Located just outside historic Crisfield on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Janes Island State Park is an outdoors lover’s dream – from peaceful, firefly-lit woods and wetlands teeming with wildlife to white sand beaches and color-drenched sunsets. Janes Island State Park features two distinct areas: A mainland section with cabins and camping, and an island portion (Janes Island) accessible only by boat that includes over 2,900 acres of saltmarsh, over 30 miles of water trails and six miles of gorgeous, isolated white sand beaches.
Our island adventure began as we arrived just before sunset after winding our way through blazing golden farm fields under a pretty pastel sky. Eastern shore traffic can be tricky, so leave plenty of travel time. Campers must check in before 10 p.m. or find other accommodations for the night! After a quick check-in at the camp store, we pulled into a cozy, wooded, canal-front site in full view of a jaw-dropping sunset over a silhouetted forest pulsing with fireflies. Once we were able to pull ourselves away and set up camp, we enjoyed a crackling fire under a starry sky before heading to bed.
Pro tip: Heed the warnings! Bugs are no joke at Janes Island from late spring through September. Don’t be deterred, but bring insect repellent effective for flies, mosquitoes and gnats and ticks. And consider candles, netting and light-colored clothing if you’re particularly delicious.
We woke to the charming sight of a crab boat headed up the canal – not our typical view out a tent window! For years, watermen heading out of Crisfield to prime crabbing and oyster grounds had to sail west around Janes Island, often braving rough seas. A man named Daugherty started digging the canal by hand but fell victim to the 1918 flu pandemic before finishing. In the late 1930’s, the canal was finally completed, providing overjoyed watermen a safe, quick route north.
The canal itself provides opportunities for fishing and handline crabbing off the bulkhead. No license is needed to fish off the bulkhead but anglers must apply for a free Maryland Saltwater Angler registration. Anywhere else, anglers need a Bay & Coastal Fishing license to fish striped bass, sea trout, spot, croaker and more.
Before heading out for a day of kayaking, we made a quick stop at the nature center which features daily programs, tanks with local critters and a 24-foot observation tower. We popped into the camp store to pick up a water trails guide for $3 (highly recommended). We brought our own kayaks, but canoes, kayaks and paddle boards can be rented. The boat ramp and 25 boat slips are available for a minimal fee (free launching for kayaks/canoes).
Named one of North America’s best paddle trails, Janes Island offers more than 30 miles of marked water trails that wind through the island’s saltmarsh. There are seven water trails ranging from 1.25-12 miles, including routes through creeks, marshes and open waters – all of which begin and end at the marina. Most of the trails are protected from wind and current, providing ideal conditions for both novice (Red, Yellow, Blue, Black) and experienced paddlers (Brown, Green), but be vigilant about conditions before launching regardless of your skill level.
All water trailheads flow from the central Yellow Trail, which crosses the canal and flows through the middle of the marsh. Tucking into several side paths along the way, we were treated to banks alive with fiddler crabs, countless polka-dotted terrapin heads bobbing, fish gliding languidly below and a variety of birds peering out from the grasses. Had we been paddling closer to dusk or dawn, we would have undoubtedly also enjoyed muskrat sightings and the playful antics of otters.
Back on the main trail, the marsh opens up, and just across the channel a large dock sits alongside the white sands of Flat Cap Beach. The beach runs for six miles along the Tangier Sound side of the island. While most boaters and paddlers head for the beach entrance near the dock, we opted to veer to the right onto the Green Trail, spotting a gap in the marsh that opened onto the north end of Flat Cap Beach.
Beaching the kayaks, we found ourselves surrounded by dozens of circular indentations in the sand of the shallows indicating a fish nesting area.
Our dogs hopped from the kayaks (Janes Island is very pet friendly) and galloped joyfully across an endless expanse of white sands we had all to ourselves, with only an occasional small boat drifting lazily by. We spent several hours wading, wandering and enjoying what looked impossibly like a snapshot of the Caribbean.
We reluctantly left our sliver of tropical paradise and paddled back to the mainland. After grabbing an ice cream at the camp store, we enjoyed dinner at the campsite and lounged in a hammock until the sun dipped low. As the light faded, we set chairs alongside the canal and watched the occasional crabber silhouetted against a sky blazing with breathtaking color. As darkness fell, we traded the peaceful sunset for a crackling fire…and talked of return visits to this unexpected paradise so wonderfully close to home.
The mainland section hosts 103 spacious campsites nestled among tall pines, including several canal-front spots on B and C loops. All sites offer a picnic table, fire ring and easy access to clean restrooms with hot showers. Primitive backcountry sites with tent platforms and boat landings are available by permit. Rustic waterfront camper cabins are also available during camping season, accommodating four people and equipped with AC/heat and electricity (restrooms shared with campground). Full-service waterfront cabins are available year-round and sleep six people, with equipped kitchens, full bathrooms, fireplace, AC/heat and a grill. Daugherty Creek Lodge has an overnight capacity of 16, a meeting/dining capacity of 65, and is available year-round for half-day, full-day or overnight rentals.
Reservations: 1-888-432-CAMP. Reservations can be made up to a year ahead of time and though they book up fast, spots open frequently. We were able to snag a great spot for the date we wanted by monitoring the reservation website and setting alerts.
Janes Island State Park encompasses 2,900 acres of Chesapeake Bay marsh, beach, and highland. The park is dissected by many small waterways, with 30 miles of trails marked for canoes and kayaks.