The town of Harwich has 12 miles of nature trails
The walking and hiking trails located across the town of Harwich offer some of the best of Cape Cod’s landscapes—from forest and meadow, to wetlands and bogs, all teeming with wildlife. If you’re looking for a lengthy path to put in some rigorous exercise, a scenic spot to bring the dog for a walk, or just a quick stroll to take in the scenery, Harwich has a trail for you.
“There are two ways of looking at walking the trails,” says Peter Trull, a science teacher, wildlife specialist and author who leads walks in Harwich on behalf of Harwich Conservation Trust. “There’s walking to find and see wildlife—say, if you’re a naturalist or a birder—or there’s walking just for the sake of going for a walk.”
Harwich has several hundred acres of conservation land, which in total feature more than 12 miles of designated nature trails. The trails can be found at 10 different locations around the town and are managed and overseen by the trust and the Harwich Town Trails Committee.
One of these properties is Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands (2), a 259-acre swath of land in North Harwich, near the Dennis line. The area has about three miles of trails, which pass through woods and by marshes and the scenic West Reservoir. “Everyone likes Bell’s Neck,” says Trull, who lives in Brewster. “The area offers great views of so many diverse landscapes.” The main trail is a one-mile loop around the reservoir, and the loop was “completed” recently when the Hall family of Harwich sold just over four acres to the trust to be preserved as conservation land. “We are lucky here on the Cape that so many people want to preserve the land,” says Michael Lach, the trust’s executive director. Lach, who studied environmental policy at Cornell, says conservation efforts in Harwich have made it possible for wildlife to nest and find shelter in a wide range of habitats—and Bell’s Neck is a striking example. “The West Reservoir has great blue heron and osprey soaring overhead, and kingfisher zipping back and forth,” Lach says. “Often you hear their chattering call before you see them.”
Bell’s Neck also features four smaller trails that wind through the woods, including one that runs along Herring River, where visitors in spring can see the fish making their journey up the herring ladder to spawn. This particular area is a favorite of Stephanie Foster, a gardener and former trustee who lives nearby. “Herring River is a gem of the natural world,” Foster says. “It’s serene and rich with wildlife. I’ve watched the same swan family nest there for decades and mallards parading their young on the way to their first swim.”
The Herring River also passes by another attractive area, Sand Pond Woodlands (1). Just north of Bell’s Neck—and bounded by Great Western Road and Main Street—Sand Pond Woodlands is a 50-acre property with a half-mile loop that winds through forest and along Sand Pond, a popular swimming spot in summer. With mostly flat wooded terrain, the trail makes for leisurely walking, and there’s a bench with a nice view of the river. It’s a great spot to stop for a snack and to spy ducks, swans, red-winged blackbirds and the secretive green heron.
Harwich resident Robert Freeman, a retired letter carrier from New Jersey, has lived on the Cape since 2000. He and his walking stick are regulars at Sand Pond. “I like the mix here, the ponds—and the views of the marsh and the bogs,” Freeman says. “I completely forget about the rest of the world.” An avid hiker who used to hit the trails with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Freeman says he enjoys Harwich’s variety of trails and terrain. “Harwich isn’t known for hiking,” he says, “but there are so many places to hike here.”
A short distance east, walkers can enjoy another half-mile trail at Coy’s Brook Woodlands (4). The trail winds through upland pine and oak forest interspersed with tupelos, before looping along a marsh nearby an Atlantic White Cedar wetland. The lucky visitor might see a great blue heron taking flight. “Here, you can see reminders of the past, with the old overgrown cranberry growers’ borrow pits,” says Lach, who explains that about a century ago, local cranberry growers dug large pits of sand along the edge of the woods—using shovel and wheelbarrow—and brought the sand back to their bogs to help stimulate cranberry growth. Several of these pits can still be seen along the trail today.
In Harwichport, the Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve (9) consists of 66 acres, with two miles of trails traveling through and along wetlands and crossing Cold Brook (via berms) in three different locations. Named after Smith, a founding trustee and a 27-year past president of the trust, the preserve is a draw for both botanists and birders. The land is home to no less than 200 species of trees and plants, from red maple and small pine to cattails. Also, the trust and the Cape Cod Bird Club together maintain 45 nest boxes along the trails, and visitors might catch glimpses of bluebirds and colorful tree swallows. Walkers can set out on a number of loop trails, or walk the entire trail system in approximately 90 minutes.
Located between Chatham Road and Route 39, Thompson’s Field Conservation Area (8) consists of 57 acres, with wide-open spaces and multiple trails totaling 2.75 miles. Leslie Kennedy Shaw, a dog walker from Harwich, regularly visits the area with her Maltese poodle, Inspector Gadget, and three or four other pooches. “The location is perfect,” she says, “and the sunsets here are amazing.” Walkers can enjoy a multitude of trails that wind through open fields and pine forest.
For a quick five-minute meander, there are two trails located a short distance from Route 28, that each offer a little over 100 feet of boardwalk leading to scenic vistas. Accessed from Lothrop Avenue, Lee Baldwin Memorial Woodlands (5), named for the late naturalist and trustee, features a short boardwalk through the woods. A bench at the end is a relaxing perch where one can gaze upon a red maple wetland and enjoy the quiet. Accessed from Route 28, the A. Janet DeFulvio Wildlife Sanctuary & Boardwalk (3) offers pleasant views of an expansive marsh. The property was donated to the trust by the DeFulvio family, and highlights include a 20-foot osprey-nesting platform. In fall, the area’s tupelo trees turn a striking red.
On the other end of town, visitors can explore the Monomoy River Conservation Lands (10), which are located just within Harwich’s border with Chatham. With 1.25 miles of trails stretching along the Monomoy River (a.k.a. Muddy Creek), visitors can take a leisurely walk through the woods. The trails have benches overlooking the river, and those that make their way to the trail’s end are rewarded with distant views of Pleasant Bay.
In all, Harwich’s nature areas offer a diversity of trails and topography, wildlife and natural scenery, and walking and hiking areas to explore and enjoy. “In this special corner of the Cape, Harwich offers the curious hiker a chance to walk woodland trails, enjoy sweeping marsh vistas and reflect by picturesque ponds,” Lach says. “It’s always inspiring.”