Cape Cod is known far and wide as a vacation destination with so much to offer for visitors and residents alike. To help new faculty and students learn about interesting things to do on the Cape and Islands, we invited the Sturgis community to describe their favorite C & I day trips, hikes, bike paths and activities.
Xanthippi Abel, Art – East: Dune Trail
Dune Trail Head at Snail Road in Provincetown is an incredible hike that produces a feeling of being at the end of the earth. During various points of the hike you see nothing ahead of you but soft fields of sand, riddled with wavy texture created by the wind. When the dunes are at a high point glimpse of the wide open ocean peak through as if to tease you of its refreshing award. This hike produces awe inspiring moments of fresh air, incredible eye candy and a sweet work out. The hike takes about 45 minutes one way and begins off route 6 in Provincetown at Snail Road and ends at the Ocean. Make sure to bring water and snacks for the hike, and a bathing suit for the final splash.
Mary Albis, Latin – West: The Knob & Morris Island
Here are 2 of my favorite places on Cape Cod:
Thomas Bihl, Latin – East: A Short Walk in Dennis
There’s a seven cylinder Briggs & Stratton airplane engine between the two scene shops at the Dennis Playhouse. You should go and find it, not because it’s all that interesting but because it’s where this short Cape Cod walk begins. Stand with your back to the engine and look towards the woods. The path should be mostly obvious. It will carry you through a wetland over a wooden, arched bridge built by the father of a Sturgis alumna. The end of your journey will be Batha Hall 1698.
Jolanda Ferguson, English – West: White Cedar Swamp
There are probably others who have already added this trip, but if not, one place that we love is the White Cedar Swamp, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, in Wellfleet. This place is magical as it feels one is entering a whole other world.
Another place we have enjoyed is Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth. The home and gardens are a delight to visit and there are lots of walking trails through seaside forest.
Denise Hyer, Administrative Assistant – East: Exploring the Lower Cape; Time Well Spent
Seems that some folks don’t know about the treasures that await them beyond the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis. I live on the lower Cape in Wellfleet, a world away – well only 40 minutes from Sturgis, and I invite you to come along on this trip to discover some of the “must-do’s and see’s” down our way.
The Lower Cape towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown are often described as Old Cape Cod. The quaint villages are surrounded by natural beauty and scenic vistas unmarred by motels, fast food chains, restaurants and gift shops. Those are plentiful on the Lower Cape to be sure, but the Cape Cod National Seashore preserved much of the area to remain in a natural state. Thank goodness they did!
Here is an itinerary which includes just a few of my recommendations:
After exiting the Orleans rotary onto Rt.6 into Eastham about 2 miles down the highway you will see signs on the right for Fort Hill. GO! As you drive up the hill the Captain Penniman House will be on the right. This was the Victorian era home of this whaling ship Captain and features a whale jaw-bone entry gate into the side yard.
Continue up the road to the top of the hill ending at the parking area. There you will see a most magnificent vista overlooking Nauset Marsh out to Nauset Spit and the Atlantic Ocean.
Look to your left and you will see a white building gleaming in the distance. that is the Coast Guard Station at Coast Guard Beach. Follow the walking path down the hill. If you’re into hiking turn to the left to go along the marsh and explore the vegetation. The path will wind along and into the Red Maple Swamp. The Fort Hill area offers great bird watching opportunities and is magical for viewing spectacular sunrises and meteor showers.
Next stop: The Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham. Here you can view a short movie about how kettle ponds and shifting sands formed the area. The view of the salt pond from the building is lovely. In addition to a ranger station there is a small museum and gift shop. Be sure to make your way down to the pond and perhaps join a ranger led group digging for clams
You can take a short drive to the next stop on this tour, Coast Guard Beach, or ride your bike on a picturesque trail from the Visitor Center. Coast Guard Beach is among the top 10 beaches in the country. It is easy to walk onto the beach and it’s handicapped accessible. The views from the parking area back toward Nauset Marsh are spectacular. There is another marsh area behind the parking lot with a bridge that you can walk or bike across if you take the bike trail from the Visitor Center.
