10 Places in the U.S. Where Bikes and Boats Rule

Tires stacked outside a home on the waterfront
Sunset on Mackinack Island, Michigan.

Eric Lanning / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Although the pace of modern life quickens with each passing year, some places choose to reject the rat race altogether. Opting for a slower and more environmentally conscious lifestyle, many towns in coastal regions of the United States rely predominately on bicycles and boats to get around. Some communities, like Halibut Cove in Alaska and Mackinac Island in Michigan, have even banned the use of cars outright.

Here are 10 places in the United States where bikes and boats serve as the main mode of transportation.

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Monhegan Island (Maine)

The sun sets on the houses of the picturesque Monhegan Island

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This tiny fishing island off the coast of Maine is less than two miles long, has no paved roads, and was home to only 54 residents according to the 2019 U.S. census data. The only way onto the island is by boat, including the famous 65-foot Laura B.—a 1943-built World War II Army boat that has been carrying passengers, freight, and mail to the island for over 50 years. Two-thirds of the island has been designated as a nature preserve overseen by an island trust that is committed to maintaining the island’s natural state.

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Governors Island (New York)

The grassy fields of Governors Island shine bright in the sun

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Situated in New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, the 172-acre Governors Island is accessible only by ferry. The island was a federal military base since the end of the American Revolutionary War and closed to the public, but, in 2003, the United States sold the island to New York for one dollar. Today, visitors to Governors Island can bike, picnic, and enjoy free National Park Service walking tours with a view of the Statue of Liberty that can’t be beat. 

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Smith Island (Maryland)

A bike path on Smith Island in Maryland.

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The three-by-five-mile island chain of Smith Island encompasses three separate islands—Ewell and Rhodes Point (which are connected by bridge), and the unconnected Tylerton. Once home to Native Americans for more than 12,000 years, the archipelago was charted in 1608 by Captain John Smith and colonized by the European settlers. Passenger and cruise ferries offer daily roundtrips and are the only way to visit Smith Island. For an additional freight fee, visitors may bring their own kayaks to explore the island waters by paddle.

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Halibut Cove (Alaska)

Small mountains overlook the picturesque Halibut Cove on a sunny day

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Located in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay State Park, Halibut Cove is nestled among mountains, glaciers, and forests, and is accessible only by boat. It’s home to just 91 people, according to the 2019 census data, and it is home to one of the only floating post offices in the United States. The scenic cove is lined with stores, cabins, and art galleries, all accessed by boat, and a variety of wildlife, including sea otters, harbor seals, and humpback whales, call the area home.

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Mackinac Island (Michigan)

A person walks a bicycle up a path on Mackinac Island in Michigan

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Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Mackinac Island on Lake Huron has banned the use of motorized vehicles since 1898 (with the exception of snowmobiles in winter and emergency vehicles). In fact, the island’s M-185 is the only highway in the United States that prohibits public vehicles. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own bicycle, or rent one, and pedal the eight-mile scenic loop on the neatly paved road. Sailboating, kayaking, and paddleboarding are also popular activities on Mackinac Island.

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Daufuskie Island (South Carolina)

A tree-lined path on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

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A small wooded isle located between Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, Daufuskie Island is accessible only by boat or passenger ferry. The two-and-a-half-by-five-mile island is home to only 444 residents and relies on tourism as its primary industry. Visitors to Daufuskie rent electric golf carts (the dominant form of transportation on the island) to get around. Bicycling, horseback riding, kayaking, and sailboating are also popular ways that folks like to move about the idyllic island.

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Catalina Island (California)

Sailboats sit in the harbor of Catalina Island

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Los Angeles may be known for its congested traffic, but just a ferry ride away sits Catalina Island, a place where cars are restricted and golf carts rule the streets. In fact, many residencies on the island have small, golf cart-sized driveways. While Catalina’s main town, Avalon, can be easily explored on foot, folks there also enjoy getting around on bicycles or by open-air tram. 

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Bald Head Island (North Carolina)

A lighthouse on Bald Head Island on a sunny day

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North Carolina’s Bald Head Island is located on Cape Fear River near the town of Southport and is accessible only by passenger ferry or private boat. Cars are not permitted, but folks on the getaway island travel easily on electric golf carts and bicycles. More than 80% of Bald Head Island is protected conservation land, with over 260 species of birds and the endangered loggerhead sea turtle calling it home.

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North Captiva Island (Florida)

A sailboat on the greenish waters of the Gulf of Mexico off shore of North Captiva Island

Dconvertini / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Just off the coast of Southwest Florida in the Gulf of Mexico lies the narrow, four-mile-long North Captiva Island. Formed in 1921 when a hurricane separated it from nearby Captiva Island, the small strip of paradise has been a quiet tourist destination since the 1980s. The popular getaway is accessible only by ferry or private plane, and while cars are not allowed on the island, electric golf carts certainly are. Visitors to North Captiva Island have no shortage of sporty activities to partake in, with bikes, boats, kayaks, and jet skis all available for rent.

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Tangier Island (Virginia)

Boats docked at Tangier Island at dawn

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With a total landmass of around a half square mile, Tangier Island off the coast of Virginia is by no means a bustling place, but visitors and locals seem to prefer it that way. The tiny fishing village can only be reached by passenger boat, with two operating daily, and by plane. While cars and trucks are used on the island, the vast majority of people on Tangier Island get around on bicycles and golf carts.