Ellisville Harbor and seals!

One reclining harbor seal, hanging out on a rock outcrop quite near shore, while another waits its turn…

This was our second visit to Ellisville Harbor State Park in Plymouth, MA. On our first visit in August, we were led to believe the path to the shoreline was at least a mile. Since my “on foot” range is about two miles, this would leave no energy for actually walking on the beach, plus it was warmer than I could risk in August. We chose to head on, and ended up at Shifting Lots Preserve, another open space quite nearby. We returned to the state park on a cool day in December, and decided to try reaching the beach. Turns out, the trail is closer to a half mile out, well within my capabilities when the weather is cool outside.

What we didn’t know was that this relatively quiet state park is a favorite spot for seals to hang out in at low tide, just off shore. What I at first mistook for a large sea gull about fifty yards off shore on a rock turned out to be a reclining seal, lolling about as the tides rolled under him (or her). Nearby, presumably jealous seals hung out, perhaps hoping the resting seal would give them a turn on the rock. Not a chance. Our seal persisted in staying on the rock for the hour or so we spent walking the beach near sundown.

We counted in all about a dozen other seals along the shoreline, only fifty yards or so off shore. The more we looked, the more we saw. We usually get excited seeing one or two seals. This was more at one time that we’ve seen on our walks, except perhaps on the California Coast (and those were sea lions).

Unlike some beaches, even at low tide, we found the sand there to be quite soft. Closer to the water the beach was rocky and more difficult for me to manage. Since it had been a relatively Easy Walk out to the shore from where we parked, I was able to enjoy my time near the water without too much pain. My hiking poles were really helpful in keeping me upright in the soft sand.

We walked south on the beach toward the outgoing stream flowing from the wetlands that are part of the state park.

The same stream, from the Shifting Lots Preserve, at high tide

On our August visit we had walked on the opposite side of the stream, at the Shifting Lots Preserve. That visit had been at high tide, and we were not tempted to try to cross the stream over to the Ellisville Harbor beach side of the stream. Low tide still offered a steady stream, more than we were prepared to cross without waders.

This visit, we got a chance to see the other side, and low tide revealed a very different complexion of the path the water takes to get to the sea. Many streams on the east coast that reach the ocean are encumbered by development, so this was a treat to walk along and see the water flowing toward the ocean.

If we had spent enough time there, we could have watched the tide shift the flow of the water, pushing it back into the wetlands. Another visit, perhaps.

All but the last section of trail to reach the beach counted as an Easy Walk for me–a few rocks, some tree roots, a very firm clear path, with lots of views of the ocean. In warmer weather there will be fewer views as the hardwoods in the area will leaf out, obscuring the view in all but a few spots.

Erosion has made access to this stretch of beach pretty challenging

That last section to reach the beach is a doozy. Beach erosion has left substantial cliffs along the shoreline. We went to the end of the trail and found a very steep, rocky path down to the shore (which I declined to try to attempt). We had noticed several side paths on our way out to the end, so backtracked to the path closest to the end and found an easier path. This path is still quite steep, especially at first, with tree roots that act as steps–sort of. I required assistance navigating this section of trail, even with my hiking poles. Thankfully, I brought along a willing helper who provided the needed support to get me safely to the shoreline.

View from the trail, overlooking the marsh

Ellisville Harbor State Park is open dawn to dusk. There is no charge, the beach is unattended, and dogs are unwelcome May to September on the beach. Even when we visited in August the parking area was not full. The longer walk to the beach may discourage summer beach goers, but this destination is pretty high up on my list, regardless of the challenges, for the hope of seeing seals at low tide. Happy trails!


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

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