The Beach Times

Hiking Your Way Through the Upper Cape – Part II: Mashpee and Sandwich
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, April 27, 2020

Last time, we looked at some hiking areas in Bourne and Falmouth, which you'll run into soon after entering the Cape.

But what if you're staying in Mashpee or Sandwich and want nearby places to get into the wilderness?

You're in luck because there are plenty of great hiking trails in these communities, each providing you with an accessible spot to spend a few hours in nature without ever being too far from your amenities.

Here are a couple of the many places where you can hike into the woods in Mashpee and Sandwich during your Cape Cod vacation.

The Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge

Proceeding east from Falmouth will quickly bring you to Mashpee, home of the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. This area is massive, taking up nearly 6,000 acres, although only about 330 acres are owned and maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with state and local groups holding the rest.

As you'd expect with such a large park, it's broken into sections with each area having a parking lot and offering a unique experience. Everything is near Route 151 in Mashpee, so you can use that road as a baseline.

First, there's the Childs River Conversation Area, which is south of Route 151 off Old Barnstable Road. This area is unmarked and doesn't have an official parking lot, but you can access it from Brown's Road. The Childs River runs through the region, and it's full of dense tree cover with a few residential areas popping up, as well.

Next, you can explore the Quashnet River Conservation Area, which is just east of the Childs River Conversation Area. There's a parking lot for the hiking area just off Route 28, and you can also access the trail from Mashpee High School and Falmouth Road. The main trail travels along the banks of the Quashnet River and is heavily forested.

North of those sections is the Quashnet Woodlands, which starts at the north end of Johns Pond. From the parking lot, the trails head east on the Quashnet River's shores and north around Moody Pond. There's a beach there too, delivering a beautiful place to cool off in the summer. Make sure you don't head too far north through the woods because the park borders the Otis Air National Guard Base and military personnel will turn you back.

There's also the South Mashpee Pine Barrens, which is southeast of the Quashnet River. The parking lot for this section is off Great Neck Road South, and you can also access it from Great Hay Road. This area features dense woods, although you're never too far from the main road, either.

Finally, you can check out the Jehu Pond Conservation Area, which has a parking lot on the pond's shores and trails that run through the forest and to Abigails Brook. Residential developments surround Jehu Pond, but heading north from the parking lot will take you into the wilderness.

In addition to these areas in Mashpee, the park also features the Crane Wildlife Management Area and the Coonamessett Reservation Area, which are located in Falmouth. You could spend your entire vacation exploring the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge without even covering a fraction of it, so plan ahead and figure out what you want to see before arriving on the Cape.

Keep an eye out for wildlife in the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge; you might be lucky enough to see the red fox, white-tailed deer, or countless bird species that call the region home.

East Sandwich Game Farm

The East Sandwich Game Farm sits just off Route 6A, not far from the Post Office. The park is state-owned but operated by the Thornton W. Burgess Society. The society's team of volunteers keeps the refuge in great shape for visitors. Overall, the East Sandwich Game Farm is 133 acres in size, although when combined with the adjacent Talbot's Point Conservation Area, there's over 245 acres of land to explore in this section of Sandwich.

As you arrive at the East Sandwich Game Farm, you'll reach a driveway that leads to the hiking trails. The driveway is essentially a dirt road, and it's not a comfortable journey, so many people choose to park at the gates and walk from there. At the same time, there's a boat launch on Scorton Creek, giving some visitors reason to drive into the farm.

Once you enter the park, you'll find multiple hiking trails to explore, taking you along the creek and through some marshland. The trails aren't well marked, and hikers tend to lose the paths on their travels. The area is well-traveled, however, so it's easy to keep your bearings.

If you walk far enough south, you'll reach Hoxie Pond, a small body with a serene atmosphere. Hoxie Pond is an excellent place for birdwatching or to take a break while exploring.

The East Sandwich Game Farm isn't the most challenging site to hike on the Upper Cape. Still, it's easily accessible and a relaxing place to wander through the woods with your family, or all alone, without having to worry too much about navigation or difficulty.

