Elk Neck State Park is practically speaking two parks. There’s the park everyone knows, which is Turkey Point and its lighthouse, and there’s the other Elk Neck, with beaches, boating, lakes, and trails. I visited both on the first Saturday in April, and it made for a full day tacking the piecemeal park.
The separation isn’t just literary flourish. The lighthouse and Turkey Point are physically divided from the main section of Elk Neck State Park by a town. Once you continue on Maryland Route 272 past the town and to the end of the road you’ve reached the trailhead to the Lighthouse Trail. The dirt lot was crowded but I found a space, put on my hiking boots, and headed up the trail.
And I do mean up. The trail is an old access road but the first fifth of a mile has the most of the climbing. But the views of the Chesapeake are worth it. One word of caution: the cliffs are dirt and clay and are crumbling. This photo isn’t the best exposure but it shows the hollowed out cliff, and just how far you’d fall if it gave way. My guidebooks suggest stay at least three feet from the edges of the cliffs.
Continue following the wide road as it rolls and slowly rises. There will be a split in the trail, with a branch bending to the right and continuing as a narrow strip heading into the woods. Stay on the broad road on the left.
As you pass a bulletin board describing the activities birding groups hold near the lighthouse the trail takes a dip and a turn. After you pass through a band of trees the trail rises again and the lighthouse is in front of you. While the light is open for tours, I’d arrived after four PM and it was closed. I didn’t feel cheated, so wonderful was the view. The wind was up and the sun was out. And people young and old were playing, walking, birding, photographing, proving the outdoors is for everyone.
Speaking of photography, here is where I disagree with Scott Brown, master photographer and author of Hiking Maryland. I’ve learned a lot from his books and I’ve gone places I’d never have known about thanks to his series of guides, but his pursuit of excellence causes him at time to think the good is the enemy of the great. I didn’t arrive at sunset, and despite his claim that one needs “spectacular atmospherics” to get interesting photos of the Chesapeake, I think I did well in capturing the wonder and joy of the outdoors. Brown takes better photos, but that doesn’t make yours or mine bad. For instance, I like the contrast in this shot, and the lens flare from the sun. I could have better observed the rule of thirds, but still, not bad, and especially for a camera I use to make telephone calls.
At this point I had a choice – either go back as I came, or turn to the right and pick up the trail at an opening in the tree cover in the photo above. I chose the latter. The passage through the woods drops down and down along the cliffs until you reach bay level. A rocky shoreline and a small clearing mark where the trail turns away from the water and climbs back through the woods to reconnect with the road I walked in on. I spent some time here, walking the dead end trail running back towards the lighthouse along the base of the cliffs…..
…. and sitting in the late afternoon sun on a bench, looking at the bay.
Once I was back on the road, I turned left and walked back to my car. The total length of the hike was a bit more than two miles, but aside from some descents on the trail through the woods I had no trouble with it. And even if I had, it would have still been a great trip.