Where watermen are the stars—and pirates, seafood and boats the supporting players
This tiny town of fewer than 1,500 people has an influence far beyond its size. Or its location. For the land-based population, Rock Hall is undeniably out of the way—lying, in fact, at the end of the road. Yet each year, it attracts legions of land-based visitors from across the mid-Atlantic and boat-based visitors from well beyond. Why? Let us count the reasons:
First, Rock Hall, which has been around since 1706, continues to celebrate the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic watermen, who still mine area waters for delicious crab, succulent oysters, and all the other local products justly venerated at dinner tables throughout the world. Second, Rock Hall offers visitors some of the finest sailing, cruising, paddling, and trailer-boating waters anywhere. In keeping with that, the town has some of the most sophisticated marinas on the Chesapeake, many of which also offer charming accommodations on land. Finally, Rock Hall really knows how to throw a party! Just ask the thousands who attend its festivals, like the Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend in August (cancelled this year), the Fourth of July party and the Fall Fest. Third, although Rock Hall is at the end of the road, it is still an easy drive from metropolitan centers such as Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. And for boaters it’s not at the end of the road at all, but right in the center of things, an easy trip across the Bay.
Now you know why people flock to Rock Hall, let’s take a quick look at how it’s laid out. The town, especially from a boater’s perspective, is divided into two distinct sections: Rock Hall Harbor and Swan Creek. Both have good marinas, good places to eat, and good places to find accommodations.
How do you decide which to choose? If you are on a boat in unsettled weather, Swan Creek offers more protection. If you want to be within walking distance of the Waterman’s Crab House or have a front-row seat for the Pirate and Wenches’ Fantasy Weekend invasion, Rock Hall Harbor will be your choice. The good news is that whichever you choose, the other is easily accessible by trolley, which generally runs on weekends during the boating season. This pandemic year, of course, may be an exception. But bicycles are always an excellent option for getting around and for visiting Rock Hall’s charming downtown, which lies a few blocks away, centered along Main Street between Chesapeake Avenue and Rock Hall Avenue. Follow Rock Hall Avenue east to access everything on Swan Creek.
his is one of those many occasions on the Chesapeake, when getting there is considerably shorter by boat than by car. A trip from Baltimore’s Middle River, for example, is a mere dozen nautical miles, a trip that could be made in a modestly sized craft in settled weather in no time at all. If you don’t want to stay on the boat, simply reserve a room or cottage at one of the marinas and you have a quick and easy weekend getaway in your family runabout. For those farther south on the Bay, Rock Hall is located 10 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, just north of the Chester River.
If you are arriving by boat
Whether you are headed to Rock Hall Harbor or Swan Creek, find green “1” north of Love Point. This will take you to either the harbor or Swan Creek beyond. If you are coming across the Bay, be sure to avoid the Swan Creek Bar, going all the way south to “1” if you have a deep-draft vessel. If the harbor is your destination, enter the harbor breakwater then follow the marked channel either to port or starboard to reach the marinas that line the shore. Whichever way you go, just be sure to stay in the channel to avoid the large shoal due west of the breakwater. If you follow the harbor around counterclockwise, you’ll find North Point Marina, Harbor Shack Restaurant, Bayside Landing Park—with its boat ramp and free town dock, Rock Hall Marine Railway, and Rock Hall Landing Marina. This is followed by the Sharp Street boat ramp, the famous Waterman’s Crab House, Black Duck Inn, and finally, Haven Harbour South (the former Sailing Emporium). Whew, and that’s just Rock Hall Harbor.
The entrance to Swan Creek lies just north of the harbor. Once inside, follow the markers carefully until you reach your chosen marina. We’ll get to the specifics a little later, but you’ll come to them in this order: Gratitude Marina, then around the tip of Deep Landing, Swan Creek Marina. In the area beyond, which is called The Haven, you’ll find Osprey Inn & Marina and Haven Harbour Marina and then finally Spring Cove Marina.
There are many big cities that have a lot fewer marinas than Rock Hall. And these are all nice marinas!
If you are arriving by car
Driving the route is easy too, it just takes a bit longer. After your trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, simply follow the signs to Chestertown and then to Rock Hall. It’s about 50 miles from the eastern end of the bridge.
If you are trailering your boat, you have several options for launching close to Rock Hall, including the two we mentioned above, Sharp Street Public Landing and Bayside Landing Park Boat Ramp, both in Rock Hall Harbor. You’ll need to pick up a county permit first—kentcounty.com/recreation/boating/landings.
From the list we’ve just given you in the What to Expect section, you will have guessed that if you are arriving by boat, the choice is going to be difficult. The options are good for staying ashore as well.
There are just too many fine marinas in Rock Hall for us to go into them in detail. With that understood we will mention a few here, but that doesn’t mean that the others we’ve listed aren’t terrific as well.
In Rock Hall Harbor, our choices, if forced to decide, would be North Point because it’s friendly, convenient, near the Harbor Shack and has fuel; Rock Hall Landing because it’s handy to Waterman’s as well as downtown shops; and Haven Harbour South, which has enjoyed lots of upgrades since its purchase by Haven Harbour, including a sand beach with actual palm trees. And it still has the same great staff.
