Hiking: Elk Neck State Park

Posted By BrokenClaw on June 28, 2001

Several years ago we made our first camping trip to Elk Neck State Park. It was a spur of the moment decision one day after work. We just threw a few supplies into the car and drove to the park; we arrived around 7 PM. It was still early in the season so we had no trouble finding a campsite. In fact, in our area we saw only one other campsite in use. We set up our mountain tent back in the woods behind our campsite, then we started a campfire.

In the morning while we were having breakfast the park ranger stopped by. She politely informed us that tents are restricted to the campsite pad. Oh, well, we were leaving anyway. We finished our breakfast then packed up the tent. We wanted to explore the hiking trails, although we didn’t have a park map. So we found where one of the trails crossed the camping area and off we went.

Elk Neck State Park is located on a peninsula at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, between the North East River and the Elk River. The park has several circular trails, the woods are full of side trails, and the markers weren’t very consistent, so it was difficult to stay on the main trail. At one point our path was blocked by a not-so-friendly forest creature, a poisonous copperhead snake, Agkistrodon contortrix, about 2 feet long. Trailwalker took a stick and flipped him out of the way. It landed in a small plant and did not appear amused. Broken Claw warily took a photo of the coiled snake. Then we continued our trek to the beach and back to the campground.

Elk Neck State Park On a later outing we took advantage of a sunny spring afternoon to visit Elk Neck again. After a quick lunch in the deserted picnic grounds, we decided to find the Turkey Point Lighthouse, which is accessible only by trail. Although the lighthouse trail and grounds are considered part of public lands of Elk Neck Park, the location is not publicized. The trail is marked on park maps at the end of Turkey Point Road. However, to reach it you have to pass through a private residential community. Once you reach the unmarked parking area, there is only one sign referencing Turkey Point, and none that mention the lighthouse, only the cryptic stenciled white trailmarkers in the shape of a lighthouse. The trail to the lighthouse starts out in the wooded area along the water, then turns inland across a meadow. After passing through another small wood, it opens up on another hilltop meadow, which is known as a vantage point for birdwatching. A park signpost displays identification keys for the numerous species of hawks and predatory birds which frequent the area. There is also a public journal in which visitors are encouraged to share their sightings.

Along the next short pass through the woods, we happened upon a black racer, Coluber constrictor constrictor, commonly called a blacksnake, sunning itself on a log. (My Vertebrate Bio professor, Dr. Joseph Sheldon, would be proud that I remember these names more than twenty years after taking his course.) We startled each other, and it quickly disappeared into the brush. Finally the trail opened onto the lighthouse point, which is an open area overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Here you might catch the sight of the huge tankers making their way to and from the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. The cliffs have a sheer dropoff down to the water from heights up to 100 feet. There are other foot trails along the shore line, but on this day we did not explore them.

I should mention that the Turkey Point Lighthouse trail wanders throughout the park, not just at the lighthouse parking area. On the official web site, the trails are identified by color. On the Trails Association site they give better directions to the lighthouse. However, much of the trail is not suitable for young children. It’s just too dangerous. The shore cliffs are left in their natural state, with no handrails of any kind, and the trail often follows the very edge of the cliffs. In fact, the Turkey Point cliffs are featured in the 1997 Clint Eastwood movie, Absolute Power. There are plenty of warning signs, but I would discourage anyone from letting young children wander along the edges without holding their hands.

More recently we took another excursion to Elk Neck, this time to follow the single-track foot trail that starts near the beach and picnic area. It was near the first day of summer, following a week of hot, wet weather. The floor of the forest was covered in green, with ferns and other low plants creeping across the trail. At some places the dark foot trail was only visible as a few inches wide. The only company we had was the animal residents, as we saw and heard many squirrels, rabbits, and noisy birds. We also scared off quite a few deer. But the other notable feature of the hike was the neverending spider strands which crisscrossed the trail, not actual webs, just their traveling strands. Broken Claw took the lead most of the way, carrying a leafy branch to sweep away as many of the sticky strands as he could.

We avoided most of the spiders, but we did not avoid another pesky critter. When we reached the lighthouse, Trailwalker decided to inspect her hiking boots and socks. Sure enough, she found several ticks lodged deep in the fabric of her socks, and even some inside her boots. Broken Claw found one on his socks as well. Trailwalker identified them as the dreaded deer tick, carrier of Lyme Disease. Of course, vigilance is the prime protection against ticks, so we were glad that we actually found the ticks before they had a chance to imbed themselves in our skin. When we got back to the car, we did a more thorough search to make sure we had disposed of the nasty creatures before we left.

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One Response to “Hiking: Elk Neck State Park”

  1. BrokenClaw says:

    Our response to that copperhead snake was not proper behavior. In my professional career I recently had to deal with someone who had been bitten by a copperhead. In researching snake bites, I discovered that the vast majority of copperhead bites occur when a person attempts to handle or “otherwise harass” the snake. Unlike more aggressive vipers like rattlesnakes, a copperhead’s natural defensive posture is to remain perfectly still, in hopes that they are not noticed. The proper behavior for us humans, is to walk around them.

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