10 Ways to Explore the Cape Cod National Seashore

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The Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the most popular spots on the Cape, attracting 4.5 million visitors each year. The 43,608 acres of the Seashore are spread out across six towns and on both the Cape Cod Bay and Atlantic Ocean sides of Cape Cod, the “flexed arm” of Massachusetts. Overseen by the National Park Service and established in 1961, the National Seashore encompasses 40 miles of beach, 12 self guided hiking trails, six public beaches (Coast Guard, Nauset Light, Marconi, Head of the Meadow, Race Point, and Herring Cove), 6 lighthouses, three biking trails, fishing and hunting, and two Visitor Centers (Province Lands  and Salt Marsh). 

The Visitor Centers are free to visit, as are many ranger led programs and activities, and showcase the history of the Cape, beginning with the English pilgrims who arrived at Provincetown on the Mayflower in November of 1620 . Visiting National Park Service sites (there are over 400!) are one of our favorite activities in a new spot and we really enjoyed our recent to the area. Most people explore the Seashore during peak summer months, but there is still plenty to see and do during the quieter winter months.

path to the beach at Cape Cod National Seashore

Travel Tips:

  • The main Salt Marsh Visitor Center is open year round with rangers on site with varying hours; the Province Lands Visitor Center is open from May 1st through October 31st with varying hours; see updated information here
  • Entrance fees at beaches are charged on weekends Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekdays late June through mid September. Information on fees and various annual passes can be found here
  • There are tons of daily activities and ranger led programs during peak summer season; check the calendar here
  • There is plenty of free parking at both Visitor Centers, but fees are charged at local beach properties.  Route 6A is the main road that runs through the seashore (and most of the Cape). Information on public transportation and trams can be found here and here.
  • Restrooms are located inside adjacent buildings to the Salt Marsh Visitor Center (open year round) and Province Lands Visitor Center (open seasonally). 
  • Gifts shops are located inside both Visitor Centers, as well as a small shop at Highland Light, but there are no dining facilities on either property. There are some lodging options within the park; check here for a list of rental properties
  • Make sure kids grab a Junior Ranger booklet at either Visitor Center to complete and earn a Junior Ranger badge and be sure to collect your National Park Service stamps (there’s one for each Visitor Center, three stamps for lighthouses, and one stamp for the Marconi State Site)
  • See a complete map of the Cape Cod National Seashore here.

10 Ways to Explore the Cape Cod National Seashore:

  1. Start in the Salt Marsh Visitor Center, open all year, and staffed with knowledgeable park rangers. Watch one of the short movies in the auditorium to get an overview of the Cape and its history. There are six films, each less than 15 minutes, and the “Standing Bold” film shares the history of the wildlife and landscape of the Cape.
  2. Explore the indoor museum exhibit that features artifacts from the Wampanoag Tribe: Guests can listen to audio clips narrating everyday life, choose a favorite shark tooth scrimshaw, and see a “breeches buoy.”
  3. Attend a ranger led program out “in the field” or in the amphitheater (both Visitor centers have an outdoor amphitheater). See the weekly calendar here and program flyers here.
  4. Make sure kids grab a Junior Ranger booklet from either Visitor Center and complete the activities to earn a Junior Ranger badge 
  5. Hike some of the 11+ self guided trails, ranging in length and with various features like boardwalks and water views. Kids will especially like the Buttonbush Trail (a short, multi sensory trail). See the complete list and details on each trail here.
  1. Bike or skate any of the three paved bike trails (ranging from 1.6 to 7.3 miles): Province Lands Trail (in Provincetown), Head of the Meadow Trail (in Truro), and Nauset Trail (in Eastham). See the trail map and full details here.
  2. Spend the day at one of the six beaches in the National Seashore. Each beach offers its own views,  features accessibility, and crowds. Beaches are supervised by lifeguards from mid June through Labor Day weekend. The off season is surely more peaceful and accessible (and better parking options!).  Read about the individual features of each beach (Coast Guard, Nauset Light, Marconi, Head of the Meadow, Race Point, and Herring Cove) here.
  3. Climb to the top of the six lighthouses that are a part of the Seashore. The Highland Light (in Truro), Nauset Light and Three Sisters Light (in Eastham), Race Point, Wood End, and Long Point (in Provincetown) are open seasonally for tours and programs. Find more information here
  4. In season, explore some of the historic buildings in the Seashore: Penniman House (in Eastham), Atwood-Higgins House (in Wellfleet), Pamet Cranberry Bog House and Highland House (in Truro) and the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station (in Provincetown). The buildings have varying open hours and an opportunity to learn about the history of the Cape. More information here
  5. Rent a kayak or boat and see the seashore from the water! Ranger led tours are popular during peak summer months- see more information here– and many local businesses offer rentals and tours. Page six of the Seashore’s annual trip planner offers plenty of park-vetted businesses. 

Also a National Park Service fan? Check out some of the dozens of posts on the blog featuring 12 National Parks and dozens of National Park Service sites. Looking for more adventures on Cape Cod? Check out our full Cape Cod During the Winter City Guide and our posts featuring the Whydah Pirate Museum, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Heritage Museums and Gardens, Woods Hole Science Aquarium, Ocean Edge Resort and Spa, and Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter

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  1. Even though I have lived here for over 50 years there was so much in this blog I never knew, particularly that Provincetown is where the mayflower landed. We visit Provincetown from time to time but we will now have so much more to learn and enjoy about the seashore and all there is to appreciate. Great job and thank you

  2. 40 miles of beaches wow! I love the handy tips on how best to enjoy it all. I love the sound of the hikes (boardwalks are always fun) and going to the top of the lighthouses!

  3. Thank you so much for your first-hand experience of the Cape Cod National Shore!! I love all the photos and info. I have always wanted to check out Cape Cod, but now it is higher on the list!

  4. Thank you for the informative post about exploring Cape Cod National Seashore. I appreciated the diverse range of activities you suggested and your emphasis on preserving the environment. Your post has piqued my interest in visiting the Seashore. Well done, and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

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