Hiking on Cape Cod

As you make your way through these trails on the Upper Cape, you'll gain a new appreciation for Cape Cod's secluded sections. Your Cape Cod vacation is sure to include time spent at some of the region's beaches and other hot spots, but there's something special about escaping into a wilderness that sits only minutes from the crowds.

You'll quickly learn that the Cape's hiking scene is incredibly diverse, and you'll be amazed at just how much is packed into such a small part of the country.

Take the time to learn where some of the Upper Cape's top hiking areas are from your vacation rental and spend your afternoons relishing some of Cape Cod's most peaceful environments.

Cape Cod Hiking Hiking

Hiking Your Way Through the Upper Cape – Part I: Bourne and Falmouth
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Upper Cape includes four towns – Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich – and their respective villages. As you enter Cape Cod, you'll cross either the Bourne Bridge or the Sagamore Bridge, both of which take you over the Cape Cod Canal from the off-Cape side of Bourne.

Your journey from there can take many different routes, depending on how you want to spend your Cape Cod vacation. Of course, you'll want to hit the beaches and visit some restaurants, but there's more to the Cape than eating and lounging.

Hiking, for example, is a popular pastime for locals and visitors because it takes you away from the crowds and into the middle of pine and oak forests featuring swamps, ponds, rare plant species, and wildlife.

Each of the Upper Cape's towns has excellent hiking trails, so in part one of a two-part series, here's a look at two significant conservation areas in Falmouth and Bourne, Massachusetts.

Four Ponds Conservation Area in Bourne

Upon entering Cape Cod on Route 28, you'll drive into the town of Bourne, which features waterfront villages, beaches, and tons of natural areas. Heading south, you'll travel for about five minutes before reaching the turnoff for Barlows Landing Road, and that directs you to the Four Ponds Conservation Area.

Four Ponds, which sits in Pocasset Village, isn't the largest hiking area by any means. The park is just off Route 28 and close to Pocasset's main commercial area, however, so it's one of the most convenient places to hike in Bourne.

Town Forest Trail and Pine Trail, the two longest hiking paths, wind through the forests and into some swampland. Pine Trail has smaller unmarked trails that will take you directly to the swamps, marshes, and bogs, which provide excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities. You can also access Pine Train from Pocasset Town Forest, an adjoining park north of Four Ponds on Valley Bars Road.

Town Forest Trail starts near the Pocasset River and passes Upper Pond. It's a 2.2-mile loop that will eventually bring you back to the parking lot, and it connects with Pine Trail in numerous locations, making for a longer hike.

You'll find shorter walks on Lions Trail and Eagle Trail, neither of which venture far from the parking lot. Lions Trail is a quick loop around Freeman Pond, while Eagle Trail curves around The Basin. There's a smaller unmarked trail to Sheep Pond on Eagle Trail, too. These hikes are perfect for trekking with children because they each take about 30 minutes to explore.

The oak and pine woodlands through this area are full of ferns and swamp azalea, and if you're lucky, you'll come across some painted turtles, spring peepers, or pickerel frogs. One thing to keep in mind is that all of these ponds are human-made, but you'd never know it once you experience this beautiful section of Bourne.

The Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth

Moving south from Bourne, you'll quickly reach Falmouth and the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area, a massive state park that's broken into three distinct sections.

The western part of the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area is located where Route 28 and Route 151 meet in East Falmouth. There's a small dirt parking lot there, but it's unmarked. You'll want to look up its location before you arrive because it's easy to miss. This western section of the park has a dirt road running through it, in addition to countless trails. Mountain bikers frequent the western section because of its hills and wide paths.

The eastern side of the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area is also along Route 151, but it features more access points and far less tree cover than the western portion. This area has some open fields, making it a stunning place to go for a walk, although you can also head into the woodlands if you prefer the tree cover. There's a flying field here, too, where members of the Otis Model Aero Club launch their model planes.

