Hooper, in Maryland’s section of the Chesapeake Bay, is like a Smith Island or Tangier Island that you can drive to. It’s a beautiful drive to get there across marshland and a cool adventure once you get there, even though there’s not much on the not-quite-10-mile chain of islands.
Hooper Island Overview
Hooper is a row of three barrier islands off Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Only two that you can visit by car, Upper Hooper & Middle Hooper. The wooden bridge to Lower Hooper was destroyed in a storm and never rebuilt.
The islands, separated from the mainland by the Honga River, are also called “Hooper’s Island,” “Hoopers Island” and even “Hooper Islands.”
To get there, you drive through the vast marshland of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Henry Hooper was a buddy of the Calverts, the family credited with founding Maryland in the 1600s, and Hooper was able to claim this section of Dorchester County.
Some say that current long-time island residents can trace their lineage to ten families since the Hooper days.
The islands are known for sport fishing and crabbing. Phillips Seafood got its start here.
The small packing plant processed wild crabs, fish, and oysters in season.
“In those early days,” says the Phillips website, “the fresh seafood traveled by steamship to Baltimore, where it was bound for local restaurants and fishmongers.”
These days, the island is the center of new ways of farming the Chesapeake Bay with oyster hatcheries and other newer techniques, even as the traditional methods continue.
New waterfront home construction is mixed in with gothic homes.
Waterman boats, called a “Deadrise,” still outnumber fishing boats and sailboats, but sporting boats are slowly increasing.
What’s There to Do on Hooper Island?
Summer is water sports & cycling. Winter is water sports and bundled-up cycling. Water sports, including of course pleasure boating, but also fishing and hunting.
Island life revolves around events hosted by the volunteer fire department, as well as the general store and Old Salties, the only restaurant in town.
The island’s main road, Hoopers Island Road, takes you down the middle of two of the three islands and ends halfway through Middle Hooper, at the edge of the very marshy area on that end.
Homes and businesses are built on the land ridges on both sides of the road and along the water.
A causeway separates the two drivable islands. Water can splash onto the causeway’s road during high tide and windy days, giving you the adventure of driving through briny water.
About three miles off the shore of the island is the Hooper Island Lighthouse, on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002. It’s the only cast-iron caisson (spark plug) lighthouse in Maryland, and one of eleven remaining in the U.S.
Hooper Island Light is a caisson (sparkplug) lighthouse built in 1902. It’s no longer in operation but the light reportedly still works. The lighthouse stands in 18 feet of water with a height of 63 feet.
You can see the lighthouse on a clear day off the western edge of Hoopersville on Middle Hooper Island. But you need a boat to get a good view.
There are chartering/boat tour companies on Hooper Island:
As of summer 2021, the federal government was looking for a “new steward to assume ownership,” available at no cost if the new owner uses the lighthouse for education, recreational, cultural, or historic preservation purposes.
Upper Hooper Island
The first island, Upper Hooper, has the village of Fishing Creek. That’s where you’ll find the Hoopers Island General Store. It’s the one-stop-shop on the island.
Old Salty’s Seafood Restaurant is the day-trip destination for many heading to Hooper Island. It’s known for its delicate crab cakes and soft-shelled crabs harvested from nearby waters. The large restaurant is hugely popular with the motorcycling crowd on beautiful days.
There are also several seafood wholesalers on the island. Some will sell to drive-ups, most sell only to restaurants or fish distributors.
There are also a couple of pretty churches on this island.
Middle Hooper Island
The other island, Middle Hooper, contains mainly private homes and wide sweeps of the marsh. The village of Hoopersville is on this island.
There’s one seafood business and Riverside Lodge, a former gun club, but now a small resort catering to waterfowl hunters sports fishing, and escapes from city life.
Middle Hooper seems to be the launching pad for outdoor life — boating, fishing, hunting, and cycling.
Some homes on both islands are available for vacation rentals or have a room available for lodging.
There’s not a lot on Middle Island, but the scenery is gorgeous.
Cycling on Hooper Island
There’s no shoulder on Hooper Island Road, but there’re not many vehicles either. It’s a flat, easy eight miles (one way) ride. The tough part is finding a place to park your car.
You’ll see a boat ramp just before you cross the bridge to the island, but Tylers Cove Boat Ramp is for fishermen only.
Don’t park at Salties either. Their lot is small and fills quickly when the restaurant opens. There is a little park with a pavilion toward the end of Middle Hooper.
Or, plan a longer ride that includes nearby Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and find one of their parking areas.