Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the trails you explore. The easiest trails are Cony Beach Trail, Shackford Head Trail and most of Overlook Look. The most difficult trails are Schooner Trail and Ship Point Trail due to steep, rocky slopes.
How to get there: From Route 1 turn onto Route 190 and head towards Eastport. Drive about 7 miles, passing over the causeway onto what’s known as Moose Island and the city of Eastport. As you approach Eastport’s downtown area, the road bends to the left. At the bend, take a hard right onto Deep Cove Road. Drive 0.8 mile turn left at the park entrance. Follow the gravel drive to where it ends at a parking area and circular turnaround. Along the way, you’ll pass by Cony Park, a town-owned park with a picnic shelter and access to Cony Beach.
Information: Located near downtown Eastport, the easternmost city in the United States, Shackford Head State Park is located on a rocky, forested headland that juts out into Cobscook Bay. The coastal property was conserved in the late 1980s and totals about 90 acres. Today, it can be explored on 2.5 miles of hiking trails that are open to the public year round.
Featuring mossy forestland, pocket beaches and dramatic ocean cliffs, Shackford Head was named after one of Eastport’s earliest settlers, Capt. John Shackford, a Revolutionary War soldier who moved to eastern Maine with his family in 1783. The captain owned the headland and used Broad Cove as his ship’s anchorage, according to historical information about the park provided by the Maine Department of Parks and Lands.
The park trail network is made up of several intersecting trails that vary in length and difficulty. Each trail is marked with different colored blazes that are painted on trees, and most of the intersections are marked with signs. In addition, trail maps are posted at major intersections.
Starting at the parking lot, the 0.1-mile Cony Beach Trail (marked with a sign that reads “Beach Trail”) is a mowed path that travels gradually downhill through an overgrown meadow and old apple trees to Cony Beach, where five Civil War ships were burned in the early 1900s for salvage (brass and iron). A memorial plaque in the parking lot gives details about the ships.
Also starting at the parking lot is what I consider to be the “main trail” of the park: the 0.3-mile Shackford Head Trail. A smooth, wide trail, it begins at the Shackford Head State Park Sign, iron ranger (where you pay your park entrance fee) and passport station (where you stamp your Maine State Park and Historic Sites Passport). From there, the Shackford Head Trail enters a beautiful, mossy forest and leads to a kiosk that displays a trail map and park rules. The trail then continues south to connect to most of the other trails in the park.
To avoid confusion, I’ll describe each of the trails in the order of which they’re encountered on the Shackford Head Trail.
The 1.1-mile Schooner Trail is the longest trail in the park. It traces the shore along the eastern side of the headland, visiting a few pocket beaches and rocky overlooks along the way. This trail is narrow and climbs several rocky, steep slopes. It’s marked with blue blazes, which can be hard to follow in some places.
The 0.1-mile Broad Cove Trail travels east and downhill to end at Broad Cove, where you’ll find a beach composed mostly of small rocks, shells and piles of seaweed. Just off shore is an Atlantic salmon farm. The short, dead-end trail is marked in white blazes.
Directly across from the Broad Cove Trail, the Deep Cove Trail is just 200 feet long and travels in the opposite direction, west, to end at Schooner Trail near Deep Cove. It, too, is marked with white blazes. And in Deep Cove is another salmon farm, which is a group of large, circular enclosures covered with nets where salmon are raised for market.These enclosures are attached to a stationary boat that pumps food to the fish through pipes.
The 0.3-mile Overlook Trail begins at the end of Shackford Head Trail and continues south. In fact, you may not even notice that one trail becomes the other. Traveling through a forest of mostly tall evergreens, this wide, smooth trail travels gradually uphill. Near its end, it intersects with Ship Point Trail. Past this intersection, the Overlook Trail strikes east and climbs uphill to what’s known as Shackford Head Overlook. The overlook is an area of bald bedrock that provides an unobstructed view of Cobscook Bay and Ship Point. A weathered wooden bench located at this overlook is a great place to sit, rest and have some water.
Lastly, the 0.3-mile Ship Point Trail explores Ship Point, a small spit of land at the southeast end of Shackford Head. This point is especially scenic, with grassy slopes, dramatic cliffs, open views of the ocean, and rocks spotted with bright orange lichen. Beware that this trail features a steep hill covered with beech trees. This slope is especially tricky because it’s covered with slippery beech leaves fallen in years past.
This park is an especially good place to go birding because it features both woodland areas and plenty of shoreline. Ornithologists have documented 28 different bird species nesting there.
The trails of the park are open 9 a.m. to sunset. Camping, hunting and motorized vehicles are not permitted. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash (no longer than 4 feet in length) at all times.
The park is not routinely staffed. Bring cash for the entrance fee, which ranges from free to $6 depending on your age and residency. You can also purchase an annual Maine State Park Pass, which is $55 for an individual (and his or her vehicle) or $105 for a vehicle (and anyone traveling in it). For more information and a printable trail map and brochure, visit maine.gov/shackfordhead or call (207) 726-4412.
Personal note: “We’re headed east,” I told my husband Derek when he asked me about our hiking destination on Saturday morning. For some reason, he didn’t ask for details. I don’t think he’ll ever make that mistake again.
We were driving through Ellsworth, our dog Oreo shifting restlessly in the back seat, when I revealed that more specifically, the plan was to drive as far east as possible without crossing the Canadian border. But I promised my companions (or perhaps they’d argue “captives” to be a more accurate term) that the long drive would be worth it. Shackford Head State Park had been on my “Places to Hike” list for a long time.
As bug guts coated our car’s windshield, I argued that the coast — I hoped — would be relatively free of blackflies. The breeze from the ocean might keep them at bay. Luckily, I was right. We didn’t get one bug bite while hiking that day. That’s quite a feat in the middle of May.
We explored every trail in the park, traveling slow and stopping for lunch on a cliff overlooking the water. As we rested in the sun, we watched gulls wheel around the giant circular nets of the salmon farm to the north. We also watched a bald eagle soar by, pursued by two crows. Meanwhile, Oreo rolled across the grass and into a patch of wild blueberries. We had to pull him back before he was stung by a wandering bumblebee or slid off the cliff.
As we hiked along the Schooner Trail, over rocky outcroppings and across tiny brooks, we spotted several more bald eagles fishing the water nearby. We also spotted an osprey, a robin and a tiny songbirds called a golden-crowned kinglet. As its name implies, this bird has a bright orange (or golden) tuft of feathers on its head.
Other highlights of the day included the beautiful white blossoms we found on bushes growing along the cliffs and beautiful stretches of mossy forest. I also found the bleached tangle of roots covering the cliffs on Ship Point to be interesting, combined with the bright orange lichen spotting the exposed rock here and there. And upon close inspection, scattered among the rocks and low-lying vegetation, were crab shells and sea urchins, dropped and consumed by resident seabirds. The natural beauty of eastern Maine never disappoints.