Exploring the Outer Cape: Activities galore

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of June 11-17, 1998
Exploring the Outer Cape: Activities galore
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Wildlife vacations fit for families

Exploring the Outer Cape: Activities galore
Question: I frequent Cape Cod (Hyannis, Massachusetts) for fishing purposes only. I would like to take an extended vacation in that area during the summer with children, ages 5 and 16, and of course my husband. If I can keep him off of a fishing boat long enough, I would really like to know what we could do as a family that's interesting for the kids. They like boating, swimming, biking, touring, eating seafood, but not fishing! Thank you!

Alberta W. DuBose
Jersey City, New Jersey

Cape Cod National Seashore has
many roads and paths for biking

Adventure Adviser: Although Hyannis has some redeeming qualities, head further out on the Cape's arm for a less-crowded and more authentic experience. Look at any map of Cape Cod and you'll notice lots of green areas stretching along this outer stretch, marking vast wilderness areas and preservation lands. Either picturesque Chatham or the slightly more downscale Orleans would be two good choices as exploration bases for your family.

Running from Chatham to Provincetown is the stunning Cape Cod National Seashore. This 27,000-acre eco-jewel encompasses towering sand dunes, wind-struck moors, ponds, woodlands, and spectacular stretches of pristine beaches. Pick any point within the Seashore and you'll be blown away by the scenery. There are also numerous old fire roads and paths for biking and hiking, plus a string of ponds for peaceful canoeing and kayaking. Check in with the Cape Cod National Seashore Headquarters for more information (508-349-3785).

Just off of Chatham is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, home to several hundred bird species. The nine-mile long permanent sandbar is accessible by kayak. Nickerson State Park is also close-by, and here you'll find a 2,000-acre lush and wooded haven. In Nickerson, you can hike, bike, canoe, or just plain explore and be on the lookout for deer and fox. There are shimmering ponds and a couple of beaches as well. Call the park directly at 508-896-3491 for details.

There are plenty of places to ride — and rent — bikes on the Outer Cape. A favorite for kids is the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a recent Rails-to-Trails addition, running from Route 134 in South Dennis all the way to Eastham and passing classic Cape scenery, like cranberry bogs, harbors and marshes. Further out is a very pretty 3.3-mile path beginning at Head of the Meadow Road off of Route 6 in Truro. The path traverses the Cape Cod National Seashore, with sweeping vistas of the sea and surrounding grassy knolls (think England). Provincetown also has a terrific biking network, including the very dramatic Province Lands Trail which dips through towering sand dunes and silvery beach grass and passes by great beaches (and ideal picnic spots). The ride begins at Herring Cove Beach.

It's hard to pick a best beach in this area, as they're all first-rate. In Orleans, Nauset Beach is probably one of the busiest, but a fun scene for families. Wellfleet, about 20 minutes from Orleans or 35 from Chatham, has a wealth of hidden-away kettle ponds surrounded by dense pine woods. Of these, Long Pond, with a nice small sand beach and picnic area, and Great Pond are the best. Some of the ponds require purchasing a permit, so check in with the Beach Sticker folks at 508-349-9819 first.

Other potential day-trips might include a visit to Eastham's Fort Hill, a haven for blue herons, with its network of trails winding through the downy farmland. Further along Route 6 is Wellfleet, an artists' hang-out, with galleries, a bustling harbor (you can arrange a sailing charter from here) and a splattering of seafood joints (the Lobster Hut is a must for an authentic eat-in-the-rough experience). Just after Wellfleet, blink and you'll miss Truro, a tiny moor-covered town named after a region in Cornwall, England. It was at Truro's Corn Hill that the Pilgrims first came ashore. Take a quick detour down Depot Road to the Truro harbor, at the mouth of the Pamet River (great for kayaking), then over to East Pamet Road for a walk around the cranberry bog and some of the best seascape around. If it's hot, pull into Paradise for a colorful mound of flavored shaved ice. A visit to Provincetown might include a bike ride through the dunes, a climb up the Pilgrim Monument and visit to Provincetown Museum, and a whale-watching trip (several outfitters offer two trips daily, usually early-morning and afternoon departures). Don't miss the chowder at the Lobster Pot, which wins awards annually.

You won't have any problem finding gray-shingled sea shanties offering up fresh seafood. The Chatham Squire is a favorite local spot, as is the Nauset Beach Club, located on the road to Nauset Beach. Orleans has several lobster and clam bars, including Kadee's on Main Street. In Eastham there's Arnold's, and in Wellfleet, your kids will love Moby Dick's and PJ's, where the clam rolls, bucket o' steamers, chowder and linguica sandwiches are delectable. For a family night out, enjoy some dogs and check out one of the Cape Cod Baseball League's fun and spirited games. If the Outer Cape doesn't sound like what you had in mind, then I'd suggest heading south to the Falmouth and Woods Hole areas, both of which also cater to families. But whatever you do, get out of Hyannis and explore the real Cape.

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