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Suggested Trip

Camping on Hart-Miller Island

 

A note about COVID-19 and visiting parks: Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and follow all current directives from your governor and local health officials about wearing face masks and physical distancing.

Hart-Miller Island, a state park just off the shore of Essex, is only accessible by private boat. Most weekends it is the perfect place to drop anchor, and float around on a beautiful Maryland summer day. The water off the shore is calm, and the shoreline has a great, sandy beach.

Hart-Miller used to be two separate islands: Hart Island and Miller Island. But when the Inner Harbor was dredged between 1984 and 2009, material was placed to combine the two islands. What we now have is a real gem of a state park that will only get bigger in the coming years as the northern section is opened.

I visited Hart-Miller Island with friends that own a boat, and enjoyed swimming in the surprisingly-warm Bay water. All you have to do is turn on some music, grab some food, and you have a perfect summer day!

Hart-Miller also has camping, so it has always been on my list of places to overnight camp, but like many things I mean to do, it kept getting pushed off until “next weekend.” So when a Canton Kayak Club member sent an email to members asking who wanted to do an overnight trip, I decided that there was no better time than now. Canton Kayak Club is a non profit organization that lets you have unlimited access to kayaks around Baltimore harbor (and one on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania) for $165 per year. I joined last year after deciding that I wanted to do more things on the water without dropping more serious money on a boat. While I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would, I have definitely used it enough to justify the membership.

After some coordination, we ended up with only the essentials that would fit in our kayaks:

  • Tent
  • Stove (optional: there are fire pits there, although there is no wood for sale)
  • Clothes and swimsuit
  • Sandals/shoes
  • Warm clothes for overnight (even in August, it got a little chilly when it dropped into the 60's)
  • Food and marshmallows (must be fire roasted)
  • Sleeping bag or pad
  • Toiletries (they have bathrooms and toilet paper there)
  • Water (optional: there is a hose with potable water there)
  • Plates, bowls, utensils as needed
  • Chairs (optional)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bugspray (!!!)

This is a very bare bones list, but we were only going for a single overnight, and had to only bring what would fit in our five kayaks. If we had a boat, or were going for more days, that would significantly change our packing list.

We pushed off from one of Canton Kayak Club’s docks with a couple dozen kayaks ready to go. The two-mile paddle to the island is not for beginners, but it also was not as challenging as I thought. At times, it did feel like walking across a highway, with boats zipping around enjoying the day. The five of us stayed close together to increase visibility and we did not have any issues. The crossing can be treacherous if the tide is working against you, or if it is an especially choppy day.

It was an amazing mid-summer day, with temperatures in the 80’s and humidity unseasonably low. We paddled through the people out with their kids enjoying the Bay. We got there before 4:00 pm, and were able to use the free-to-rent bikes on the 3.5 mile loop around the lake on the southern part of the island. When the whole island is opened, there will likely be more trails to cycle. There is also a volleyball net available.

The water off the beach was probably in the upper 70’s or so, which made for some great swimming. The sand was very clean, with almost no rocks or trash, which also made for a great experience.

Camping on Hart-Miller Island is first-come, first-served, so if you are paddling to the island, midweek would be better than the weekend. The main campsites (where the observation tower is, and complex and restrooms are) usually fill up faster on nice weekends and holidays during the summer. There are sites available on the Hawks Cove side of the island and Pleasure Island, however there are no restroom facilities there, just primitive campsites that include a picnic table, lantern post and a fire ring. Camping is $6 per site, per night with a maximum of 6 people at a site. Composting toilets are available on the main part of the island, and bike rentals and some concession items are available at the main part of the island as well.

I brought a hammock to sleep in. Hammocks are allowed but because of the stress and damage it can put on trees, the park encourages you to set up free-standing hammocks that have a portable stand.

The most exciting part of our overnighter was when a squall came through just after dark. It went from calm to 50 mph wind gusts and rain within 30 seconds. The mosquitoes suddenly thinned out, and it went from calm to “OH NO THE TENT IS FLYING AWAY” almost instantly. The other people that were camping had never been camping before, so they were not prepared for rain to come on that fast.

It also got much colder than I was expecting. I was doing the hammock camping, and brought an extra layer and long pants for the night, but the storm that came through cooled things off more quickly than expected.

The whole thing was a great experience though, and one that I would love to do again. There are some complications with doing a kayak trip, but it’s not that much more complicated than any other camping trip. Big thanks to Carrie for organizing it, and to everyone else that came and made the whole experience a lot of fun.

Here are some park rules to keep in mind when planning your a trip to Hart-Miller:

  • There is no glass allowed on the island.
  • Fires must be contained in the campsite campfire rings
  •  Pets are allowed but must remain leashed.
  • The island is open from May until September.
  • The park closes at sunset to everyone except registered campers.
  • The North Cell of the island is currently closed to the public
Hart-Miller Island State Park

Hart-Miller Island is located in the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of Middle River and is accessible only by boat.

Brian

Brian Seel is a data analyst for Baltimore City who loves dense urban cities, and all of the treasures that come with it. He loves long bike rides, exploring the outdoors around Maryland, and looking for the oldest graves in cemeteries. You can follow his adventures on Twitter at @cylussec.

July 15, 2021

Main image: Kayaks on the Hart-Miller Island Beach, photo by Brian Seel
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