The Beach Times

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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