You'll find the southern section of the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area south of Route 151 between Currier Road and Sandwich Road. Keep in mind that this part of the park doesn't have trail maps and is a popular hunting area from the middle of October through November during quail and pheasant season. Much like the eastern portion, the southern section of the park is a mix of open fields and trees.

The Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area combines forests and meadows, depending on which section you hike, and is a great place to view butterflies and birds. You'll also find beautiful wildflowers and 15 threatened plant species in the park. You could spend much of your Cape Cod vacation at the Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area and still not see everything, although you'll probably want to check out some other places from time to time.

Just Some of Cape Cod's Hiking Trails

The Upper Cape is full of outstanding ways to spend your holiday, and if you book a vacation rental in the area, you'll be close to some of Cape Cod's best hiking areas. A bonus is that most of these hikes are minutes from bars and restaurants, giving you the chance to cool off indoors or on a patio after exploring the woods.

In the next part of this two-part series, we'll look at some outstanding hiking opportunities in Mashpee and Sandwich that will make your vacation to the Cape even more memorable.

Cape Cod Hiking Hiking

A Peek at Some of Cape Cod’s Famous Nature Trails – Part 2
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Thursday, February 28, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at some of Cape Cod’s best nature trails and, as you might expect, there was too much to fit into a single post, so we’ll continue the discussion now.

The Cape’s natural areas are unique because they give you the feeling of being completing isolated, yet you remain a short distance from the ocean and a town or two at all times. As a result, you’ll don’t have to venture too far from your vacation rental to experience the serenity of the woods or to find a deserted beach teeming with wildlife.

Here are a few more nature trails that are worth checking out during your next vacation on Cape Cod.


Sandy Neck Beach Park

Sandy Neck Trails- Photo by Catheren Andrade

Barnstable is home to Sandy Neck Beach Park, a 4,700-acre zone with dunes, forests, marshes, and beaches that is a must-visit when on Cape Cod. What makes Sandy Neck so interesting is the diversity in its landscapes, as you can sit on a beach one minute and walk through the woods the next.

The landscape of Sand Neck has taken thousands of years to form, as it is a barrier beach with Cape Cod Bay on one side and Barnstable Harbor on the other. The result is a beautiful space with six hiking trails, many of which lead to more secluded areas of sand away from the crowds.

To reach the more reclusive expanses along this six-mile stretch, you'll want to take Marsh Trail. This trail starts near the beach's main parking area and runs close to the end of Sandy Neck Beach. Along the way, you'll pass marshes and forests, and every trail that intersects with Marsh Trail leads directly to the beach.

Once you get to the end of Marsh Trail and approach the beach, you'll have the option of taking Trail 6 to stunning Beach Point, which has shallow water and scenic views of the harbor. On any given day, dozens of boats might set up in the area to enjoy its sandy banks. This area is also home to the Sandy Neck Lighthouse.

It is possible to drive the length of the beach if you purchase an ORV permit and have the necessary equipment. The license is $170 for non-residents, since you must buy it for the entire year, and the tools needed include rope, a jack, support boards, a shovel, a tire gauge, and a spare tire. If you're staying on the Cape for a few weeks, this is an option worth considering.

There's also a new mobile app that provides up to the date information on Sandy Neck Beach, including tide charts and weather updates. If the beach closes or its hours of operation change, you can learn about it through the app.


Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge

Three distinct areas make up Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, and you'll surely want to schedule ahead if you plan to visit all of them. Overall, the refuge is 7,604 acres in size, and about 94% of it has a Wilderness Area designation. The region is home to whitetail deer, seals, and a variety of migrating birds, including the piping plover and roseate tern, both of which are protected species. There are also plenty of whale and great white shark sightings every year in the waters off the Monomoy Islands.

The first part of the refuge is relatively easy to reach, as Morris Island connects to the rest of the Cape with a roadway and is just outside of downtown Chatham. Here, you'll find the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, along with 40 acres of trails, marshes, dunes, and forests. There are ten markers along the 3/4-of-a-mile trail that provide information on the local flora and fauna and let you know you're on the right track.