When you leave Coast Guard Beach travel up Shore Road to Nauset Light Beach. In November 1996,in order to prevent it from collapsing into the ocean Nauset Lighthouse was moved with a dolly and special flatbed truck to the opposite side of the road away from the dune. A short walk from here is a lovely park setting for a picnic where the Three Sisters lighthouses stand.
Drive or bike on down into South Wellfleet and watch for the signs to Marconi Beach and Station Site.
After turning off of Rt.6 onto the road that will take you to Marconi Beach you should first take a left turn onto the road that leads to the station site. There you can walk up to a lookout over the great Atlantic. Then walk the short path down to what remains of the Marconi Station Site, the first wireless station that transmitted messages across the Atlantic ocean. Just off this area is where the shipwreck and bounty of artifacts of the Whydah pirate ship were discovered just over 20 years ago.
The entry to the White Cedar Swamp trail can be accessed from the Marconi Site parking lot. This area brings to my mind Hansel and Gretel. The path winds through gnarly trees that in the summer have a thick canopy of leaves. But in the winter it seems mysterious with the enchanted “faces” you notice in the tree trunks.
After you’re done exploring history and the swamp, drive back onto the road to take you to Marconi Beach, yet another expansive and beautiful National Seashore beach great for sunbathing, surfing, bonfires and picnics.
Your next stop should be for a refreshment at the French bakery and bistro, PB Boulangerie. They serve lunch and dinner, but go for the wonderful breads, croissants, pastries, desserts, and of course espresso and cappuccino. (Corner of Rt. 6 and Le Count Hollow Road)
Take a right back onto Rt.6. At the next traffic signal turn left onto Main Street which will lead you into the quaint fishing village of Wellfleet. It is quintessential Cape Cod; cute shops, art galleries and great restaurants.
Winslows Tavern on Main Street can’t be beat in the summer for dining on the front patio overlooking Main Street. Mac’s Shack on Commercial Street serves excellent fare but our favorite there is the fresh-as-can-be sushi. Sit at the sushi bar and chat with the talented and creative chefs.
Across from Wellfleet Harbor are other excellent restaurant choices but the most fun you’ll have on a summer night is eating an ice cream cone from the Harbor Freeze as you stroll along the walk around the docks or on the fish pier. right next to this is Mayos Beach, a good bay side beach for swimming, watching shell fishermen gather clams or enjoying the boats in the Harbor as they travel to or from Cape Cod Bay.
There is something for everyone in the summer months: live entertainment from Country, Bluegrass and Rock-a-Billy music to Disco,Square Dancing, Shakespeare and theatre. In the fall the famous Wellfleet Oyster Festival occurs on the weekend following Columbus Day weekend. Music, arts and crafts, local eats and of course WELLFLEET OYSTERS! Don’t miss the exciting and competitive oyster shucking contest! An international shucking champion is a Wellfleetian who usually does a demonstration. He will amaze you with his speed. Be forewarned though; you might stop a flying oyster shell with your forehead!
I can go on and on with places to visit on the Lower Cape; The bike trail; the one and only Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre; the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary; our favorite town beach for the most magnificent sunset – Duck Harbor; best pond for taking kids to swim – Gull Pond; best bar-b-que – Russ and Maries; the best casual dining for excellent fried fish, mussels marinara and onion rings – PJ’s and Moby Dicks.
I’ll save the rest of this travel guide of the lower Cape for the next installment. There is so much more.
Until then, “Happy Trails To You”.
Jeff Hyer, History – East Walking Great Island
“Whale in the bay!” This would be the call that sent Cape Codders rushing to Wellfleet’s Great Island in the mid 1600s and early 1700s. The frequent sight of a whale struggling in Cape Cod Bay’s shallow water meant easy capture and a financial windfall from the oil that would be boiled out of its blubber.
