Welcome to Eastport, Maine, home of Shackford Head State Park and the easternmost city in the United States! Located on the Bay of Fundy, this quaint coastal town has all the charm you would expect from a small east coast city, but don’t let its size fool you- Eastport has some big time sightseeing destinations that make this city one of the coolest places to visit in Maine.
The main reason that brought us to Eastport was Shackford Head State Park, because state parks are wonderful and I have a mighty need to see them all.
Shackford Head features an interconnected trail system that leads you through lush woods to a rocky headland, passing by beaches and protected coves along the way. From the overlook at the top of the headland you can see Cobscook Bay and parts of Canada. It is also a great park for wildlife viewing, particularly several species of birds including bald eagles!
You can stop at some of the beaches to swim if you want (and the weather permits); while it was much too cold for swimming when we were there, I was still super excited to get to touch the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
And to make the park even cooler, it has some pretty awesome ties to history as well (keep reading for more info on that!).
The Shackford Head Interconnected Trail System, 2 miles round trip
“The Shackford Head and Overlook Trails (1.2-mile roundtrip) provide fantastic views of Cobscook Bay and surrounding peninsulas. If you enjoy challenging terrain with additional overlooks, continue on the Ship Point Trail (an additional half-mile loop) and return to the parking lot via the Schooner Trail for a total of roughly 2 miles.” (Maine Trail Finder website)
So basically, in just two miles you can hike all of the trails in the park. Win!
Things to Keep in Mind:
- Be careful when exploring the beaches – tides fluctuate at more than 20′ and move in quickly.
- During the spring and summer, keep an eye out for ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Check yourself for bites after your visit.
- Swimming is permitted at all the beaches, but isn’t recommended at Cony Beach due to being the site of Civil War ship demolition (more info on that coming).
- This park is not staffed by rangers, so take extra caution while hiking and exploring as there is no help nearby.
- And definitely be cautious on high bluffs and cliffs. There are a lot of slick surfaces in this park.
The thing that really sets Shackford Head apart from other state parks though is its ties to the Civil War (ah, the post title finally makes sense hehe). In the early 1900s, five Civil War battleships were burned here at Cony Beach to salvage any usable brass and iron.
We had heard that some of the remains of the ships were still left on the beach, so naturally we had to investigate…
We definitely found some interesting structures, but were they part of the old Civil War ships? I don’t know. It seems odd that any left over pieces would survive over 100 years of tides, weather, and visitors, but you never know…they did look an awful lot like ship pieces…
But old Civil War ship remains or not, they were still fascinating to look at and formed some cool tide pools, whatever they might be.
And Cony Beach itself is beautiful and worth seeing even if it may or may not contain a piece of Civil War history. East coast beaches are so different from the beaches back home in LA. And I love them.
Even if those weird structures on the beach aren’t pieces of old battleships, Shackford Head still has Civil War historical sights to check out.
In the large grassy area across from the parking lot, there is a memorial for all the ships that were burned here at Cony Beach, as well as informational plaques with photographs:
I mean, based on the photos, the things on the beach very well COULD be pieces of the ships. I like to think that they are. It’s amazing to think of all the things these battleships have seen and experienced over their nearly 200 year old existence, from the day they were built, through the Civil War, to their final resting place on a beach in Maine. A lot can happen in 200 years.
Location: Off Route 190 in Eastport, close to downtown Eastport, ME. Turn onto Deep Cove Road, and travel 0.8 miles to the entrance of Shackford Head State Park (a gravel drive on your left just before the campus of the Maine State Marine Technology School).
Hours / Season: Open all year; 9:00 a.m. to sunset daily unless otherwise posted at the gate.
Fees (per person at time of publication): Adults 12 and older $4 (non-resident), $3 (Maine residents)
Seniors 65 and older $1 (non-resident), free (Maine residents)
Children 5 – 11 $1, Children under 5 free
The City of Eastport:
Shackford Head is obviously really cool, what with it’s Civil War history and beautiful views of the coast and all, but it’s not the only reason to visit Eastport. Here are a few more reasons to check out this small coastal town:
- It’s the easternmost city in the US (the actual easternmost point is in West Quoddy Head State Park, and is just a rock out in the ocean)
- Awesomely fresh and delicious seafood
- Old Sow Whirlpool
First let’s talk about the seafood (priorities). After spending the early part of the afternoon exploring Shackford Head, we went into town to warm up with some clam chowder! We found a great little restaurant right on the bay, and fresh clam chowder and hot tea were the perfect remedy for this cold day. Eating seafood right where it’s caught is the best. Period.
Now let’s talk Old Sow. Old Sow is the biggest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, and the second largest in the world.
What is a whirlpool, you might ask? Here is a brief description from the Bay of Fundy website:
“This powerful whirlpool is formed when the rising tide passes both sides of Indian Island, takes a sharp right turn around the southern tip of Deer Island to flood the Western Passage.”
Basically, the currents push the water in a way that causes it to move in a circular motion, creating a large funnel leading to the ocean floor. Old Sow has clocked speeds of up to almost 7mph, which is pretty damn fast for ocean water to be spinning in a circle.
We tried really hard to see this whirlpool. First we tried booking a harbor cruise, but it was cancelled cause the water was too rough. So then we tried to see it from the shore. I think I might have seen it, but it wasn’t very active that day and the photos look like a whole lotta nothing. To see what it looks like on a good day, do a Google search of “Old Sow Whirlpool”…it’s pretty impressive.
How can you view Old Sow?
“Old Sow is reported to be most active about 3 hours before high tide. This activity continues for about two hours and takes the form of a collection of small gyres, troughs, spouts and holes, and on the rare occasion will form one large funnel. This area, which has been reported to be as wide as 250 feet in diameter, can best be described as turbulent water. However, during spring tides (high water tide caused by a full or new moon) combined with high winds or a tidal surge will increase Old Sow’s activity causing more intense funnels and formations.” – Bay of Fundy website
The best views are from a boat (like the harbor cruise we tried to take), or from Deer Point in the Deer Island Campground, near the ferry landing at the south end of the island.
Add in being the easternmost city in the whole country, and you’ve got one pretty awesome place to visit. For more info about all the great things to see and do in Eastport and to look for hotels, visit the Maine tourism website!