Cape Cod National Seashore
|Nauset Beach and lighthouse in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Stockbyte/Getty)|
In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts: the shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay; the elbow, or crazy-bone, at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown. ..." The 40-mile seashore boasts some of the world's most beautiful white-sand beaches. Buried deep in the New England sand is the story of the Mayflower and America's first settlement at Plymouth, dating back nearly 400 years.
It is a land of parabolic sand dunes, 19th-century lighthouses, shipwrecks, pilgrims, and wading plovers. The Highland cliffs tower more than 100 feet above the Atlantic, where surf casters battle with bluefish in the waves that pound the shore. Take off your shoes and wade barefoot in the calm waters of Pleasant Bay as fiddler crabs scurry over your toes.
There are some 365 freshwater kettle ponds on Cape Cod created by giant blocks of ice left by the last Ice Age. These ponds now nourish Cape Cod's abundant freshwater marshes, and along with saltwater marshes, serve as oases for waterfowl and shorebirds. These marshlands shelter swampy forests of red maple and white cedar that are best explored by kayak and canoe.
You can easily fly into Hyannis and Provincetown on regularly scheduled daily flights from Boston. The Plymouth and Brockton Street Railway provides daily runs from Boston to Hyannis and the Outer Cape (Provincetown).
Explore White Cedar Swamp
The 1.25-mile White Cedar Swamp Trail is an elevated boardwalk that loops through a forested swamp of Atlantic white cedar, red maple, black oak, and white oak. It is an excellent example of the many Cape Cod swamps that thrive near "freshwater kettles" created by blocks of ice left by receding glaciers during the last Ice Age. An understory of checkerberry, wild sarsaparilla, and mayflower gives way to a lush carpet of sweet pepper bush, inkberry, and sheep laurel in the wetter regions.
Kayak Salt Pond and Nauset Marsh
The Salt Pond is a 40-foot deep glacial kettle hole breached by the sea. You can access the pond via the Nauset Marsh Trail, a half-mile loop trail that explores the surrounding salt marsh ecosystem. We strongly urge birders to flock here because it is an excellent viewing area for waterfowl and shorebirds. Keep your eyes open for osprey and blue heron. The Salt Pond Visitor Center is the seashore's main visitor facility and features a museum, bookstore, and theatre. The theatre screens short films on Cape Cod's natural and colonial history.
Rediscover the New World
The 101 passengers aboard the Mayflower intended to settle in northern Virginia, but were blown off course and landed at what is now called Coast Guard Beach in 1620. The Pilgrims tried to push south toward their original destination but hit the unforgiving shoals of Pollock's Rip, forcing them to return to Cape Cod, where they settled at Plymouth. In Provincetown, you can visit the Pilgrim Monument and the Provincetown Heritage Museum.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication