The National Parks of the U.S. East Coast
Heading south this year? Fill your journey with historic sites, picturesque anchorages, and stunning beaches.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Monuments, New York City
It’s fair to say that these need little introduction. We sailed here on our first summer shakedown cruise aboard Osprey, staying at Liberty Landing Marina, part of Liberty State Park, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. From here, it was only a few steps to the ferry to both islands. Cruising sailors have ready access to these sites from the designated anchorage just south of Liberty Island or from any number of the marinas located across the river on the Manhattan side. A good source for such information is Anchorages Along the Intracoastal Waterway from Skipper Bob Publications (15th ed.; www.skipperbob.net/publications), which also gives details on other nearby spots. To be honest, this visit was a little disappointing, largely because cities aren’t our preferred habitat and because we didn’t plan ahead, since we weren’t sure when we’d arrive. It was also about 98 F in the shade, with intense humidity, which made milling about with the thousands of other sweating tourists a little claustrophobic. There’s not a lot of opportunity for spontaneity here; to gain access to any part of the Liberty monument structure, you need reservations well in advance. (Also note that the interior of the statue itself closed in October 2011 for renovations and repairs. The reopening is planned for October 2012.) Even to get to the islands themselves, you’re better off going online and buying tickets ahead of time because on some days, you can expect a two-hour wait just to get ferry tickets. Ellis Island and Liberty Island are free, but the ferry costs $13 for an adult and $5 for a kid. It’s an extra $3 each for access to the statue’s crown and the museum. The park service offers free tours of Ellis Island; the museum there is also free. If you’re willing to navigate all of this, you’re rewarded with a uniquely American experience that leaves many visitors misty eyed.
Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Delaware
This is one of the two state parks on our list because it’s strategically ideal for cruisers headed south, and it rivals some national parks in terms of scenic beauty and cool stuff to do. Located at the southern entrance to Delaware Bay, across from the better-known stop of Cape May, New Jersey, this park is easily accessible from the anchorage in what’s called Breakwater Harbor, tucked behind the jetty just west of the cape itself. Make sure you anchor well away from the traffic lanes for the Cape May-Lewes ferry, which operates out of a terminal at the harbor’s southern end. Alternatively, you can go into Lewes proper via Roosevelt Inlet, just to the north, and grab a slip at the Lewes Canalfront Park & Marina or City Dock. From here, you have access not only to the park but also to restaurants, laundry, Internet, a grocery store, and all of Lewes’s varied charms. Full disclosure requires I admit that we haven’t anchored Osprey here; we visit Lewes every fall for a week by land yacht. But not a visit goes by that we don’t spot a cruiser or two anchored out behind the jetty while taking a break from their travels.
Cape Henlopen is ideal on foot and especially by bike, and it costs nothing to enter the park by either of these means. A three-mile-long paved trail winds throughout the 5,193-acre park, and you can take some interesting side trips on the sandy, unpaved paths. There are also seven other trails of various lengths ranging in focus from beaches and salt marshes to ponds and dunes, including the Great Dune, standing 80 feet tall.
Sailing into Lewes, you won’t be able to miss the tall, cylindrical towers stationed along this part of the coast. These World War II-era structures served as lookout posts for German U-boats, and we always climb the one that’s open to the public and offers spectacular 360-degree views. Because of its location at the mouth of Delaware Bay, the gateway to the port of Philadelphia, Cape Henlopen was key to coastal defenses during the war. You can explore this military history at the Fort Miles Historical Area, a kind of open-air military park with restored barracks, weapons, and bunkers. Finally, you won’t be the only migrant if you visit here on your way south; located as it is smack on the Atlantic Flyway bird-migration route, Cape Henlopen is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Last fall, we stopped by the Cape Henlopen hawk-watching station and saw this posted on the board: “September 19, a record-breaking day: 1,475 raptors.”