Forty Steps

Skill Level:
Best Time:
Any time the wind is out of the NW, W, SW, S
Notable Features:
Rocky reef with canyons and walls
Nahant Road
Nahant, MA 01908


Forty Steps is a pretty, 100-yard stretch of beach sandwiched between two rocky points and overlooking several offshore islands. The site is just north of Canoe Beach and the two are separated by a dramatic rocky point called Castle Rock. There is no parking at Forty Steps, but if you stop at the police station beforehand and ask if you can park in the resident-only parking next to Canoe Beach they may allow it. Be considerate of the officers, arrange for off-peak visits, and try to limit the number of vehicles for the best chance of success at scoring a parking spot. These sites are worth it!

The seawall and beach at Forty Steps. Castle Rock separates the site from Canoe Beach in the background.

The Dive

Once in the water, make your way to the right (southern) point, Castle Rock. The bottom along the way is a mix of rocks of all sizes, most of which are covered in thick layers of seaweed. At this point, the ledge has been carved by the ocean into a series of sheet walls, winding passageways, small rooms, and shallow caves. There’s little danger here since there’s always a clear path to the surface. Throughout the area, the ledge is covered in sponges, soft corals, and frilled anemones. This is a very nice site. It’s also possible to dive the left side of the cove but it pales in comparison.

The walk from the road to the beach is down a set of wooden steps — hence the name. Unfortunately, after recent renovations there seem to be more than fifty steps now! At the bottom of the stairs, there's a seawall where you can stage and don your gear, followed by a short walk to the water over the sand and gravel beach. Entry and exit are made over the sand and gravel and are easy.

The site can become rough when the wind blows out of any easterly direction.

The caverns and canyons around Castle Rock can be a bit disconcerting, and compasses don't always perform well in the area, so navigating can be difficult if you're not familiar with the site. If the wind is high, surge can make it even more challenging potentially leading to long surface swims. Like many New England sites, visibility can be limited depending on the weather and time of year. If you are not familiar with the area, plan accordingly, and aim to dive when the wind is low and out of the west.

Parking at Nahant's dive sites can be a challenge. You must request permission to park in the area at the Nahant Police Department on your way to the site. The police will typically be accommodating for small groups, especially during off-hours. They may offer a temporary permit for display on your dashboard, log plate numbers, or just wave you through.

After leaving the Police department, continue down Nahant Road until you reach the top of the hill overlooking the sea. The site is not marked but you'll see benches on a small deck above the beach as you drive in. Pull in here for the gear drop before parking further down. The most efficient place to park is a quarter-mile ahead on Swallow Cave Road just after it splits off of Nahant Road next to the park.

[caption id="attachment_604" align="alignnone" width="300"] Benches offer a nice resting place after lugging your gear back up the steps after your dive.[/caption]

Walk back to the site along Nahant Road, it is only about a quarter-mile but there are those stairs at the end! Make sure you have water on hand for the post-dive hike back to the car.

[caption id="attachment_603" align="alignnone" width="254"] When diving Forty Steps you should drop gear and then park by Canoe Beach on Swallow Cave Road.[/caption]



Jerry Shine provided much of the written dive site content on the shore diving sites around New England from his 2005 publication: A Shore Diving Guide to New England which is currently out-of-print. His 2017 publication A Year Underwater: Twelve Months of Diving, Fraternizing with Marine Life, and Just Having a Great Time, from the St. Lawrence River to West Palm Beach is available for purchase on Amazon.

If lobstering be sure that you are licensed, have a gauge for the area you are lobstering in, have your numbers on your cylinder and flag, and don’t land any shorts, longs, notches, or eggers. For more information please reference the regulations site here.