We discovered Elk Neck State Park in central Maryland over a decade ago when looking for a new place to take camping trips with our family. We have since been back and it is one of my favorite camping spots. Just 75 miles from Philadelphia, it offers multiple terrains and outdoor activities.
The park is on a peninsula between the Elk River and the Chesapeake Bay. Encompassing over 2188 acres, its landscape includes beaches, wooded areas, marshes and cliffs, and a big draw for me, a lighthouse. Our first visit, we made the easy hike to the Turkey Point Lighthouse where we could walk around the grounds.
On a return visit, the lighthouse had been restored and we were able to go inside and climb to the top.
Given the location of the lighthouse (atop a 100 foot cliff) it is only 35 feet tall, so this doesn’t take very long. The 3rd tallest on the Chesapeake Bay (at 129 feet above the water), Turkey Point has the distinction of having more female lighthouse keepers than any other lighthouse on the Bay.
The park has seven trails, with distances from one to three miles, ranging from easy to difficult. Bikes are permitted on most of these and most are pet-friendly, as is most of the park. One of these (and one of our favorites), the Beaver Marsh Loop, has to be timed just right to complete the loop.
Part of the trail goes along the shore, which is underwater at high tide. The Elk Neck also has day use areas and a boat launch and offers youth programs, such as the Junior Ranger Program as well as seasonal programming.
Campsite fees vary and reservations are recommended, especially for holiday weekends. There is a per vehicle day use fee for the park, as well as a boat launch fee, with discounted rates for Maryland residents.
On the northern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the town of Corolla is a popular vacation destination and the one-time home of North Carolina’s state horse, the Colonial Spanish Mustang, (for their safety the horses have been moved north of Corolla in the area beyond the paved road which is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles).
The town has a long history. As is common with coastal land, nature has shifted the coast and created and moved dunes and inlets. Numerous hurricanes have changed the structure of the Outer Banks, which have effectively served as a protector to mainland North Carolina. Up until early 1800s, it was only accessible by boat and its residents survived through hunting and fishing as well as salvaging items from shipwrecks. Other towns came and went, but the residents of Corolla stuck it out.
Government jobs in the 1800s increased the population. Between 1873-75, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Jones’ Hill Life Saving Station were created. In 1895, Jones’ Hill (as the area was then known) had grown enough to get its own Post Office and the US Postal Service asked for suggestions for a name. Corolla (which is the inner part of a flower) was suggested and ultimately chosen by the postal service. In 1905 a one-room school was established. Some of these 19th century structures remain in what is now known as Corolla Village, a collection of charming buildings surrounding the 162-foot tall lighthouse, including the Corolla Wild Horse Museum and several charming shops.
In 1922 the Knights of Newport, RI began building their 21,000 square foot winter home, Corolla Island, which was completed in 1925. In 1940, under new ownership, Corolla Island was renamed the Whalehead Club, and was leased to the Coast Guard during WWII.
The Club was used as a boy’s school in the summers in the 1950s. Today, the building has been restored to its appearance in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the county, it and the lighthouse are both part of the Currituck Heritage Park. Whalehead offers seasonal tours of the building and hosts special events throughout the year.
In the 1970s, only about 15 people lived in Corolla. The road to town was an unpaved trail along the sound. The state later took over the road, and it became part of NC Rt. 12 in 1984. More than 1500 homes were built over the next ten years. Over 500 more were added over the next five years, most of which are vacation homes, with more than half 5000 square feet or more. This road continues through most of Corolla, but then simply ends at an expanse of sand. There are homes (and the horses) beyond this point, but they are not accessible without the use of a 4×4 vehicle.
Today the town of Corolla is relatively quiet and family centered. The houses are packed close together and are a variety of sizes and styles. Needing a place that would accommodate our extended family and two dogs, we rented a home a short walk from the beach with ample space inside, plus a balcony and “bird’s nest” rooftop sitting area which sat higher than most of the other buildings, where we could view both sunrises and sunsets.
A reservoir in our neighborhood was home to a few turtles, and the kids were entertained simply watching them. We also saw a few deer, including a fawn napping in our backyard.
We happen to own ocean kayaks and had brought them along with us (rentals are also available). We spent one lazy afternoon exploring the sound and another day my husband and son tried them out in the ocean. We also spent time lounging on the beach, playing in the ocean and the sand and searching for seashells. My niece was fascinated by the exoskeleton of a horseshoe crab that she discovered.
There are a number of restaurants in Corolla, but for the most part, we chose to shop at the Food Lion and Seaside Farm Market and prepared food back at the house.
We did pick up pizza from Tomato Patch Pizzeria our first night there, which was very good. We also enjoyed our dinner at Sunset Grille and Raw Bar in Duck where we got to sit outside on the dock and were amused by the fanciful drink glasses that we got to bring home.
Shopping included the traditional beachy souvenir shops, upscale gift boutiques and antique markets as well as outfitters for water sports. An 18-link golf course, mini golf, go carts and a movie theater are right in town, and tours via 4×4 vehicles are popular and are probably the best way to see Corolla’s horses. Fishing, surfing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding rentals and lessons can be found for those who would rather be in the water.
The Outer Banks have much more to offer, outside of Corolla, but we spent most of our week locally. The ride in on a Saturday morning (which is when most of the rental periods start) had us almost at a standstill for a couple hours, causing some to not want to venture out until the week’s end. Having a fondness for lighthouses, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit another one nearby, so my son and I made a trip south to explore.
