Clambakes, body surfing, whale watching, and fishing are just some of the pastimes at Cape Cod National Seashore. Others include beach volleyball, birding, hiking, and, quite naturally, swimming.
Summer vacations at the Cape have long been an American tradition, dating back well before the national seashore was authorized in 1961. So popular is the seashore, in fact, that the vacation season has stretched out, going well beyond Labor Day and creeping into October. And why not? Waters, whether you're talking about the Cape's freshwater kettle ponds, Cape Cod Bay, or the Atlantic, remain relatively warm through September.
High season, of course, generally offers the best variety of activities for your visit. At Provincetown, watch a 'breeches buoy' demonstration at the historic Old Harbor Life-Saving Service Station at Race Point Beach, leave the town dock on a whale-watching tour, and then return for dinner at one of the town's eclectic restaurants. You also have six lifeguard-protected beaches on the seashore to enjoy, though finding one without crowded parking areas in summer could be difficult. During the height of the season, most parking lots fill by mid-morning. Arrive before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. to land a spot without jockeying or jostling for a place to spread your beach blanket.
Dozens of ranger-guided programs, including walks and hikes, talks, surfcasting lessons, and canoe trips are offered each week in July and August. Details are available at the seashore's website.
Any time of year is a good time to hike the Fort Hill Trail and visit the Penniman House in Eastham. The trail rambles about 1.5 miles along open fields and through red cedar stands, offering outstanding views of Nauset Salt Marsh (bug alert!) and superb birding. Another good candidate for fresh air is the Beech Forest Trail at Provincetown with its remnant hardwood forest and ponds.
Like lighthouses? Don't miss the Highland Light in Truro, which is open daily for tours from mid-May until mid-October. The Three Sisters Lights and Nauset Light are located near Nauset Light Beach in Eastham, and offer several tours each week from late spring into early fall.
If you go
Rental properties go quickly. Start late in the year for the following summer for your best selection. Flying into the region? Consider Providence, Rhode Island's TF Green Airport, instead of Boston's Logan Airport, which can be pricier due to add-on fees and taxes.
While the National Park Service does not operate campgrounds at the national seashore, nearby Nickerson State Park in Brewster offers more than 400 sites across its 1,900 acres, and there are some nice commercial campgrounds elsewhere near the national seashore.