The Beach Times

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

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.



Activities Beaches Cape Cod Eastham Hiking Provincetown Truro Vacation Wellfleet

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