The Cape Cod Connection
A Short Guide to Nature Walks and Trails Across The Cape
Ahh... fall on Cape Cod. The pace slows to a blissful lull as the earth prepares for winter sleep. During this time, residents and visitors alike sense the gentle changing of seasons and feel just a little less hurried. Fall is a time to relax and recover from summer's frantic pace. The days of basking on the beach have come to an end. The occasional day of rain is no longer a "crisis" for beach goers. Cape Cod's summer is the most appealing season to the vast majority of vacationers, which is a shame, not because summer isn't great, but because fall on Cape Cod presents a different face for those who dare to make the trek sans swimsuit and tanning oil.
While fall on the Cape can't boast the spectacular foliage displays presented by our northern New England neighbors, neither is there a complete lack of nature's autumn fireworks, nor places to enjoy the outdoors at a time when many consider nature to be at its best. Colors both bold and subtle abound on the many Cape Cod trails and nature walks. Quietly observing the subtle changes and variations in the fall lighting is enough to make one feel contented in the quiet beauty of nature. Have you ever stepped onto a vast empty beach and been overcome with an amazing sense of solitude and peace? For the most part, this is an experience that can only be had during the offseason, on this sandy peninsula.
The following, represents my personal, favorite places to enjoy the fall season. There are also a great many other areas which are just as spectacular as my favorites, scattered across The Cape. I hope you will use the following recommendations as a starting point for your fall adventures. I encourage you to ask your friends, neighbors, even strangers which spots they feel to be the best "Fall" places on Cape Cod.
Oh, here is something that may interest all of you walkers out there. The Cape Cod Pathways project has announced the schedule for its third annual Walking Weekend. From Bourne and Falmouth all the way to Provincetown, walks have been scheduled to satisfy everyone's taste in the outdoors. Held on Saturday, October 19th, and Sunday, October 20th, Cape Walk '96 can be your ticket to our most special places. Call 508-362-3828 for more details.
Race Point, Provincetown: (Route 6) Cape Cod National Seashore 508-349-3785
This is the place to go for solitude, - or bring a friend along so you won't be too lonely. During this walk along the the tip of the Cape, it is easy to grasp a sense of traditional Cape Cod at its most authentic. As the vast, yawning ocean stretches out before you, you can feel how its power and influence has affected every aspect of life here throughout the ages. There isn't much foliage at Race Point, since dunes rule this barren land. Check out the solitary old lighthouse, whose intermittent cry keep ships from impending doom in the notoriously treacherous waters. Built in 1816, the 41-foot beacon, with foghorn, flashes a beam that's visible for 16 miles. Wildlife abounds here; get a glimpse of seals and birds resting along migratory routes to their winter homes.
Great Island, Wellfleet: (End of Chequesset Neck Road) Cape Cod National Seashore 508-349-3785
Great Island (more accurately a peninsula) offers the adventurous walker variety. Stroll along the beach on the side of the sland coddled by the waters of Wellfleet Harbor; or walk along Cape Cod Bay on the opposite shore. You can follow trails through gnarled, pine woods as well as along the shore. There is even a vast salt meadow near the center point of the peninsula. Learn something about the human history of Cape Cod by visiting the site of the former Great Island tavern. The trail is four miles, one way, which makes for a challenging hike. Wear sturdy shoes and bring along some water. I find that each time I come here, (and there have been many), is a unique experience. There is one thing that I can almost guarantee: you will probably have the whole place to yourself. Great Island is one of Cape Cod's best kept secrets!
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, South Wellfleet: (Off Route 6) 508-349-2615
There exists a smorgasbord of wonderful choices for a grand fall adventure at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. There is a wonderfully informative, newly renovated visitors center, which is a good starting place to begin your trip and get an idea of what's out there, on the amazing 1,000 acres of conservation land. There are numerous trails, so I do recommend that you get a map and scout out your destination at the visitors center. You can see woodlands, marsh, swamp, sea, grassy moor-like areas, fall foliage, birds and other critters, all within the boundries of the sanctuary. Bring a picnic and make a day of it!
Fort Hill, Eastham: (End of Fort Hill Road off Route 6) Cape Cod National Seashore 508-349-3785
A sweeping view of the ocean awaits you as you drive your car (or walk) to the top of Fort Hill. There was never actually a fort on the site, but the hill itself, being one of the highest points around was used as a look-out for British ships during the American Revolution. Follow the trail along the salt marsh through old farm lands full of thickets and rabbit warrens. This is a haven for birdwatchers! Then enter into the forboding Red Maple Swamp whose trail turns into a raised boardwalk suspended over the squishy earth. When I walked this trail as a child, I always imagined I was entering another world, inhabited by gnomes. An interesting and varied trail for everyone. Learn something along your walk, about local Native American history, and native plants, since the trail is marked to correspond to an interpretive presentation by the National Seashore. Don't forget to visit the Captain Penniman House, with its archway of whale jawbones, a spooky but fascinating sea captain's home located on the road to the top of Fort Hill.
Wing Island Trail, at The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Brewster: (Route 28) 1-800-479-3867 in Mass, or 508-896-3867
This is my favorite walk to take after a big breakfast at my favorite restaurant. It's great at any other time of day too. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History offers several woodland-to-beach trails on the surrounding preserve. The Wing Island Trail leads across a magnificent salt marsh via boardwalk to Wing Island. You may catch a glimpse of a hawk soaring far above the marsh if you look up when you are on sturdy footing. Be careful when crossing at high tide. At the foot of the island stop and read the plaque that gives a brief history of the old salt works that used to exist on the island. As you walk through thicketed woods on narrow winding trails enjoy the peaceful medley of bird song, and watch out for poison ivy which is brilliant to look at in its fall disguise! When you finally pop out of the woods onto what seems like a mini desert, rest assured that there is a large body of water just over the horizon in the form of Cape Cod Bay. The museum leads guided walks along this trail. I have never personally taken one, but I am certain they are quite good, and probably offer a lot of natural and historical information you might not get otherwise.
The Green Briar Nature Center, Sandwich:(Discovery Hill, off Route 6A) 508-888-6870
The smell of this place may remind you of your grandmother's, or possibly your great-grandmother's kitchen! A large historic jam kitchen is still in operation at the Green Briar Nature center. The small river that runs alongside the center was an inspiration to the renowned author of Peter Rabbit and many other great children's books, Thornton Burgess. Participate in a jam-making workshop, visit the small natural history museum or just stroll the grounds of this lovely place. You may catch a glimpse of the stately old trees that line the river bank, in their fall finery. There are many nice walks and trails on the surrounding 57-acre town conservation land for you to enjoy.
Authored by T. Kaigle, Member of the HTML Writers Guild