Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Cape Cod National Seashore
President John F. Kennedy is known throughout the world for creating the Camelot mystique and helping to put Hyannisport on the map. Most people in these parts also know J.F.K. for co-sponsoring the bill that created the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Having summered on the Cape since childhood, Kennedy realized that the Cape Cod he had grown to love - the place he said he always went to “to be revived” - was changing. It was this deep connection with the sand and sea that led President Kennedy to sign a bill in August of 1961 protecting forty-three thousand acres of space from Chatham to Provincetown.
One might think that with all that space there would be an almost limitless supply of things to see and do, and indeed there is. From picture-perfect beaches and beautifully maintained walking trails to campfire programs, historic sights and working lighthouses, it can all be found at the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The southern-most point of the National Seashore is at Nauset Beach, managed by the Town of Orleans. The park really begins in Eastham, the town that is also home to the park’s largest visitor information building, the Salt Pond Visitor Center. The center is open year-round and staffed by well-informed rangers and volunteers, all eager to offer suggestions. Salt Pond Visitor Center also includes a small museum with indigenous flora and fauna, and an auditorium that screens short films throughout the day.
Other points of interest in the Eastham area include the Fort Hill Area, Coast Guard Beach, Nauset Light Beach and the Three Sisters Lighthouses. Fort Hill, located just off Route 6 south of Salt Pond, offers miles of awesome ocean views. A packed sand, mile-plus-long trail is the perfect place for those looking for a little action and the half-mile Red Maple Swamp Trail is a quick stroll over sand and boardwalk through the colorful swamp land.
Coast Guard Beach, further out on the same road as Salt Pond Visitor Center is, in a word, spectacular. The beach is regularly ranked among the top ten in the nation by travel publications. There is no parking at Coast Guard Beach, but a shuttle service provides frequent transportation to and from a nearby parking area.
Lighthouse lovers will be enthralled with the Three Sisters, a trio of small wooden lighthouses that are open to the public on a limited schedule. Nauset Light, just up Ocean View Drive from Coast Guard Beach, still functions as a navigational beacon. No tours, but still well worth a gander.
The next hub of activity is in the Wellfleet area, about a 15-minute drive up Route 6. Here you’ll find Marconi Beach, the Marconi Station Site, the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail and several ocean beaches managed by the Town of Wellfleet.
At the Marconi Area is yet another beach, as well as the historic site of Guglielmo Marconi’s historic wireless radio towers. It was here that Marconi made the first trans-Atlantic radio transmission in 1903. History buffs will appreciate the scale model of the towers on display and beach buffs will appreciate the sweeping views of both the Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay. The trailhead for the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail is off the same parking area for the Marconi site. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, this is one trail that is not to be missed; eerily quiet and starkly beautiful.
Most of the ocean beaches in Wellfleet are town-managed and they are beauties. Continue heading up Route 6 and look for the right-hand turn onto Hollow Road and then a sign for Le Count Hollow Beach. A left hand turn at the end of this road will bring you onto Ocean View Drive.
Any of the beaches on this road - Le Count, White Crest, Cahoun and Newcomb Hollow - are worthy of spending the day. Even just getting off Route 6 and meandering along the aptly named Ocean View Drive is a great way to enjoy the park.
The next town on the map is Truro. Truro is one of the most sparsely populated towns on the Cape; just miles of sandy beaches and open space. The ocean side beaches are similar to Wellfleet, with big dunes and chilly water.
Truro has three of the walking trails detailed in the park’s trail map; another swamp trail, Pilgrim Spring Trail and Pamet Area Trail. The Pamet trail offers a quick hike, with a fairly steep grade, at the top of which is the Bearberry Hill Overlook. The overlook allows you to take in the sprawling vista of shoreline and inlets.
Back out on Route 6, a right hand turn onto Highland Road will bring you to the Highland Light, also referred to as Cape Cod Light. Built in 1797, Highland Light is still a functioning lighthouse and is open for tours every day from May 1st through late October. You can actually climb right up into the top of it, but just watch your head – that metal structure is not very forgiving to the noggin.
Next up - Provincetown. So much to do and yet the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. This is Thoreau’s Cape Cod: serene, rugged and exceptionally beautiful.
Here you’ll find the Province Lands Visitor Center. Like Salt Pond, it’s fully staffed with a complete array of facilities. However, it’s smaller and seasonal. Short films are screened in the theater and long views are enjoyed from the observation deck. This Cape-tip location is perfect for picture-taking.
A bike trail meanders through the Province Land dunes and two major beaches are perhaps the main attraction. Race Point Beach is on the north side and Herring Cove is over on the west side. Sunrise, sunset, middle of the day - take your pick.
Beech Forest Trail offers another great hike or, to get off the beaten path, try the old fire road that leads out to Hatch’s Harbor and Race Point Light. A small dirt parking area just past the parking lot for Herring Cove Beach is the only indication of the trail, but the walk is amazing – winding up through marshes and over saltwater creeks. It’s lengthy, but well worth the effort.
The National Park Service has done an incredible job of preserving our country’s most incredible natural wonders: the Rockies, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone…the list goes on. It was on the Cape that this organization ventured into new territory with a National Seashore, creating what would become the model for future endeavors.
Cape Cod National Seashore by the Numbers
8/7/61 President John F. Kennedy signed the bill establishing the Seashore, a bill he had co-sponsored while still in the U.S. Senate
43,000 acres of land protected by the bill
4,000,000 estimated number of visitors annually
40 miles of shoreline within the park
1 the first time the National Park Service (NPS) had created a National Seashore, the model for the creation of at least nine additional ‘Seashores’ in the country
2 Visitor Centers: Salt Pond in Eastham and Province Lands in Provincetown
11 Self-Guided Walking Trails, each detailed in a free brochure
6 beaches managed by the National Park Service
15 dollars for a daily park-wide pass
47 no-cost ranger-led activities held throughout the week during July and August
5 lighthouses open to the public; schedules vary by the season
Just for Kids
Junior Ranger Program: Kids 8 thru 12 purchase the Junior Ranger book, complete activities within the park, participate in 2 ranger-guided activities and earn a patch proclaiming their success. Info available at the visitor centers.
Campfire: Join a ranger and gather ‘round the campfire to learn about Cape Cod’s natural resources. Held on Nauset Light Beach, Herring Cove Beach and Ballston Beach.
Beach Patrol: A quick 30-minute program with a ranger offering up info on everything from the birds and marine life to local shipwreck lore. Various locations.
Tidal Flats Foray: Prepare to get your feet wet with a walk through an inter-tidal zone in Provincetown. Call Province Lands Visitor Center for details at 508-487-1256.
Tracking: This ranger-led program teaches tots how to track animals by identifying various paw prints. Meets at Province
Lands Visitor Center.
Junior Actors: Little thespians will get a kick out of acting out seashore life behavior under the direction of a British acting coach. Meets at Province Lands Visitor Center.
Check out NPS.gov/caco for more kid-friendly programs.Back to Cape Cod Travel Guide Stories