1861 State Road, Plymouth, MA 02360
Owned By: Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Located in the Ellisville section of Plymouth, this scenic property is perfect for a short walk. A half-mile trail extends along a ridge above the salt marsh and shoreline, with spectacular views of Cape Cod Bay. Look for fishing boats and harbor seals off the coast, as well as nesting and migrating birds. Swimming is permitted, but please note that there are no lifeguards and the beach is rocky. Also consider visiting Shifting Lots Preserve, across the harbor.
There is archaeological evidence of prehistoric Native Americans inhabiting this area between 2,500 and 5,000 years ago — hunting, fishing, harvesting shellfish, and making tools. An area of approx. 600 acres was designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in 1980, because it contained at least two Native American sites. In 1991, Massachusetts set aside 100 acres of this area to create Ellisville Harbor State Park.
Long before European settlers arrived in 1620, this land was part of Pokanoket, a Wampanoag village governed by Massasoit. Around 1700, members of the Ellis family made their home here, followed by the Harlow family, who “fished, farmed, grew cranberries and harvested timber.” (Source: signage within the park). The harbor itself — known then as Great Salt Pond, was a popular fishing spot, as well as a prime location for shipping timber to Boston on vessels known as wood-coasters. Seaweed was harvested regularly (especially after storms) for use as fertilizer. Farming continued in the area until 1962.
The main trail is gravel for the first 350 yards. Passing through light woods and occasional grassy open areas, it offers spectacular views. (Look for the picnic table along the way.) There are several side trails as well. At 0.4 miles, the trail skirts around a boarded-up cottage, and soon thereafter narrows, turns sharply to the right, and descends a hill. Please be mindful of private property! It the end of the trail, at 0.55 miles, is a sandy beach.
Habitats and Wildlife
Ellisville Harbor itself features a barrier beach, a salt marsh, forested upland, an open meadow, and a sphagnum bog. The trail overlooks at Atlantic Ocean at Cape Cod Bay.
According to signage on the property, “Ellisville Harbor was formed in colonial times when the sea breached a strip of land that had protected a large salt pond. For 250 years, the harbor provided shelter for local fishing vessels. In the early 1990s, it became too shallow for navigation, but the 55-acre salt marsh around the harbor remains an immensely productive ecosystem. Centuries of silting and peat formation have gradually raised the salt marsh above the reaches of the high tide. The park provides a variety of wildlife species with foods shelter, breeding habitat, and areas suitable for migratory stopovers and overwintering.”
The forest along the trail is light an open, with oak, beech, cedar, red pine, and pitch pine trees, as well as some sumac. There are also some azalea and rhododendron shrubs. Be careful of poison ivy on the side trails. Due to nesting piping plovers and least terns, a section of the beach is often closed in the springtime.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 100 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Ample on-site parking lot.
Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium
Picnic table, benches, informational kiosk, trash and pet waste receptacles.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop! (No dogs on beach in summer.)
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: Access from the parking lot and about 350 yards up the main trail.
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Cape Cod Bay/Atlantic Ocean