Seneca Greenway – Seneca Bluffs Trail Loop (Seneca Creek State Park, MD)

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Seneca Greenway Trail, Seneca Creek State Park, August 2017

Montgomery County’s Seneca Creek State Park offers quiet isolation in one of Maryland’s most densely populated areas, particularly the park’s wild southern section. Here two moderate paths—the Seneca Greenway Trail and Seneca Bluffs Trail—snake through the Seneca Creek stream valley between Highway 28 and the Potomac River; combined, the two make for a long day hike, strenuous only due to the length of the nearly 14-mile circuit. There is, admittedly, not a lot to see—the hike is shrouded mostly in thick woods with some limited streamside views—but the loop covers a lot of wilderness in an area that is close to DC’s Maryland suburbs. Keep an eye out for wildlife—on my trip in August 2017, I saw a river otter, a groundhog, a bald eagle, two great blue herons, and several fawns. (Note: It is possible to shorten the hike to 12.2 miles by only doing the sections between Highway 28 and River Road—thereby skipping the additional trek to the Potomac—but, meh, where’s the fun in that?)

Seneca Greenway Trail Seneca Bluffs Trail Loop Seneca Creek State Park Maryland information hike

Seneca Greenway Seneca Bluffs Trail Seneca Creek State Park Maryland map

Map of Seneca Greenway Trail & Seneca Bluffs Trail Loop, Seneca Creek State Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Seneca Greenway – Seneca Bluffs Loop can be approached from a number of different entry points, but starting and ending at the parking area off Highway 28 offers a worthy goal: hiking to and from the banks of the Potomac River 6-7 miles to the south. The Seneca Greenway parking area is situated just off Route 28/Darnestown Road, roughly 2.7 miles northwest of Darnestown, Maryland. (Note: Use address 15813 Darnestown Road, Germantown, MD in your GPS.) If coming from DC to the southeast, look for a small gravel turnoff on the right; it’s easy to miss as the trailhead is surrounded by high bushes—but it’s the only turnoff in the area. (Note: If you cross over a long bridge and reach the town of Dawsonville, you have gone too far.)

The parking area has room for around 20 cars, occupied mostly by bikers and horseback riders. Footpaths head both east and west from the trailhead; park near the far end of the parking lot and look for the large sign reading “Seneca Creek Greenway Trail; To Berryville Road 4.4 Miles.” This is the start of the hike. (Note: It is possible to do the Seneca Bluffs Trail first, but this requires backtracking and following Route 28 west for ¼ mile, across the bridge over Seneca Creek, to the trail’s start.)

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Seneca Greenway Trailhead

Seneca Greenway Trail to River Road (5.75 miles)

The first several miles of the hike follow the lower section of the Seneca Greenway Trail, a 35-mile footpath that extends from Damascus, Maryland to the Potomac. The hike begins as a wide, partly asphalted path heading west and paralleling noisy Route 28 to the left. Almost immediately, the trail crosses under power lines. After 150 yards, the wide path abruptly ends, and much smaller single-tracks bear left and right. Take a left, walking under Route 28.

Seneca Creek, now seen on the right, drains a rather large watershed that extends into central Maryland. The water volume made it an attractive site for settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, during which eight mills were built on Seneca Creek and its tributaries. By the 1800s, that number grew to 19.

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Seneca Creek along the Seneca Greenway Trail

Here, the stream is quiet and peaceful, taking on a light brown hue as the sun bears down during the day. At 4/10 mile, a small gravelly beach offers an opportunity to go down to the water. At the ½-mile mark, the trail pulls away from the creek to clear a muddy tributary and then makes a short climb to the now partly-elevated floodplain. Continuing south, the path skirts an overgrown field on the left, sporadically dotted with conifers. Reentering the woods at the 1-mile mark, the trail cuts through a grove of tall and wily poplar trees, then returns to the banks of Seneca Creek. The view is fleeting, however, as the Seneca Greenway quickly dives off to the left, leaving the stream behind.

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Seneca Greenway Trail

From here the trail passes new growth forest on the left, then traverses a wooden bridge at 1.5 miles. Just beyond is a brief uphill climb, followed by a quick downhill. At 1.9 miles, the path cuts through a flat with tall, vine-laced trees. At 2.1 miles, a wooden sign emerges noting the arrival of the “Berryville Road Side Trail” on the left; stay right, bearing west.

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Tall trees along Seneca Greenway Trail

The next section is one of the hike’s most scenic, as the trail gradually descends a low ridgeline with views of Seneca Creek below on the right. At 2.5 miles, you will see what appears like a Christmas tree farm on the left—dozens and dozens of conifers, a sign of new growth on recovered farmland. A field of yellow wingstem flowers—in bloom in late summer—follows shortly thereafter.

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Scenic trail along Seneca Creek

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Wingstem

Then it’s back into the woods as the Seneca Greenway bends southward. At 2.9 miles, stay straight at a 4-way junction, following the blue blazes. Around 3.3 miles, an open field appears on the left—cropland situated outside the park. Stay straight at the next junction, followed again by a fork at 3.75 miles. Here the woods give way to scrubby brush, occupying what is undoubtedly former farmland. It takes over ¼ mile to cross the open field, a welcome change of pace from constant woods.