Today, Cape Codders and tourists rush to the island to explore its marshes, plant and animal life, forested highlands, and to see the earthen foundation of a whaling tavern, which stood there in the early 1700s. Occasionally from the high bluffs, a whale can be spotted at a distance in the bay.
Hiking on Great Island is a great way to relax, enjoy nature, and explore the natural resources of the outer Cape.
The island is located directly west of Wellfleet Harbor and is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. In the 1600s it was completely surrounded by water, hence its appellation. However, decades of shifting sands caused by the ceaseless tides have reconnected the island to the mainland, making it a peninsula.
“It’s one of the few places you can really get away from people and relax,” said Hyer.
My favorite walk is Long Beach in Centerville. It’s approximately a mile along a beach grassy, sandy peninsula. Go at low tide and walk along the river to the right, then come back along the beach side. Wild rosa rugosa, tidal pools, great blue herons, ospreys, and migrating birds. Find it to the right of Craigville Beach, park on Long Beach Road at the end two small parking lots open to public in the off-season. Beach stickers are needed in summer season.
Stacey Locascio, School Counselor – West: Geocaching
A great activity we have done with our kids and a fabulous way to see some often missed gems is to try Geocaching. They have an app that costs around $5 and it’s like digital treasure hunting with an actual buried treasure at the end.
Christine McDowell, Theory of Knowledge – West: Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands
John and I live near the Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands in West Harwich. We live along the Herring River and see people kayak and canoe daily in the warmer months. We can walk into the conservation area from our house but there are places to park if one was to drive a car. The conservation area is a haven for birds. The lost manatee also made its home here until it was rescued. It’s family friendly as we take our toddler in the jogging stroller on the paths around the West Reservoir. Maps and info on the area can be found here.
Katie McIntosh, Social Worker – East and West: Walking Trails
I keep this article in my inbox to refer back to. Has some great suggestions. I personally love walking Scorton Creek trails in Sandwich or the “Hallet Trails” (that’s what we call them in my circles, not sure of official name) located off 6a behind the Yarmouthport post office. Great Cape walking trails you must try!
Maxanne Most, Chemistry – West: Hiking & Kayaking
Hiking: Great Island to Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, Crow Pasture in Dennis, Sandy Neck Sandwich/Barnstable line, Lowell Holly Reservation Sandwich, Pocasset Town Forest and Four Ponds Conservation Area in Pocasset (Bourne), Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge in Mashpee, The Knob in Quisett, Morris Island (Part of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge) in Chatham.
Kayaking – Basically the whole Cape but highlights are Waquoit Bay in Falmouth, Cotiut Bay, Barnstable, Pomponesett Bay Mashpee, Red Brook Harbor and Bassett’s Island in Pocasset, Barnstable Harbor, Bass River – Dennis, Herring River – Harwich, Pleasant Bay – Orleans and Chatham, Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee, Chase Garden Creek starting at Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth.
Niko Pol, Student – East: Sandwich Boardwalk
The Sandwich boardwalk is a super cool place to go. There’s a long wooden boardwalk that goes out over a marsh leading to a beach. There’s a bridge that lots of people jump off of at high tide, and lots of cool twists and turns to swim along in the marsh. The beach is also a great place to spend the day with your friends. You can bring a towel, and a snack bag and just chill for the whole day! If you’re looking for a day of fun and relaxation, the boardwalk is the place to go.
