Located in eastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod National Seashore is 43,557 acres of Atlantic ocean coastline. Primary features of this National Seashore include 40 miles of pristine sandy beach, a variety of salt marshes, swamps, groves of pine, maple, oak, and cedar, and dozens of sparkling saltwater and freshwater kettle ponds. Established as a National Seashore in 1966, the specific acreage and topography is constantly under the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. The Blizzard of 1978, Hurricane Bob in 1991 and the "Superstorm" of 1993 have all changed the landscape of Cape Cod National Seashore. There are a variety of historic structures throughout the park including lighthouses, lifesaving stations, and historic structures that capture the charm of the New England coast.
Formed during the last ice age, pulverized granite gravel was deposited over and over again at a point called the terminal moraine by the melting ice and accumulated at the edge of the glacier. Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, two islands off the coast of Massachusetts also grew out of this process. As the glacier started its final retreat huge sections of ice crashed down into the soft pile of sand, boulders and gravel. As the large pieces of ice melted, the kettle ponds we see today were formed. Evidence of this glacier action is everywhere, not just in the kettle ponds but in the large boulders like Doane Rock which sit in the woods around the seashore, deposited by the retreating glacier over ten-thousand years ago. Eventually over time as the ocean levels rose, wind, tides and storms shaped Cape Cod into the form we see today. These tidal actions continue today, and if one could return in ten-thousand years, they wouldn't find much left of Cape Cod as we know it today.
With almost five-million visitors in 1998, Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the most visited parks in the National Park system. Almost all visitation is during the summer months when Cape Cod becomes a world wide tourist attraction. Despite the crowds and the traffic, most don't venture to the outer Cape where the National Seashore is located because as the locals would say, "ain't nothing out thar 'cept P-town," which refers to Provincetown located on the very most outer tip of Cape Cod.
With six swimming beaches, two visitor centers, ten nature trails (not to include 40 miles of open beach to explore), a variety of terrain to see, and some of the finest state park facilities in the country surrounding the area, Cape Cod National Seashore is a must see park in ones lifetime. Although their isn't mountain biking due to the fragile dunes, bicycling is extremely popular along Cape Cod National Seashore with a variety of bike paths and routes throughout the area including three bicycle trails. Rental shops abound and the equipment offered is typically of good quality. One could easily build an argument that Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the most handicapped friendly parks in the country. Paved trails and boardwalks abound, and most scenic overlooks are easily accessed. Off road vehicle access is allowed in limited sections of the park with permit, and strict vehicle requirements.
The park is open year round but has no overnight usage areas. Privately owned campgrounds are within the boundary of the park and offer overnight camping facilities. Boy scouts and other local groups do have occasional overnight programs, and the National Park Service puts on fireside programs during the summer months. Weather is generally tepid year round, but due to it's location exposed to the cool Atlantic Ocean Cape Cod National Seashore tends to be windy and cool. Shorts are fine in the summer, but carry a windbreaker with you to take the edge off of the chill in the late afternoon. Be sure to wear sunscreen, sun glasses, a hat, and bring lip balm. Getting a sunburn is pretty common while spending time on the Cape. If you plan to hike any of the nature trails away from the ocean, insect repellant is a must have. When the winds die down the ocean temperature regulates the shoreline climate. Summer temperatures will dip well below the big city of Boston to the north, while winter time lows are more moderate. In the winter the Cape bears the full brunt of 'nor'easters, winter storms that develop off of the coast of North Carolina and roar up the coast with wind, rain, ice and snow. Both the Blizzard of 1978 and the Superstorm of 1993 were 'nor'easters. It is centuries of these winter storms that have hardened the residents of Cape Cod into the sturdy vision we see today.
There are two visitors center, the Salt Pond Visitor Center located in Eastham in the southern part of the park, and the Province Land Visitor Center located in the northern section of the park in Provincelands. Both are excellent and the Salt Pond Visitors Center is staffed year round. The Salt Pond Visitors Center is close to Doane Rock, Nauset Beach and Nauset Swamp, and could easily provide a good view of Cape Cod National Seashore in a day. Spend a few days on the Cape and meander further north to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Driving north on Route 6, the main highway on Cape Cod there are points where you can see the ocean on both sides, and the state fights a constant battle with the surrounding sand dunes trying to reclaim the road.
If your planning a trip to Cape Cod a solid day can be spent exploring the sites, sounds, and smells around Eastham and the facilities found in the Nauset Beach area. Ideally you should plan to spend about three days to soak up everything Cape Cod has to offer. The best time to visit Cape Cod is the weekend before Memorial Day. Almost all services, shops, and stores are open before the crowds, but almost everything is still at off season discounted rates. The same rule applies the first few weeks after Labor Day, before the fall foliage changes and the air gets cool. We strongly recommend a visit to Cape Cod National Seashore, a true treasure along the Atlantic coast.