At the 4-mile mark, the trail approaches Berryville Road as the creek comes back into view. Hugging the banks, the Greenway emerges onto the road at 4.2 miles. Here Seneca Creek makes a sharp right-hand bend with some minor rapids. (Note: This was also the site where I spotted the bald eagle.)

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Seneca Creek near Berryville Road

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Seneca Creek from Berryville Road

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Bald eagle sighting

Continue east on the road for about 100 yards, where the Greenway Trail picks up again. The trail here follows a slice of land between the road on the left and a perennial tributary—Hookers Branch—on the right. The path crosses Hookers Branch (requiring some rock-hopping) at 4.3 miles, followed shortly by the steepest climb of the day, gaining 75 feet in 1/10 mile.

Once atop a ridgeline, the trail bears south, well above the creek down to the right. At 4.6 miles, the winding path traverses a deep ravine and then climbs sharply to the edge of a resident neighborhood; a house is visible on the left. Ferns are sprinkled along the landscape as the trail bears southwest, crossing a second ravine at 4.8 miles. Beyond, the terrain flattens out, and the path crosses a wooden bridge. The hillsides return past the 5-mile mark, but the trail remains relatively level.

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Seneca Greenway Trail

At 5.3 miles, the dirt path crosses another bridge and ends abruptly minutes later, spitting out onto the paved Seneca Road. Take a right on the road; the Seneca Greenway Trail follows the pavement for ¼ mile to the intersection with River Road, marking the end of the first 5.75-mile section.

Seneca Creek Aqueduct & Potomac River Section (1.6 miles)

From here, hikers have to make a choice. The first option is to bear right on River Road, then take another right on Old River Road at Seneca Mill, following the road to the Seneca Bluffs Trail. The second option is to continue straight, across River Road, to the Potomac River. (Note: Choosing the former shaves about 1.6 miles off the hike.)

Heading straight for now (we will return to the mill and the Seneca Bluffs Trail later), you must follow the paved Riley’s Lock Road for ¾ mile to the Seneca Creek Aqueduct. (Note: By now you have temporarily left the Seneca Greenway Trail.) The road is less than scintillating—crowded with passing cars and bounded by houses on the left—but it at least follows Seneca Creek on the right. Around 6.5 miles into the hike, the road ends at the mouth of Seneca Creek, which flows gently here into the Potomac River, and Riley’s Lock (Lock 24).

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Seneca Creek Aqueduct over Seneca Creek, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

The land here is managed by the National Park Service as part of the lengthy Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The red sandstone building ahead was the old lockhouse, home to a series of “lockkeepers” who managed Riley’s Lock and the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was the response to a dual challenge encountered in 1830 by the engineers of the C&O Canal: crossing Seneca Creek while also mounting an elevation change. The answer was a two-in-one structure that served as both an aqueduct and a lock, an architectural feat completed in 1832 at the cost of $32,000. Its completion relied heavily on local resources—built with red Seneca sandstone quarried at a nearby mine and cut at the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill just to the west.

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Lockhouse at Riley’s Lock

Approaching the stairs leading up to the aqueduct, one will also notice a Civil War Trails sign, which traces the story of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s Potomac crossing during the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863. In early morning of June, 1863—at nearby Rowser’s Ford—Stuart and his 5,000 cavalrymen traversed the river from Virginia and sabotaged the C&O Canal between Locks 23 and 24. One of Stuart’s brigades then followed Seneca Road to Darnestown, while the other two bore southeast toward the present-day suburb of Potomac.

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View of the Potomac River from the aqueduct over Seneca Creek

Such a scene can be imagined as you climb a set of stairs to the Towpath Trail, which follows the C&O Canal heading west and east and provides views across the Potomac River to Virginia. Take a right on the towpath, crossing over the aqueduct (at least what’s left of it, as a huge chunk has broken off). Once clear of Seneca Creek, there are a pair of picnic tables down to the left, situated in a small grassy field on the banks of the river. Stop for a break here to grab lunch and rest your legs—you’re only about halfway finished.

Back on the towpath, look out for an overgrown doubletrack heading off to the right, maybe a 20-30 second walk beyond the aqueduct. It’s important to find and take this turnoff—otherwise you will end up on the wrong side of a murky pond that swamps the canal just to the west. Following the pond on the left, the spur road curves north and approaches a traffic gate at 6.7 miles. Off to the left are the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill Ruins, where owners cut and shaped the rock for the aqueduct, as well as for DC’s Smithsonian Castle. (Note: While an inviting sight from afar, the ruins have been marred by extensive graffiti in recent years, ruining exploration up close.)

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Seneca Stone Cutting Mill Ruins

Beyond the ruins, follow Tschiffely Mill Road north (the road doubles as the Seneca Greenway Trail) as it parallels Seneca Creek—now on the west side—and joins with River Road at 7.4 miles. This marks the end of the worthy detour to the Potomac and back.

