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

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