Difficulty: Easy. There are about 2 miles of intersecting footpaths in the park. Some of the trails, including the trails closest to the shore, are wide and surfaced with gravel. Other trails travel over unimproved forest floor, which includes exposed tree roots and some rocks, as well as a few scenic rock staircases.
How to get there: The physical address for the park is 7 Tower Drive in Cape Elizabeth. To get there from Portland, take Interstate 295 Exit 6A and head south on Forest Avenue. After about 0.5 mile, turn right onto Cumberland Avenue. Drive 0.2 mile, then turn left onto State Street (Route 77). Drive 1.9 mile, crossing over the water to South Portland. Turn right onto Ocean House Street (Route 77) and drive 4.6 miles into Cape Elizabeth. Turn left onto Two Lights Road and drive 1.1 mile, then continue straight onto Tower Drive, which leads into the park in about 0.3 mile.
Information: With a dramatic rocky shoreline, grassy hills and paths lined with wild roses and sumacs, Two Lights State Park features some of the best scenery Maine has to offer. First opened in 1961, the 41-acre park includes a network of easy walking paths that trace the shore and visit the remnants of a World War II gun battery, bunker and observation tower.
The park’s name originated from the two lighthouses located nearby at the end of Two Lights Road, outside the park boundaries. Constructed in 1828, they were the first twin lighthouses on the Maine coast. Nowadays, the eastern light continues to serve as a beacon, operating as an automated light station. The western light ceased operation in 1924 and is now a private home. Neither of the lighthouses are open to the public, however, the eastern light can be seen from the end of Two Lights Road, where you’ll also find a popular restaurant called The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.
While there are no actual lighthouses at Two Lights State Park, there’s plenty to see. At the parking lot is a kiosk displaying information about the historical and natural features of the property. From there, visitors can follow a number of walking paths to the nearby shore.
Between the parking lot and the shore is site of Battery 201, a gun battery planned as a part of a network of installations to defend Portland and Casco Bay during World War II. With its doors facing the parking area, a concrete bunker stretches toward the water, covered by earth so it blends in with the natural terrain. On stone steps, park visitors can climb to the top of the bunker to a mowed clearing that provides amazing views of the ocean.
On either side of the bunker are large circular gun emplacements that would have held guns that could fire 15 miles at targets spotted from the nearby six-story concrete observation tower. At the westernmost of the two gun emplacement are two tower optical viewers, which you can feed quarters to view nearby landmarks including Portland Light Buoy, Halfway Rock Lighthouse, Old Orchard Beach, Richmond Island, Biddeford Pool Tower and Wood Island Lighthouse.
Continuing toward the water, you’ll soon reach a smooth, wide, gravel-surfaced trail that travels along the edge of the rocky shore. Along this path are several benches where people can rest and take in the view.
The rock ledges exposed along the shore are dramatic in appearance, with a texture that resembles petrified wood. According to a report by the Maine Geological Survey on the park, the ledges are made of metamorphic rock, formed and shaped by heat and pressure inside the earth as far back at 400 million years ago. And prior to that, it was sedimentary rock, formed out of deep-sea sediment.
Visitors are welcome to navigate these rocks by the water. In fact, people often fish from the rocks, but they are advised to stay at least 20 feet back from the surf and exercise caution. The rocks can be extremely slippery when wet.
Growing near the shore are bushes of fragrant rugosa roses, as well as bayberries and sumacs, and within the shelter of these plants, a variety of songbirds can be found.
To enjoy the quieter side of the park, follow the trails inland to a wooded area and a clearing that contains a historic observation tower. Also in the woods is a group shelter, which can be rented for events. And back near the parking area is a playground, restrooms and a tiny pond.
The park is open year round, 9 a.m. to sunset daily. Dogs are permitted at the park if kept on leash and under control at all times. Admission to the park, collected at the entrance station, is free for all children who are younger than 5 years old; $1 for all children ages 5 to 11; $5 for Maine residents ages 12 to 64; $7 for nonresidents ages 12 to 64; $2 for nonresidents 65 and older; and free for Maine residents 65 and older. For more information, visit maine.gov/twolights or call 207-799-5871.
Personal note: Crouched on the lawn, I steadied my camera in the palm of my hand and trained it on a monarch butterfly, following its movements as it fluttered from one yellow wildflower to the next. It was a hot, sunny day in late August, and my friend Lauren had joined me on a trip to Two Lights State Park. In about an hour and a half, we had walked all of the parks trails and wandered along the rocky shore. We’d visited the observation tower and confirmed that it was indeed locked to visitors, and we’d identified a large group of eider ducks in the ocean.
As I photographed the monarch, Lauren walked to a nearby swingset and plopped into a swing. Earlier, when I kept pointing out monarchs alongside the trail, Lauren had asked me why I thought they were so special. So I told her about how they migrate all the way from Mexico, and how their numbers in Maine have dwindled in recent years due to a number of stressors.
That wasn’t the first question Lauren asked me that day. She and I have been friends since grade school, and she has always liked to ask a lot of questions. I think it has to do with her being naturally curious and talkative. Whatever the reason, I enjoy it. I’m naturally pretty quiet, and she always gets me talking.
When I plucked a blackberry off a bush beside the trail, she asked me how I knew it was a blackberry. Couldn’t it be another type of berry? One I shouldn’t eat? I decided that no, I didn’t think any other berry in Maine looked quite like a blackberry. Then I ate it. In the woods, she asked me about chaga, a medicinal mushroom that I’ve collected and ground into tea before. And as we walked along the rocky shore, she tried to recall terms from our eighth-grade geology class. What were the kinds of rocks? Sedimentary, metamorphic and … igneous. That was it. She brought me right back to lessons about plate tectonics, of the Earth’s crust, mantle and core.
After our thought-provoking walk through the park, we stopped at a nearby farm stand to purchase some tomatoes, then drove to the nearby C Salt Gourmet Market for lunch on the deck. With a wide variety of yummy sandwiches, salads and refreshing beverages, it was just the right spot to cool down and chat some more before parting ways.