Discover Cape Cod  by Michael O'Connor

Discover Cape Cod Guide Book

by Michael O'Connor (Appalachian Mountain Club Books)
Discover Cape Cod  by Michael O'Connor
Known for its spectacular coastline and more than 100 miles of bike trails, Cape Cod in Massachusetts is an ideal destination for an activity-packed outdoor vacation. This new book from the Appalachian Mountain Club describes the 50 best hiking, biking, and paddling trips in this beautiful coastal area, including many excursions within the Cape Cod National Seashore. From a short hike around Falmouth’s Long Pond and a scenic bike ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail to a walk through Provincetown and a paddling tour of Wellfleet's freshwater pods, this guide leads you to the most unforgettable spots on the Cape. Nature notes and historical essays give visitors a more detailed picture of the area. For short, one-hour excursions, day-long adventures, or weekend afternoons, this guidebook provides the best outdoor experiences for vacationers and residents alike.

© 2009 Michael Oand39;Connor/Appalachian Mountain Club Books. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Discover Cape Cod" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 50.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 50.

Named for two of the oldest families in this part of Cape Cod, the Atwood- Higgins House is now in the National Register of Historic Places. The restored site includes fields and outbuildings, as well as the main house. Originally a half-Cape Cod-style house built in 1730, it was expanded several times over the next two centuries.
Wellfleet, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
From this spectacular overlook, which features a delightful sitting platform, you can take in the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean beyond Ballston Beach. Given its proximity to the open ocean, the hilltop can be quite breezy, so a windbreaker might come in handy. Not only can you enjoy memorable views of a spectacular Cape Cod National Seashore beachfront and the open ocean extending to the horizon, but the panorama also includes the spring-fed source of the Pamet River and its surrounding marshlands.
Truro, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
The former Beebe Woods estate and 88-acre Peterson Farm, which forms the south portion of this admirable open space, present one of the loveliest walking and nature-watching experiences on the Upper Cape. The trails and cart paths are either flat or gently undulating, which makes this preserved space welcoming to families.
Falmouth, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
Named in honor of William Brewster, a Pilgrim elder, this town on Cape Cod Bay was settled in 1656 and was originally part of Harwich. It was not incorporated as a separate town until 1803. Settlers first built homes around Stony Brook, site of the first water-powered grist and woolen mill in the country. Brewster soon developed a reputation for industriousness on land and at sea.
Brewster, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
Today’s outdoors enthusiasts are following an ancient tradition of travel along this corridor. For centuries, American Indians followed the Manamet River and other tidal waterways that laced the narrow isthmus connecting what is now mainland Massachusetts and Cape Cod. This family-friendly trip on nicely flat terrain follows the recreation path on the canal’s south side from the Bourne Bridge east beyond the Sagamore Bridge to East Basin and Sandcatcher Recreation Area, where the canal meets Cape Cod Bay in Sandwich.
Bourne, MA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 10.5
This habitat of rare (in this region) Atlantic white cedars sits amid a swamp at the western border of the Cape Cod National Seashore headquarters. The trail leads from the parking lot in almost a straight line to this former kettle hole pond, now a peat environment many feet deep. The reddish-brown cedars grow ramrod straight from raised hummocks in the tannin-hued waters of the swamp spreading under the loop boardwalk trail. Visitors should appreciate these declining trees, which are inexorably giving way to swamp maples and other more dominant species. Other remnant pockets of Atlantic white cedar exist, but this fine example is the most accessible to the public—and the boardwalk helps immensely, both in terms of providing access and protecting the trees.
Wellfleet, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.3
The paved pathway follows the former Old Colony rail bed for almost 25 miles, from South Dennis through Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, and Eastham, terminating in South Wellfleet. The Old Colony line eventually became part of the New York and New Haven railroad, which once carried passengers and freight through much of the Northeast. By 1848, the line had reached Sandwich and six years later had extended mid-Cape, to Hyannis. The line had extended as far as Orleans by 1861, but its progress was delayed by the onslaught of the Civil War. After the war, the railroad quickly reached Wellfleet (1870) and its terminus in Provincetown (1872). The line remained active well into the twentieth century, until the growing popularity of automobiles and the development of the federal highway system spelled its doom.
