Cape Cod National Seashore

The Cape Cod National Seashore contains more than 43,000 acres of wooded countryside, ponds, wild cranberry bogs, and about 40 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline. The Cape begins approximately at the town of Buzzards Bay and continues east into the Atlantic through the communities of Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Orleans—approximately where the national park commences. The park occupies virtually all of the remainder of the Cape’s tip all the way to the popular vacation destination of Provincetown. To the south of Cape Cod are the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Coast Guard Beach near the town of Eastham is one of the more pristine of the beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore because the parking lot is closed to all except handicap designated vehicles and park staff during the summer high season. This does not make Coast Guard Beach less accessible. There is very efficient shuttle transportation to take people from the public parking lot (a fairly hefty fee, but worth it), which is located about a half mile away. There is limited public parking right at the beach only in the off season. A long walkway leads from the lot through the dunes and marshes to miles of sand stretching in either direction. Coast Guard Beach is consistently rated one of the best beaches in the United States. There are cliffs for hiking, and the surf is good enough for boogie boarding and wind surfing. The beach does slope fairly steeply into the ocean, so this is not the best for young children.

There are a couple good hotels in Eastham, and you can also find a vacation rental in the area. An interesting fact of history is that Coast Guard Beach is the place where the ship Mayflower first made landfall in 1620—before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock and founded their colony about 40 miles south of Boston where you will find some great South Shore Beaches.

If you want to visit the beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore and still have access to great shopping and nightlife, gourmet restaurants and fine hotels, you may want to head to Provincetown at the very tip of the Cape. Called simply Ptown by many, this is a very active summer resort, with many Provincetown hotels and vacation rentals. Set on the narrowest strip of land on the Cape, the picturesque town is almost completely surrounded by more than thirty miles of beaches, and its Herring Cove Beach is one of the best.

Unlike Coast Guard Beach, the long Herring Cove Beach is excellent for families with children, because it is bayside with quite calm waters. Traditionally, the right hand side as you face the water is the family side. Provincetown is a very gay friendly tourist destination, and the left hand side of the beach is traditionally the gay section. If you’re up for hiking, head north towards Hatches Harbor for a more secluded experience and legendary sunsets. There are restroom and shower facilities and fee parking.

While the beautiful beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore draw most of the visitors, the area is steeped in history and boasts several fascinating historic sites. The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station was founded in 1897 and is located on Race Point Beach near Provincetown. The shingled building and lookout tower now serve as a museum (open in July and August) chronicling the Unites States Lifesaving Service that was responsible for saving some 100,000 lives. The Marconi Wireless Station in South Wellfleet was the site of the first transatlantic wireless message—a greeting from President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of England. The Captain Edward Penniman House, home of one of New England’s most successful whaling captains, was built in 1868. Located in Eastham, it also is a museum. Appropriately, you can also book whale watching cruises out of Eastham. There are also five historic lighthouses in the park. The Highland Light in Truro allows guided tours to the top of the tower, and the area around Wood End Light in Provincetown provides some great hiking.

The Cape Cod National Seashore is a wonderland for nature and wildlife lovers. There are deer, fox, and even coyote. Harbor and gray seals often haul themselves up onto the beaches and town piers in the winter, and bird life is abundant. There is one wildlife sanctuary within the Cape Cod National Seashore and it is administered by the Audubon Society. Nearly 300 species of birds will be found, including everything from herons and songbirds to ducks, gulls, and a variety of raptors. There are also miles of nature trails throughout the area, providing great bicycling and hiking opportunities. There is no camping, but there are some privately owned campgrounds both within the national park and on its boundaries. Nickerson State Park (just south of the national park) has 420 campsites, including yurt camping. All beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore have lifeguards during the summer season.

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