Hiking Trails on Cape Cod

By Martha Chitwood , last updated December 23, 2011

Hiking trails on Cape Cod are plentiful and offer abundant opportunities for experiencing the various ecosystems that exist in this maritime habitat. From wooded areas and freshwater ponds to salt marshlands and beaches to sand dunes and tidal flats, you can have it all when you hike Cape Cod. You are never very far from water of some kind, and even a short walk lets you get a close-up view of some unique natural sites. Cape Cod National Seashore covers over half of the peninsula, and maintains a good variety of different types and lengths of trail. Enjoy the outdoors on your next trip out to the Cape, with an expedition to one or more of the many hiking trails available.

The National Park Service administers Cape Cod National Seashore, which stretches from Eastham to Provincetown, preserving 40 miles of beach and adjoining lands that span the width of the Cape for most of the park's length. As you travel through the park on your way out to the tip of the Cape, take the opportunity to hike any or all of a dozen trails varying in length from one-quarter mile to 8 miles.

Eastham Area Trails

In the Eastham area, you have five trails to choose from, all rated “easy” and ranging from a quarter-mile to a mile and a half in length. Pick up Buttonbush Trail or Nauset Marsh Trail at the Salt Pond Visitor Center off Route 6. Buttonbush is a quarter-mile loop that includes accessibility features for the visually impaired on its route through woodlands and over a pond on a boardwalk bridge. Nauset Marsh Trail skirts Salt Pond and Nauset Marsh and leads you on a one-mile trek through field and forest, offering some great views along the way. Be advised that some sections of this trail may be submerged at high tide.

Park across from the historic Penniman House to reach both Fort Hill Trail and Red Maple Swamp Trail, 1.5 miles and .5 mile respectively, which connect to one another so you can customize your hike. Check to make sure that the swamp-spanning boardwalk sections of Red Maple Swamp Trail are open before you go. The Fort Hill Trail is a loop that provides excellent views of Nauset Marsh and Nauset Spit as you hike across the fields. Also near Eastham is Doane Trail, a paved, wheelchair-accessible nature trail with interpretive text in a half-mile loop.

Wellfleet Area Trails

Proceeding farther out the peninsula, the area on either side of the town of Wellfleet offers access to Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail on the ocean side, and Great Island Trail on the bay side. Choose Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail for a relatively short (1.25 miles) jaunt through forest and swamp. This trail is rated “moderate” and includes boardwalk, some steep steps and about a half-mile of soft sand.

Great Island Trail is the most challenging hiking trail of Cape Cod National Seashore. Most of it is soft sand, some sections of which are submerged at high tide, and you'll encounter some log steps along the route. It is also the longest trail in the park: six miles if you hike out to Jeremy Point and back, and eight miles if you opt to visit the site of a colonial area tavern. Plan to enjoy great views of pitch-pine forest and swamplands, but wear hats and sturdy shoes, pack plenty of drinking water, and check the tide tables before you hike.

Pamet Area Trails

Near Truro, pick from among four hiking trails. The Pamet Area Trails pack a wealth of scenic views into a half-mile stretch, with overlooks onto the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamet Valley, sculpted by prehistoric glacier. Rated “moderate,” this hike includes log steps and steep grades.

Farther north along Route 6, look for the turnoff to Highlands Center, an emerging center for science, education and the arts on the site of the former North Truro Air Force Station. The Highlands Center Woods Walk is one mile long and rated “moderate,” with both paved and unpaved sections and some steep climbs. You can take your dog with you on this hike through woods and along ocean bluffs, but please keep your pet leashed and clean up after it.

Small's Swamp Trail and Pilgrim Spring trail both begin at the Pilgrim Heights picnic shelter, located off Route 6 as you head toward Provincetown. Both trails are easy three-quarter-mile loops that are notable for their views of former residential and farming sites for native peoples and early European settlers.

Beech Forest Trail

Beech Forest Trail, near Provincetown off Race Point Road, lives up to its name, with a quarter-mile loop through a lovely stand of beech trees and a three-quarter-mile loop around Beech Forest Pond. If birdwatching is your passion, this is the trail for you in spring and fall. Be prepared for some soft sand and some steep log steps.

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