Smith Island is an archipelago located approximately 10 miles off the coast of Crisfield, Maryland. With a population of around 276 people (2010 census) spread over 4.5 square miles of habitable land space, you might think that there is nothing to do. However, adventure is all in the eyes of the beholder. Smith Island is a playground for the curious explorer and nature lover.
Before I get into all the cool activities, which is why you are reading this article, it is important for visitors to know that Smith Island is a place of residence, not a tourist attraction. Villagers are not interested in attracting tourists to their island with fancy tours, trendy food, and boutique shops, they are just living their lives and welcoming you to experience it. When you arrive, engage with the community, appreciate the small things in life, and enjoy each moment. That’s what it is all about.
Now with no further ado, here are the top 17 things to do on Smith Island.
1. Kayak around the creeks and inlets surrounding the island
Smith Island is a kayaker’s dream. To put this in perspective, Smith Island is about 9.2 square feet, 4.5 of which is land and the remainder of which is comprised of marshy waterways and inlets. Take your kayak down to the remote village of Tylerton (about a 2.25 trip) or just paddle through the “guts” of the island among tall grass and wild birds. Paddle Smith Island has a great kayaking guide and map outlining recommended routes along Smith Island.
Kayakers be warned, the waterways are highly subject to the daily tides. While we were paddling along the Tylerton-Ewell Run route at sunset, the water quickly began to recede. We were forced farther and farther away from the shore where the water was deep enough for us to continue on. Luckily we made it back, but always be conscious of wind and tide when planning your trip.
2. Visit the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-op
While you are down at Tylerton, be sure to visit the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-op. This small business was formed by the wives of the watermen who wake up each morning to harvest crab and oysters around the Chesapeake. Unlike most crab processing facilities, this Co-op picks and packages the entire crab in one container – claw, backfin, lumps and all.
Watch through an observation window where the women work side by side to process the freshly caught Maryland crab. You can also pay $3 to enter the main area where crabs are picked clean, giving you the opportunity to ask questions and even sample the freshest crabmeat around.
Hours: June-November 8-10 am and 5-7:30pm
Location: 123 Wharf Street, Tylerton, MD 21866
3. Try Smith Island Cake
Smith Island Cake, a recipe dating back to the 1800’s, is the official dessert for the state of Maryland. Traditionally, the cake consists of 8-10 thin layers of yellow cake with a fudge frosting slathered between each layer and then coated over the entire cake. New versions have emerged including Devil’s Food cake with dark chocolate fudge frosting and dark chocolate cake with peanut butter fudge frosting. There are four main eateries on Smith Island: Bayside Inn, Harborside Grocery, Smith Island Bakery, and Drum Point Market. Each has their own recipe made by a different island woman. Try a piece at all four locations and see if you can choose a favorite. Scott preferred the strawberry cake with chocolate fudge frosting, but Cecilia preferred the original.
4. Try the crabcakes
Knowing that the main occupation on the island is crabbing, it only makes sense that you should try the crab cakes at all the eateries including the co-op. Pro Tip: When you visit Bayside Inn, go all in and order the family-style luncheon. Not only are you served fresh crab cakes, but you are also served the Smith Island stewed tomatoes, a traditional recipe local to the island. I have never had tomatoes cooked like these and they were without a doubt the highlight of the meal.
Admittedly, we tried the fried chicken at Harborside Grocery rather than the crab. They must not be used to people ordering anything other than the crab cakes, because they told us “It will be about an hour for the chicken so that we have time to take it out of the freezer to thaw.” We ended up eating some Smith Island Cake while we waited so it was a win-win situation.
5. Visit the Smith Island Cultural Center Museum
The Smith Island Cultural Center Museum may be small, but it is well organized and full of interesting history. Upon entering, you are seated to watch a brief documentary highlighting the history, culture and everyday life on the island. One of the coolest things was actually recognizing some of the people on the video. With Smith Island being only 2 miles long, you run into the same people constantly. Seeing the woman who lent us her bicycle air pump the day prior, now on the screen talking about crabbing was an exciting experience.
Following the video, visitors can take a peek around the museum viewing cultural artifacts and bits of Smith Island history including crabbing items, religious books, and skipjack models.
Hours: May – October 12:00 – 4:00 daily
Location: 20846 Caleb Jones Road, Ewell, MD 21824
6. Send a postcard from the post office
The family-run post office in Ewell is quite possibly one of the smallest and most charming that you will ever see. We were told that mail is delivered by boat twice a day, yet we still couldn’t imagine that there wouldn’t be some sort of delay in delivery time given the remoteness of Smith Island. We decided to test this theory out and send 2 post cards to my niece and nephew in Virginia. Low and behold, one post card arrived 3 days after being sent. The second postcard, which was sent at the same time, arrived about a week later.
Fun fact: the post office is also the only place on the island where you will see a Christmas tree year round.
Location: 20925 Caleb Jones Rd, Ewell, MD 21824
7. Find the hidden beach on the nature reserve
While moseying around Rhode’s Point, the southern tip of the island, we chatted with a local who mentioned a hidden beach on Martin National Wildlife Refuge. We learned that this place is a hidden gem for locals who enjoy packing a picnic and splashing in the water. Having only a kayak and running out of daylight, we did not have the opportunity to search for the beach. If you happen to find this beach, do let us know!