Dennis, MA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 10
This trip includes a bit of everything. You pedal through classic mid-Cape terrain of woods and wetlands. You pass a pond and then enter Nickerson State Park; at almost 2,000 acres it is one of the largest open spaces on the Cape. (It’s even more impressive when you realize the state park is a former family estate!) Beyond Nickerson State Park, the rail trail soon enters Orleans, which features a fairly large “downtown,” where Routes 6A and 28 converge. By contrast, Orleans is also home to Nauset Beach, a spectacular, 7.0-mile sand barrier (the southern tip is part of Chatham) that is both a popular sun and fun destination and a semi-wild refuge drawing hikers, birders, and other nature lovers.
Brewster, MA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 12
Walking this village is a treat. On Main Street, you pass gift shops and galleries, a candy-making emporium, ice cream parlors, and great dining spots. Attractions to the north include a golf course and railroad museum. To the south, you find scenic salt ponds, the famed Chatham Light guarding the grounds of a U.S. Coast Guard Station, and more beach and wild coastline than you might think possible.
Chatham, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
Cotuit is one of the seven villages that make up the municipality of Barnstable, at 60 square miles the largest town on the Cape. Barnstable’s westernmost village on Nantucket Sound, Cotuit is understated, eye-pleasing, and mostly removed from the Route 28 tourist hubbub—a self-contained island without being an island.
Cotuit, MA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 6
At the height of summer, Hyannis can be a daunting destination; thousands of vehicles and even more people swarm to the largest, busiest, liveliest spot on Cape Cod. But this most “vacation-y” of Cape towns can also be a place for a memorable bike trip, especially if you head west and hug the coast. Craigville Beach can be mighty busy, but is one of the loveliest of the south-facing beaches on Nantucket Sound. And just east is Hyannis Port and Squaw Island, home of the Kennedy compound, which contains the homes of Joseph Kennedy and his sons, John and Robert. In between you can explore a quiet, modest neighborhood that evokes “old Cape Cod” and offers nice pedaling, especially for young families.
Hyannis, MA - Road Biking - Trail Length: 5
Great Island is not an island at all but rather a long coastscape of shore, sand dunes, and upland. It is a classic barrier beach, much like Long Point in Provincetown, Nauset Beach in Orleans, and Sandy Hook in Barnstable. Each parallels the mainland and protects interior bays, harbors, and marshes. In the past, Great Island was a “stand-alone” environment. It was a true island into the early 1800s and is now the chief upland of this land mass, rising 0.5 mile south of the parking lot. (Another natural feature of this hike, Great Beach Hill, located farther down the barrier, was also surrounded by water at one time.)
Wellfleet, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 8
This excursion offers a pair of contrasting bike experiences that also allow riders to share some of the National Seashore’s most dramatic environments. You can begin with a flat, family-friendly cruise along the Head of the Meadow Bike Path, which connects Truro’s northernmost public beaches on the ocean with Pilgrim Spring and High Head. Follow a paved bikeway along a former salt meadow, then explore the upland forest and wetlands that dominate the Cape Cod National Seashore landscape between highway and ocean. Finally, enjoy a visit to Highland Light.
North Truro, MA - Mountain Biking,Road Biking - Trail Length: 5
This hike along the outermost reaches of the National Seashore allows you to partially trace by land what the exhausted and frustrated Pilgrims saw from the wet, cold deck of the Mayflower as they rounded the tip of the Cape before finding refuge in Provincetown Harbor. You can reach Wood End and its lighthouse either by walking the outer beach or on a sand road that passes through a lovely dune habitat before emerging at the inner shore, at the edge of the upper harbor and salt marsh. I suggest heading out on the ocean side and returning on the inside, taking advantage of distinct but connected coastal habitats each way.