Next, there's North Monomoy Island, which is home to some of the Cape’s best bird watching. The island isn't open to foot traffic right now, due to its importance as a wildlife refuge. You can take a boat tour around the space, however, allowing you to see a lot of what it has to offer. There are several seal-watching tours from Chatham that pass right by North Monomoy, and the captains will usually get as close to land as possible along the way.

You can go exploring a little bit on South Monomoy Island, which is the most extensive portion of the refuge. This island as a couple of boat landings, and although there isn’t a regularly scheduled ferry service, you can book a private tour if you want to visit. Keep in mind that parts of the island close at various times, so you’ll have to be careful where you walk. Markers will indicate every closure. There's a long beach on the north section of the island that is outside of the refuge. Renting a boat or taking a private charter are the only ways to get to this beach, which is perhaps the most secluded on Cape Cod.


Spruce Hill Conservation Area

At only a half a mile long, the trail through the Spruce Hill Conservation Area is the shortest on this list, but it’s still worth a look because it heads through a dynamic area filled with Norway spruce, oak, and pine trees, which form a thick canopy of green. You'll also pass a swamp before heading over the dunes and reaching the incredible views of Cape Cod Bay. This stretch of beach is relatively secluded, as well, making it a nice place to relax and watch the bird flying overhead.

Spruce Hill is right along Route 6A, just outside of downtown Brewster and only a mile from Nickerson State Park. There's no market at the entrance, and it'll feel like you're heading up someone's driveway when you arrive, but, rest assured, you're not. You'll see the parking lot after you pass the house. It's also possible to leave the main trail about halfway down and head through an area with even greater tree cover, giving you a better chance to see some wildlife.


Nature Trails Everywhere

It would be impossible to cover all of Cape Cod’s nature trails because you can find one almost anywhere. Head to any of the region’s kettle ponds, for example, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a trail wrapping around the water or heading even further back into the woods.

The great news is that these trails provide a refuge for animals and keep parts of Cape Cod quiet, no matter the time of year. Whether you’re visiting the Cape for a few days or spending the entire summer here, make sure you experience the conservation areas and nature trails that allow you to get away from it all.

Cape Cod Hiking Hiking Sandy Neck Spruce Hill Conservation Area

A Peek at Some of Cape Cod’s Famous Nature Trails – Part I
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, February 18, 2019

A Peek at Some of Cape Cod’s Famous Nature Trails – Part I

With its 559.6 miles of coastline, 11,000+ acres of ponds and lakes, and endless expanses of forests, there is no doubt that Cape Cod has some of the country's best nature hiking.

There are very few places in the country where you can spend your morning exploring a secluded forest, your afternoon lounging on a beautiful beach, and your evening dining at a five-star restaurant, but that is exactly what the Cape has to offer. In fact, some of Cape Cod's nature trails have a forest and beach within minutes of each other.

All trails on the following list feature a perfect mix of accessibility and scenery, making them excellent choices when looking to experience the tranquility and beauty of Cape Cod’s hiking areas. Here is part one of a two-part series looking at some of the Cape’s best nature trails.


Great Island Trail

 Great Island Trail

Pretty much any list of nature trails on Cape Cod will include Great Island Trail in Wellfleet because not only is it perhaps the most scenic walk on the Cape, but it could be the best hiking area in the entire state. The reason for the hike's notoriety is that it passes through so many different types of terrain and various altitudes, giving you a glimpse at everything that makes up Cape Cod in a single afternoon.

You'll start your hike at the Great Island Trail parking lot, which is just off Chequessett Neck Road, where the Herring River empties into Wellfleet Harbor. From there, you'll pass through an area called "The Gut" before the trail heads over some dunes to the path on the other side.

Once you get to the actual trail, you'll have a couple of different options. You can head east through a wooded area, which will take you to Smith Tavern. It's not an actual tavern, but rather the site of a whaling tavern from the 1700s. Nothing but a plaque remains of the site, and the hike is 1.8 miles in length, finishing with a splendid view of the harbor.

