THING TO DO

Hike Great Head Trail

a wooden sign with in front of ocean view and trees

This hike on Great Head Trail is a wonderful mix of ocean views, rocky scrambles, and hidden history. Near the top of the granite steps at the beginning of the hike, a large millstone (6'10" in diameter) can be found to the left. In the early 1900's, the Satterlee family owned this area. They built a stone tower on the highest point that included a tea room and an observatory. The ruins of this tower still remain. Along the trail you can also find a bronze monument for David Phillips McKinney, who died in this location in 1969.

  • Distance: 1.9 miles round trip. There is a way to shorten the hike to 1.3 miles (see description below).
  • Terrain and Safety: The trail is rocky with uneven footing. Good foot wear is recommended. Rocky granite, short steep sections. Steep drops into the ocean. Keep children away from the edge.

Hike Description

  • The trail begins at the far end of Sand Beach with granite steps. A right at the top of the steps leads to an open ledge ascent that provide excellent views of Sand Beach and The Beehive.
  • The trail continues along the headland with dramatic views of the coastline and ocean. It is a gradual grade to reach the highest point at 145 feet above sea level. At this point the ruins of a 1915 tea house can be seen. You can also see a plaque dedicated to David Phillips McKinney who died in this location in 1969.
  • The trail turns away from the shore and descends through the forest. A cedar post marks a junction in the trail.
    • For a shorter loop (1.3 miles) , take the trail to the left. It climbs steeply before leveling out and leading back to Sand Beach.
    • For a longer loop (1.9 miles) continue straight.
  • The trail angles back toward the ocean with occasional views.
  • At the next junction, turn left for a easy walk back to the top of the steps where the hike began. Descend the steps to Sand Beach.
Check out our Great Head Photo Hike for step by step photographs and more detailed descriptions.
Details
Duration, or how long a hike takes, depends on your pace, how frequently you stop, and the terrain. For an average pace, this hike takes 2-4 hours. 
Dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Between May 15 and September 15, dogs are only permitted on Sand Beach long enough to cross to the trail head.
From May to October, the park has an entrance fee.
  • The Trailhead: Where to Begin
    • Access the Great Head Trail via the Park Loop Road. Walk to Sand Beach. Walk across Sand Beach keeping the ocean on your right. The Great Head Trail is on the far end of the beach. Depending on the tide and the season there could be a small stream to cross at the end of the beach.
  • Getting to the Trailhead
    • By Island Explorer bus
      • Use Routes 3 (Sand Beach), 4 (Loop Road), or 10 (Blackwoods) and exit the bus at Sand Beach.
    • By private vehicle
      • After passing through the Sand Beach Entrance Station, find parking either in the right hand lane or in the Sand Beach Parking Lot. Expect congestion and limited parking at Sand Beach from July-August from 9 am to 3pm.
      • The Park Loop Road is closed from Mid-December to Mid-April. In the winter months, you can access this trail via Schooner Head Road.
Starting in 2021, if you're accessing this trail from Sand Beach you will need a reservation to use a private vehicle to enter the Sand Beach Entrance Station from mid-June to mid-October. 
The Great Head Trail is a great place to watch the sunrise. Please use a headlamp if you're walking in the dark as the trail surface is uneven. 
Accessibility Information
The Great Head Trail is not wheelchair accessible. The trail has uneven footing and a few places where scrambling over rocks is required. 

There is accessible parking at the Sand Beach parking areas as well as accessible restrooms.

Last updated: September 3, 2021