(From March 24, 2020 to the present, this trail appears to be closed to comply with social distancing restrictions regarding COVID-19, and will be re-opened when it is safe to do so.)
If you like dramatic cliffs, ocean views, rocky beaches and stunning homes, this may be your walk! The residents at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine harbor a secret gem in their gated community – but fret not – while the entrances are hidden and parking is complicated, it is still possible (and legal) to walk variations of the same 1-mile route that Winslow Homer did, even if you are not an “insider.”
This is definitely categorized as a Sunday stroll-type of walk, a walk with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a lone walk with a camera or sketch book. The uneven terrain and sometimes narrow path demand a leisurely pace. The smell of rugosa roses, the salty ocean breeze and the lobster boats are center stage and require frequent pauses. The views are unbeatable. The only problem is logistics. Below we will describe how to safely and lawfully enjoy a hike in summer, or even winter, from the Black Point Inn (45 minutes to an hour) or a longer “lollipop” loop from Ferry Beach (3.7 miles, about an hour and a half).
Based on previous reviews online, I noticed that there are a lot of complaints about accessibility. This is real. At the end of Black Point Road, where it becomes Winslow Homer Road, you will be stopped by a gate and a keypad, signaling a private road (And in the summer, likely a member of the Scarborough Police Department just idling in his or her car). Winslow Homer’s old studio (owned by Portland Museum of Art and open to the public with a ticket purchased in advance) is in this development, as well as a myriad of super wealthy people who don’t want the riff-raff.
Just before that gate on your right, you will see a driveway and about twenty feet down the driveway on your left is some variation of a lovably crooked sign that says “Cliff Walk” with an overgrown-looking trail (newer signs have now been posted as of February 2020). While this is one entrance, this does you almost no good because you can’t park here. In fact, there is no parking at all around here. This is some of the most prestigious real estate in Maine – they certainly don’t want more cars. I had a cop follow me nearly the entire way down the road until I got to the gate.
There are two primary parking options. First, have lunch at the Black Point Inn, which is on Black Point Road. They will let you park in their lot if you are a guest of the hotel. Once you are done with lunch, ask them where the entrance to the Cliff Walk is (you have to walk towards the back of the Black Point Inn property), change into some walking shoes and get going. The Black Point Inn restaurant closes after the summer, so keep that in mind.
Option two is to park at Scarborough’s gorgeous Ferry Beach ($15/day in summer season with bathrooms and showers, free in winter). Young children can splash in shallow water and collect hermit crabs, beachwalkers can walk, beach loungers can lounge. First step is to check the tide chart, and go at low tide. Park at Ferry Beach and then figure out who is going to walk and who is going to hang out at the beach (tough choices).
If you are a walker, make your way to the Cliff Walk. Proceed from the parking lot to the beach, hang a left on the beach. Follow the beach all the way to the end (beach curves to the left drastically). When you have reached the end of the beach, look left on the grassy hill and there are steps that will take you up to Black Point Road. At this point, let’s say you have a fellow adult walker who is already complaining and you are thinking about how this is going to take way too long and be unpleasant with said person. Straight ahead of you at this point is the Black Point Inn. Suggest that they have a seat on the porch of the Black Point Inn and order a cocktail and you will pick them up later. Wave goodbye.
Once you have resolved these pressing issues of access, parking and companionship, press on to marvel at the splendor that is the Maine coast. Take a right on Black Point Road, paying attention as you walk on the road, which has a narrow shoulder. Follow it until you get to the Winslow Homer House/No Trespassing sign. Just before this barricaded road, you will see a path on the right, as depicted and described above. Go fifty feet down this path and you will see the overgrown Cliff Walk entrance on your left.
Begin your walk. The trail is not marked by signs along the way but there is only one trail and you will know soon enough if you have strayed from it – you will either be on someone’s back porch or in the ocean (If you do end up in someone’s back yard by accident, get back on the trail. It must be really annoying having tourists wander on your property and on a gorgeous Saturday, you do see this, unfortunately). Please stop asking locals for directions. They are simply not thrilled to have you walking in their manicured backyards. This is understandable. When it doubt, err on the side of walking away from the houses.
There are several printed rules on the signs at either end of the Cliff Walk (open dawn to dusk year-round, except in stormy weather), and they are as follows:
- When the Cliff Walk gates are closed, please do not attempt to access the Cliff Walk here or elsewhere.
- Use of the Cliff Walk is at your own risk.
- Rough terrain, loose rocks, erosion and dangerous conditions may be present and may cause injury.
- Please leave no trace; be respectful of private property.
- Thank you for adhering to these rules so others may continue to enjoy this walk.
There are opportunities to walk out along the jutting cliffs and take in the crashing Atlantic waves and there are a couple of small, rocky beaches where you can sit and admire the squawking sea birds and perhaps even see a seal while listening to the hypnotic sounds of water receding over stones.
This may not be the best walk for a small child who likes to run, as this is a cliff walk with no barriers. This is also not appropriate for your relative who walks with a cane, as there are exposed roots and rocks on the path. But if you can make it on the trail, you are in for a mile of coastal Maine beauty.
In June, you will see Rugosa roses, honeysuckle, and beautiful magenta beach peas. The difference between this route and the one I wrote about before is that after about an hour or so of walking, instead of going to the Black Point Inn, you will see a lovely beach with a private club and blue umbrellas and this is Scarborough Beach.
Here, you continue to the left to return to the Black Point Inn or Ferry Beach via Seal Rock Drive. In short: Left on Ferry Beach to a right on Black Point Road to a right before private road to a quick left to entrance of Cliff Walk. Walk for an hour. A gorgeous circle.
Regarding the access rights for the Cliff Walk, the Town of Scarborough provided this helpful explanation via e-mail in April 2020:
In late August of 2019 the Prouts Neck Association (PNA) contacted the Town and advised that it was installing gates at either end of the Cliff Walk so the path could be closed after dark and during inclement weather. The Town has no ownership interest in this property, but the public has use rights that have been established for decades. The gates were erected shortly thereafter without incident. More recently, on March 24, 2020 the Town was again notified by the PNA of its intentions to lock the gates due to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the fact the narrowness of the path rendered safe physical distancing impossible. The Town communicated with the PNA acknowledging their intention, noting that this action is consistent with other actions the Town has taken at outdoor recreation areas, but requested that the path be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so.