Smith Island in Maryland and Tangier Island in Virginia have sustained generations of families, starting in the Colonial days. Over the centuries they’ve developed a unique lifestyle.
Both islands welcome visitors to stay for a few hours, or a weekend, to experience this disappearing way of life. Visit sooner rather than later. The islands are being consumed by the slowly rising Chesapeake Bay which, along with generational changes, is washing away that lifestyle.
But there’s a dilemma: ferries to both islands leave Crisfield, Maryland, at the same time. If you’re there for a day trip, which island do you visit?
Smith Island or Tangier Island?
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Getting There
Both are beautiful boat rides. These islands are part of separate marshy island chains about ten miles off of the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.
The ferry boats wind through channels that cut past smaller islands to get to the populated islands.
Waterman shanties at Smith Island are generally on piers off of the island. Tangier Island watermen shanties are in the water lining both sides of the channel going to the island.
About one-hour ferry-ride
9.6 miles from Crisfield
About one-and-a-half-hour ferry-ride
13.3 miles from Crisfield
Approx. 2.5 hours to explore
Approx. 2 hours to explore
You can arrange longer day trips through shuttle/cargo boats that load on Crisfield City dock. They also leave at 12:30pm.
These can be an adventure. You’re usually riding on a “deadrise” waterman’s boat with plastic lawn chairs, a cooler filled with refreshments, and captained by an interesting local.
Another reason to consider a charter: Smith Island has two populated islands in its chain, but the daily ferry goes only to Smith Island. The other island, Tylerton, is accessible only by boat. There’s no bridge from one island to the other. You can charter the delivery boat to drop you off and pick you up.
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Villages
While Smith Island has three villages, you can only see two of them if you come in on the daily ferry. Ewell is the biggest, with the restaurants and shopping. Rhodes Point is a cluster of homes about a half-hour walk, or a ten-minute bike ride, from Ewell along the single road through the marsh.
Tangier Island has one village, Tangier. It’s a bit bigger than Ewell on Smith Island.
Tylerton (on Tylerton Island)
What to See & Do:
Ewell is smaller and easier to walkabout
Large community church
What to See & Do:
Tangier is bigger with more area to explore
Large community church
More shops, but not much more
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Food
Restaurants on both islands serve home cooking. It’s not “home-style,” it is really like you’re stopping in a local’s house and getting lunch.
Crab cakes and soft-crab sandwiches are as fresh as you’ll get anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay and delicious. Islanders will tell you that they’re all good and none better than another.
Smith Island cakes made on the island
Seven-layer cakes made on the island, which is similar to Smith Island cakes
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Walking About
The landscape is similar on both islands — Chesapeake Bay marshland with houses built on high ridges, which may be only a foot or two above high tide.
Smith Island has more to see outside Ewell village. You need a bicycle or a golf cart to tour the entire island before the daily ferry leaves. Smith Island marsh and waterfront are vast, scenic, and dramatic.
Tangier is more compact. You can walk the entire island and still have time for lunch before the ferry leaves.
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Beach
Smith Island has beaches, but you need a kayak to get to them. Tangier Island has a gorgeous public beach that you can walk to, but you may have to choose between the beach and a sit-down lunch before it’s time to leave on the daily ferry.
Grabbing take-out before jumping on the return ferry gives you beach time.
unless you stay longer and kayak to a not-walkable location
Beautiful, white-sand beach…
but not much time for laying on the beach if seeing other island sites on a day trip
Smith Island vs. Tangier Island: Ferry Info
Passenger ferries for both islands leave Crisfield, Maryland, at the same time, 12:30pm. No cars are allowed.
However, if Reedville, Virginia, is closer, you can catch a Reedville ferry boat from there to Tangier Island. That ferry does not go to Smith Island.
Ferries from Crisfield, MD, & Point Lookout, MD
Wednesday through Sunday, June-October
Approx. $30 for adults, with a couple of bucks more for bicycles
Ferries from Crisfield, MD, Reedville, VA, & Onancock, VA
Wednesdays & Friday through Sunday, June-October
Approx. $30 for adults, with a few bucks more for bicycles