The birding here is world class, plus the lighthouse, bunker, and Sunset Beach.
The parking can be impossible here during the summer.
Cape May Point State Park – Cape May, Cape May County, NJ
Distance – 3.2 miles of trail total
Type – Series of loops
Difficulty: 2 of 10
Total score: 9 of 10
Updated – March 3, 2017
Website – Cape May Point State Park
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – Mostly tidal marshlands with small patches of forest
Surface – boardwalks and dirt
Trailheads – 38°55’59.64″N, 74°57’30.34″W or
38°55’57.43″N, 38°55’57.43″N or
Directions – Light House Ave, Cape May Point, NJ 08212. For Sunset Beach (no trailheads),
Parking – HUGE lot because of the lighthouse. I have been warned that, in the summer especially, try to get here early, because its been known to fill up!
Dog friendly? “Pets are not permitted on the beach from April 15th through September 15th to help protect endangered bird species during nesting season. Pets are also not permitted on the trails year-round. During the summer months, pets are only permitted in the grassy areas located in front of the lighthouse and in front of the museum and office. They must be on a leash (maximum length – 6 feet) and you must clean up after your pet.” ~ Park website
Stroller friendly? Major trails are, would not take them on the beach by the bunker.
Benches? There are a few benches scattered around the trails.
Facilities?: Full bathrooms with changing tables located by the lighthouse
Markings – Signs at important intersections, hard to lose the trail since its mostly boardwalks.
Map – The official map can be found here
So back in the Fall, we picked a weekend in February to do our somewhat-annual Friends Weekend Down the Shore, where we eat pizza, watch bad movies, and go for a hike. Little did we know we scheduled for a beautiful 60 degree day to hike at Cape May Point State Park.
Now I’d seen these trails many times (mostly from the top of the lighthouse) and I’d hiked along this beach as a Boy Scout (you could camp at the Coast Guard Base) and I’ve loved visiting the bunker and Sunset Beach for a long time, but I’d never walked this trail system… until now!!!
*cue Hollywood explosions* *cue different bird calls*
So off we went, starting at the Red/Blue/Yellow Trails trailhead next to the parking lot and walking on the boardwalk. Immediately, you start getting nice views of the lighthouse over the trees.
Quickly, we reached our first intersection, where we opted to head left onto the Red Trail. The Red Trail looped around, then sent a spur out to a pond (Lighthouse Pond West) with some nice birds on it, conveniently located in front of a bird blind. The geese (sneaky) could see us behind the blind, but I don’t think they noticed much.
After we had our fill of birds, we headed back down the spur turned right to get back onto the Red Trail loop, and quickly found ourselves at another pond where we could check birds out. When we were finished there, we pushed on to the intersection where the Red Trail rejoins the Blue and Yellow Trails.
After leaving the Red Trail, we worked our way around on the Blue/Yellow Trail, through some woodlands, through some wetlands, and back to woodlands. Along the way, we made a sharp right to avoid heading onto an old road and leaving the park. Eventually, we ended up between two ponds in a marshy area with another nice view of the lighthouse.
Once we passed between the two ponds, we had another short walk out to a viewing platform. Back on the trail, it was short distance to where the Yellow Trail left the Blue Trail. We opted to stick with the Blue Trail around the perimeter of the park.
Once we left the Yellow Trail and continued on the now-only-Blue Trail, it was a short distance to the edge of the main pond. Here, the trial made a right and followed at the base of the dunes, making a straight shot back toward the lighthouse parking area. This is another great spot to look for birds, but you can also take the paths (the real paths, don’t make your own!) over the dunes and walk back along the beach. Either way you choose, once you hit the home stretch, it’s about a half mile to the parking lot.
This is where I usually say how awesome a trail was and wrap it up. But this is Cape May Point State Park, so you’re actually just getting started. We next opted to take the pathway over the dunes and walk over to…
The WWII Bunker
This is a bit under a 0.2 of a mile walk from the parking lot (one way), so it totally something you should go see. What you get to see is Battery 223, an artillery battery left over from WWII, when it was put in place to protect the Delaware Bay from Nazis, especially u-boats.
