It took me about 12 years but I finally made it to Cape Cod. I had heard so much about this fabled land that I had to check it for myself. It is real. Despite waking up at an unprecedented 4:30am and driving no less than 640 miles in one weekend (that’s 1030 km for you Frencheners), I had a wonderful time. That’s the good news. The sad news is that when I woke up in Albany the next day, the ocean was, without a doubt, gone. If you are familiar with the Cape, there might not be a lot you’ll learn from this post — it’s not that big a place, after all. For you out there considering a visit though, I’ll share how the trip went down, rough time estimates, locations and all, since — newsflash — I’m a planning freak. Keep reading for a lot of walking, biking, and swimming.
Airbnb to the rescue
First thing first, find a place to stay, on the double. I mentioned my unconditional love for all things Airbnb in a post earlier this year and once again, it failed to disappoint. My friend V. and I looked at a few places on the beach but ended up placing a reservation in Orleans at Mykee and Bill’s Wabisabi Farm, a gorgeous house right on Pleasant Bay’s waterfront. While this town is about 50 minutes away from renowned Provincetown, its central location turned out to be a blessing. The property, nestled against Kent’s Point Conservation Area, is beautiful and quiet. The room was spotless and decorated with great attention to details — the private deck was equally cozy. Our hosts were very responsive and attentive to our well-being. The breakfast, served on their picture-perfect deck overlooking the water, was delicious. I’ve never had a bad experience with Airbnb but for what it’s worth, I highly recommend this place.
Day #1. The early bird catches the worm, then dunks it in Red Bull.
4:30am: I had read my share of horror stories about the traffic near Cape Cod and decided to dodge that bullet accordingly. I was up by 4am and out the door half an hour later, fully stocked with Red Bull and cookies, the breakfast of champion. We made the 250 miles from Albany, NY to Orleans, MA in about 4 hours, with no traffic to report. Crossing the Sagamore Bridge connecting Cape Cod with the mainland of Massachusetts — a potential big point of congestion — turned out to be a non-event. Highlight of the journey, the sun piercing through the rolling mist in a spectacular fashion.
8:30am: arrival at Cottage Street Bakery (5 Cottage St, Orleans, MA). This popular joint is tiny but has coffee, baked goods, and a few breakfast offering. Walk down Cottage St. to stretch your legs and enjoy the view on the cove. Alternatively, grab the goods and drive 0.3 miles on Rt 6A to J. Young Windmill Site (pictured above), you can’t miss the windmill to your right — parking is ample and the benches are inviting. Either way, you deserve a break.
Time to hike
9:15am: good news, everyone, you are only a few minutes away from the Fort Hill Trail. Take Governor Prence Rd off Rt 6 and park for free at the end of Fort Hill Rd, Eastham, MA, on the small lot overlooking the National Seashore. The salt marsh is gorgeous. Pack some water, walk down the trail, and head north (to your left) for the best views of the barrier island, swamps, fields, and ocean (pictured below). Expect a few biting flies in summer — a former one was definitely fond of French meat. Once you reach the wooded area, press on; you should encounter a small gazebo (here), then end up at the boat ramp near Hemenway Rd. My buddy and I kept going north haphazardly along the shore, until we reached that cute house you’ll likely notice in the distance (here, and pictured below). Further north is Salt Pond Bay but we opted to head back to the parking lot at this point — I was running out of raspberries, after all. This whole mini-hike is about 1.6 to 2 miles on easy terrain; it shouldn’t take very long and is well worth it.
11:15am: with plenty of time to kill before our rental got ready, we checked Matilda Brown’s Ten Best Nature Walks on Cape Cod and headed back to Orleans for a quick hike at Kent’s Point, just off Monument Rd. This easy, dog-friendly walk offers a great view of Pleasant Bay (pictured below), access to the water, and plenty of shade. There are only a few paths to explore, it shouldn’t take much longer than 45 minutes to an hour.
Noon: for some strange reason, I had not realized our bed&breakfast was only a stone-throw away from our location, on Keziahs Ln; I could literally see it from Kent’s Point. If that’s where you end up staying, time to make a courtesy call to your host. I’ve already mentioned how great the Wabisabi Farm turned out to be, and I’ll recommend it again. By the time we had unpacked and chatted with Mykee and Bill, I was well overdue for a big old nap. Do it. Just do it.
Time to swim
1:45pm: I woke up hungry for a) food, b) the ocean, c) more napping. In an effort to combine all three V. and I drove about 10 mins to the popular Nauset Beach (pictured below), sitting at the very end of the aptly named Beach Rd, East Orleans, MA. The huge parking lot can reportedly hold a good 900+ cars and costs $15 for the day. If you are on a tighter budget, it is free after 4:30pm. We grabbed some Fish & Chips and onion rings at Liam’s at Nauset Beach and walked the 50 ft separating us from the ocean, at last. True to this comment, Liam’s would be a pretty unremarkable place if it wasn’t on Nauset — but it is, and people like them’ clams. Should you decide to stay for awhile, I would suggest to fix yourself a nice lunch and bring a cooler. Nauset Beach is very pretty indeed and its fine, clean sand seems to stretch forever — walk a few minutes down the shoreline for more elbow room. I noticed a number of boogie boarders tackling some good waves, nothing powerful enough to prevent us from entering the coldish water though. I had heard you can see seals now and then; no luck that day. Word to the wise, seals mean sharks, so… learn to pee in shallow water.
4:30pm: our hosts had mentioned a big freshwater pond, Crystal Lake, right down the street from our house (pictured below). Take a warm dip and wash off the ocean water at the end of a beach day; I enjoyed it thoroughly. The lake is accessible from a small parking lot on Monument Rd, right before reaching Keziahs Ln.
