• Story and Photos by Caroline J. Phillips

Smith Island: Set Sail for the Solitude and Simplicity of this Somerset Isle


Ever wondered what it would be like to escape to a remote island? Where everything is simple and there is plenty of peace and quiet? There is such a place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, rich in Chesapeake Bay history.

Smith Island

Just east of Crisfield and situated between the Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound, Smith Island is the last inhabited island in Maryland. It’s like stepping back in time – a place without chain stores and traffic lights.

With a population of approximately 276 (according to the 2010 U.S. Census), Smith Island is the hub of the country’s softshell crab industry, the season for which runs from May to September. Working on the water is the main commercial enterprise on Smith Island, where watermen stay busy in their crab boats or tending to their softshell crabs in the crabber shanties.

Planning your trip

At the docks at the end of Route 413 in Crisfield, passenger ferries pick up visitors for the 35-minute trip across the Tangier Sound.

There are a few ferries to choose from, most leaving between noon and 12:30 p.m., but check with the captains ahead of time. The best place to find the information is the Visit Smith Island website (visitsmithisland.com/gettinghere), which lists the captains, arrival and departure times, and ticket prices. For a one-day trip, Smith Island Cruises offers a package for a quick taste of island life.

Keep in mind these are passenger ferries, so no cars (although bicycles are allowed on ferries and are also available for rent on the island).

Several housing options are available for multi-day adventures. AirBNB has become popular on the island but perhaps a more authentic experience is offered at Susan’s on Smith Island, a cozy bed-and-breakfast with gorgeous views of the water. Susan Evans is an excellent cook, who treats guests to hearty breakfasts to start their day. Evans also will serve dinner. At an extra $25 per guest, this is a great deal.

On the Island

Smith Island is not just one big island, but a few little islands. There are three villages – Ewell, Rhodes Point, and Tylerton. Ewell and Rhodes Point sit on the same land, and travel between the two is easy. Tylerton, however, sits off by itself, only accessible by boat, but worth the trip.

One thing to expect when touring the island is that it’s not very big and there are few places to frequent. That’s the point of this getaway – to experience a difference pace.

There are only a few places to eat, and they are open seasonally. At any time of year, grab some great food (including Smith Island cake) at the Drum Point Market in Tylerton. It’s also the local grocery store, offering essentials as well small gifts. Also try Bayside Inn Restaurant, which is open May through October, and also offers carry-out.

Smith Island may be most famous for its Smith Island Cake. Named Maryland’s State Dessert in 2008, the Smith Island Cake is an 8- to 10-layer yellow cake with fudgy chocolate icing spread in-between the layers. It’s a tradition that’s tasty and also rich in history. Order a whole cake at Drum Point Market to take home.

The Simple Life

Smith Island is the perfect place to put your cell phone away and enjoy peace and quiet. The wildlife is entertaining enough. Look for cranes, pelicans, and even a wild goat on the nearby, unoccupied island across from Ewell.

For guidance around the island, join a local tour group. Birding groups and kayaking tours are available, and Chesapeake Bay photographer Jay Fleming offers photography workshops that immerse visitors in local culture.

Smith Island is a destination with simplicity in mind. Ride a bike through the serene landscape, taking in all that nature has to offer and the community that embraces a more peaceful lifestyle than the mainland often allows.

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