Five Awesome Hikes on Cape Cod
Explore kettle ponds and salt marshes before hitting the beach this summer.
Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 3.5 to 4 hours
Cape Cod National Seashore’s Great Island Trail is arguably one of the best hikes in all of Massachusetts. The loop starts with an easy walk tracing the shoreline of “the gut,” where the Herring River lets out into Wellfleet Harbor. Then, it climbs up into a pitch pine forest, offering stunning views from cliffs overlooking Cape Cod Bay. There’s also a history lesson thrown in, as a small stone monument marks the spot where a former 17th-century whaling tavern once stood. The trail emerges from the woods and traverses sandy dunes leading to Great Beach Hill, and ends with a breezy walk along the beach.
If a 7.5-mile looped trek in direct sunlight isn’t in the cards for you, there’s the option to shorten your walk to a 1.8-mile hike to just the tavern site, or a 2.4-mile walk to Great Beach Hill. If you’re feeling fearless, there’s also the option to extend your hike to Jeremy Point, a sandy spit that can only be reached when the tide is out. Set out equipped with sunscreen and plenty of water, and see a trail map here.
1440 Chequessett Neck Rd., Wellfleet, nps.gov.
Distance: 2.75 miles
Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Before embarking on this easy stroll around the marsh, check out the bookstore and habitat exhibits on display at Cape Cod National Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center. Then, exit through the back door, where you’re greeted by a sweeping view of Nauset Marsh. The hike begins just beyond the Visitor Center, beside the outdoor amphitheater.
The trail follows the edge of Eastham’s Nauset Marsh and Salt Pond before criss crossing over a field and through a forest. Toward the end of the loop, there’s the option to take a 1.5 mile spur to Coast Guard Beach for ocean views. With ponds, woods, and beaches, this hike knocks out all kinds of landscapes in one fell swoop.
50 Nauset Rd., Eastham, nps.gov.
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 2 hours
This inland excursion traces the shores of Cliff Pond in Nickerson State Park, a sparkling kettle pond formed by retreating glaciers about 15,000 years ago. The trailhead is just beyond the parking lot.
The hike darts from sandy shores to woodsy paths flanked by pitch pines and oaks. There’s a gigantic boulder that begs to be climbed about a half-mile of the way in, and there’s a range of wildflowers and wildlife on display. The pond’s water level has been high in recent years, so you might have to skirt around some flooded parts of the trail. And a word to the wise? Keep an eye out for patches of poison ivy along the way.
Flax Pond Road, Nickerson State Park, Brewster, mass.gov.
Long Point Lighthouse—Provincetown
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 3 hours
In his 1865 book Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.” This is true of the hook-shaped arm that juts from Massachusetts, and it’s especially true at the very tip of the Cape in Provincetown, which is where this hike is located.
The trail leads to the pointed tip of the Cape’s hook, offering a unique look back at P-Town. Start your journey from the end of Provincetown Causeway, also known as the West End breakwater. It’s a rocky jetty that extends more than two miles to Long Point Beach, which is blissfully crowd-free once you get there. (Hikers, check the tides before you go, because the boulders become submerged at high tide.) While not open for tours, Wood End Lighthouse awaits at the end of the breakwater, and its white brick twin, Long Point Lighthouse, lies beyond it. Walk along the beach to reach the second lighthouse, then take a dip in the water while drinking in views of Pilgrim Monument.
Province Lands Rd., Provincetown.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary—Wellfleet
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Mass. Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is a family-friendly spot for stopping, watching, and learning. Its Nature Center has in-depth exhibits about the wildlife that lies just beyond its doors, so check those out before hitting the trails.
The sanctuary boasts miles of trails to explore, but we recommend heading out on the Bay View Trail, then looping back to try the Goose Pond Trail. The Bay View trail meanders along the edges of an inlet, winding through shady pitch pines and oaks. On the beach, you can glimpse horseshoe crab shells and the remains of other critters. After this short loop, explore the Goose Pond Trail, which bypasses several ponds and the edges of a salt marsh. There’s the option to turn onto a curving boardwalk that leads to a sandy stretch on Cape Cod Bay. For the full spread of route options, peek at the trail map here.
291 State Highway, Route 6, Wellfleet, massaudubon.org.