Difficulty: Easy. The trails of the Crescent Beach State Park, which equal a little more than 1 mile in distance, travel through the forest and along the shore over fairly even terrain. Another mile of trail is open to the public at the adjoining Kettle Cove State Park.
How to get there: Crescent Beach State Park is off Route 77 (Bowery Beach Road) in Cape Elizabeth, about 7 miles south of Portland. To reach the park from Interstate 295, take Exit 6A and head southeast on Forest Avenue. About 2.3 miles from the exit, turn right onto Route 77 (State Street) and drive south, crossing Casco Bay Bridge. About 5.5 miles from the exit, turn right, staying on Route 77 (Ocean Street and Ocean House Street). At 7.9 miles, turn left into the entrance of Crescent Beach State Park.
Information: Crescent Beach State Park — named for its crescent-shaped sand beach that is nearly a mile long — opened in 1966 and has long been a popular place for beach-goers, swimmers, paddlers and wildlife watchers. Located in Cape Elizabeth, a small town on the coast of southern Maine, the park features about a mile of walking trails.
The park sees most of its visitors in the summer; however, it makes for a scenic recreation spot year round. During the winter, the park road is plowed to just beyond the entrance booth, where there’s a winter parking area on the right. From there, visitors can explore the nature trails or simply walk the unplowed park road to the summer parking area and beach. The trails and the park road are groomed for classic cross-country skiing.
The longest trail (about 0.5 mile) starts past the entrance booth on the right and travels through a mature evergreen forest, which transitions into a hardwood stand filled with vines. The trail then travels through a meadow to Jordan Point. At the point, it traces the shore to the south end of Crescent Beach.
Another nature trail (also about 0.5 mile) leads from the park’s summer parking area to Ocean House Road, east of the park boundary. And a short trail leads from the summer parking area to the beach.
The beach is on Seal Cove. Looking out at the water, you’re able to see the nearby Crowell Rock and Seal Rocks, and a bit farther out, Richmond Island and Watts Ledge. The water of the cove is considered to be “relatively warm” with a light surf that makes swimming and boating particularly popular in that area, according to maine.gov.
While exploring the park, stay on established trails or the beach. Foot traffic could cause erosion in areas of the park, such as the sand dunes.
The Sprague Corporation leases 100 acres of its property at Crescent Beach to the Maine Department of Conservation for people to enjoy. Visitors are asked to be respectful of the fact that the park is surrounded by private property.
Dogs are permitted in the park. In fact, at the start of the nature trail is a dog waste station and a sign stating that pets are not allowed on state park beaches from April 1 to Sept. 30. Pets are allowed from Oct. 31 to March 31 if kept on leash. The sign also states that pet owners must pick up their pets’ waste.
The park is open year round from 9 a.m. to sunset. Visitors are required to pay a day use fee, which is collected at the entrance booth. In the event that staff are not present at the booth, visitors are asked to leave the fee in the metal cannister outside the booth. The day use fee is $4.50 for Maine residents older than 11 years old; $6.50 for nonresidents older than 11 years old; $2 for senior nonresidents; and $1 for children ages 5-11. Children younger than five are free, and Maine residents who are 65 or older are free.
For information about Crescent Beach State Park, visit maine.gov/crescentbeach.
To learn more about the coastal sand dune geology of the park, check out the Maine Geological Survey study of the dune at www.maine.gov/dacf/mgs/pubs/online/dunes/11-130.pdf, as well as a 2009 document on the coastal erosion of the park at www.maine.gov/dacf/mgs/explore/marine/sites/mar09.pdf.
Personal note: In Maine, beachgoing is usually thought of as a fair weather, summer activity. But Maine’s beaches are lovely year round. In fact, beaches are arguably more serene and soothing places to be during the winter, when they’re free of crowds, lifeguards and umbrellas. Even the most popular coastal spots are practically barren in the winter, and some of them make for great places to snowshoe and cross-country ski. In addition, beaches are a good spot to find wildlife during the winter, when Maine’s ponds and lakes are frozen, forcing many birds to move to the ocean to hunt.
Last week, after interviewing someone for a BDN Outdoors story in Freeport, I drove a bit further south, passing through the bustling city of Portland, to Crescent Beach State Park. After slipping $5 in the admission cannister and parking in the winter parking area, I buckled on my cross-country skis and continued on the park’s unplowed road to the nature trail, which was wide and groomed for classic cross-country skiing. The forest was stunning, filled with snow-covered evergreens, young and old.
As I neared the meadow, I realized I could hear the crash of the waves to my left. The forest abruptly changed to deciduous trees crawling with vines and red berries. Then came the meadow, which contained scattered shrubs and old apple trees, and in the distance, a tall, skeletal tree, an eerie silhouette against the overcast sky.
I followed the tracks across the meadow and to Jordan Point, where I paused to photograph a yellow lobster trap that had washed up on the rocky shore. The silvery waves crashed and swept up the beach in a white froth that lifted the trap, then set it back down, lifted it up, and set it back down.
Then I noticed the birds. So I sat in the snow, my skis sticking out in front of me, and fished my camera 100-400mm lens out my pack for a closer look. There were common loons in their white and gray winter plumage, as well as eider ducks, the males bright with white bodies and yellow bill and block of color on the back of their head. And even farther off, I spotted a goldeneye, a duck with shiny green head, a white circle by its bill and bright golden eyes. Then of course, there were plenty of seagulls.
As I made my way toward Crescent Beach, I passed a couple fellow skiers and a few snowshoers. The sun emerged and the clouds cleared a bit, revealing a blue sky. Near the beach, I stopped once more to photograph a group of purple sandpipers searching for food on a rock outcropping. The small, stout shorebirds have long skinny yellow bills and legs. Their brown-grey feathers transition to white on their bellies and chests. They’re named for the faint purplish gloss of their feathers, which is difficult to detect.
Then Crescent Beach stretched before me for nearly a mile. Less than halfway across, the ski tracks faded into the snow and sand. I stood there for a while, watching the waves, then turned to retrace my tracks to the winter parking lot.
More photos from the trip: