With more than 40 miles of shoreline and six wide, sandy beaches backed by windswept sand dunes, what more could there be to occupy visitors to Cape Cod National Seashore?
More than many visitors can possibly imagine. The national park is home to a wide range of activities and programs that take place throughout its more than 68 square miles of land on the Outer Cape.
The park’s Salt Pond Visitor Center (50 Nauset Road, Eastham) and Province Lands Visitor Center (171 Race Point Road, Provincetown) each offer spectacular views of marsh, dune and ocean. Each also welcomes travelers with a variety of excursions, tours and information about the park’s many features, as well as offering daily screenings of the award-winning park orientation film “Standing Bold.”
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The Salt Pond location contains a comprehensive museum and outdoor performance space, and both centers provide changing exhibits and information that showcase Cape Cod’s unique natural beauty as well as its human history – from the Wampanoag, its First People, to later European settlers. In the summer, outdoor presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday “Evenings at Salt Pond” offer live music and performances
In addition, there are a limited number of advance permits available for private evening campfires on the beach for groups of up to 25.
Through tours and talks, park visitors can learn about the area’s fishing and cranberry industries, its important contributions in the fields of maritime life-saving and its role in the development of wireless communication technology. “Ranger’s Choice” presentations at both centers cover a variety of topics from beach and saltmarsh ecology, to the era of shipwrecks, to the area’s rapidly expanding summer shark and seal populations.
For a complete schedule of August programs and activities, visit https://www.nps.gov/.
According to Linzy French, the Seashore’s visual information specialist, the park was in a COVID-19 “holding pattern” during the past two years, but its activity-filled schedule is now “back up and running.”
Visitor numbers so far, she says, indicate the park is on track to receive close to 4 million visitors this season. “We offer as much variety as we can,” to appeal to visitors of all ages, she says, with plenty available for children and teens.
The National Seashore’s more than 43,000 acres offer opportunities for a host of outdoor activities within its landscape of saltmarsh, ponds, dunes and pine barrens. There is ample opportunity for birders and nature lovers to view the park’s abundant flora and fauna.
The area’s 11 walking trails criss-cross the park’s varied terrain. Trails vary in length and difficulty, and two – the Doane trail (Eastham) and Pilgrim Spring (Truro) – allow leashed pets.
On a 2.5-mile “Art in the Dunes” walk, says French, hikers can experience Cape Cod’s unique quality of light and terrain that helped turn the Outer Lands into an environment that has attracted generations of artists and authors.
The park’s three biking trails vary from 2 to nearly 6 miles in length and range from easy to relatively challenging. The 2-mile Head of the Meadow trail (Truro) allows leashed pets in season, with pet permits on the other two available after Nov. 1.
The time-honored Cape tradition of surfcasting beckons fishermen to the shoreline to cast for summer stripers. An introductory ranger program on fishing from the shore is available for first-timers or for those who want to brush up their skills.
Those with a liking for golf and greenery can try out their skills on the Highland Links course in North Truro, with its emerald links rolling toward bluffs overlooking the Atlantic. The course, founded in the late 1800s, has welcomed golfers for more than 100 years.
Tours and trips
The park is also home to a host of scenic and historic destinations for less athletic adventurers, from Fort Hill in Eastham to the Cape’s curled fist at Provincetown. Those include tours of historic buildings and lighthouses within the National Seashore’s boundaries.
French calls Fort Hill (Eastham) “the most popular destination in the park. ... (It’s) the gateway to the National Seashore (and) unique with its higher elevation,” making it a favorite spot for nature photographers.
Fort Hill offers tours of the historic Penniman House, an 1868 whaling captain’s home, and contains a popular, accessible 1-mile loop trail that winds through marshland to the sea.
The 1730 Atwood-Higgins House in Wellfleet shows off the iconic Cape Cod house style as it developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other tours include the Pamet Cranberry Bog House and the historic Highland House (Truro). The latter welcomed summer visitors during the early 20th century heyday of Cape Cod summer hotels.
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Tours of the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station (Provincetown) tell a fascinating story of the U.S. Lifesaving Service. Tours available of eight historic lighthouses, led by local experts, tell one-of-a-kind adventures at each locale.
To visit Cape Cod National Seashore
When: Visitor centers open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Where: Salt Pond Visitor Center, 50 Nauset Road, off Route 6, Eastham (508-255-3421); Province Lands Visitor Center, 171 Race Point Road, off Route 6, Provincetown (508-487-1256).
Information: Updates to the park’s schedule and accessibility are posted regularly at https://www.nps.gov/caco/ranger-guided-activities.htm.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod National Seashore: Activities to do that are not at a beach