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.
10 Ways to Explore the Cape Cod National Seashore:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Make sure kids grab a Junior Ranger booklet from either Visitor Center and complete the activities to earn a Junior Ranger badge
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. And follow along on our adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.