Coastal hiking in the Northeast isn’t just walking on the beach. Forests and fields, bogs and ledges are all part of the coastal environment, and many trails pass over and around some of each. With a cool breeze sweeping in from the Atlantic, these coastal trails are hard to beat for a midsummer hike.
Quoddy Head State Park | Lubec, Maine
Five miles of trails circle the easternmost spit of land in the United States. Follow the Coastal Trail, which is highlighted by sweeping views of the ocean, including one across the water to the dramatic cliffs of Canada’s Grand Manan Island. Stop at Green Point and scan the Bay of Fundy for whales, which are known to surface here. Continue on the Coastal Trail to Carrying Place Cove. Here you can pick up the Thompson Trail, which passes through woodlands. Connect to the Bog Trail and enjoy a stroll through peatlands on the way back to the trailhead. A distinctive red-and-white striped lighthouse is the park’s iconic landmark.
Distance: 3.6 miles
Info: Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry
Monhegan Island | Monhegan Island Plantation, Maine
Located 10 miles off the Maine coast, Monhegan Island is home to a small yearround community but a bustling summer population. Twelve miles of trails allow hikers to explore the entire island. A 3-mile loop on the island’s southern half mixes the best of the island’s views and wooded inland. Depart from the village on Monhegan Harbor and follow the trail south to Lobster Cove, then follow the island’s coastline counterclockwise along the Cliff Trail. This dramatic route climbs over rocks and passes through forest. After 2 miles, turn left onto the Cathedral Woods Trail to return to the village (or continue straight to circle the entire island).
Distance: 3.0 miles
Info: Discover Maine (AMC Books); Monhegan Associates
Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve | Durham, N.H.
Situated near the Maine border, Great Bay is New Hampshire’s largest estuarine system. Take the Adams Point Trail through an overgrown field to a cliff overlooking the estuary’s 4,471 acres of open water, marshes, inlets, and mud flats. Passing the Jackson Estuarine Research Laboratory, the trail climbs to a bluff above a beach along which rock ledges provide views of nearby islands. It then passes through stands of white birch and along a marshy area, where you may see herons, egrets, and osprey. Just past the marsh, turn right to follow the trail inland, back to the parking area.
Distance: 1.0 mile
Info: Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Great Island | Wellfleet, Mass.
The pine woodlands and coastal dunes of this roadless reserve offer solitude and ocean views. From the parking lot, take the trail next to the sign for the Cape Cod National Seashore to the shore of Wellfleet Harbor. Follow the oyster-shell-strewn shoreline around a tidal flat. Just past some concrete posts, turn right and follow the trail inland through pleasant, shady woods to a sign for Smith’s Tavern. Here a short side trail leads to a bluff with a view toward the Cape Cod mainland. Return to the sign to loop back to the concrete posts and retrace your steps to the parking lot.
Distance: 4.0 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston, 2nd Edition (AMC Books); Cape Cod National Seashore
Bluff Point State Park | Groton, Conn.
This 806-acre peninsula in Long Island Sound is one of the most pristine areas remaining on the Connecticut coast. To make a loop from the parking area, stay right at the first trail junction. The trail—actually a gravel road—follows the Poquonnock River and reaches Bluff Point at about 1.6 miles. There you can see the 1-mile-long barrier beach that shields nearby salt marshes from Long Island Sound. Follow the path inland to the 300-year-old remains of Governor John Winthrop’s home. Bear right to return to the parking area.
Distance: 4.3 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd Edition (AMC Books); Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Cape May | West Cape May, N.J.
Cape May, a peninsula separating Delaware Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, is an internationally renowned birding site. Birders and beach-goers alike will enjoy this hike. The trail traverses dunes and meadows and skirts the edges of ponds and marshes. Beginning at The Nature Conservancy’s Migratory Bird Refuge, follow the Main Trail to the beach. Turn right and walk along the beach to the concrete bunker. A trail on the right leads to a popular hawk watch, from which you may spot hawks, eagles, and vultures. Loop back to the bunker and turn right onto the beach. Turn around at the ninth jetty. Retrace your steps to the refuge.
Distance: 8.0 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books); Cape May National Wildlife Refuge
Calvert Cliffs State Park | Lusby, Md.
The highlight of this hike is the Calvert Cliffs on the west side of Chesapeake Bay, which were formed more than 15 million years ago and contain more than 600 fossil species. From the parking area, take the Red Trail. This trail features wooded areas, a tidal marsh, and beaver dams. At the intersection with the Orange Trail, continue on to the Calvert Cliffs. Return to the intersection and go right onto the Orange Trail. Follow it through yellow poplars and past patches of Queen Anne’s lace until it makes a sharp right, at which point you can take either the Orange Trail or the White Trail back to the parking lot.
Distance: 4.8 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C., (AMC Books); Maryland Park Service
CONTRIBUTORS: Susan Charkes, Beth Homicz, Carey Kish, René Laubach, Stephen Mauro, Charles W. G. Smith, Michael Tougias, Ty Wivell