8. Visit Goat Island
Biggest regret of the trip? Not visiting goat island! Honestly, we completely forgot that this was a thing. Scott and I love pygmy goats with their cute little hops and tiny legs, (read about our goat yoga experience here), so of course we were thrilled to learn that there were over 30 wild goats inhabiting a small piece of land across from Ewell. Because it is not a formal attraction there is nothing marketing “goat island” so once we were there, it completely slipped our mind. On a side note, this island is actually up for sale. For $1.5 million, you can own a 55-acre island in the Chesapeake, complete with 30 wild goats ready to be your friend.
9. Get your hair done at the one salon, Island Styles
While relaxing on Smith Island, you might as well pamper yourself with a new ‘do and set of nails. Island Styles is the one and only salon on the island, ready to fulfill all of your beauty needs.
Location: 20978 Caleb Jones Rd, Ewell, MD 21824
Contact: Laura Evans
410-425-4881 | Ladylaurabud@aol.com
10. Visit the antique store
There are no strip malls or trendy boutiques, but there is an antique store. Located steps away from Harborside Grill in Ewell, the shop is owned and operated by a Smith Island resident out of his own home. Step inside and you will find a hodgepodge of miniature collector’s spoons, eclectic furniture, and vintage toys. All prices are negotiable.
11. Take your bike across the island to Rhode’s Point
Smith Island is a dream for kayakers, but also for bicyclists. With almost no cars on the island, you can enjoy a leisurely bike ride across the island without the fear of being side swiped by a vehicle. The ride from Ewell to Rhode’s Point is about 2 miles along one flat open road. Most AirBnB’s and Inns have a selection of bicycles and kayaks for guests to use at no cost. If by chance, all the bicycles are rusted out or have flat tires, there are rentals available by Bayside Inn.
12. Charter a boat
If the ride to Smith Island tickled your fancy for another boat adventure, you can book a private charter tour. Sunset cruises are available to catch the sun slowly setting into the Chesapeake Bay. Also available are photo expeditions and nature tours where you can observe the large variety of wild birds inhabiting Martin National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, there is also the popular fishing adventure where you are likely to catch some of the bay’s tastiest fish including striped bass, bluefish, croaker, flounder, black drum, rockfish, and sea trout.
13. Attend a church service
Religion plays an important role in the lives of many islanders. On 4.5 square miles of land, there are no police stations and no official town government, but there are in fact 3 churches. Each of the three Smith Island communities has their own Methodist church where local decisions are made, providing both political and religious cohesion. Rev. Charles Richard Edmund, the only pastor on the island for 10 years, preaches at all three locations every Sunday. Residents are eager to share their faith with others and welcome visitors to join any of their services.
Ewell United Methodist Church – Main Service at 9 AM Sundays
Tylerton United Methodist Church – Main Service at 10:45 AM Sundays
Calvary Methodist Church in Rhodes Point – Main Service at 12 noon Sundays
14. Rent a golf cart to see the island
While you may find a few vehicles on the roads, the main modes of transportation on the island are by foot, bicycle, and golf cart. Head on over to Bayside Inn where you can rent a golf cart for up to 2.5 hours. You can easily walk across the island in a few hours; You can bike it in about an hour; and with a golf cart you can see everything in about 20 minutes. Therefore, this is an ideal option if you are short on time. I will go ahead and give advanced warning that the company restricts where you can go depending on the time of day due to rising tides. When the water levels are up, the main road connecting Ewell and Rhode’s Point becomes flooded and impassable.
Hours: Memorial Day through October 15, daily from 11am – 4pm
Location: 4065 Smith Island Rd. Ewell, MD 21824
Contact: 410-425-2771; email@example.com
Rate: ½ hour $15; 1 hour $25; 2.5 hours $50
Bikes – 1/2 hour $3; 1 hour $5; 2 1/2 hours $10
15. Watch a sunset in the middle of the bay
We had the absolute pleasure of watching the sunset over the Chesapeake bay while on a kayak in front of the Tylerton dock. This was the ideal location to capture an unimpeded view of the rich colors setting into the water. Witnessing a sunset from Smith Island where the land is flat and construction is minimal, gives you a clear panoramic view of sunsets which are hard to compare.
16. Pick up some souvenirs at Bayside Gifts
Aside from the aforementioned antique shop, the other place for you to pick up a Smith Island momento is at the Bayside Inn gift shop. Located inside the restaurant, you can peruse a selection of handcrafted items as well as branded t-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs.
Hours: Memorial Day through October 15, daily from 12 – 4pm
Location: 40633 Smith Island Rd. Ewell, MD 21824
Contact: 410-425-2771; firstname.lastname@example.org
17. Get up super early and watch the watermen in action
If you are an early riser, and I mean early, you can wake up to watch the watermen as they start their work at 4 am. The docks are filled with crab traps and bustling boats preparing to leave. A few hours later, the crab shanties, which are otherwise quiet and empty, are filled with the day’s freshest catch. Sleep in and you could miss all of this activity which is central to the Smith Island way of life.
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