South Cape May Meadows Preserve – Cape May, Cape May County, NJ
Distance – 1.75 miles of trail (but spur requires some backtracking, plus can walk down to the beach at certain times of the year), we did 2.4 miles here.
Type – Loop with an out-and-back spur, as well as a spur that connects with Cape May Point State Park.
Difficulty: 1 of 10
Website – The Nature Conservancy
Open – Sunrise to Sunset.
Terrain – Beach and marsh
Surface – mostly dirt, sand, and shells
Main entrance from parking lot – 38°56’16.33″N, 74°56’40.97″W
Connector trail from Cape May Point State Park (spur off of Blue Trail) – 38°56’0.64″N, 74°56’55.55″W
Directions – 692 Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204
Facilities?: Think I spotted a port-a-potty off to the side of the parking lot, but forgot to take a picture. If not, facilities located next door in the state park.
Markings – No trail markings, but trails follow old roads, so very easy to follow.
Map – Available Nature.org website
Every year for Christmas, I get a pile of books. Most of them have to do with New Jersey history. Some folks Many folks think that’s a bit weird (especially my mom), but I couldn’t ask for better presents.
Among my new books this year was Remembering South Cape May: The Jersey Shore Town That Vanished into the Sea by Joseph G Burcher with Robert Kenselaar. It’s a fascinating look at the town of South Cape May, one now that is completely vanished beneath the water and sand (save a number of houses that have been moved outside the old town limits). I highly recommend it.
The book ends by covering the final version of the old town, it’s conversion into a nature preserve called South Cape May Meadows Preserve. So when we planned our annual February trip to the beach, guess where I wanted our hike for that weekend to be?
No, not Skellig Michael (which would be terrible in the winter), South Cape May Meadows Preserve! So late Saturday morning (after dealing with a dead car battery… fun!), my wife, three children, and I met up with our friends Skunk and Abby to hike these trails. We parked the cars in the lot, bundled up, put Kite Flyer up on my back, and away we went.
The trail starts down what (as I understand it) was once 9th Street in South Cape May, which is a straight shot to the beach. There are several ponds and lots of meadows along the way, which are PERFECT for bird watching at this world-renowned birding location. We spotted a Great blue heron, a ton of ducks, some swans, and some turkey vultures.
Just before you hit the dunes, you’ll come upon a four way intersection. To the right is a 1/4 mile connector trail with Cape May Point State Park.
Straight ahead would climb the dune toward the beach, which is the option that took (we’ll come back and take the left turn later). But first, we talked to some birders walking by that had had a bald eagle fly right over their heads just a short while before. Sadly, we missed it. But up that dune anyway!
So Skunk had stumbled upon a container, which led to talking about Geocaching, which led me to use a Geocaching app for the first time, which led to us launching into a new obsession hobby of geocaching, starting right here at this moment where we found a cache.
So I guess we geocache now (we looked for nine more this weekend, I now have to walk around with small plastic toys in my pocket to swap out).
Anyway, we stepped down toward the beach to admire Cape May Lighthouse and the WWII bunker in the distance.
We then walked back to the 4-way intersection and turned right (which would have originally been a left) to follow behind the dune line.
This trail then crossed a larger trail at another four way intersection. Left here would loop you back to the parking lot. Right would take you to the beach. We opted to go straight onto the East Spur Trail, which heads half a mile out before dead ending (1 mile round trip back to this point).
This spur slowly wanders around another pond (great spots to look for birds) and hooks left to cross a foot bridge.
The bridge had some pretty nice views.
The trail then continues straight down until it dead ended in a grove of trees.
We backtracked to the last four way intersection.
Once we made it back to the intersection, we opted to go left (originally would have been right) to head down to the beach, where it was windy and cold. I love February beach weekend!
When we couldn’t handle the wind anymore, we went back over the dunes and straight through the intersection to head back toward the parking lot.
This home stretch took you back between two of the ponds, so it was bird time again. We headed down to the observation platform, where we hoped to see the bald eagle (he had been hanging out ON it [observing I guess] earlier).
After hanging out at the observation platform (sadly, no bald eagle), we continued down the trail, crossed a bridge (which also controls the levels of the ponds), and hanged a left at the giant pile of shells.
We then followed the last, short stretch of trails to the parking lot.
Good hike, even without that bald eagle! We hopped back in the cars and headed down to Sunset Beach to say hi to the concrete ship and frigidly look for Cape May diamonds.
The closest park is Cape May Point State Park (3.2 miles of trails), which has a connector trail directly from South Cape May Meadows (how much easier can you get?). Higbee Beach WMA is located on the same road at Sunset Beach (with its famous ship wreck of the SS Atlantus and Cape May diamonds). The Garrett Family Preserve is also nearby (on the list!) as well as the Rea Farm “Beanery” (also on the list, requires paying an admission at Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point).
World class birding, some beautiful ponds, a view of the ocean and lighthouse, and an option for a longer hike by connecting with the state park next door, what more could you ask for?
The bald eagle could have come a few minutes later. Seriously.