It was originally completely covered in sand and grass (disguised as a dune, to trick those geese from that first pond, who are very sneaky) and located much further from the water. Time and tides have erased a ton of beachfront and left the bunker exposed to the ocean. And, for those who haven’t been here before, the current location is actually an improvement, as the Army Corp of Engineers filled in a ton of sand under and in front of the bunker at some point. When I was younger, the ocean was underneath the structure twice a day with the tides!
But wait, there’s more…
Cape May Lighthouse
Cape May Lighthouse was built just before the Civil War, and the third tallest lighthouse in the Great State of New Jersey (Absecon and Barnegat are taller). Because this is not a lighthouse blog (and it has taken a lot of self-restraint not to make this into a lighthouse blog), I won’t go into the details like a long-winded rant
about how George Meade, the hero of Gettysburg wasn’t involved with other than to say that you should climb it after your hike. Because it shares a parking lot with the hike. And because its a lighthouse.
There is a cost to go up it, which you should check for the price at in the official website listed in the beginning of this post, because I have no idea how often it changes.
But wait, there’s more!
They have a cool little museum with pictures and snakes in it and such. It’s great. They also have a whale rib outside.
Finally, you’ll have to get in your car to drive away. And by away, I mean backtrack and head all the way down Sunset Blvd to the other part of the park (it’s impossible to miss, when the road runs out, park. If you miss it, you’ll notice your car filling with water)!
That’s right, it’s the other ridiculously awesome place in Cape May Point State Park… Sunset Beach! The beach itself and the tower are located in the park proper, but the Sunset Beach Complex is privately owned. The owners are super ridiculously nice, awesome people, so feel free to spend lots of money at the grill and in the gift shop
(How super ridiculously nice and awesome are they? Lock your stupid keys in the car in January when its 10 degrees out and AAA can’t break into your car to get them back and the AAA calls AAA and then abandons you and the sun just went down and you and your two also-twenty-something-year-old-friends are going to freeze to death because you don’t know anyone within two hours away and you’ll find out how super ridiculously nice and awesome they are. Or just take my word for it. Regardless, buy stuff.)
Anyway, Sunset Beach! Visit! The highlights here are…
a) the Atlantus, aka, the Concrete Ship. It’s called that because its made of concrete. For serious. It was one of 12 concrete ships build in World War I when steel ran short to see if you could have a concrete ship. You could and, while it was slow, it totally worked. But when the war ended, no one wanted it. So it was towed away to Cape May to be sunk as part of ferry pier. Instead it broke away in the middle of the night and sank in the wrong spot, just off sunset beach, where its amused tourists for scores of years.
b) Cape May Diamonds. These are quartz crystals that wash down pretty much the whole length of the Delaware. Its fun to hunt on the beach for them. In the olden times, folks would cut them and pass them off as diamonds, which totally worked sometimes. Go inside the Sunset Beach Gifts to see what they look like after they’ve been in the rock tumbler for a while, or to purchase jewelry with real (and much cheaper than real real) Cape May diamonds set in it.
c) The WWII Lookout Tower. Fire Control Tower #23 was used in conjunction with the bunker we walked around previously in this post. They opened it up for tours a few years ago. If you are here not in February, this is open for tours. Sadly, I cannot seem to find my pictures I took in here when I visited years ago when it first opened. If I ever do, I’ll add them here. Or, you know, take the tour again.
d) Sunsets. Because the name is no lie.
But wait, there’s more!
No, kidding that time. Unless you count the morning flag raising at Sunset Beach. But after that, it’s seriously it. Until the railroad tracks reappear again from the sand. But after that…
Anyway, go visit Cape May Point State Park.
Nearby: Tons of things in and around Cape May, but somehow I never seem to get to them.