About Cape Cod: This is Cape Cod
It was England’s Bartholomew Gosnold who gave the Cape its name after the plentiful cod he found here in 1602. And, of course, everyone knows that in 1620 the Pilgrims landed here first before they decided to go on to Plymouth to settle. Over 400 years later, visitors increase the population two and sometimes three times in the summer. Not bad for a glacial deposit formed in the last Ice Age. But it was due to this geological formation that the peninsula that was Cape Cod acquired its distinct form in the shape of a hook, jutting farther out than any other part of the U.S. on the Atlantic Ocean. It is 64 miles long in total, and its width varies from one to 16 miles. In Chatham, the land bends and extends northward for over 20 miles.
With the completion of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, Cape Cod became a bridged island, surrounded by the waters of Buzzard’s Bay to the west, Nantucket and Vineyard sounds to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Cape Cod Bay to the north.
Cape Cod consists of 15 towns, with each town having an assortment of villages. The Upper Cape refers to the area including Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich and Mashpee. Barnstable, Yarmouth and Dennis are considered Mid-Cape, Brewster, Harwich, and Chatham comprise the Lower Cape area, and the Outer Cape includes the towns of Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. For clarification, Barnstable is the largest town on the Cape. Barnstable is also a village within the town, and the entire Cape is in Barnstable County.
But it is not the statistics that keep people returning here. Ask residents which town is their favorite, and they will surely name their own. Each town has its own unique style and appeal. The big draw, of course, is the beaches, some of the best in the world. Choose from the northern waters of Cape Cod Bay, the chillier Atlantic or the waters of the Nantucket Sound, which benefit from the Gulf Stream. Surfing, fishing, swimming and boating are a few summer pastimes. Drive down Cape to the 27,700 acres of the Cape Cod National Seashore for dramatic sand dunes, cliffs and infinite stretches of beaches. If you prefer fresh water, you are in luck. Harwich, for example, has some of the nicest freshwater ponds for swimming and fishing.
The Cape has always been a destination for musicians, artists, actors and writers. The beauty and solitude, which can be found any time of year, is a constant source of inspiration. Because parts of the Cape are so narrow and surrounded by water, the light in areas can be other-worldly, especially at dawn and dusk. Its beauty has lured artists and photographers from all over the world.
To get a feel for Cape Cod’s geography, drive along Route 6A to the tip of Provincetown and see for yourself the distinct differences in the Upper, Mid, Lower and Outer Cape. When visiting the Cape, whether for a day or a month, it is important to get beyond the main roads and do a little digging. Discover the nooks and crannies that you can call your own, whether it’s a pond, beach, bike trail, gallery or restaurant.
The cod may not be so plentiful anymore, and old Bartholomew Gosnold would not know what to make of Humvees, SUVs, chocolate martinis, trophy homes, rotary overpasses and anything “state of the art.” But there is still something for everyone here. Explore the Cape any time of year. Walk the beach, eat fried clams, applaud sunsets, observe seals and whales in their natural habitat or purchase a painting for over the mantel. Visit the Cape soon and uncover a memory all your own.
Back to Cape Cod Travel Guide Stories