If you love Nantucket, but are looking to get away from the bustle of downtown Nantucket Harbor, you might want to poke your bow into peaceful Madaket Harbor, on the extreme western end of the island. If you like the place, you’ll be in good company, for Madaket was also the summer retreat of well-known children’s television host Fred Rogers. From the late 1950s until his death in 2004, Rogers spent his summer vacations in a small, ramshackle cottage known as The Crooked House, which has a sweeping view of picturesque Madaket Harbor and Nantucket Sound beyond. The house is still owned and used by the Rogers family.
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Madaket was where the first European settlers of Nantucket landed in 1659 and quickly set about “procuring” land from the resident Wampanoag Indians. In the following centuries the area served as a farming and fishing community, until modern transportation transformed it into an idyllic vacation spot in the mid-1900s.
Tiny Madaket Village is little more than an enclave of summer homes and beach cottages, along with a marina, a restaurant and a small store. It’s where you can still get a sense of wild Nantucket, with the Atlantic surf booming on the south shore and the quieter waters of Madaket Harbor lapping just a few hundred feet to the north. You can also find expansive tidal flats for wading, good crabbing in the creeks and excellent fishing for striped bass, bluefish, fluke and more throughout the season.
If you plan to bring your own boat to Madaket, be aware that there are no transient slips or moorings here. However, there is a good anchorage in the northeast corner of the harbor, tucked in behind Eel Point. Madaket Harbor is a small-boater’s paradise, especially if you like to kayak and windsurf, or simply cruise around in a dinghy or shallow-draft skiff. If you want to venture ashore, you can leave your dinghy at one of the landings on Hither Creek.
Madaket is 5 1/2 miles from Nantucket Harbor, and an easy bike ride (well-maintained bike paths run throughout the island)—if you have the wind behind you! Remember that afternoon southwesterlies are the norm in summer, which can make getting back to Madaket a lot more strenuous.
Another option is to take the shuttle into town. Nantucket’s public transportation service, the NRTA (www.shuttlenantucket.com), provides a cheap, convenient way to get around the island.
If you want to dine in Madaket or get a drink, your only option is Millie’s, the village’s lone restaurant and bar. Millie’s opened in 2010 on the same site as the West End restaurant, and serves a variety of affordably priced lunch and dinner items, as well as take-out.
If you need provisions, the West End Market carries basic items such as eggs, cheese, milk and soda, plus T-shirts, souveniers and, of course, postcards of Fred Rogers.
What Madaket lacks in restaurants and shops, it makes up for in natural attractions. As mentioned, the harbor itself is well protected and features sprawling sand flats that are perfect for curious kids to explore and splash around on. This is also an ideal spot for kayaking. Madaket’s Atlantic shore is bordered by a beautiful, long beach, and offers good surfcasting, swimming and body surfing.
West of the beach is a narrow cut between Smiths Point and Tuckernuck Island used by local boaters. It provides the quickest route from western Nantucket to the Atlantic, but it can be tricky to navigate in calm conditions and dangerous in any kind of swell, which is much of the time. Passage is best attempted by experienced boaters, and then only in fair conditions.
The safer but more time-consuming option, as well as the only option for larger boats, is to head north after leaving Madaket, clear the G “1” buoy and then travel south through Muskeget Channel.