Seneca Bluffs Trail to Route 28 (6.4 miles)

From here, cross River Road and pass the historic Seneca Store, which was built in 1901 and remains the oldest continuously-running general store in Montgomery County. Bearing left on Old River Road, pass the quaint Upton Darby House on the right. Darby was one of the owners of the Seneca Mill, which dated to 1725 and served for decades as the commercial center for the small village of Seneca. (Note: Sadly, the remains of the mill have all but disappeared—replaced by a modern bridge on River Road.)

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Upton Darby House at Seneca

Continue up Old River Road as it rounds a left-hand bend and climbs into a more wooded area. At 7.5 miles—about 170 yards from the Seneca Store—look for an orange-blazed path leaving the road to the right. This is the start of the Seneca Bluffs Trail—your lengthy return route to the trailhead.

After crossing a wooden bridge, continue up the Seneca Bluffs Trail as it climbs a brushy slope and passes under the canopy of a tall, spindly oak tree. Quickly immersed in woodlands, the narrow footpath crosses over a small stream, then briefly traverses a field of high scrub. At the 8-mile mark, Seneca Creek is visible again down below. Minutes later, the trail weaves in and out of a tree cut (probably cleared to lay underground cables). For the next 4/10 mile, the trail bears northeast, winding around a wooded ridgeline, instead of over—likely a move designed to make it easier for mountain bikers (who are seemingly the principal users of this trail).

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Beautiful oak at the start of the Seneca Bluffs Trail

At 8.6 miles, the Seneca Bluffs Trail reaches the end of the ridge and wraps around to the west, with obscured views of Seneca Creek. Bearing southwest, the trail climbs curved slopes (obviously designed for speeding cyclists), then approaches a nice view of the stream valley around the 9-mile mark. After edging around a pair of thickly vegetated ravines, the trail heads north again.

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Seneca Bluffs Trail, high above Seneca Creek

By now, monotony and weary legs are probably setting in—a condition partially alleviated by the convenience of a wooden bench at 9.85 miles. Here the trail splits; a spur heads west to Montevideo Road, while the main path continues right.

At 10.1 miles, the Seneca Bluffs Trail crosses Dry Seneca Creek, a tributary of the main waterway. The traverse of Dry Seneca—flouting its deceptive name—does require some rock-hopping to avoiding getting wet; however, it is a far cry from the “dangerous” stream crossing noted in warning signs that precede the creek.

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Dry Seneca Creek

Beyond, the trail climbs gradually among the bluffs overlooking Seneca Creek. At about 10.75 miles, the route parallels a large farm, situated just outside the park, on the left. After dropping back into the woods, the Seneca Bluffs Trail edges around a minor ravine and emerges briefly at the edge of a second farm. Stay straight, following the orange blazes. Back in the woods, the trail skirts the western bounds of the park then bears east. At 11.75 miles, cross a wooden bridge over a peaceful stream. By the 12-mile mark, the trail sets a course that will run roughly due north for the next 1.5 miles. The bluffs begin to slowly recede, giving way to a shaded floodplain. At about 13.1 miles, an interesting set of exposed rocks on the left breaks up the monotony.

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Farmhouse, viewed from the Seneca Bluffs Trail

The home stretch cuts through dense but sun-soaked scrub, likely another case of former farmland. At about 13.5 miles, the Seneca Bluffs Trail passes under power lines and ends abruptly at Highway 28. Use caution when crossing the road, then take a right, following Route 28 over the Seneca Creek bridge. The hike ends, at last, back at the Seneca Greenway parking area on the left—the terminus of a 13.8-mile workout.

 

Time required for this hike will vary widely by fitness levels. In most cases, hikers will have to allot most of a day to complete the entire loop.

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Cadillac Mountain (Acadia National Park, ME)

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Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, August 2017

At 1,529 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak in Acadia National Park and has no equal on Mount Desert Island that matches its panoramic views. Three arduous trails climb the mountain, though most opt to drive the winding road to the summit. Being one of the easternmost mountains in the United States, visitors flock to the mountaintop before dawn to see “the nation’s first sunrise.” A short loop trail offers views to the south, north, and east, while a series of turnoffs halfway up the mountain provide a look west to Eagle Lake and Mount Desert Island’s far western shores.

Cadillac Mountain owes its creation to an ancient volcanic system: the granite mass was once a magma chamber more than two miles below the earth’s crust. With time, the overlying rock gradually eroded away, leaving a hardened core of granite that blankets Acadia and reaches its apex here at Cadillac’s summit.

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View southeast from Cadillac Mountain to Otter Cove and the Gulf of Maine

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Dorr Mountain and Champlain Mountain with Frenchman Bay and Schoodic Peninsula beyond

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Southwest to the Cranberry Isles

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Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and The Porcupines

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Eagle Lake and Sargent Mountain from the road to Cadillac Mountain summit

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The Beehive Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)

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Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park, August 2017

With its sweeping views and hair-raising ascent, the Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s most iconic hikes. Along with the Beech Cliff Trail, Jordan Cliffs Trail, and Precipice Trail, Beehive is one of the park’s four “iron rung routes”: strenuous climbs that require negotiating ladders, iron aides, and steep staircases to mount exposed granite cliff sides. The epic climb culminates at a fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Frenchman Bay. Combine the short but outstanding Beehive route with the leisurely Bowl Trail, passing a lovely lake before winding back to the trailhead. (Note: Visitors with a fear of heights should not attempt this hike; hiking boots are also a must.)

