Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: The Trails Less Traveled: Cape Cod’s hidden secrets
There’s no doubt about it. When it comes to Cape Cod, it’s all about the beaches. With nearly 560 miles of shoreline, and countless books devoted to celebrating its sandy coast, it certainly seems that way. Even national magazines frequently weigh in with some version of a ‘best beaches on Cape Cod’ list, including the hallowed Travel & Leisure. Clearly, they’re something special.
An aspect of the Cape that seemingly gets much less press is the miles and miles of walking trails. Some of them even lead to a beach. A surprising amount of open space has been set aside in nearly every town on the Cape, protected forever from any development, much of it filled with wonderfully underutilized walking trails.
With few big hills, much less any mountains, these trails are really more about walking than hiking; for the most part level and easy to traverse. Some have well marked parking areas while others are less conspicuous.
Talbot’s Point, East Sandwich
In East Sandwich, Talbot’s Point Conservation Area and the adjacent East Sandwich Game Farm offer a total of 245 acres of open space and, judging by the number of cars there on a gorgeous September day (just one), this little piece of paradise in one the town’s best kept secrets.
Heading east through Sandwich on Route 6A, take a left onto Old County Road. A mile or so up look for the Talbot’s Point Conservation Land sign on the left hand side. A short dirt road crosses the tracks used by the Cape Cod Central Railroad, great photo op right there, and leads to a small parking area.
The main trail is a loop; just beyond the parking area bear right onto a well packed sandy trail. Within yards you’ll be rewarded with little peaks of an expansive salt marsh and that’s what this trail is really about, reed-filled acres that change color every season and are home to loads of wildlife.
This particular trail is just a mile and a half long, under an hour if you’re moving at a decent clip, even allowing time to take photos of the occasional osprey nest. But with multiple side trails to wander and the Game Farm right next door, it’s more than possible to spend half the day exploring both areas. Pack a lunch and water, bring your camera and your binoculars and savor the absolute quiet.
For more information and maps of the area, look for the ‘Nature Trails at Scorton Creek’ brochure available through the Thornton W. Burgess Society.
The Knob, Falmouth
Down in Falmouth is another off-the-beaten-track treasure; The Knob. With just twelve acres, the Cornelia Carey Sanctuary, as it’s officially called, isn’t a place to plan on getting a great workout, but beach lovers will not be disappointed.
Take Woods Hole Road south out of Falmouth center and make a right onto Quissett Harbor Road at the traffic light. Just past the working harbor is a small parking area which can fill up quickly. There is limited street parking, but beware the tow zone signs, they mean it.
If you’ve parked in one of the lot spaces, the trailhead will be directly behind you, to the right of the harbor. Stick with this main trail through the woods for 15 minutes or so and you’ll pop out onto a crescent-shaped sandy beach tucked up into a small inlet; a good tanning spot on windy or slightly chilly spring days. ‘The Knob, a hill of land jutting out into the water offering amazing views of Buzzards Bay, will be on your left as you face the water.
To enjoy the full loop of trails, come up off the beach and bear right. It circles around, hugging the water, with several short offshoots crisscrossing the acreage.
Bell’s Neck, Harwich
Head down-Cape to Harwich and you’ll have your pick of places to hike. This town has down a phenomenal job of preserving land. Contact the Harwich Conservation Trust and request a copy of their trail guide, or pop onto the website, and take your pick.
Just over the Dennis/Harwich line, and not far from exit nine off Route 6, is the Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands; nearly 260 acres of woods, salt marsh and ancient cranberry bogs. From Great Western Road, take a right onto Bell’s Neck Road, and drive in about a quarter-of-a-mile. There is a small parking area and a kiosk with a map at the trailhead.
This is easy, level walking with gorgeous views of the marsh on a nearly 3 mile trail loop. At the western point of loop is an active herring run where, for a short time in the spring, thousands of river herring will fight their way upstream to spawn. When it’s happening, it’s pretty impressive.
