Fossil Collecting Sites at Calvert Cliffs
One of the most frequent questions asked of the Maryland Geological Survey is: "Where can I collect fossils along Calvert Cliffs?" Because almost all of the land along the Calvert County shoreline of Chesapeake Bay is privately owned, public access is severely restricted.
Calvert Cliffs extend south from the area of Chesapeake Beach in northern Calvert County to Drum Point at the southern end of the county. Three geologic formations of Miocene age (approximately 6 to 20 million years old) are exposed in Calvert Cliffs. The layers of sediment are inclined slightly to the south, so that progressively younger beds are exposed from north to south along the cliffs. The oldest is the Calvert Formation on the northern end, progressing to the younger Choptank Formation and finally the youngest St. Marys Formation in the southern part.
The following three locations offer public access and allow fossil collecting, and then only from the beach and any blocks that have fallen from the cliffs. Collecting is not allowed from the cliffs themselves, not only to protect the cliffs but because of the very real hazard of cliff collapse. (Several people have been killed over the years for that very reason.) Collecting is usually best at low tide and after storms. These locations are listed from north to south.
- CHESAPEAKE BEACH: BAYFRONT PARK (also known as Brownies Beach). From Routes 2 or 4 in northern Calvert County, take Route 260 to Chesapeake Beach, where you turn right (south) on Route 261. Immediately after crossing a stream at the bottom of the first hill south of Chesapeake Beach, you will see a locked gate and a parking area on the left (east) side of the road. From the parking area, follow a path for roughly 1/4 mile to the cliffs. This site is accessible by foot only during low tide; at high tide, the water extends to the base of the cliffs. The exposure here is in the Calvert Formation. For your own safety, do not dig in the cliffs.
- MATOAKA COTTAGES. About 6.6 miles south of the town of Prince Frederick and 8 miles north of Calvert Cliffs State Park is the small community of St. Leonard. Watch for the road sign for St. Leonard. St. Leonard is not visible from Routes 2 and 4, but is on Maryland route 765 (the old routes 2 and 4). Enter St. Leonard and get onto Calvert Beach Road for 0.9 mile. Then turn left onto a dirt road and follow the signs to Matoaka Cottages. Although this is private property, the owners allow access to the beach and cliff area for a modest parking fee ($3.00 per adult, $2.00 per child under age 12). Matoaka is open for fossil hunters year round, and summer cabin rentals are also available. Call Matoaka Cottages at 410-586-0269 if you need more information. Here too, digging in the cliffs is not permitted. The beach is wide enough here to allow access during high tide, but collecting is usually better at low tide.
- SITE 3: CALVERT CLIFFS STATE PARK. The entrance to the Park is clearly marked along Maryland routes 2 and 4 about 8 miles south of St. Leonard or 4 miles north of Solomons, which is at the southern tip of Calvert County. There is a hike along a service road of about 1.8 miles from the parking lot to the Chesapeake Bay. A section of Calvert Cliffs lies immediately north of the end of the trail, but cliff collapses forced the Department of Natural Resources to close the beach along the cliffs in the 1980s as a safety measure. As a result, collecting is restricted to a small beach area in the area where the service road ends. Best collecting is usually after a storm, because the supply of shells and other fossils is replenished. Low tide is a better time than high tide to look for fossils along the beach because more beach is exposed. The Park is normally open from March to mid-November. We recommend you check that the Park is open by calling Smallwood State Park (phone 301-743-7613). The mailing address is Smallwood State Park, 2750 Sweden Point Road, Marbury, MD 20658.
- Other resources: the Guide to Fossil Teeth of the Maryland Miocene;
- See our publications office for the interactive BULLETIN 20: Miocene Fossils of Maryland on CD-ROM;
- More online fossil resources can be found on our Educational Resources page.
- Also, look at the Fossil Guy's Calvert Cliffs Fossil Page
Glaser, John D., 1995, Collecting Fossils in Maryland: Maryland Geological Survey, Educational Series No. 4, 83 p.
Godfrey, S.J. (Volume editor), 2018, The Geology and Vertebrate Paleontology of Calvert Cliffs, Maryland: Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, number 100, 274 pp.
Vokes, Harold E., 1957, Miocene Fossils of Maryland: Maryland Geological Survey, Bulletin 20, 85 p.
Compiled by the Maryland Geological Survey, 2300 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
This electronic version of "Fact Sheet No.10 " was prepared by R.D. Conkwright, Division of Coastal and Estuarine Geology, Maryland Geological Survey. Please send comments on this page to Dale Shelton (firstname.lastname@example.org)