Marion Weeks, Community Outreach: Pamet Area Trail System
When our family first moved to the Cape from upstate New York in 1995, we spent weekends exploring the peninsula where we had landed. We were particularly drawn to the wildness of Cape Cod National Seashore so Nate decided to buy a shellfish permit for Wellfleet. We enjoyed canoeing from Wellfleet over to Great Island where Nate gathered oysters while 3-year-old Kate and I explored the beach. There we discovered Great Island Trail which continues to be one of our favorite trails on the Cape. Maps and info can be found here: Cape Cod National Seashore – Great Island Trail
My most favorite Cape trail (so far) is located off North Pamet Road in Truro: Pamet Area Trail System. We like to follow the trail up to the overlook and walk back on the beach to the Coast Guard Station parking area. We have hiked there in all seasons; the trail never fails to please. For example, Nate and I hiked the trail in late October this year and were delighted to see pods of whales spouting and breaching offshore. We estimate there were 40-50 whales that day putting on a show for free. You can barely see the spouts in these photos but fortunately, a couple of days later, the whales migrated to Eastham where a Cape Cod Times reporter captured the Whale show at Eastham beaches.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in our day to day lives and lose sight of the magnificent natural world that surrounds us. While discussing ideas for this article, several people mentioned they were a little hesitant to “advertise” their favorite places because they wanted to protect the anonymity of quiet treasures.
Recently, I attended a talk by Cape naturalist Robert Finch at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. He has written numerous books about the Cape and hosts a weekly radio show titled “A Cape Cod Notebook” on WCAI. Finch addresses the issue of protecting the anonymity of special places in his book Special Places on Cape Cod and the Islands:
“As for the protection of anonymity, that is a question all of us struggle with today. But over the years I have become convinced that even if anonymity is still possible on the Cape and Islands today, it is short-lived at best. In time all of our land’s special places will be ‘discovered.’ Better to introduce them to those who would find them and try to convey their unique qualities, their vulnerability, and the potential awards of approaching them with respect and patience.” (p. xii)
If you are looking for more places to explore on Cape Cod, check out: Finch, Robert. Special Places on Cape Cod and the Islands. Commonwealth Editions, 2003.
Marsha Yalden, English – East: Biking on the Vineyard
I think my favorite day trip in the area is to take my bicycle for the day to Martha’s Vineyard. The cost of a round trip ferry pass is $15 and only $6 more to bring a bicycle. The Shining Seas bike path in Falmouth runs from the off site parking lot to the ferry dock and is a nice ride as well and is only a couple of extra miles of cycling (though the shuttle will take bicycles if you so desire). Traversing this path is also a great activity unto itself…
The entire island of Martha’s Vineyard has excellent safe bike paths (covering 44 miles of the island) and riders of all abilities can choose a path that suits their needs. If you dock in Vineyard Haven, a great loop is to ride to Edgartown and then back through Oak Bluffs before returning to Vineyard Haven. More experienced riders can choose to pedal the hilly roads to Aquinnah and Gay Head but this is a difficult ride and not one I would do if I was only spending a day on the island. You can hop on a shuttle bus and visit this area of the island if you don’t want to get a full workout but want to see the breathtaking clay cliffs without taking the whole day to do so.
Each town on the Vineyard has a personality of its own and a quick Google search of each town will tell you the best sites to see, shops to visit, and restaurants to eat in. There is so much to see and do but it is quite possible to just go for a day and feel you were able to get a tiny taste as to why the Vineyard is such a popular tourist destination. I went for a day this past summer with a few friends and wondered why I don’t go there more often!
While taking your car over to the island and finding lodging can be expensive, it is possible to go for just the day and come back to the mainland smiling and happy that you took the time to cross the Sound to this gem of a destination that is really only a short ferry ride away.
*Past Cultural Soundings topics have included: Travel Tales (Fall 2011), Sturgis Reads (Spring 2012), Cape Cod Quintessence (Summer 2012), Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation (Fall 2012) , Where Were You When…? (Summer 2013), Comfort Food (Fall 2013), Books that Change Lives (Winter 2014), All Time Favorite Teachers (Summer 2014), Seniors Reflect on Sturgis (Summer 2015), Million Page Reading Challenge (Winter 2016), and Farewell Mr. Hieser (Summer 2016)