The Beehive Loop hike information Acadia

The Beehive Trail Bowl Trail map Acadia

Map of the Beehive Loop, Acadia National Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

The Beehive Loop begins across Park Loop Road from Sand Beach, four miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine. A word of warning: Acadia is one of the country’s most popular national parks, and Sand Beach is at the heart of the crowds. Arrive early to avoid the masses and to get a parking spot (or take the free shuttle from the Visitor Center). (Note: Park Loop Road is one-way, heading south, as it passes Sand Beach.)

From the Sand Beach parking area, the Beehive & Bowl Trailhead is a short walk north on Park Loop Road; look for a modest but clear sign on the left. (Note: Here you are technically starting the Bowl Trail, though the Beehive Trail will split off soon enough.) The path begins to climb immediately, first up a set of stairs, followed by some rocky clambering through a pine forest to the first of the hike’s several trail junctions. Here the Beehive Trail splits off to the right, your cue to get ready for some iron rung climbing. (Note: Climbing up the Beehive Trail and down the adjacent Bowl Trail is highly recommended, as descending Beehive can be dangerous and considerably more difficult than ascending. Plus, you’d be going against the traffic.)

Once on the Beehive Trail, the ascent begins gradually and is relatively free of obstacles. Before encountering a single iron foothold, views open to the south—overlooking Sand Beach, Great Head, and the endless ocean beyond.

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Views of Sand Beach and Great Head from the Beehive Trail

About ¼ mile from the trailhead, the trail collides with a blocky jumble of granite, inaugurating the much vaunted “iron rung” section of the hike. Follow the blue blazes as the route ascends—always assisted by man-made steps, rungs, and handrails—the south face of The Beehive.

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Start of the climb

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Traversing a particularly hairy section

Shortly into the climb, the trail skirts a ledge 2-3 feet wide, complete with a bolted metal grill that provides passage over a crack in the ledge. Next up is the first set of iron rungs—an easy prelude of what’s to come. The initial climb is followed by another, this time with higher walls to surmount. Between iron rung climbs are stony staircases and narrow ledge walks, complete with stunning views of the ocean. At one point, hikers traverse a manmade wooden bridge.

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Ledge views of Sand Beach and the Atlantic Ocean

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Along the Beehive Trail

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Another ledge section of the Beehive Trail

A couple minutes later, a series of iron rungs assist hikers up perhaps the most challenging section. After rounding a left-hand bend, more climbing is required, then a final scramble leads to the top of The Beehive, the end of the iron rung section and the highest point on the hike.

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Particularly steep section of the Beehive Trail

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Don’t look down!

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Reaching the summit of The Beehive

Though far from the tallest mountain in Acadia, The Beehive’s (520’) proximity to the ocean and Frenchman Bay allows for stunning vistas to the south and east. The series of tree-lined bumps sticking out of Frenchman Bay are aptly named The Porcupines, while Schoodic Peninsula—another section of Acadia about an hour and a half away—is visible across the bay. Champlain Mountain (1058’), one of Acadia’s tallest peaks, dominates the landscape to the north.

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Champlain Mountain, Frenchman Bay, and The Porcupines from the Beehive summit

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Panorama from The Beehive

To the south, views of the ocean are partly obstructed by Gorham Mountain (522’), but Otter Point and Baker Island are visible in the distance.

After enjoying a rest, continue westbound on the Beehive Trail as it makes its way across two lesser summits. After the first, the trail splits—stay straight, following signs to “The Bowl.”

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Continuing north on the Beehive Trail

After skirting the third summit, the route begins a sharp descent to The Bowl, a blissfully clear blue lake at the base of Champlain Mountain. On a busy summer day, the shores of the lake are sure to be lined with people, fishing and dipping their toes in the irresistible water (which is often much warmer than the ocean).

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Clear waters of The Bowl

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The Bowl and Champlain Mountain

The Beehive Trail skirts the lake’s south shores for 100 yards before terminating at a junction, where the Bowl Trail turns south while the Bear Brook Trail meanders west. Take a left, following the Bowl Trail as it climbs to clear a tree-choked gap between Beehive Mountain and Halfway Mountain to the west.

From here, it is a steady descent back to the trailhead. At 9/10 mile, bear right at the trail fork, then drop down a series of wooden steps to a second junction. This time, stay left and continue downhill on the Bowl Trail. The penultimate fork comes at around 1.1 miles; bear left toward Sand Beach. At 1.25 miles, you have returned to the initial Beehive-Bowl split; stay right and complete the final descent to Park Loop Road…with weary feet and a sense of accomplishment.

Because of the strenuous ascent—which can be extra slow on crowded days—it’s best to allot more time than usual for this 1.4 mile hike. Able hikers will likely be able to complete the loop, while stopping for lunch at the summit or The Bowl, in around two hours.