On Swan Creek, we’ve stayed at them all, and always have a hard time choosing among them. With that in mind, we recommend Gratitude for its service and facilities as well as location “at the end of the road,” as they put it; Swan Creek Marina particularly for family-style approach and its economical mooring balls; Osprey Inn & Marina because of its lovely floating docks, it’s graceful grounds and well-appointed inn and restaurant, and well, just because we like it; and finally Haven Harbour, where we’ve spent holidays and quiet weekdays catching up with friends, we choose for the professionalism of its staff, its well-stocked ship’s store, and for its well-regarded work yard. Spring Cove Marina we love as well, though it doesn’t take transients. It is, however, a great place to charter a boat.
Rock Hall is rich not only in fine marinas, but also in its charming inns, most of which are in fact located within marinas. We’ll break things up again by location.
On Rock Hall Harbor, our very favorite choice would be the Black Duck Inn, where you can have free docking when you stay in the inn. It is also located conveniently near the boat ramps if you are trailering in. The Black Duck Inn’s Dockside Café was still closed for the pandemic when we went to press, but we certainly hope it will be reopened by the time you read this. Also along the harbor, you’ll find Mariner’s Motel at Rock Hall Landing Marina and the North Point Marina Motel, both very pleasant.
On Swan Creek, we’d recommend the Osprey Point Inn, which we mentioned earlier, and the Inn and the Manor House at Haven Harbour Marina, as well as Spring Cove Manor at Spring Cove Marina. You’ll want to check with all of these, as well as downtown Rock Hall’s several inns, to be sure they have reopened.
Rock Hall is a waterman’s town through and through, and—except for all of us who come to look, stroll, eat, and enjoy its annual festivals—it retains the look and feel of a town dedicated to harvesting the riches of the Bay. So, think of that as you hop on the trolley or pedal your bicycle through town. If you get an opportunity, stop by the old fishing ark that sits at Main and Rock Hall Road or visit the model in the Waterman’s Museum. Arks were once used as little cottages for watermen when they needed to concentrate their efforts in a certain area too far away from home to return each night. They would drag the ark behind their workboat and then park it up a handy creek. This of course was before they could rev up the diesel or outboard and zip home in no time at all, as they do now. The Watermen’s Museum is located at Haven Harbour Marina on Rock Hall Road.
Naturally, one of the most important jobs that you’ll have while visiting Rock Hall is to enjoy the watermen’s harvest of the Bay’s riches. You can do this either by stopping at a seafood shop like Ford’s or by enjoying local seafood at one of Rock Hall’s restaurants. So put that on your list of things to do. We’ll get to a few more details in the next section.
While we’re on the subject of seafood, though, we should suggest that you may want to do some harvesting of your own. Rock Hall has plenty of ways to do it, including charter fishing boats. You can always use your own boat too, whether you are trailering it or cruising over on it. A stop at Hook, Line & Sinker Tackle Shop will get you set up nicely. More boat supplies can be found at the marina ship’s stores as well as West Marine and the Rock Hall Marine Railway.
If paddling or sailing is more your style, Chester River Kayaks is a good place to start. We suggest you make the short trip to the Eastern Shore Wildlife Refuge, where you can launch your own or rent a kayak to explore this extraordinary marine landscape. Want to charter a sailboat? You can do that at Spring Harbor Marina, Shardana captained charters at Osprey Point, Haven Bareboat Charters, or Blue Crab Charters, where cruises leave from Sharpe Street Pier.
But there’s more to Rock Hall than seafood and water sports. Take the trolley or a bicycle into town and visit the town’s numerous galleries, as well as crafts and antiques shops.
We mentioned this earlier, but this is a good place to remind you to consider a visit to coincide with one Rock Hall’s famous annual festivals. The Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend takes place in August (though not in 2020) and we hope the Fourth of July Fireworks party and Waterman’s Day will be back next summer.
Breakfast and Lunch
We love both Java Rock coffeehouse and Muskrat Alley Café. At Java Rock, we have trouble getting beyond the Gratitude Panini, which is a happy combination of roasted papers, artichoke hearts and pesto. At Muskrat, we usually opt for Mylita’s Quiche, which has crab and shrimp. Muskrat is open on weekends (including Fridays) and Java is open all week.
Lunch and Dinner
For lunch or dinner, don’t miss Ford’s Seafood, where you can pick up already cooked crab cakes (and other seafood) or you can take them back to the boat to grill them yourself. Either way, they are delicious! And be sure to stop by Chester River Seafood for local crabs and fish. For a special lunch or dinner, be sure to stop by Osprey Point Restaurant. And you may already have made plans to eat lunch or dinner at the well-known Watermen’s Crab House or the very popular Harbor Shack, both located on Rock Hall Harbor? Yes, more fresh seafood to enjoy! And both have dockage while you dine.
Neither fan-favorite Wheelhouse Restaurant & Inn nor Bay Wolf Restaurant had reopened by press time, but we are confident that they will both be back serving great food soon.
Now, is everyone ready for ice cream? Check out Get the Scoop on Rock Hall Avenue. We are partial to the Minty Moo and the MD Madness and the peanut butter cookies. ⚓︎
|1. North Point Marina|
|2. Rock Hall Landing Marina|
|3. Haven Harbour South|
|4. Gratitude Marina|
|5. Swan Creek Marina|
|6. Osprey Inn & Marina|
|7. Haven Harbour Marina|
|8. Spring Cove Marina|
Points of Interest
|19. Black Duck Inn|
|20. Mariner’s Motel|
|21. North Point Marina Motel|
|22. Osprey Point Inn|
|23. Inn & Manor House at Haven Harbour|
|24. Spring Cove Manor|