Last Updated on August 17, 2022
Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachussets is famous for its wonderful beaches and incredible sand dunes. In the protected area the peninsula’s shoreline, natural environments and historically significant structures, particularly the historic lighthouses, are preserved.
Established in 1961 thanks to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, it includes 176 km² of beaches, ponds, marshes, dunes and wooded areas that extend for 65 km between the villages of Provincetown and Chatham.
Many swimming beaches with tourist trails are accessible year-round all over the peninsula. There are two main visitor centers, Salt Pond in Eastham (open year-round) and Provinceland Land in Provincetown (seasonal from May to October). The life of Cape Cod is the charm of this national park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with its fragile ecosystem constantly subjected to the incessant coastal erosion by the sea and the environmental changes that result.
Long sandy beaches, lagoons, marshlands, ponds, wild cranberry fields and hiking and biking trails lend themselves to discovery at any time of year. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, foxes, hares, fawns make this ecosystem their natural home; a preserved habitat for the migration and nesting of many bird species, including the songbird. A visit to the National Seashore Park is an interweaving of stories of the sea, ship captains, poets, writers and artists, and inventors. The lighthouses and beaches are the interpreters of these stories of great humanity and accompany us on a journey of discovery in the open air.
Best Beaches and Tourist Attractions
Nauset Light Beach and Three Sisters Lighthouses
In Eastham – where one of the visitor centers is located – Nauset Light Beach and the trail to Three Sisters Lighthouses are nestled in a pine forest. The Nauset Light lighthouse – one of the most photographed in the national park – is open from spring to fall with access to the 50-foot-high lantern.
In the early 1900s, the Nauset Light Station with its lighthouse and keeper’s house was in danger of being washed away by Atlantic waves. In 1996, the three structures were moved on wheels from the cliff to their current location.
Nauset’s Three Sisters – a trio of historic lighthouses so named because when viewed from the sea at a distance they appeared as three women dressed in white with a black bonnet on their heads – also originally had brick towers that fell into the sea due to erosion in the 1890s, then replaced with wooden towers on brick foundations in 1892.
Coast Guard Beach
On Eastham’s Coast Guard Beach, the Great Beach of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, the coastal erosion phenomenon is at its best. The habitat here is home to a myriad of migratory birds that stop there on their long Atlantic journey, choosing it for wintering and hatching. For many species, the many-week stopover is rest and refreshment to recharge energy before their flight south. There are an estimated 20,000 terns on the shoreline beaches for excellent birding between the beach and nearby Nauset Marsh Lagoon. The best season is fall. A few miles to the south was the cottage of writer Henry Beston. There he collected materials and inspiration for his book The Outermost House, published in 1928. The book well describes life on the beaches during the four seasons. But the sea took this cottage away during a winter storm in 1978. It was here that the sailing ship Mayflower landed on November 9, 1620, having departed from English Plymouth 65 days earlier. The Pilgrim Fathers’ New World was Coast Guard Beach. A miraculous change of wind allowed Captain Jones to steer the vessel off the shoals and sail north to Provincetown Harbor, where it anchored on November 11, 1620.
Marconi Beach is located less than 10 km north of the Salt Pond Visitor Center, in Wellfleet. A viewing platform at Marconi Station offers an excellent view of the Outer Cape, with ocean and bay. The 2-mile Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail gradually descends into the lagoon environment that is home to Atlantic white cypress and red maple trees.
From this spot in 1903, Guglielmo Marconi successfully completed the first wireless transatlantic transmission between the United States and England. Marconi chose this place because it was barrier-free and on a high shelf above the ocean. On a clear day you can see Cape Cod Bay, and if you are lucky enough even the puff of a whale at sea, as well as the Gulf of Maine and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with its diverse underwater resources; then the forests and dunes of Province Lands among the nation’s first public lands.
Rece Point Beach and Race Point Light
Race Point Beach is located near the Province Lands Visitor Center. To the right of the lighthouse stands the 1931 Race Point Coast Guard Station and the 1898 brown wooden Old Harbor Life-Saving Station building. These old maritime buildings take us back to the past, when the oceans were waterways and shipwrecks were constant. To sailors it appeared hazard or paradise as all ships between Boston and New York had to pass through its protected bay or run aground between its treacherous sand bars.
Toward the far left along the coast you see Race Point Light. Here there is a sense of solitude and silence: the escarpment and ocean provide uninterrupted natural scenery in every direction. The lighthouse since 1816 – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – has served mariners and sailors in avoiding dangerous currents and waves on the tip of Cape Cod. Managed by the American Lighthouse Foundation it offers lodging, but to access it you must walk the beautiful sandy shoreline for 45 minutes.
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