The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the location of the first English settlement in America, which tragically ended in mystery. All 117 people in the colony vanished without a trace. At a ranger-led talk at our visit, we explored the possibilities and most popular theories of this strange vanishing act. During the summer months, a live performance, The Lost Colony is put on by the non-profit Roanoke Island Historical Association. The nearby Roanoke Island Festival Park, a North Carolina Historic Site offers a peek into history as costumed interpreters demonstrate life in the 1585 settlement or onboard the Elizabeth II, which represents one of the seven ships bringing colonists to America in 1585.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills celebrates the birthplace of aviation. While there, one can visit the Flight Line where history took place, peek into 1903 camp buildings and explore the Visitor’s Center.
Jockey Ridge State Park in Nags Head is home to the Atlantic’s tallest living sand dune. A visitor’s center and boardwalk provide information about the dune’s ecology. Shoes are a must while walking on the sand; the park website warns that the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter than air temperatures.
Between Corolla and Cape Hatteras. there are 5 lighthouses. Just south of Nags Head, the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”) stands 150 feet tall and is open to climb subject to weather conditions. On the day of our visit, thunderstorms were threatening so admission was limited to the ground floor. The other lighthouses on these barrier islands are the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, the Okracoke Lighthouse (which is the nation’s oldest operating), the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest brick lighthouse in the country), and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras delves into maritime history. The coast of North Carolina is known for its density of shipwrecks, which is one of the highest in the world. The waters are known for their tales of pirates and Civil War battles, as well as engaging with submarines during the World Wars.
We only had a week on the Outer Banks, so we still have much to see. I look forward to future visits and to further exploring the historic sites.
As a Jersey girl, I am no stranger to the beach. In college I worked the late shift at the local grocery store so that I could spend days at the shore (it was only about an hour away and for $5 I could buy enough gas to get there and back, a slice of pizza and a soda, and pay to get on the beach). Since then, life took me out of New Jersey and my schedule no longer allows for impromptu beach days.
Recently, my husband and I planned to get away for a weekend and chose Cape May, NJ as our destination. Searching for accommodations turned up a large number of hotels and inns at varying price points. Being a fan of bed and breakfast inns, we decided to go that route and chose the Eldredge House in West Cape May. Although it was a bit far to walk to town, the room was pleasantly decorated and the bed was comfortable. Our innkeeper, Todd, created a list of suggested restaurants for us as well as some “Brisk Windy Day Activities.” Unlike most B&Bs, this one does not have breakfast on the premises but instead offers gift certificates to a number of restaurants. While it is nice to have the convenience of breakfast on site, it is also nice to have a variety of options. On this trip, breakfasts did not disappoint.
While April may be considered by some to be too chilly to visit the New Jersey shore, I find the off seasons to be just as enjoyable and sometimes more so (the beach in January is beautiful). Hotels and inns are less expensive than during the summer season and the crowds are not yet out. Though some of the shops are not open, visiting in the off season means parking is free and more accessible. In Cape May, though the parking lots surrounding Washington Street Mall and spots along the beach near restaurants filled up at dinnertime, it was not too difficult to find a parking spot.
We arrived on a cloudy, windy Friday afternoon (as our personalized activity list would indicate) and, since it was our first visit to Cape May, drove around town to get our bearings. We stopped at the Fishermen’s Memorial, dedicated to fishermen lost at sea and drove out to the point where we could see the remains of the SS Atlantus, a concrete ship built during WWI. We went past the WWII Lookout Tower and drove out to the lighthouse. The lighthouse and tower both offer tours, but this wasn’t planned as a take-in-all-the-history weekend, but
as a low key, relaxing weekend (which ended up being a try-all-the-wonderful-food weekend).
Since we hadn’t stopped for lunch (we snacked on the trip there), we were hungry and decided to go for an early dinner. We went with one of Todd’s recommendations, the Lobster House. We sampled local oysters and I had crabmeat au gratin, which was both delicious and filling. A small loaf of garlic-encrusted bread was a nice accompaniment to the meal. Despite the wind, after dinner we needed a walk and strolled along Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian street filled with stores and restaurants (and more ice cream shops than I have even seen in one place). We wandered in some of the shops that were open and glanced in the windows of the art galleries that had already closed.
On Saturday morning, we walked across the street to the Bella Vida Café. Though I was tempted by the sound of the Chunky Monkey French Toast, I quickly changed my mind when I heard about the special of the day: a combination of crabmeat, shrimp, spinach and eggs that blended into one of the best omelets I have ever had out.
With no real plans for our time there, we perused the booklets Todd had given us and decided to skip the wineries this trip and instead try out some local brews at the Cape May Brewing Company. We each chose four beers to sample and sat outside, enjoying the sun, our beer, and a neighboring customer’s music. Enticed by the promise of live music at the Mad Batter for happy hour, we headed there where we had a late lunch, followed by a walk on the beach, where I stalked some seagulls and took some pictures. We decided to get photos of the lighthouse at sunset and then chased the sun to the Point where we were rewarded with a beautiful orange and purple sky over the concrete ship. After freshening up, we went back to town for a late dinner at Delaney’s, where I thoroughly enjoyed my coconut shrimp and sweet potato fries. (As I mentioned, it wasn’t planned, but this weekend quickly became all about the food.)
Sunday came too soon and we had to say farewell to the beach, for now. We couldn’t leave the Garden State without taking advantage of the opportunity to eat at a diner, so before leaving we had breakfast at George’s Place. (Even better, it was a diner featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives.) Though there was a wait and we were hungry, it was worth it. The Banana French Toast, a delicious stack of three French toast slices alternated with sliced bananas sautéed in butter and brown sugar, dusted with powdered sugar and a hint of cinnamon, was absolutely delicious.
Though I enjoyed our time in Cape May, I think in-season may be too busy and crowded for me, but I will go back. Maybe we’ll need another getaway in the fall.
Note: No compensation has been given for the mention of businesses listed in this post. All opinions are that of the writer.