The beauty of Cape Cod is its diverse, natural landscape. Along with gorgeous sandy beaches, salt marshes, and pine forests, you’ll find fresh water kettle ponds, lovely nature preserves, and state-protected parks. Staying in historic Bass River, home to the Captain Farris House, affords easy access to dozens of spots east and west of us, making it the ideal place to call home when visiting. Here are 6 state parks and sanctuaries to visit on Cape Cod.
Traveling from the Cape Cod canal to the tip of the island at Provincetown, virtually any exit off the main drag will take you to one of Cape Cod’s 15 charming towns and villages, each boasting its own lovely coastline. But if you stop a while and explore beyond the main streets and beaches, what you’ll discover is a wealth of nature and unique ecosystems to enjoy. Whether you’re looking to hike, bike, kayak or canoe, any one of Cape Cod’s state park and sanctuaries will fit the bill.
Cape Cod State Parks
Of course, the Cape Cod National Seashore [link to July blog] draws millions of visitors annually. Blessed with miles of sand dunes and acres of beach, the national park service maintains the two visitor centers and miles of self-guided walking trails. It’s a great place to get the “lay of the land”, but some of the smaller, lesser-known parks are equally enjoyable.
Nickerson State Park, Brewster
Eight kettle ponds, stocked with trout year-round, make Nickerson State Park a dream destination for anglers. Within the park, you’ll find 8 miles of challenging trails, conveniently linked to the 26-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, paved and ready to enjoy on foot or bicycle. In summer, park rangers offer a variety of nature programs entertaining for young and old. Open year-round, sunrise to sunset.
South Cape Beach State Park, Mashpee
Prized for its 2.5 mile long white, sandy beach, South Cape Beach State Park offers a diverse terrain of kettle ponds, salt marsh, and scrub pine. Two easy hiking trails, Great Flat Pond and Dead Neck Trail, frequented by runners and walkers throughout the year, are great spots for birdwatching.
Hawksnest State Park, Harwich
Access this little-known state park via Route 28 in Harwich, one of the south side’s prettiest towns. A 2.5-mile trail leads through deep forest to a pristine pond. Along the way you may spot the occasional snapping or painted turtle, great blue herons, ducks, and other wildlife. The sandy shoreline is a great spot to stop and take a moment to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.
Cape Cod Wildlife Refuges and Sanctuaries
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham
One of the most beautiful places on Cape Cod, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for a summer picnic. You can walk the nature trail along the top of the cliffs, stopping at the frequent overlooks for spectacular views of the ocean, then mosey down a set of wooden stairs to the beach below. Across the channel is North Monomoy Island. At the bottom, take off your shoes, stroll down the beach to the right a bit away from the stairs (which is the launching spot for the shuttle to Monomoy Island), park your chair at the edge of the water and watch the parade of boats, birds, and sea life until the sun sets.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellfleet
What you’ll find at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is 1,100 acres of conservation land consisting of salt marsh, a sandy beach, pine woods, freshwater pond, and a wide array of wildlife, including song and shorebirds. The Nature Center is a tribute to green technology, featuring passive solar heating, composting toilets, and grey water planter beds. The building hosts a variety of local plant and animal displays, plus two 700-gallon aquariums.
Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable
Choose Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary for its “million-dollar view” of Barnstable Harbor embraced by the dunes of nearby Sandy Neck Beach. This is the perfect spot for a stroll through butterfly-filled meadows and woodland trails that lead to tidal flats. Offering kayak tours and nature programs, be sure to spend some time visiting the animal exhibits that feature local rare species.
Parks and refuges are open year-round, making them a wonderful way to enjoy Cape Cod in any season. But these 6 state parks and sanctuaries to visit on Cape Cod are just the tip of the iceberg. The next time you’re visiting us at the Captain Farris House, be sure to take some time to explore beyond the beaches to get a feel for the heart and soul of Cape Cod.