The Beach Times

Getting to Know Eastham's Fort Hill Trail
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, July 22, 2019


While heavily trafficked paths like the Cape Cod Rail Trail, Shining Sea Bikeway, Great Island Trail, and areas around Nickerson State Park get a lot of the attention, lesser-known places to hike are abundant on the Cape.

A small, yet incredibly scenic and worthwhile place to explore is Fort Hill Trail in Eastham, a one-mile loop trail featuring outstanding views, historic boulders, some of Cape Cod’s best birdwatching.

The trail will only take you about an hour to complete unless you venture down some of the smaller paths that shoot out from the main section. Keep in mind that these other pathways are only accessible during low tide because they head into the salt marsh. If you’re looking to spend a day away from the beaches on Cape Cod, you could certainly do worse than Fort Hill Trail.

 

Where to Start

There are two parking areas at Fort Hill Trail, both of which are on Fort Hill Road, just off the Mid-Cape Highway between Orleans and Eastham. If you're driving from the north, you'll turn left onto Governor Prence Road, which turns into Fort Hill Road. When arriving from the south, there'll be an exit onto a different section of Governor Prence Road, and you'll then turn right on Fort Hill Road. Highway signs mark where to turn in both directions.

As for the parking lots, the closest to the highway sits across from Captain Penniman House, an 1868 home constructed by a wealthy whaling captain. The home and its barn are open to the public in the summer and are worth a visit. The second parking area is at the end of Fort Hill Road. Both lots are free.

 

What's Along the Trail

The second parking area is less crowded in the summer, so we'll start there. As you begin, you'll immediately see secondary paths heading to the water. Check the tide chart before commencing your walk to ensure that you don't get stuck in high water.

Staying on the main path, you'll walk past a forest and reach a large glacial rock. The rock indicates that you're entering the most picturesque part of the hike because you can now see Nauset Marsh for the next stretch. You can also stand on the rock if you're struggling to see over the plant growth.

The next stretch of the trail takes you along Nauset Marsh, where you can see birds, boats, and scenic vistas. Eventually, you'll complete the section of the pathway that lines the marsh, but you can make a quick detour into the woods, which will take you to Indian Rock.

Once at Indian Rock, you'll have more great views of the marsh and can learn about this historic boulder, which was used to grind and polish tools for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. There is also a covered picnic area here if you've packed a meal.

The stretch of the path near Indian Rock heads onto Red Maple Swamp Trail, another scenic hiking area with a boardwalk, dense forests, and even a boat launch. Red Maple Swamp Trail is particularly scenic during the fall when leaves on the maple trees change color.

Finally, you can get back on the main path and complete your journey. The final stretch of the trail ends up at the parking lot near Captain Penniman House. From there, you'll walk on Fort Hill Road to your vehicle.

Overall, this is an easy hike with a gradual 64-foot elevation change, making it accessible for even novice hikers. You’re never far from your car when you explore Fort Hill Trail, but you’ll feel as though you’re miles from civilization because of the quiet atmosphere and scenery.

 

The Cape’s Best Birdwatching

Here's a little secret: those in the know believe that Fort Hill Trail is home to Cape Cod's best birdwatching. It seems incredible that such a small area would have such a distinction, but it's true.

The reason is that the marshland that runs parallel to the trail provides the perfect environment for both nesting shorebirds and waders that prefer to spend their time in the water.

On any given day in the summer, you could see nesting birds like the yellow warbler, cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, northern bobwhite, and willow flycatcher, in addition to waders such as the black-crowned night-heron, great egret, snowy egret, least tern, and osprey. It truly is a birdwatcher's paradise because there is so much to see in such a small area.

And that doesn't even include the winter when you could also see the Virginia rail, marsh wren, salt marsh sparrow, clapper rail, and American bittern, to name a few.

If you're visiting Fort Hill Trail during high tide, the birds will be closer to the shore, providing the best possible viewing conditions.

 

Make It a Day in Eastham

The Fort Hill Trail area in Eastham makes for a great place to spend the day. After your hike, you can have a picnic at the covered picnic tables at Indian Rock, followed by an afternoon spent kayaking or canoeing Nauset Marsh from Hemenway Landing, which is a short jaunt from Indian Rock.

If you didn't bring a boat with you on vacation, Cape Kayaking operates tours most days of the week throughout the summer. The voyage is $70 per person and lasts about three hours; it's the perfect way to finish off a day in Eastham.



Birding Birds On Cape Cod Birdwatching Captain Penniman House Eastham Fort Hill Red Maple Swamp Trail

Cape Cod National Seashore: More Than Just Beaches
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, February 5, 2018


With nearly 40 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod National Seashore is, rightly so, known for its beaches. The area has six main beaches, Coast Guard, Nauset Light, Marconi, Head of the Meadow, Race Point, and Herring Cove, in addition to smaller, lesser known ones, but there is so much more to the area than the waterfront.