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The Beehive from Sand Beach

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Acadia Mountain Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)

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Acadia Mountain Trail, Acadia National Park, August 2017

The Acadia Mountain Loop is a challenging hike on Acadia National Park’s quieter west side that affords fantastic views of Mount Desert Island, Echo Lake, and Somes Sound. Granite outcrops make for excellent vantage points—but also significant obstacles—on this 2.9-mile stem-and-loop. After summiting the mountain, the trail drops 600 feet to the banks of Somes Sound, then climbs gradually along the Man O’ War Truck Road to return to the trailhead.

Acadia Mountain Loop Trail hike information

Acadia Mountain Trail loop hike map

Map of Acadia Mountain Trail Loop, Acadia National Park; created using National Geographic Maps/Alltrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Acadia Mountain Trailhead, marked with signs along Maine Route 102, is situated three miles north of the town of Southwest Harbor and roughly 11 miles southwest of Bar Harbor, Maine. Coming from Bar Harbor and Acadia’s busy east side, the trailhead will be on your right—a small parking area that doubles as the start of a short trail to Echo Lake Ledges. There is a small bathroom at the site.

The Acadia Mountain hike begins across the street, where a stony staircase ushers in the beginning of the steep climb. Beyond the staircase, a trailside kiosk provides information and a map of the area. Continue east as the route mounts a granite slope; follow the blue blazes. At about 250 yards, the trail forks; bear left on the route to Acadia Mountain. (Note: A right leads to Saint Sauveur Mountain (679’), Valley Peak, and Flying Mountain (284’).)

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Acadia Mountain Trail, just before a sharp climb

The northbound section that follows is relatively flat and easy as it winds through dense forest. At 3/10 mile, the trail crosses Man O’ War Truck Road; stay straight on the Acadia Mountain Trail. Enjoy the last respite of level terrain before the path climbs a granite jumble. Over the course of the next half-mile, the trail will gain a mean 450 feet in elevation. At 4/10 mile, a short section of steep steps is the hardest climb of the hike—thereafter the grade lessens but continues to climb steadily.

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Pine trees near the summit of Acadia Mountain

Hikers will get their first peek at Somes Sound to the southeast at around 6/10 mile, though it remains obscured by tree cover. At 0.65 mile, the trail ascends a set of granite slabs, followed by another steep climb at around the 3/4-mile mark. After passing under a group of craggy pines, views open up to the west, overlooking Echo Lake and the Beech Cliffs beyond. On clear days, you can see as far as Blue Hill Bay and the Mount Desert Narrows.

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View west over Echo Lake

By now the trail has finally leveled off as it scales the upper reaches of Acadia Mountain, culminating in a fantastic view from the summit. (Note: While not technically the highest point on Acadia Mountain—the true summit is to the east—this spot offers the most expansive view of the area.)

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Acadia Mountain summit

Somes Sound unfolds to the south, with Flying Mountain—a photogenic tree-covered hump—jutting out from the west. Somes Sound is an example of a fjard, an inlet formed by a glacial depression that is shallower and lacks the steep walls of the better-known fjord.

In the distance are Southwest Harbor, Greening Island, and the Cranberry Isles, with the Duck Islands visible beyond. On the horizon, the Atlantic Ocean extends into an endless blue. In the foreground, the massive Saint Sauveur Mountain dominates the landscape, with Beech Mountain (841’) to the west. To the left, Norumbega Mountain (850’) rises from the eastern slopes of Somes Sound.

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Somes Sound on the descent

After enjoying the panoramic views, continue east on the Acadia Mountain Trail. The path alternates between dirt and stone as it follows the top of a ridgeline, then drops through a stony crevice at about 1.1 miles. Regular views of Somes Sound continue as the trail begins an aggressive descent. Over a half-mile, the route sheds 600 feet in elevation, making for a slow slog that requires careful footing and occasional use of your hands to steady yourself.

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Somes Sound through the trees

At about 1.6 miles, the trail levels off and traverses a short bridge over Man O’ War Brook, a gentle perennial stream. Now back in thick woods, take a left at the next fork to follow a short spur down to the banks of Somes Sound. The trail ends at the junction of the sound and Man O’ War Brook, which tumbles over a small waterfall in its final stretches.

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Shores of Somes Sound

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Man O’ War Brook waterfall

Climbing back to the main trail, take a left at the junction, then reach a four-way trail fork at 1.8 miles. Unless you are continuing on to Saint Sauveur Mountain, take a right on the wide and partly graveled Man O’ War Truck Road.

An underwhelming finale, the Man O’ War Truck Road is nonetheless easy and straightforward. At 1.9 mile, the road gradually ascends and the gravel turns to dirt. Stay on this path until around 2.6 miles, the original four-war junction—with the ascent to Acadia Mountain off to the right, while your return route heads left. Retrace your steps on this mild path for 2/10 mile, then bear right and descend the final 250 yards to Route 102 and the Acadia Mountain Trailhead. Take care in crossing the road, as it can be crowded, especially on summer weekends.

All in all, set aside at least 2-2 1/2 hours for the round-trip hike. Despite not even eclipsing three miles, the dramatic elevation changes make the journey slow-going, and you will want to stop to take breaks at the summit and the shores of Somes Sound.