Or, if you're in the mood for a longer hike, you can head 2.9 miles south to Great Beach Hill. Once on the hill, you'll have outstanding views over Cape Cod Bay and the pine forests hiding the eastern trail. When the tide is out, you can continue past Great Beach Hill until you reach Jeremy's Point. It's a 4.1-mile hike from the beginning of the trail to this point, so make sure you're prepared to spend the whole day walking if you go this far and have an idea of the tide schedule, as well.

As was mentioned before, you’ll go through all kinds of terrain on this hike, including dunes, beaches, forests, and marshland, making it one of the more diverse walks you’ll find anywhere.


Ashumet Holly and Wildlife Sanctuary

For a much shorter hike, head to the Ashumet Holly and Wildlife Sanctuary, which wraps around Grassy Pond in East Falmouth. There are only 1.5 miles worth of trails here in total, making it an easily accessible hike if you struggle with longer distances.

Once here, you can take the Ashumet Farm Trail, which is no longer a farm but remains a prominent place for birdwatching, English Holly Trail, a wooded area that once hosted a herring run, and Mystery Tree Trail, an expanse with the property's tallest holly, along with magnolia trees and Japanese cedars.

Overall, the Ashumet Holly and Wildlife Sanctuary is a quiet place for a short hike and the chance to experience a rare ecosystem that attracts over 30 species of dragonflies. The sanctuary is located directly across from the Cape Cod Fairgrounds on Ashumet Road and has a marked driveway where you'll enter.


Nauset Marsh Trail

The Nauset Marsh trail in Eastham is similar to the hike in Wellfleet because you'll pass through forest, marshland, and beaches on a single walk. The difference is the Nauset Marsh is a smaller area, as it's only 2.75 miles in length and will merely take you about an hour to complete. That's if, of course, you don't stroll the optional 1.5-mile extension to Coast Guard Beach, which you might choose to do.

The trail at Nauset Marsh is easy to locate because all you have to do is walk out the back doors of the Salt Pond Visitor Center at the Cape Cod National Seashore. From there, you walk past the building's amphitheater, and you're on your way. The magnificent thing about this hike is that you'll experience some beautiful views over the water, so bring a camera with you.


Bell’s Neck Conservation Area

Bell’s Neck Conservation Area is made up of two reservoirs, East and West, along with the Herring River, dense forest, cranberry bogs, marshland, and even a pedestrian bridge. While the trail is only 2.75 miles long, you'll pass through all kinds of terrain during your walk, making it well worth the trek.

The area was purchased by the town of Harwich because of its ecological importance, as the herring run is vital to the local ecosystem. Officials close the parking lot at the western trailhead between early April and the middle of June as to not disturb the herring. Keep an eye out for osprey and a glimpse of the ever-elusive black-crowned night heron during your hike, as well.

Parking is found near the Cape Cod Rail Trail to the north of the area, on Bells Neck Road between the East and West reservoirs, and just off Depot Street near the mouth of the Herring River.


Each Trail is Unique

The four nature trails mentioned provide a great start when hiking on Cape Cod because they all contribute something unique. Great Island Trail offers the chance to explore to a secluded beach away from the crowds, while Nauset Marsh allows you to hike right to one of the Cape’s busiest beaches. Ashumet Holly and Wildlife Sanctuary has a collection of rare flora, while Bell’s Neck Conservation Area is home to a delicate ecosystem that harbors rare birds and an essential herring habitat.

What all of these nature trails have in common is they provide Cape Cod visitors and locals the chance to explore the environment and see that there is much more to the Cape than what first meets the eye. And, we’ll look at more unique natural areas in part two in the coming weeks.

Ashumet Holly And Wildlife Sanctuary Bells Neck Conservation Area Cape Cod Hiking Great Island Trail Hiking Nauset Marsh Smith Tavern

Outer Cape Hiking Trails: The Legacy of Hortense Kelly
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Thursday, March 15, 2018

When we said goodbye to Hortense Kelly at the age of 97 on November 11, 2017, we lost not only a pillar of the Cape Cod hiking community but also one of its last authentic pioneers. 