In total, the National Seashore is 43,607 acres in size, and there are countless activities to be found in the space that are sure to keep you occupied throughout your vacation.

Want to go hiking? No problem!

Interested in history? We’ve got you covered!  

Love seeing animals? You’ll never run out of opportunities!

Yes, by all means, hit the beaches when you visit Cape Cod National Seashore but don't forget to explore the other sites and activities that this beautiful and diverse area has to offer. We’re confident you’ll love what you see.

A Little Bit of History

On an official basis, Cape Cod National Seashore is relatively new, as it was given its national park status in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy and his family spend plenty of time vacationing on Cape Cod, and he wanted to preserve this exceptional region for future generations.

Overall, however, the land has been in use for about 9,000 years, when it was first inhabited by American Indians.

The first Europeans made their way to the region in 1620, spending about a month here before finally settling in what is now Plymouth. The area was attractive to settlers in future years because of its abundance of fresh water, fertile land, and protective landscape.

Cape Cod National Seashore has deep colonial roots that become clearer and clearer the more you spend time here. But first, you’ll want to get to know the natural environment, which is why so many people visit in the first place.

Hiking and Biking Trails

Feel like going for a hike? There are plenty of places to do so. In the South Wellfleet area sits Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, a moderately challenging hiking area that goes through an oak and pine forest before coming out in a swampy area with a boardwalk. The trail is just over a mile in length, so it can be completed quickly.

Pilgrim Spring is another short hiking trail in North Truro. The path is relatively simple, with a moderate grade and plenty of on-site parking, and is only 0.7 miles long. The site leads to the place where the pilgrims first tasted fresh water on Cape Cod, making it a historically significant trail, as well.

For a biking experience, Nauset Marsh Trail provides a comfortable ride with the option to extend the trip to Coast Guard Beach. The actual trail is a 1.3-mile loop and is peaceful, with very few elevation changes, and has some breathtaking views along the way.

Wildlife Encounters

While you're out and about, keep an eye out for some of the area's unique wildlife. More than 450 animal species live at Cape Cod National Seashore, including 25 protected species and 32 endangered or rare species.

On the coastline, you could encounter large marine mammals, turtles, gulls, and waterbirds. As you move inland, you are more likely to see the land mammals and reptiles that live in the woodland, swaps, and grasslands. One particular animal to keep an eye out for is the piping plover, a rare bird that nests in the sand. About 5% of the world's population of piping plover live at Cape Cod National Seashore.

The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is one place worth checking out nearby because it has salt marshes and woodlands that are a hot spot for wildlife sightings.

You might also consider taking a boat trip out into the ocean if you have your heart set on seeing some sea mammals up close. If you're lucky, you might even come across the endangered North Atlantic right whales that feed off Race Point.

Landmarks and Sights

Sitting in Eastham between Coast Guard Beach and the Salt Pond Visitors Center is Doane Rock, a large boulder left behind by the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered most of Canada and large chunks of the United States, about 15,000 years ago.

As the story goes, when the glaciers melted, they left behind some geological abnormalities and one of them is this rock. It is named after John Doane, a deacon who was one of the first settlers in the area. He lived on this land in 1644, in a time when very few Europeans were around. The rock’s appearance might not blow you away, but it’s worth having a look at if you have the time because of its history.

After that, swing by The Three Sisters Lighthouses or Nauset Light while in Eastham, The Pilgrim Monument and Race Point Light in Provincetown, and Highlands Light in Truro. There is something that draws people to lighthouses and monuments, and these are some of the most prominent on The Cape.

Museums and Visitor Centers

We mentioned the history of the area before and what better way to learn about the history of Cape Cod National Seashore than by spending time at a museum?

In the north, you have options like Provincetown Museum, which is right at Pilgrim Monument, and Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum, on Race Point Beach.

Moving further south, Highland House in Truro and The 1869 Schoolhouse Museum in Eastham are worth a visit, especially if Cape Cod's history excites you the way it does for many other people who spend time here.

The area’s visitor centers are top-notch when learning about what makes the district so distinctive. The Salt Pond Visitor Center is perhaps the top choice, as it is full of interactive displays and shows educational films. There is also an on-site museum and bookshop.

Further north is The Province Lands Visitor Center, a smaller building that also shows educational films in its indoor theater and has a bookstore. The building has an observation deck, as well, which provides panoramic views of the ocean, sand dunes, Pilgrim Monument, and Race Point.

Embrace Life Away From the Beach

Of course, you’re sure to get plenty of beach time in when visiting Cape Cod in the summer. After all, that’s probably the reason why you’re visiting this area in the first place. At the same time, it’s good to know that there are plenty of other activities to keep you occupied when spending time at Cape Cod National Seashore.

If you ever need a day away from the beach to let your sunburn heal or relax away from the heat, the National Seashore has you covered. So, plan your next Cape Cod Vacation around the Cape Cod National Seashore and you will soon notice that Cape Cod National Seashore is unlike the other National Parks you have visited in the past.



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