Enjoy some fresh air and exercise on a scenic Cape and Islands day trip
Day trips can arise spontaneously or are planned—and anticipated—weeks in advance; both scenarios offer opportunities to de-stress, disconnect and spend time outdoors. Naturally, Cape Cod and the Islands are perfect destinations for fun and fulfilling daytrips.
“Whether main streets or back roads are your preference, the Cape offers many options for peaceful reflection or the hustle and bustle of fellow visitors,” says Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “Whoever has not taken the time to explore the 75-mile stretch of the Cape peninsula has truly unforgettable days in store.”
With the help of a few experts who know the area well, Cape Cod LIFE has put together a small collection of day trip ideas; some are well-trodden, others more obscure, but all offer spectacular ways to spend a day. With the weather warming up, take the opportunity to visit Chatham, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, or any of the Cape’s fascinating communities. Just pack your camera, sunscreen and a sense of adventure—and head out for a day of fun outdoor exploration.
Cape Cod Rail Trail
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a popular attraction for both walkers and cyclists. Once a railroad, the paved trail winds its way for 22 miles through Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. Visitors can access the trail from various points, and can complete the entire length or just a short loop. There are many points of interest along the way including Nickerson State Park in Brewster and the Salt Pond Visitors Center in Eastham. Don’t have a bike? Several rental shops are available along the route.
Great Island Trail, Wellfleet
Part of the pristine Cape Cod National Seashore, Great Island Trail in Wellfleet features rigorous hiking trails as well as stunning views overlooking Cape Cod Bay.
Don Light, president of the Eastham Hiking Club, recommends planning for two to three hours to complete the hike, which winds around Great Island. En route, walkers can traverse sandy beaches, lofty dunes, wooded areas and vibrant saltmarshes. “It’s a mix of historical sites and beautiful views,” Light says of the hike, which begins by following a trail along the cliffs. Hikers can also take a detour to visit the site of Smith’s Tavern, a lively spot in the late 17th century where whalers and fishermen could get some food and drink.
For even more exercise, visitors can extend their walk southward to Jeremy Point—a 7.5-mile round trip jaunt—but the spot, which overlooks Wellfleet Harbor and the waterlogged remains of Billingsgate Island is accessible only at low tide, so check the tide charts when planning an excursion.
Monomoy Island, Chatham
A secluded island off the coast of Chatham, and accessible only by boat, Monomoy Island is an excellent spot to take in the Cape’s wildlife, especially seals and a diverse population of seabirds.
The Monomoy Island Ferry offers daily excursions from Stage Harbor Marine in Chatham to South Monomoy Island, the site of the recently restored Monomoy Light. “It’s part of the Monomoy National Refuge,” says ferry captain Keith Lincoln, “and it’s full of natural beauty.” Once on the island, a naturalist leads a guided tour offering pointers on Monomoy’s unique history, geology and wildlife. The Monomoy Island Ferry also offers seal and whale cruises, and is available for private chartered tours. Learn more at monomoyislandferry.com.
The Dunes of Provincetown
As the last town at the very tip of the Cape, Provincetown has an allure all its own. While a day can easily be spent perusing shops on Commercial Street or setting off on a whale-watch, Provincetown also boasts preserved natural areas with awe-inspiring scenery.
Light says a hike through Provincetown’s famous sand dunes offers visitors a glimpse of what Provincetown would have looked like when the Pilgrims arrived just under four centuries ago. “You can go up and down through the dunes,” Light says. “It is surreal out there; you can’t see any other civilization.” In the dunes the only semblance of humanity are the dozen or so dune shacks sprinkled hither and yon where writers and artists, such as Eugene O’Neill, E.E. Cummings and Jackson Pollock, have flocked for decades.
Light estimates the dunes—including areas in Truro—total 15 to 20 miles of trails. Visitors can choose their own adventure. A parking area is located off Route 6, on Snail Road near the trailhead. Learn more at nps.gov/caco.
Visit the Vineyard—and Polly Hill Arboretum
A daytrip to Martha’s Vineyard is just a short ferry ride from Woods Hole or Hyannis. The island offers so much—from shopping and beaches, to wonderful restaurants and scenic lighthouses. After breakfast or lunch, visitors looking to spend time off the beaten path should consider a walk through the peaceful Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury.
“There are so many layers that make Polly Hill special,” says Karin Stanley, the non-profit organization’s education and outreach coordinator. “The old farmsteads, the open fields, it’s really what Martha’s Vineyard used to be like. It is peaceful and quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the island.” Once a farm, the history of the 20-acre property can be traced back to 1669, and the arboretum’s offices are built in the renovated homestead which dates to the 1700s. The first seeds of the arboretum were planted by Polly Hill, the organization’s founder, in 1958. Over the years, Hill developed superior plants, and the arboretum took root.
The arboretum’s walking trails are lined with more than 1,600 types of flora and fauna. Guided tours are offered daily in July and August, at 10 a.m., and visitors can explore the property on their own year round. For more information, visit pollyhillarboretum.com.
Nancy White is a freelance writer from Hull.