Photo: Higbee Beach, on the Delaware Bay, is one of the best free beaches in the county. Photo by Collin Hall
Those visiting Cape May County might find themselves confused by beach tags. Some beaches require a paid tag to access the sandy shores, and others are completely free. What beaches can be accessed without spending a dime?
Though Higbee Beach is on Cape Island, where many beaches are paid, this slice of land is owned by the State of New Jersey, and thus is completely free for visitors. Much of the land is protected by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, but substantial portions of the beaches are accessible. The Higbee Beach Parking Lot, located across the canal on the other side of the Cape May Lewes Ferry terminal, holds about 20 cars, but more parking is available on the dirt road that leads to the lot.
Every beach in the Wildwoods – that’s Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and North Wildwood, – can be accessed completely free of charge. These beaches are also the largest in the county, and indeed in the whole state of New Jersey. At their widest, the Wildwood beaches are the width of five football fields. Even on a crowded day, there will be plenty of room for even the biggest families. The same can’t be said for parking…
Villas Beaches (bay side)
The Villas, a community known for its small homes and gorgeous sunsets, hosts a generous stretch of beach along the Delaware Bay. Thousands of horseshoe crabs gather here to mate and eventually spawn. If you’re lucky, you will spot them en-masse gathered on the shore. Parking might be tough, but you can park anywhere in the Villas and still be within a short walk of the beach.
The water is relatively calm here, and the sandbars go out for hundreds of feet. This is good for young kids and those who are a bit water-skittish, but bad for those looking to catch waves of any kind. Also: the water can be very muddy during low tide! Still, this is a great place to relax, and the Villas beaches are home to some of the best sunsets in the county.
Reeds Beach, owned by the NJ DEP, sits on the far west side of Cape May Court House along the Delaware Bay, where the waves are light and the sand is narrower. The beach itself is very long, and much of it is marshy and dirty. But large sections are great for a relaxing afternoon, and the beach is far less-traveled than others nearby. Limited free parking is available at the north end of Beach Ave., outside of the marina. There is a seasonal ecotourism parking fee of $1.00 to park in the marina lot.
Strathmere is a tiny slice of land between Sea Isle City and Corson’s Inlet. All of the beaches in Strathmere are free, and the smaller size of the beaches may be attractive for families who don’t want to lose track of their children. Free street parking is available across Strathmere, and the walk to the shoreline is never more than a few minutes no matter the street.
Lifeguards are on patrol 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 Friday – Sunday.
Beesley’s Point, also located in Upper Township, offers lifeguard-protected beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week during the summer season. The point sits right near an old coal plant and by a bridge into Atlantic County. You won’t be as ‘in nature’ as the other beaches, but there’s free parking and the novelty of beach-side industrial views is worth a visit.
Corson’s Inlet State Park
Corson’s Inlet remains free to all visitors because it falls under the State of New Jersey’s authority. Many of the beaches in the park are undeveloped, and are great locations to see wildlife and trees that run right up to the waterline. Boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are all allowed here, but swimming is discouraged in most areas of the park.