6:00pm: Mykee, ever so pleasing, surprised us by offering we borrow her kayaks. We gladly obliged and hopped on a tandem to explore Pleasant Bay at sunset, a delightful way to end the day. I’m sure one can rent kayaks elsewhere in Orleans; go for it, but for the love of Vishnu bring bug spray.
What happens in Provincetown…
8:00pm: Provincetown being famous for its nightlife, off we went. The speed limit ranges from 40 mph to 50 mph on Rt 6, expect a 50 mins drive from Orleans to the tip of Cape Cod. Parking is a real issue in Ptown, try the big lot at the base of the Pilgrim Monument, 1 High Pole Hill Rd; it is central and free in the evening. We made our way to colorful Commercial St. to mingle with the pretty people and find a place to eat. Walking from one end of Commercial St. to the other did take a while, by the time we had backtracked many kitchens had closed and V. was understandably half-dead. I guess that’s an ooops. We sat outside at PATIO, 328 Commercial St., a restaurant enjoying mixed but overall positive reviews. The gazpacho and swordfish were tasty that night.
Midnight: a long day behind us, time to crash.
Day #2. Time to bike
9:00am: breakfast! Mykee and Bill will serve breakfast anytime, and you do not want to miss it (pictured below). Alternatively, they had mentioned Grumpy’s (1408 Massachusetts 6A, East Dennis, MA), PB Boulangerie (15 Lecount Hollow Rd, South Wellfleet, MA), and The Hot Chocolate Sparrow (5 Old Colony Way, Orleans, MA).
11:15am: there is something about the ocean, pine trees, and dunes that puts me in a really really good mood. With that random factoid in mind, a coworker had recommended the bike trail near Race Point. It turned out to be the highlight of this Cape Cod experience for me. I drove us back to Provincetown, shelled the $10 parking fee at the Pilgrim Monument, and rented two bikes at Arnold’s Where You Rent Bikes, 329 Commercial St (508) 487-0844. Consider $6 per hour per bike, helmet, lock, and map included; that isn’t so bad. There are many other places to rent bikes in Ptown, and even though none of them seemed willing to accept same-day reservation by phone, they all claimed to have bikes at the ready around 11am. I’d still recommend calling the day before, but that’s my planning OCD talking.
I proceeded to climb on my wheels less than gracefully and completely ripped my shorts open, revealing way too much to the crowd in one swift motion. A pants exchange later, we rode to Conwell St. and kept on straight to Race Point Rd, where we found the bike path. The whole loop goes through the dunes on a well-maintained paved road (pictured below) and takes about 2 hours at a leisurely pace. Why rush, really? We stopped at Race Point itself, locked the bike, and sat on the beach for a while. It was less crowded than Nauset Beach and just as pretty; an option to keep in mind since it can be reached by car just as well. We pushed to Herring Cove Beach, before heading back to our parking lot in Ptown. Random act of kindness, anyone? Leave the lot, drive back to the entrance, and give your parking stub to somebody else — it’s valid all day.
There is always room for one more marsh. Or is there?
2:00pm: if you are still in Provincetown at this point, keep in mind that you are now at least 5 hours away from Albany. That’s a good chunk of time that I suggested we break down a bit by stopping 30 mins “south” of Provincetown first, at the Wellfleet Aubudon Sanctuary (291 State Highway, Route South Wellfleet, MA). Because birds. Entrance is $5 per adult and gives you access to a good-sized conservation area. One of the trail took us a little more than an hour, just what I had in mind. The tall grass near the marsh takes really intriguing shapes in Cape Cod (pictured below). Should you decide to stay quiet, you might see some birds through your binoculars. We were really good at being loud.
3:30pm: for the sake of satisfying my curiosity, we made one last stop at Cape Cod Lavender Farm in Harwich, MA, another 30 mins on our way back. Note that they close at 4pm in summer. I’d advise checking this place out in June, when it is in bloom; skip otherwise.
Good bye Cape Cod
4:30pm: wait, did I forget… lunch? Yes I did — that would explain Cranky McCrankerson here. A friend had hinted at the Brazilian Grill (680 Main St, Hyannis Port, MA), and since I didn’t get to check a similar brazilian grill in Albany before it closed back in 2012, I was all over it. Imagine a big buffet and all-you-can-eat meat served at your table, as long as you request it. Can’t go wrong with that. Extra points for the infinite supply of fried plantain and mango salad.
5:45pm: time to head to the Capital District. We made it in a little more than 4 hours this time, arriving in Albany really tired around 10:00pm, after some slight delay near the bridge off Cape Cod and on the highway — nothing major, really. Is traffic much worse later? Or is it ever bad mid August in the first place? You tell me.
That’s about it for a first experience in Cape Cod. I had a great time and hopefully some of this will be of good use to you.
Thanks to Tim & Will for the tips, thanks to V. for instigating that trip a while ago — I needed a little friendly push. All pictures taken with my iPhone. No, I’m not proud.
- Detailed map of the National Seashore (PDF)
- Cape Cod Self-Guiding Nature Trails (PDF)
- Cape Cod Walking & Biking Trails (CapeCodTravel)
- Ten Best Nature Walks on Cape Cod (CapeCodTravel)
- Things to do in Cape Cod (TripAdvisor)
- Cape Cod Rail Trail, Dennis, MA
- 25 free things to do on Cape Cod (Boston.com)
- Top 20 Things to Do on Cape Cod in the Summer (CapeCodTravel)