Outdoors Information

Unforgettable Cape Cod Vacations: The National Seashore Gift

Take a captivating trip through the Cape Cod National Seashore with miles of white sandy beaches, trails and hikes to take your breath away, and majestic dunes. Just keep reading and you can visit all those places right now.

The Cape Cod National Seashore is a 4,308-acre park set aside by an act of congress in 1961 to preserve and protect a unique geological area and wild life habitat of New England.

Cape Cod is about 60 miles south of Boston, Massachusetts. It was formed when the last glaciers to visit the region melted about 12,000-years ago leaving a large lake. Because of special features and material surrounding the glacial lake, the water drained out exposing the sediment and deposits left by the glaciers from earlier times.

With the rising sea level and the protection from the battering ocean provided by Georges Bank gone, nature started to reshape the whole of Cape Cod -- especially the Atlantic facing National Seashore area.

The relentless shaping of the Cape continues even today. But this is the place to come to escape. This is the place to come to experience nature.

So let's take a brief Cape Cod vacations trip together. Are you ready?

Nauset Beach?

The first stop on your trip is Nauset Beach in the town of Orleans.

The entrance to Nauset beach is located in East Orleans at the end of Beach Road, where there's a large parking lot. The lot is about 2 miles from Routes 6/6A. During the summer months you'll pay to use the lot.

Protection is the name of the game at Nauset not just for the dunes, but the birds nesting in the spring. Always pay close attention to beach erosion and bird nesting protection signs anywhere during your Cape Cod vacations. Heeding the signs means the area could still be here next time you visit.

At the entrance to the beach you can turn left and walk North, or take the South walk by turning right. Both walks offer spectacular views and hidden areas of the Cape even many residents haven't discovered. Time your walks to be at low tide so you'll be walking on exposed sand bars on the North walk, or have a dry crossing to Pochet Island on the South walk.

In the summer Nauset beach is very popular with vacationers, but there always seems to be room even at the busiest times. Swimming is good -- but stay close to the shore. It's the Atlantic Ocean so it'll be a little cooler than on the Cape Cod Bay side or the Nantucket Sound beaches.

National Seashore Eastham Visitors Center?

The Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham is your next Cape Cod vacations stop. It'll orientate you to the park, and provides short films, a museum, and free maps for hiking and biking trails.

Note: The Salt Pond Visitor Center building has been closed for renovations since 2003. It's due to reopen in 2005 - in fact right about now!

Starting from the visitor center is the short and easy 1-mile loop Nauset Marsh Trail that follows a path around the salt pond and Nauset Marsh before returning to the visitor center. It's a varied terrain of salt marsh grasses, juniper and bayberry bushes, and a great place for bird watching due to the proximity of the marsh.

The salt pond itself is a glacial kettle pond that was once freshwater but the ocean has seeped through.

The Lighthouse Beaches?

Two wonderful beaches to visit in the Eastham area are Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach.

Coast Guard Beach can be reached by bike from the bike trail from the Salt Pond Visitor Center, or by car from Nauset Road off Route 6 directly after the Visitor Center -- just follow the signs to the lot on Doane Road. This beach is a favorite walk of mine at low tide, and was the area where Henry Beston wrote The Outermost House. Sadly the blizzard of 1978 washed the cottage where he lived while writing the book -- out to sea.

Yet another example of the awesome forces continually sculpturing the Cape Cod National Seashore.

But here's another gem of a beach for you...

Nauset Light Beach can be reached from Brackett Road also off Route 6, and then Cable Road and Ocean View Drive. The parking lot is small and fills up quickly in the summer.

Close by the beach is Nauset Lighthouse. Originally built in Chatham in the late 19th century, it was moved here shortly after, and moved again in 1996 when erosion of the cliff threatened to collapse the lighthouse.

The beach is popular for the imposing and towering cliffs and clean white-sand, and walks that create memorable Cape Cod vacations.

Great Island Hike in Wellfleet...

The Great Island hike in Wellfleet is a 6-mile hike, so allow yourself at least half-a-day to explore this wonderful area.

Located on the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape in Wellfleet, drive to the trailhead off Chequesset Neck Road, and prepare yourself -- and camera -- for an exhilarating hike. The area is pretty open and so take sunscreen and a hat.

What will you see?

Marvelous views of Wellfleet Harbor and Cape Cod Bay await you once on the island (hint: it's not really an island anymore).

Another hint: this is a real nature hike. There's no sandwich bar or coke machine waiting for you at the end, so take your own snacks and drinks. Of all the trails in the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, this is perhaps the most remote -- and I like that!

Out on the Island itself there used to be a secluded Tavern used by Whalers and the like. Nothing remains of it today except for a sign to mark the spot where it was.

National Seashore Province Lands Visitors Center?

The visitor center in Province Lands is off Route 6 and on Race Point Road. This is the northern tip of the park, and marks our final stop together on this Cape Cod vacations trip.

The Visitor Center itself has an observation deck where you can view the majestic surroundings of ocean, forest, and the omnipresent towering dunes. The area includes two swimming beaches -- Race Point and Herring Cove -- a bike trail, and a walking trail. There's also a beautiful lighthouse at Race Point.

The bike trail is a challenging 5.25-mile loop that you can start from the visitor center. I'd describe it as undulating bordering on hilly.

There's also a fair amount of hairpin turns, and so helmets and a safe speed are a must. Believe me the downhill stretches are so exhilarating, but you can easily forget and misjudge bike traffic coming the other way. I've seen many a tangled mess -- Ouch!

And that's the end of this brief trip.

Wow! You did a lot in a few minutes - from your chair. But now it's time to do the real thing. Are you ready?

Cliff Calderwood is the owner and contributing writer of the New England vacations guide . You can read more about Cape Cod vacations and get a free travel report at his New England vacation site.

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