Extra credit

Head south on Route 102 a little farther to try the Beech Cliff Trail, one of four strenuous “iron rung” routes in Acadia.

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Beech Cliff Trail & Canada Cliffs Trail Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)

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Beech Cliff Loop, Acadia National Park, August 2017

The Beech Cliff Trail, situated in Acadia National Park’s peaceful western section, is one of the park’s four “iron rung routes”: strenuous climbs that require negotiating ladders, iron aides, and steep granite staircases to mount exposed cliff sides. Compared with the other three, the Beech Cliff Trail is arguably the least harrowing: the biggest obstacles are a series of sturdy ladders, and no real rock scrambling is required. (Note: Those with a fear of heights, however, should probably avoid, and proper footgear for all hikers is a must.) Once atop the cliffs, hikers are rewarded with outstanding views of Echo Lake and the surrounding mountains; the best vistas are on the Beech Cliff Loop, while a casual descent down the winding Canada Cliffs Trail offers an alternative, ladder-less return to the trailhead.

Beech Cliff Trail Canada Cliffs Trail Acadia hike information

Beech Cliffs Trail Canada Cliffs Trail map Acadia

Map of Beech Cliff Trail, Beech Cliff Loop, and Canada Cliffs Trail, Acadia National Park (created using National Geographic Maps/Alltrails, alltrails.com; check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The vast majority of visitors at the Echo Lake parking area are there for one thing: to swim. The only lifeguarded beach on the west side of the park, Echo Lake Beach can be sprawling with people on a summer day. So think ahead—arrive early or late in the day to get a parking spot, or take the free park shuttle. Once on the trail, however, the crowds will dissipate—a welcome luxury of Acadia’s “quiet” west side. (Note: That is, quiet compared to its raucous eastern cousin.)

The hike begins at the end of the road at Echo Lake Beach, a small cul-de-sac with a single stone staircase leading down to a trail junction. To the right is the beach; to the left is the Beech Cliff Trail, which will cover nearly 450 feet in elevation in the next 4/10 mile. The path begins easy enough, cutting through dense forest, with the lake partly visible through the thicket to the right. After 175 yards, the climb begins in earnest as it rounds a left-hand bend. At 2/10 mile, hikers will pass a rocky jumble to the left, then cross a second rock slide at the 1/4-mile mark. Here a short spur bears off to the right—a teaser of what’s to come, a viewpoint offers a bird’s eye view of Echo Lake Beach and the valley below.

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Initial viewpoint of Echo Lake

Returning to the main trail, the grade steepens as the Beech Cliff Trail again traverses the rock slide. (Note: Neatly arranged stone steps ease the burden of what otherwise would be a rock scramble.) Back in dense trees, the trail cuts south, hugging the shady hillside on the right. After rounding a right-hand bend, hikers must duck under a low-hanging tree at about the 1/3 mile mark. Just beyond is the first of four metal ladders on the trail—this one only about 8 or 9 feet tall, making it the shortest of the bunch.

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First of four ladders on the Beech Cliff Trail

Around the corner from the ladder, the trail hugs the base of a 40- to 50-foot perpendicular cliff, a beautiful face of granite that would seemingly be a climber’s paradise. Paralleling the cliff for about 75 yards leads to the second ladder, this one about 15 to 20 feet high.

From here hikers will ascend a steep stone staircase with metal railings, followed by the final ladder sequence: back-to-back climbs through a shaded notch. It’s a short jaunt from here to the top of the cliffs, where a beautiful view awaits.

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Steep climb to the 3rd ladder

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Pair of ladders on the Beech Cliff Trail

The Beech Cliffs tower several hundred feet above Echo Lake, where beachgoers appear but tiny specks from this lofty vantage point. Behind Echo Lake is Acadia Mountain (655’) and Saint Sauveur Mountain (690’), which conceal Somes Sound behind them. To the southeast, the view reaches as far as the Atlantic Ocean and the Cranberry Isles.

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Atop the Beech Cliff Trail

The views are even better on the Beech Cliff Loop, an easy meander that begins where the strenuous Beech Cliff Trail ends. Take a right at the top of the cliffs, following the trail to another junction after around 50 yards. Take another right to head back to the edge, where vistas open up to the north, and the entirety of Echo Lake unfolds below. In the distance, the northern tip of Somes Sound comes into view, with Mount Desert Island’s mountainous east side beyond.

Just before 6/10 mile, the trail bends left and leaves the cliff’s edge. Crossing a granite slab with some limited views, this is the summit and the highest point on the hike. The loop ends seconds later at the trail junction; stay straight as the path returns to the original viewpoint.

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View from the Beech Cliff Loop

From here you have a choice – return down the steep ladders of the Beech Cliff Trail (not recommended) or continue straight onto the Canada Cliffs Trail, a 1-mile alternative that leads back to the same trailhead. The Canada Cliffs Trail darts into the woods, interrupted by a brief sunny clearing at 0.85 mile, then begins a steady descent amid spruces and pines. At 1.2 miles, the trail rounds a sharp, right-hand bend and heads north to another junction situated near the head of a water-soaked ravine. Take a left, continuing on a “new” path that does not appear on many more dated maps. (Note: for example, it is not shown on the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of Acadia. However, the signs are clear and easy to follow—“Echo Lake Parking” to the left.)

