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Crane Beach

Just north of Cape Ann and east of Ipswich is Crane Beach, a pristine stretch of Massachusetts Atlantic coastland serving a dual conservation and recreation mission. At 1,234 acres, the site encompasses 4 miles of white-sand beach, windswept dunes, and a maritime forest of pitch pines. With annual human visitation at over 350,000, while balancing the protection of critical wildlife habitats, Crane Beach is a model nationally for successful and thoughtful stewardship.

Back in 1910, Richard T. Crane, Jr. purchased 800 acres that included Castle Hill and the land around it. Later acquisitions grew the property, known as the Crane Estate, to 2,100 acres. After Richard Crane died in 1945, his family gave away over 1,000 acres of the estate, including most of Crane Beach and the dunes of Castle Neck. Following the 1949 death of Florence Crane, Richard Crane’s wife, gave 350 more acres from the estate through her will. In 1974, the Cranes’ daughter-in-law, Miné S. Crane, donated 680 acres that became the Crane Wildlife Refuge. The organization the Cranes entrusted their land to was The Trustees of Reservations, a group dedicated to protecting, preserving, and sharing Massachusetts locations of exceptional ecological, historic, and scenic value.

Crane Beach is the origin of 5.5 miles of hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the dunes and the maritime forest. Kayaking is another popular activity, with rentals available nearby and tours led by experienced guides as an option. In the summer, beachgoers like to wade out and sometimes even take a boat to large sandbars offshore. Bird watchers enjoy the wildlife viewing here, especially for the opportunities to see native snowy owls and piping plovers. The latter is listed as a threatened species, with fewer than 4,000 of them estimated to be remaining. At Crane Beach, there have been as many as 19 breeding pairs and 40 adults overall present at once.

One especially popular annual activity is Crane Day, held June 16 when weather permits. Starting in 1911, the Cranes began a tradition of inviting all of the schoolchildren of Ipswich to celebrate their son Cornelius’s birthday. Today, the tradition continues with children from nearby elementary and middle schools gathering at the beach during the school day.

Even popular culture has taken notice of Crane Beach. In the original 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Steve McQueen, the scene where McQueen drives a dune buggy across a beach was filmed here. For the beach scenes in the 2019 version of Little Women, Crane Beach was the setting.

Crane Beach is open all year long, as are its changing facilities, restrooms, and showers. In the summer, a refreshment bar is available to visitors. Ipswich residents can enter for free if they have purchased an annual beach parking sticker, but non-residents have to pay an admission fee. To handle high demand and protect resources, Crane Beach administration limits entry to available parking. Advance passes are not required but are strongly recommended. For complete information on fees and passes, please see the Trustees site linked above.

If you’d like to learn more about Ipswich, click here to read about Castle Hill on the Crane Estate.

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