How to Experience a Cape Cod Summer in One Day Trip

You don’t have to check into a weekly rental to enjoy everything the Cape has to offer, from the surf and sand you’ve always loved to rugged but gorgeous trails that veer well off the beaten path. Just load up the car (don’t forget the bathing suits!), cross the Sagamore, and find your happy place.

Cape Cod Rail Trail / Photo by Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Approximate Drive Time From Boston: 1.2 to 2 hours


Cliff Pond Trail, Brewster

Hiking around this 206-acre, crystal-clear kettle pond in the middle of woodsy Nickerson State Park, you might forget you’re in Cape Cod. Keep an eye out for wildflowers, wildlife, and a colossal boulder along the 2.7-mile loop trail surrounding the water—and if it’s a hot day, don’t be afraid to jump in.

Great Island Trail, Wellfleet

This isn’t your average beach walk. Set aside at least half a day to traverse the entire 8.8-mile loop, which takes you through pitch-pine forests and across sandy dunes en route to Great Beach Hill, where you’ll be treated to panoramas of the pristine coastal landscape. If you’re up for a little adventure afterward, scurry over to Jeremy Point, a sand spit that can be reached only at low tide.

Nauset Marsh trail, Eastham

This short, beginner-friendly hike starts near the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center, meandering along picturesque Salt Pond and Nauset Marsh and through fields and forest. Pro tip: When you reach the 1.5-mile trail extension leading to Coast Guard Beach, take it.


Cape Cod Rail Trail, Yarmouth to Wellfleet

Don’t have a bike of your own? You can rent one right along this mostly flat, well-paved, 27.5-mile trail that runs through forests and charming town centers and around kettle ponds and cranberry bogs (with options to detour to the national seashore farther east). For the perfect morning or afternoon ride, start in the recently built Yarmouth section, crossing a bridge over the Bass River, and head back once you get through Nickerson State Park in Brewster.

Shining Sea Bikeway, North Falmouth to Woods Hole

True to its name—an ode to former Falmouth resident Katharine Lee Bates’s “America the Beautiful”—the Shining Sea Bikeway is all about soaking up water views on two wheels. Feel the gentle coastal breeze against your face as you zip by a stunning salt marsh, a lighthouse, and Vineyard Sound beaches perfect for splashing around after a hot ride.

Trail of Tears, West Barnstable

This one’s for the daredevils. Originally designed as a motorcycle loop, 21 miles of single-track in the West Barnstable Conservation Area send mountain bikers on a twist-filled ride through a dense canopy of American beech, red oak, and white pine trees. With routes for beginners to more-advanced thrill seekers, the trail network features plenty of hills and terrain that ranges from sand to pine needles and roots.


Whether you’re looking for a gooey cinnamon-pecan bun before you hit the trails or a delightful picnic lunch to bring along with you, you’ll find it at Pain d’Avignon in Hyannis, which is offering its freshly baked breakfast pastries, sandwiches, and salads to go.


Eat Clams With Your Toes in the Sand

Even day-trippers can partake in Chatham Bars Inn’s signature beach clambakes, which are scheduled to kick off this year by the end of June. Tuck into lobster, corn, potatoes, and clams—all at a safe social distance, of course—as the sun fades into the horizon.


For a slower but more scenic ride from west to east, follow Route 6A (Old King’s Highway), which winds along the bay from Bourne to Orleans and passes by historical homes and churches as well as charming antiques shops. On your ride, you can detour to the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich to stroll through the flowering 100 acres (be sure to buy tickets in advance). Also just a short distance off the road is the 1,350-foot Sandwich Boardwalk, a.k.a. the “Plank Walk,” which juts out into Cape Cod Bay for prime views. If you’re heading farther east, swing by by the 1700s-built Jonathan Young Windmill in Orleans for a quick selfie before continuing on to your next stop.

More Day Trip Ideas to Escape the City This Summer