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Heading down the Canada Cliffs Trail

Beyond the junction, the Canada Cliffs Trail descends gradually, crossing a minor creek twice. As the path bends eastward, the grade steepens, making haste for the valley below. The incline disappears around 1.6 miles, with an unpaved road visible through the trees. Stay straight at the next trail fork, where a spur to Lurvey Spring Road bears off to the right. From here the path follows the base of the Canada Cliffs (barely visible through the thicket to the left) and emerges at the Echo Lake parking area at 1.8 miles. (Note: The trail spits out well south of the start; you will likely be parked somewhere in between.)

All told, the entire stem-and-loop—including the Beech Cliff Trail, Beech Cliff Loop, and Canada Cliffs Trail—will take at least two hours for most hikers. Those with a fear of heights can skip the Beech Cliff climb and hike the Canada Cliffs Trail as an out-and-back instead—or stay put at Echo Lake Beach…

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Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 2 (Shenandoah National Park, VA)

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Dickey Ridge Trail, Shenandoah National Park, June 2017

Continuing where the Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 1 left off, the second half of the Dickey Ridge Trail extends five miles from the Dickey Ridge Picnic Area to Compton Gap in Shenandoah National Park’s North District. Highlights include a beautiful viewpoint from a clear cut near the start and Fort Windham Rocks toward the end, with miles of dense forest in between. Far from the most scintillating hike in Shenandoah, this lengthy out-and-back is a nice workout, however, with its roller coaster of ups and downs, and it is close to the North Entrance. (Note: Visitors with the luxury of a shuttle pick-up can do both sections in a day for a combined total of 9.6 miles.)

Dickey Ridge Trail Shenandoah hike information part 2

 

Dickey Ridge Trail Shenandoah map

Map of Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 2, Shenandoah National Park (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

Reach the trail’s start by heading for the Dickey Ridge Picnic Area, situated just south of the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center around mile marker 4.7 on Skyline Drive. Park near the southernmost end of the picnic area (accessible only by a one-way, southbound drive from the Visitor Center). Look for a well-trodden dirt path heading south, past the picnic tables, which quickly crosses the one-way road, then spits out at Skyline Drive. Cross the busy, two-way scenic byway to reach the trail’s start: a partly paved service road known as Snead Farm Road.

Walk down the road as the pavement turns to gravel, then continue to a 4-way junction as the singletrack Dickey Ridge Trail crosses the road. Bear right, heading uphill on the root-laced path. After 3/10 mile on the Dickey Ridge Trail, a brief respite from a steady climb offers hikers the opportunity to catch their breath. It is only fleeting, however, as the ascent continues, cresting at around 8/10 mile after about 450 feet in elevation gain. To the left, through the woods, is the summit of Dickey Hill (2,444’), the highest point on Dickey Ridge.

From here, the trail levels off and approaches the highlight of the hike: a break in the woods that gives way to a terrific overlook of Browntown Valley, Mount Marshall (3368’), Hogback Mountain (3,474’), Gimlet Ridge (2,103’) and Mathews Arm (2,272’). Massanutten Mountain dominates the landscape to the west, across the Shenandoah Valley. An abundance of greenstone at the viewpoint offers a place to sit down and enjoy the vista.

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View from the overlook on Dickey Ridge Trail

Once ready, continue back into the woods as the trail hugs the west flank of Dickey Hill. A well-worn social trail climbs the hillside to the left (ending at the summit). Beyond, the Dickey Ridge Trail settles into a steady descent, dropping to a junction with the Snead Farm Trail at 1.2 miles. Stay straight, with Skyline Drive within earshot to your right. For most of the next 1 ½ miles, hikers will gradually lose more than 400 feet in elevation. Cross Skyline Drive at Low Gap, 2.5 miles from the start.

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Dickey Ridge Trail in summer

Across the road, look for an unmarked but evident trail that plunges into the woods on the other side. Follow this path as it weaves east to a junction at 2.6 miles; stay straight. (Note: the trail to the right is unmarked but likely leads down the mountains to Browntown Valley.) From here, uphill climbing returns with a vengeance. Round a bend at 3.1 miles, after which the grade lessens. Minutes later, the trail drops again to cross Skyline Drive again, this time at Lands Run Gap.

The trail emerges from the woods at the parking lot for Lands Run Falls (situated less than a mile’s descent from here). The hike continues across the road. (Note: So does the Hickerson Hollow hike; choose the path to the right, which is the Dickey Ridge Trail.) Right on cue, the Dickey Ridge Trail climbs again, this time amid a sea of ferns. With oaks, poplars, and maples towering above, the hike skirts the rocky slopes of Carson Mountain (2,580’), where Dickey Ridge meets the much larger and longer Blue Ridge.

