Martha’s Vineyard airport. Since our kids are on the older side and we live near the beach at home, we did not bring typical beach supplies like beach chairs, sand toys, or sun tent/umbrella. Apparently, you can rent these items on the island and have them delivered as well as linens for the beds if you like, just ask the campground front desk about it. They also rent bikes at the campground, but we were glad the kids had their own bikes and having a mountain bike, meant I could explore the State Forest which was less than 2 miles away and boosts 10 miles of not-too-technical trails.
We parked our car at the Palmer Ave lot at Woods Hole. Luckily, the Shining Sea bike path runs behind the lot all the way to the Woods Hole Ferry Terminal which is 4 miles away. The trail itself was mostly shaded, completely flat, and provided beautiful beach and pond views! We missed the ferry to Vineyard Haven so we asked the girls if they would rather take the Oak Bluffs ferry and bike a bit further to the campground or wait another 1.5 miles for the next Vineyard Haven ferry, they choose to take the ferry that was just about to board to Oak Bluffs. That meant the first day the kids biked a total of 8.5 miles! I was so impressed they did it but I will say, by the last 2 miles, they were getting tired!
Bike trails on Martha’s Vineyard were basically extra wide sidewalks (known as multi-use paths) and were plentiful on the island (at least down island which includes the towns of: Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown) as were bike racks at many destinations, restaurants, and beaches. However, there were a few places we visited that I would not recommend biking for families with small children which are basically the areas up island such as the towns of: West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. You can take the island bus instead. Two places that were worth visiting in those areas were: catching the sunset at Menemsha beach and visiting the Aqinnah cliffs. We didn’t have time to visit any of the beautiful Trustees of Reservation properties either so we’ll definitely have to go back!
I highly recommend visiting the Bad Martha brewery which was 5.5 miles away from the campground on the bike path and the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs. In fact, most activities including restaurants with expansive outdoor seating and nightlife was found in Oak Bluffs. The boys went out one of the nights and had no problem grabbing an UBER/LYFT there and back. The latest bar in town seems to be the Ritz which is open until 1am and features live music. I also recommend dining at Noman’s because it has a large lawn and games for the kids to play in while adults can have actual conversations, enjoy dinner, and listen to the live band.
I cannot comment too much on the beaches-we visited State Beach one of the days but again, since we live near the beach, we did not really go to hang out at the beaches. But we were told by the front desk at the Campground that there were several beaches nearby. The kids were excited to visit the Alpaca farm 1 mile from the campground but there was not a whole lot to see there. They were most excited about the gift shop!
Note that State Road in Tisbury (Vineyard Haven) is not very bike-friendly for families and you will likely need to bike on the road. Also, note that the Steamship Authority ferry bike racks do not accommodate larger mountain bike tires. If you decide you would like to try this adventure, I recommend making sure your kids are comfortable biking at least 5 miles especially with loaded backpacks. The Travoy trailer was super useful! If we end up needing to bring tents on the next adventure, I think we will buy a flatbed trailer for more storage options. We had to buy tickets for our bikes but not the trailer.
Cell coverage on the island is spotty. I suggest downloading your routes ahead of time, so you don’t have to rely on phone navigation. Check out this handy bike map: https://www.mvy.com/bikingmv.html
I cannot wait until our next bike camping adventure! My hope is to leave the car completely at home and catch the commuter rail to the Provincetown ferry or the Cape Flyer from South Station to a destination on the Cape or to Nantucket, maybe take the Amtrak train to Portland, ME. There is nothing like the freedom of leaving the car behind and exploring a new place by bike!
Aileen O'Rourke is a MassBike Board Member and lives in Manchester-by-the-sea with her husband and twin 8-year-old daughters and rescue pup. When she’s not biking around town/the North Shore or with her kids to school, Aileen enjoys exploring the beautiful trails and beaches in the area including running, mountain biking, hiking, and stand-up paddleboarding.