In our travels with our camper, we have found state forests to be a great resource, often providing camp grounds where we had great experiences. Many have trail networks, one state forest we stayed at had a handicapped accessible overlook, and others were simply great spots to stop and enjoy the scenery.
On our way to a rail trail in Connecticut, we stopped by a state forest we spotted along the way and discovered a gem (and access to yet another portion of the same rail trail we had been headed toward). The James L. Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, CT offers multiple options for enjoying the outdoors. The boat ramp allows small craft to enjoy the pond. The Conservation Center, located inside the State Forest, offers education programs. When we looked at Google maps we realized that the Airline Trail passes directly through this same state forest.
Our family has a story that has been passed down through the generations. The tale, in My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places, describes an encounter my grandfather had with a farmer in Quebec. The farmer had a chicken coop. My grandfather visited the farm, and realized that one side of the chicken coop was constructed from a cherrywood table. As you might expect, the table was in rough shape, sharing company with a number of chickens.
Our family has been heading to Maine for a number of years, but the pandemic shifted our focus. We have spent a lot of time exploring Acadia National Park and have found Easy Walks at various locations throughout the island. The park’s popularity became a real drawback when we were doing our best to avoid crowds in the worst of the pandemic. We looked toward the northern section of Acadia National Park and discovered that the Schoodic peninsula, and on farther east offered a wide variety of places to explore.
Blue skies in winter can be deceptively cold. A clear, calm day with no wind is a joy, while a stiff wind can be a real challenge for any outing in these darker months. Our visit to Chase Farm in Lincoln Rhode Island offered a mix of weather. Windy on the wide open fields of this historic town-owned property, and Easy Walking in the sheltered spots tucked here and there along the service roads and mown paths that cut through the fields of this former pasture land.
In our western travels, a secondary goal to our spending time in Glenwood Canyon on the bike trail that wends its way through the canyon was to explore Carlsbad Caverns while we were in the west. For many reasons, including keeping crowds down through the pandemic, a visit to this National Park for the self-guided tour through the cavern requires reservations. Thus, our relaxed itenerary for this trip suddenly became a push to meet deadlines, dates, and specific times reserved to reach Carlsbad, New Mexico. This not only required excessive amounts of driving, It meant places we would have otherwise enjoyed stopping to explore were mostly by passed because we were pressed for time.
We had another goal on our travel beside bicycling in Glenwood Canyons, and that was to allow me to take the self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. From Utah, that’s a long drive, so we took our time and stopped a few places in between. Not on our schedule, but too good to pass up, was Mesa Verde National Park, which ended up being on our way. We spent two days quite nearby, allowing for more relaxed visiting of the park. We stopped near the end of October, when the park was essentially closing down for the winter, so some aspects of the park we had hoped to enjoy were unavailable to us. What we did see still made the visit worthwhile.
Traveling out west in the fall is a balancing act when you have a camper. The scenery is even more stunning than at other times of the year, and the risk of freezing weather is increased. Freezing means no running water (I know–a modern luxury of camping in a camper with wheels.) We had been in Colorado and weather reports promised freezing temperatures, yet a few hours west of us in Moab, Utah, the weather was warmer. Thus, an unplanned, but welcome diversion west to Arches National Park was our next stop on our western tour.
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.
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.
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.
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!
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.
We could have spent an entire month exploring the Glenwood Springs area, in addiiton to the Glenwood Canyon rail trail. As it was, we found two additional well maintained rail trails within a few miles of where we stayed in the area. Glenwood Springs offers amazing walking opportunities throughout the town. The downtown has trailheads for both the Glenwood Canyon trail, as well as the Rio Grande Trail, that follows the Roaring Fork River.
When we first built our adaptive tandem bicycle (thanks to Roulez Cycles of Lynn, MA) that comes apart into three pieces (thanks to the S&S couplings that are built into the bike), my huband started dreaming of getting me (and the bike) out to the Glenwood Canyon rail trail. He hoped we could ride on the rail trail that traverses the canyon alongside the Colorado River. It took three years, but we finally made it out to the canyon, and set out on the trail.