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Dickey Ridge Trail on the slopes of Carson Mountain

As the hike approaches the 4-mile mark, notice the neatly arranged escarpment on the right is a feat of fine trail work. At 4.2 miles, the path forks. Stay right on the Dickey Ridge Trail as the Springhouse Trail—a bridle path—weaves off to the left. The sharp ascent finally comes to an end shortly thereafter. At around 4.6 miles, look for an unmarked path heading off to the left; this trail leads up to Fort Windham Rocks, a vast hunk of Catoctin greenstone that is an estimated 600-800 years old.

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Fort Windham Rocks

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Climbing Fort Windham Rocks

The rocks are fun and easy to climb; simply follow the path as it winds to the back of the formation, then climbs through a series of slits and cracks up the 30-foot rocks (the highest point on Carson Mountain). Views are limited, but the craggy granodiorite (the same rock that forms Half Dome in faraway Yosemite National Park) is an interesting sight to see.

Returning to the main path, take a left to complete the final stretch of the Dickey Ridge Trail. At around 4.75 miles, the trail ends at a wide, woody thoroughfare—this is a section of the Appalachian Trail. Turn around here, or continue right for a quarter mile to the parking area for Compton Gap, five miles from the start. Walk back the way you came—keep in mind, there is plenty of uphill on the return—or, if you are so privileged, get a pickup here.

Try in combination with Dickey Ridge Trail – Part 1 for a 9.6-mile one-way slog, or split it in two. The entire second half as described here is a 10-mile out-and-back, a hike that will take most people much of a day.

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Bear sighting!

Posted in Shenandoah National Park, Strenuous Hikes, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hamilton Grange National Memorial, NY

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Hamilton Grange National Memorial, November 2016

– Revolutionary War Series –

Hamilton Grange National Memorial, a relatively modest home in Harlem, honors the life and achievements of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, American revolutionary, a key promoter of the US Constitution, and America’s first Treasury Secretary. Constructed in 1802, “The Grange” would serve as Hamilton’s home for only two years (he was, of course, killed in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr). However, the house has lived on; in fact, it has survived being physically moved twice since 1889, now occupying a grassy hillside at the corner of W 141st St. and St. Nicholas Avenue, under the protection of the National Park Service. Between 2015 and 2016, visitation to Hamilton Grange has more than doubled (I wonder why??), making touring the Grange more of a challenge. But arrive early in the day to skip the crowds and check out the home’s various artifacts, including Hamilton’s very own desk and a handful of portraits.

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Hamilton Grange National Memorial

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Dining home at The Grange

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Hamilton’s desk

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Surprisingly rugged terrain outside Hamilton Grange

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General Grant National Memorial, NY

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General Grant National Memorial, November 2016

– Civil War Series –

General Grant National Memorial, the largest mausoleum in North America, is situated in a quiet and beautiful corner of New York City and commemorates the life of Civil War hero and 18th US President Ulysses S. Grant. The site—widely known simply as “Grant’s Tomb”—includes a small visitor center that tells the story of Grant’s rise to power and fall from grace (he died poor and strapped with a disappointing presidency). But the real draw is the massive granite and marble structure, constructed in 1897, that houses Grant’s grave. Visiting hours are strange—with the mausoleum open only every other hour between 10am and 5pm.

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Grant’s Tomb, New York City

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View of the Hudson River from General Grant National Memorial

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Inside the mausoleum

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Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, NY

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Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, April 2017

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site commemorates the life of Theodore Roosevelt—writer, statesman, officer, adventurer, and the 26th President of the United States. It was here, at a mansion on New York’s Long Island, that “Teddy” lived much of his life, from 1885 until his death in 1919. Today, the National Park Service offers tours of the Roosevelt Home, which is filled with an incredible collection of Roosevelt’s home furnishings, including dozens of mounted animal heads—a testament to one of Teddy’s favorite hobbies: hunting. There is also a separate Theodore Roosevelt Museum on the grounds, and a nature trail offers a view of Cold Spring Harbor, an inlet of the Long Island Sound.

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Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill

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Theodore Roosevelt Museum

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Fire Island Lighthouse (Fire Island National Seashore, NY)

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Fire Island Lighthouse, Fire Island National Seashore, April 2017

Stretching for approximately 31 miles, Fire Island shields part of New York’s Long Island from the fierce waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Now managed by Fire Island National Seashore, the Fire Island Lighthouse—situated near the west end of the barrier isle—is a popular destination for New Yorkers seeking respite from the city. The original lighthouse, constructed in 1826, served for decades as the first sight of land for travelers crossing the Atlantic from Europe; the new tower—still standing today—was built in 1858 and was not decommissioned as a navigational aide until 1973.

From Manhattan, it is around a 1.5-hour drive to Fire Island, followed by an easy, ¾-mile walk from the parking area to the lighthouse. The National Park Service offers daily access to the top of the tower for $8/person, a worthy price for one of the best viewpoints on Long Island. On a clear day, Manhattan is visible in the distance, while the beach extends for miles to the east and west. Down on the surface level, marshlands cover much of the island—an ever-transforming landscape that was altered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

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Boardwalk to Fire Island Lighthouse

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Present-day lighthouse

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Unique Fresnel lens, preserved from the original lighthouse

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Climbing the tower

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View west from the lighthouse

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View east from the lighthouse

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Down on the beach

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Chasing the waves

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