Bell’s Neck is also home to a vast array of wildlife. Several types of birds of prey return year after year to nest and then fledge their young; osprey, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and great-horned owls to name a few. Fox and coyote are also plentiful, as are deer, rabbits and the occasional muskrat.
For another great place to mix a little bird watching with your walking, head out to Chatham to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Head through the center of Chatham, take a right at the stop sign at the end of Main Street, go past the lighthouse and then follow the signs for Morris Island and the refuge. A causeway brings you out to Morris Island and then a large sign on the left directs you to a parking area with restrooms and a small, seasonal ranger station.
This is another phenomenal area that doesn’t see a lot of foot traffic. The short boardwalk, stairs leading down to the beach and area immediately below had a handful of people milling about one perfect summer day, but the trails beyond had four, count ‘em four, other people walking around.
One thing of crucial importance here is the tide. Either plan your time at Monomoy around low tides or plan on getting wet above the ankles because there is one short stretch of beach that is under water at high tide. Other than this caveat, plan on flat, sandy trails and some of the best ocean views to be found on Cape Cod. Across the channel is North Monomoy Island. Hike out less than a mile and you’ll see Stage Harbor and the old Stage Harbor Light out around the bend.
There are plenty of places to just plop down on sandy beach, the water is crystal clear and not too cold so, if you’ve thought to pack a towel, jump right in. The Monomoy refuge is a great place to combine the best of Cape Cod; a day at the beach with a decent hike.
Hatch’s Harbor, Provincetown
Out in Provincetown is perhaps one of the greatest walks on the East Coast…seriously. Cape Cod National Seashore has done a great job of maintaining a few trails that are visited by thousands every year. They’ve put together an easy-to-read ‘Self-Guided Trail Map’ with details on each. What they haven’t done is publicized the old ‘fire roads’ that run all over the park.
One of these fire roads leads out to Hatches Harbor. Parking is in a sand lot just past the parking area for Herring Cove Beach. There is a barricade blocking vehicles, but walking is permitted. On an eighty-degree summer day there were no other people out there; nobody, not another soul.
It’s basically a packed sand road for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Within a quarter-of-a-mile you’ll have views of Race Point Light far out in front of you, the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station off to the right and, eventually, Pilgrim Monument behind you.
Time it right and you can actually walk across sand flats right out to the lighthouse, now used as a rustic inn of sorts, and out to the beach at Hatches Harbor. Time it wrong and you still won’t get stuck. Fishermen with four-wheel drive vehicles use the beach and access it over a different road. If the tide has come in and you’re caught, plan on making friends with one of these fishermen. They’ll bring you home.
This is Cape Cod at its finest; sparkling blue water, grass-covered dunes and big blue skies with peeks of a lighthouse off in the distance. After all, Mr. Thoreau seemed to agree.
-Talbot’s Point, East Sandwich
-Exit 3 off Rte. 6
-Left onto Quaker Meetinghouse Rd.
-Right onto Rte. 6A
-Right onto Old Country Rd.
-Left into parking area (sign: Talbot’s Point)
The Knob, Falmouth
-Rte. 28 South into Falmouth Center
-Straight onto Woods Hole Rd.
-Right onto Quissett Harbor Rd. (at traffic light)
-Park in area just past Quissett Harbor
Bell’s Neck, Harwich
-Exit 9 off Rte. 6
-Left at 3rd traffic light onto Upper County Rd.
-Quick left onto Great Western Rd.
-Right onto Bell’s Neck Rd.
-Main St. (Rte. 28) through Chatham Center
-Right at Stop sign (still Main St.)
-Bear left onto Morris Island Rd.
-Left at sign (National Wildlife Refuge) onto Tisquantum Rd.
Hatch’s Harbor, Provincetown
-Rte 6 to its end
-Right onto Province Lands Rd.
-Left into dirt parking area just past Herring Cove Beach
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