You see, Hortense was more than just an avid hiker, as her passion for the beauty and mystic of Cape Cod and its hiking areas led her to want to share them with as many people as possible. She was an inspiration for many, continuing to hike and exercise well into her 90s, and was always happy when the number of participants on these hikes increased.

Hortense Kelly retired to Cape Cod in 1983 and, soon thereafter, became the leader of the Eastham Hiking Club, a position she held until 2006. She is principally responsible for the growth of the Club, leading as many as 75 people through the woods on any given day and loving every second of it. 

Over her term as leader of the EHC, she was responsible for creating many of the hiking routes we still use today. As legend has it, Hortense only knew where the hiking areas started, using her skills and know-how to invent the actual courses through many of the most scenic areas on the Cape. 

She was also instrumental in the creation of the Cape Cod Pathways, a series of trails running from Provincetown to Bourne and Falmouth, and completed the trek three times, despite being a senior citizen at the time. 

Remember that the Eastham Hiking Club organizes free walks every Wednesday between September and May, so if you’re looking for someone to hike with, they’ve got you covered. Just be sure to keep to the trails, stay away from the cliffs, and avoid walking on the vegetation, and you’re sure to have a great time hiking on the Cape. 

Whether you live on the Cape or are only in the area for a week or two, taking advantage of the natural beauty of the hiking trails is a must-do. Hortense Kelly would want you to enjoy the legacy that she worked so hard to create through some of the following hiking trails:

Hatch’s Harbor to Race Point Lighthouse


One of Hortense’s favorite short walks is the stroll from Hatch’s Harbor to the Race Point Lighthouse. You can lengthen this hike, if desired, by starting at Herring Cove Beach and walking along until you reach the lighthouse. Either way, this hike involves plenty of scenic ocean views and, if you’re lucky, the opportunity to see whales feeding in the bay. The trail starts on Province Lands Road, which is where the parking lot sits.


Great Pond Hike

Nicknamed the Hortense Kelly Hike, the trails around Great Pond were very special to Hortense. This particular trail takes just over two hours to complete and involves walking along ocean cliffs and past six different ponds. You’ll start your journey at the Great Pond parking lot and from there will walk toward the ocean, passing a number of picturesque spots. You're sure to love the scenery as you jaunt atop the hills with views of the sea. 

Head of the Meadow Beach to Ridley Grave

This trail provides an ideal mix of seclusion and natural beauty. You'll start your adventure at Head of the Meadow Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is where you'll find parking. From there, the trail goes into the woods, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet that only the forest can bring. Eventually, you'll come to Ridley grave, an isolated marker signifying the final resting place of Thomas Ridley, a farmer and fisherman who is believed to have died in 1776 of smallpox. You’ll finally return to your vehicle via a scenic walk near Coast Guard Beach.

Nickerson State Park

The beautiful trails through Nickerson State Park take about two hours to complete. The great thing about these trails is that they are well-marked and maintained. You'll start your walk at the park's headquarters, heading on one of the area's bike trails to start. From there, you'll venture into the woods, coming across scenic ponds, tall pines, and, in many cases, wildlife. The hike ends with a stroll beside a historic graveyard, right before you return to the parking lot.

Walk a Mile for Hortense

Prior to her passing, Hortense asked that locals and visitors alike continue to the use the hiking trails that she was so passionate about and walk a mile in her honor. Members of the Eastham Club will continue to complete these hikes every week, but those visiting Cape Cod for the first time can also head out and see exactly why she loved this area so much.

It doesn't matter if your vacation rentals are in Wellfleet, Harwich Port, Chatham or anywhere else on the Cape, you can explore these and other Cape Cod hiking trails, including Great Island Trail conservation area, at any time of the year.

If you have some free time on your next venture onto Cape Cod, remember to walk a mile for Hortense. She would be delighted to learn that a brand new set of people are using the trails that she worked so hard to create and preserve.

Cape Cod Hiking Cape Cod Pathways Eastham Hiking Club Hortense Kelly

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