Elk Neck State Parks’ public campground offers “fancy” amenities (read: plumbing, trash cans, fire pits), so it’s perfect for the weekend warrior who has the itch to play outdoors but lacks the time to really get into it. With over 2,000 acres of tightly wound mountain biking trails, sandy beaches, marshlands, white clay cliffs, and driftwood piles, there’s something for everyone—playgrounds and clean campsites for the little ones, steep hills and a fun paddle for the big ones.
What: Elk Neck State Park, Maryland
Where: 4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, Maryland 21901
The stats: Pay to camp public park with more than 2,000 campsites and 120 full-service and camper cabins. Pets allowed only in designated areas. No alcohol. Reservations may be required depending on season.
What to do: Get to the campground in the evening so you can set up your tent or roll out the sleeping bags in the van, get a fire going, and roast some marshmallows while checking out the trail map provided by the park service. Keep in mind the park service asks that you don’t bring outside wood into the park as wood beetles are a problem. Wake up early to cook some breakfast, then grab your mountain bikes and head for one of the many hike/bike trails the park offers—there are over 12 miles of trails in the park to play on. We like taking Beaver Marsh Trail to the White Clay Cliffs trail, both of which offer some fun obstacles and tight turns on a singletrack trail, spilling you out onto the bluff for a view of the Chesapeake Bay and the white clay cliffs. Head back in time for the 1 p.m. checkout.
The price of the campsite includes parking in the boat launch and beach areas, making it well worth the approximate $30 fee. Launching a kayak is free (hooray!)—we suggest launching at the boat ramps on the Elk River side. Paddle around land towards the right and head for Turkey Point and the Chesapeake Bay area, where you’ll find plenty of interesting places to come ashore and poke around or paddle by fishermen in the Bay (some speed boats will even drive dangerously close to you so you can enjoy the waves). Spend some time here before heading back at the end of the day.
How to get there: There’s also an Elk Neck State Forest, so don’t get confused—you’re looking for the park in Cecil Country, 10 miles south of the town of NorthEast on MD route 272. From 1-95, take exit 100 for Route 272 and head south until you see signs for the park.
What to bring: Kayaking equipment, life vests, sunscreen, shoes with decent traction for the climb to the lighthouse, and water. Pop some lunch into your dry storage in case you decide to picnic on the other side of the peninsula.
Do: Pull boats up at some of the small, secluded beaches on your trek out to Turkey Point and eat lunch or snooze beside huge piles of perfectly polished driftwood.
Don’t: Get confused when you paddle around Turkey Point and don’t see a lighthouse—you’d have to paddle pretty far into the Bay to catch it. Instead, pull your kayaks onto the rocks at the tip of the peninsula (this is only recommended for seasoned vets, people!), hide your paddles and take the steep but obvious trail up the bluff. When you get to the top, you’ll spot the 35-foot-tall lighthouse, which is open to explore on weekends, 10a.m. to 4p.m., from April through November. The historic little building isn’t quite as impressive as the towering lighthouses you’ll find in North Carolina, but still worth the slightly scary butt slide back down to the water.
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