Cape May Point State Park – Cape May, NJ

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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
38°55’55.04″N,  74°57’32.34″W

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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!

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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

Standouts – The birding here is world class, plus the lighthouse, bunker, and Sunset Beach.
Markings – Signs at important intersections, hard to lose the trail since its mostly boardwalks.

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Map – The official map can be found here

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Description –

The Trails

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.

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Hi Chuck!

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This are reeds.

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This is a half-decent picture.  I get slightly more of these when hiking with 7 other people who all like my two children, because they can distract said children from hanging onto my arms or jumping on my back while I try to take pictures.  Not that their hanging onto arms or jumping onto my back isn’t adorable.  Because it is.

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.

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The gang nears the trail intersection.

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Don’t worry, that’s Pat’s usual face.

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I think we picked a great hike, based on number of lighthouse reflections and not on that cup in the water that I never noticed was in the picture until now.

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Aunts are good for helping you see when the bird blind isn’t at your eye level.

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Swan.

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Swan, ducks, and what I think is a heron.

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.

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Hi Chuck!

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Someone stole Daddy’s binoculars.

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Pond #2 for the day… with the highly original name of Lighthouse Pond East.

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Fewer birds OR lighthouse reflections at this one.

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An egret maybe?  My brother-in-law told me what it was, but I’m so bad with birds.  Anyway, it kept disappearing beneath the water to find food.

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The Pres’s Uncle giving him pointers on bird watching.

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Here is where we got off the Red trail and rejoined the Blue/Yellow Trail.

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.

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Hi Chuck!

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“Pat the Nature Explorer”

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I told you it was a nice view.

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Another swan.

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.

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Uncle Pat giving a ride.

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View of the next pond from the viewing platform.

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We went left to stay on the Blue Trail.

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.

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Connector trail to the South Cape May Meadows Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy.  Sadly, we ran out of time to hike that particular set of trails today, which is a great excuse to come back!

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Final turn!

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On the straightaway back toward the parking lot.

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Better swan picture.

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Almost there!

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One more, because lighthouse.

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!

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Pre-beach replenishment project.  Think this is 2005.

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A few years ago when February didn’t feel like Spring (high for the day here was 17 degrees… before wind chill was taken into account.  Luckily, we were camping that weekend.  Go Boy Scouts!

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Tree Rider is facing the wrong way here.

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But his wrong way facing lets us use this comparison shot from 2005 when the bunker was being undermined.  You can also see additional concrete now covered by sand.

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Birds in 2005 were SO much better, kids today just don’t know birds.

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In case you were wondering, this is what the bay looked like during “high of 17 degrees” day.  Luckily, I am not the Titanic.

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Chilly aerial view of bunker and ice flows.

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.

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My only published photo ever, this one appeared in a historical tourism developmental plan pamphlet put out by the by State of New Jersey about a decade ago.  Like I do with this blog, I maximized my profits on this picture, by which I mean they sent me two copies of the pamphlet.  Because I am awesome at hiking and terrible at money.  (Further evidence- I teach Catholic school.  Doh!)

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The Pres has climbed TWO New Jersey lighthouses under his own steam now.  Many more to go.  Then we can make this a lighthouse blog.

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I can see my other child from here, who did not want to come up.  He is supervising Uncle Pat.

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Looking back at our hike.

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Looking back at the other part of our hike.

But wait, there’s more!

The Museum

They have a cool little museum with pictures and snakes in it and such.  It’s great.  They also have a whale rib outside.

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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)!

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Use this to help you avoid that car filling with water thing.

Sunset Beach

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.

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Daddy, The Pres, and Tree Rider.

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2005.

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Ice flow weekend.

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.

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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.

and finally…

d) Sunsets.  Because the name is no lie.

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When locking your keys in the car and freezing for hours (which we all found incredibly amusing… oh, to be 20-something again), its best to walk away with a really great sunset picture.  This is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken, even if it was with an old, crummy point-and-shoot camera.

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.

Overall recommendation: Why aren’t you there right now?  Hurry, you can still catch the sunset!

Nearby: Tons of things in and around Cape May, but somehow I never seem to get to them.

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3 Comments

Filed under Hiking, History, Outdoors., South Jersey, Wildlife.

3 responses to “Cape May Point State Park – Cape May, NJ

  1. Robert Ojamaa

    Hello, I have posted here before about different trails mostly in my neck of the woods (Ocean County). I was just reading about your Cape May Adventure and your climbing the lighthouse. I am not sure if you are aware of it but New Jersey has what is called the “Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey” which opens up most of the land based lighthouses for climbing on I believe the 3rd weekend in October. http://lhchallengenj.org/#challLink This link gives the dates for last years event. It may be someting your kids would really enjoy.

    • Thank you, I love that event! I never managed to do all of them in all weekend, but I went to some of them at 3 or 4 challenges that aren’t open otherwise. 🙂

      I had a buddy do the whole challenge last year, he is considering doing a post on his experience to share. 🙂

      • Robert Ojamaa

        I have done the NJ, Long Island (no longer active), Martha’s Vineyard (no longer active), Maryland, Maine down east, Florida Panhandle (no longer active) and Lake Ontario lighthouse challenges. You could say I am a lighthouse nut! Cape May light was the one that got me hooked.

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