Family Vacations to Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod (PhotoDisc)

Cape Cod Family Travel Tips

  • Swim at the calm bay beaches.
  • Explore the dunes and salt marshes of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
  • Bird watch, kayak, canoe, and hike the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Bike the 25-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail.
  • Go whale-watching for humpbacks, right, minke, and finback whales.

Just 71 miles from Boston, Cape Cod is a 399-mile landmass jutting 35 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, luring families to an old-fashioned, beach getaway where they enjoy clear ponds, gentle wild, breaking surf, cycling routes past cranberry bogs, clam flats, and hikes along high, windswept dunes.

Most towns on the Cape have saltwater beaches and some also offer sandy spots on lakes or ponds. With young children, head for calmer bay beaches such as Mayflower Beach or Corporation Beach in Dennis; Breakwater Beach or Linnell Landing Beach in Brewster; or Skaket Beach in Orleans.

The Cape Cod National Seashore, a 44,000-acre preserve stretching 40 miles from Chatham to Provincetown, is a landscape of breaking surf, rippling beach grass, dunes, and salt marshes. Swimming is safest in the calm bayside waters. Popular beaches with parking areas are Nauset Light Beach in Orleans and South Wellington's Marconi Beach. There are many scenic hiking trails in this area. With 'tweens and teens, try the more difficult Great Island Trail, a six- or eight-mile round trip depending on the route, which takes hardy hikers along the shores of what was once a whaler's rendezvous. For visually impaired visitors, the quarter-mile-long Button Bush Trail is a wooded hiking trail with guide ropes and Braille markers

At the 1,100-acre Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, sign on for guided bird-watching walks, evening bat watches, and kayak and canoe outings. Since many of the trails are less than a mile long, they're good for young gradeschoolers.

Pedaling is popular, too. The Cape Cod Rail Trail extends for 25 miles from Dennis past Eastham to South Wellfleet. Nickerson State Park in Brewster has an eight-mile bike path that connects to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, but plan to spend some time in this cool, leafy 2,000-acre refuge of pine groves and sparkling swimming ponds. The woods are full of wildlife—chipmunks, deer, foxes, skunks—none of it ferocious except the mosquitoes (bring insect repellant).

In Cape Cod, be sure to get out onto the water. Whale-watching is a favorite family adventure from May through October when humpbacks, right whales, minke whales, and finbacks feed in the plankton-rich Stellwagen Bank, four miles off Provincetown. Cruises depart from both Provincetown as well as Barnstable. On a 90-minute OceanQuest cruise, designed to teach kids about the wonders of the sea, budding oceanographers pull lobster traps, drag a plankton net, peer at microorganisms through a Discovery Scope, and learn the basic chemistry of seawater. Reserve ahead for these popular cruises, which depart from Woods Hole.

Tip: You've probably eaten them by the bagful, and at the Cape Cod Potato Chips factory in Hyannis watch how these tasty morsels go from mere potato to crunchy tidbits. And of course, you get a free bag and a chance to buy more.

Recommended Side Trips: Plymouth, Boston's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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