Places We Protect

South Cape May Meadows

New Jersey

A freshwater pond is surrounded by tall wetland grasses. Overhead the moon is on display.
Cape May Cape May is a hotspot for migratory species. © Shutterstock

South Cape May Meadows is a globally renowned birders paradise.

Overview

Description

Located at a critical point on the Atlantic Flyway, the 200-acre South Cape May Meadows preserve is a haven for native and migratory birds, and a globally renowned paradise for birders. The site's protected habitat provides foraging and resting habitat for birds traversing the Delaware Bay, and also support a wide variety of avian and terrestrial species year-round.

Flat, walkable trails more than a mile long cut through lush meadows that put on a spectacular flora-and-fauna show in every season, with the charming Cape May lighthouse as a backdrop. The varied landscape boasts dunes, fields, freshwater wetlands and a full mile of undeveloped, protected beach—a rarity on the heavily developed New Jersey shoreline—and wildlife viewing opportunities abound.

The trail system provides visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities through the preserve’s many habitats including the undeveloped protected beach, a rarity on the heavily developed Jersey shoreline.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Dogs not permitted.

Hours

Open year-round during daylight hours.

Highlights

Bird-watching, trail system, beach access, ocean views

Size

218 acres

Explore our work in New Jersey

Photos from South Cape May Meadows

Tag your preserve visits on Instagram with #SouthCapeMayMeadows to have your photos featured here!

A great blue heron has a fish in its bill.
Swamp rose mallow is blooming in the wetlands.
Two adult glossy ibis are standing in a pond.
A Halloween pennant dragonfly is perched on a twig.
Purple Martin adults are flying above their house.
An aerial view shows nature trails that lead to a beach.
A dunlin stands next to an overturned horseshoe crab on the beach.
Eastern painted turtles are basking in the sun.
An adult least tern is sitting with its chicks.
A monarch butterfly is sitting on goldenrod.

Visit

  • What to See

    Plants: An invasive reed called Phragmites once overtook the site’s freshwater plant community, but thanks to restoration efforts native rose mallow and cattails now flourish. Along the trails and throughout the meadow, visitors can enjoy a variety of waving grasses, rushes and sedges along with wildflowers including marsh pink, blue mist flower and seaside fleabane. The beachfront supports a diverse shore plant community including seaside goldenrod, beach heather, sea rocket and several varieties of primrose.

    Animals:  Imperiled shorebirds like federally-endangered piping plovers, state-endangered least terns and American Oystercatchers, a species of special concern, nest on the preserve’s stretch of sandy beach. Raptors soar in the skies and hunt in the meadows, songbirds flutter among the native plants, and waterfowl rest and feed in the freshwater ponds. River otters and muskrats swim in the wetland, deer and foxes move through the dunes, eastern box turtles saunter across trails, and monarch butterflies descend during fall migration.

    Check out recent bird sightings and report your own!

    The preserve’s one-mile trail loops from the entrance through the wetland to the beachfront and back, consisting mostly of stable, hard-packed ground* with bridges across the levees. Enhancements at the entrance and along the pathway include a welcome shed with green roof, a rain garden, purple martin houses, raised wildlife viewing platform, osprey platform with streaming camera, benches, interpretive signs and an 80-foot bird blind. A State Park Connection Trail connects the Preserve’s Main Trail to the trail system of Cape May Point State Park.

    *Please note: trail sections on the beach and those behind the dune are through soft sand and may not be accessible by visitors with strollers or wheelchairs.

  • Other Preserve Amenities
    • Two miles of foot trails 

    • 80ft floating bird blind with birding field guides 

    • Information kiosk with trail map and preserve history 

    • Two purple martin houses 

    • Benches along trails and at dune crossings 

    • Bike rack 

    • Bridges with handrails

    • Rain garden with native plants for pollinators 

    • Gravel parking lot 

    • Accessible porta potty available from April-October 

    • Living green roof 

    • Observation platform with viewfinders 

    • Osprey platform visible from the East Trail 

    • Staff on site from April-October 

  • Peak Times
    • Spring Migration: Mid-May to mid-June marks peak activity for migrating shorebirds and both migrating and native songbirds, which are most audible and visible during this time, as they work to attract mates.  

    • May, June, and July are the best months for a chance to see least terns, American oystercatchers, piping plovers and black skimmers on our 1 mile of protected beach. Watch your step, as they could be nesting! 

    • July-August the rose mallow blooms profusely throughout the preserve.   

    • June, July and August are a promising period to get a glimpse of osprey with chicks. If nesting and incubation has been successful, they can be seen with a scope or binoculars from the East Trail, feeding, learning to fly and resting on perch posts.  

    • Fall Migration: Southbound songbirds, raptors and monarch butterflies migrate in late August-October; the second week of October is peak raptor migration.   

    • Early September is the best time for a chance to witness massive flocks of tree swallows coming together to fly in synchronized “funnels.” 

    • Winter months are the best times to see Norther Harriers hunting in the marshes. Also keep an eye out for migrating ducks such as the Northern pintail, Green-winged teal, and shoveler.

  • Preserve Guidelines
    • To minimize disturbance of state protected and endangered species of this nature preserve, please follow these guidelines 

    • Pets are not permitted on the nature preserve  

    • Swimming and fishing are not permitted 

    • Trails are open to foot traffic only 

    • Visitors should stay on marked trails 

    • Please carry out all garbage 

    • Take only pictures.  Leave only footprints. Kill only time.  

    • Note: Beach use is limited to nature viewing only from March 15- August 31. Stopping, standing, or sitting on the beach, even when viewing or photographing nature, can be disruptive to nesting and feeding birds. All beach visitors are asked to keep moving and stay outside of the roped off nesting area.  

A trail winding through a green meadow with a blue sky.
One of the many trails winding through our Mashomack Preserve. © Charles Gleberman

Background

From the mid-late 1800s to the 1940s, South Cape May was a populous vacation town complete with hotels, tourist attractions and a railroad. Over time, storms eroded the land and a deep-water canal built offshore intensified the advance inland of the Atlantic Ocean’s salt water. By 1944 the town was fully abandoned and for the next 50 years, Sou...

From the mid-late 1800s to the 1940s, South Cape May was a populous vacation town complete with hotels, tourist attractions and a railroad. Over time, storms eroded the land and a deep-water canal built offshore intensified the advance inland of the Atlantic Ocean’s salt water. By 1944 the town was fully abandoned and for the next 50 years, South Cape May’s natural systems wore down and failed, worsening community flooding.  Without grazing, the area was vulnerable to the common and highly invasive marsh reed, Phragmites australis, which quickly overtook the wetland and meadow habitats. South Cape May Meadows was restored to natural harmony in 2007, and today boasts healthy dunes, reconnected freshwater wetlands with an innovative management system and one mile of protected sandy beach. 

Expand to see more Collapse to see less

Osprey Camera Livestream

Follow along with our resident osprey as they nest and raise their young.

Osprey nest on our coast from early spring to late summer before migrating to South America. Adults, which mate for life, make the roundtrip journey and return to the same nest every year; juveniles will spend two years in South America before coming back to our shores.

Osprey Cam We're streaming live from the South Cape May Meadows Preserve!

Nearby Preserves

Need more nature? Visit The Nature Conservancy's other preserves.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map

Support Our Work

Your contributions help us continue our conservation work in New Jersey.