Provincetown, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
This mid-Cape tidal river and marsh complex is one of the most beautiful in Massachusetts, nurturing myriad species of flora and fauna and protected by more than 200 acres of town conservation land. The main stem of the river is interrupted by two dirt roads and a dike, above which spread an expansive freshwater marsh and West Reservoir, itself a popular destination with birders, paddlers, and other outdoors enthusiasts. From the launch site, put in and paddle right, under the Route 28 bridge and upstream. Launch a little before slack tide; you won’t get much of an assist on your upstream passage, but you’ll still have plenty of water—and a nice outgoing current—on the return.
West Harwich, MA - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 7
The Bass River comes pretty close to cutting the Cape in half. From Nantucket Sound it winds its way north for 6.0 miles into ponds and creeks that reach within 0.5 mile of tidal waters emptying into Cape Cod Bay. The aptly named waterway (striped bass chase baitfish along the river, spring through fall) is also the largest environment of its kind in the region, supporting an array of plants, trees, fish, birds, and mammals. This fact goes a long way toward explaining why the Nobscussett spent time here, especially during the colder months, when they sought dependable shelter from the more extreme winter weather buffeting the exposed shore lands.
Dennis, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.5
When you emerge from one of the several tidal rivers that wind through the eastern and southern Orleans into Little Pleasant Bay, the paddling possibilities suddenly seem infinite. Begin your trip by paddling east toward the Horseshoe and Sipson Island. This short, scenic stretch of water is The Narrows, one of the gateways to Little Pleasant Bay. As you head north, you will be leaving behind Pleasant Bay to your south. The largest embayment on Cape Cod, Pleasant Bay spreads between the mainland and the 7.0-mile barrier of sand, dune, and marsh that is Nauset Beach, one of the most popular summer destinations in New England.
Orleans, MA - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 3
Almost all this land was pasture when it was donated to the town by Joseph Fay and his descendants, about a decade before the Civil War. The cultivated landscapes were typical of this period on Cape Cod, when very little forest remained anywhere along the 60-mile spit, from Sandwich to Provincetown. From any high point, a traveler could literally see from town to town, church steeple to church steeple. But Fay was determined to plant trees, and some of the hardwoods you pass on the cart paths and dirt roads passing through this landscape are remnants of his legacy. In the vicinity of the pond you find fields of boulders, more reminders of the pronounced glacial action that created the Cape; as the last ice sheets retreated some 12,000 years ago, these massive rocks were transported, crushed, and then “dropped” by powerful natural forces. Of much more recent vintage are the uniform stands of white pine that are now part of the landscape, planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The Long Pond Trail begins beyond an orange vehicle gate. Walk north to a dirt road that bears left and then soon splits.
Falmouth, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
The peninsula, shaped somewhat like a wrist and hand with fingers and a thumb pointing in opposite directions, splits one large freshwater kettle hole into a pair of smaller ones. Enjoy expansive water views open to the north (Wakeby Pond) and south (Mashpee Pond). Almost immediately after reaching the peninsula, you have a choice: continue straight or veer right out past Conaumet Cove. I recommend continuing straight on a carriage road, heading southwest into the heart of the wooded landscape.
Mashpee, MA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
This trip offers an ideal mix of Cape Cod environments, and all on a paddling excursion that leaves you plenty of time for other activities. With its classic Cape houses and quaint cottages and lively Main Street bracketed by narrow lanes, Chatham is a postcard coastal community. The fog that visits each summer (a result of warmer Nantucket Sound waters meeting those of the colder Atlantic) adds to the town’s maritime authenticity. Launching on the Mitchell River, paddle northeast toward town on this short and scenic tidal channel that links Mill Pond and Stage Harbor. The blades and tower of an old windmill, now the dominant feature of a small town park, appear on a hill off to the left as you enter the pond; the windmill was constructed here, of course, to take advantage of the same breezes that might confront you. Circle the pond and return to the river, now on a southwest heading.
Chatham, MA - Flatwater Kayaking & Canoeing - Trail Length: 4