Your Destination Guide to Cape Cod

Destination Guide Cape Cod - Your Destination Guide to Cape Cod, MA

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Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail
Cape Cod Rail Trail

© Katie

The rubber literally meets the road on Cape Cod’s bike path- officially dubbed the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT). Borrowing the name from its previous incarnation as a railroad track, the CCRT is part bike-commuter highway, part scenic byway, and part walking boulevard. With very few hills to climb, the CCRT is well suited for beginning cyclists and families with young children; still, stay alert for the serious gear-heads who will whiz by regularly.

Spanning 22 miles from South Dennis to the village of South Wellfleet, the well maintained, paved surface bisects six towns through pine forests, cranberry bogs, and National Seashore environs. With parking areas at each end of the route, as well as at both Route 124 in Harwich and Nickerson State Park in Brewster, riders can hop onto the trail at any of these points. The west end of the path begins in the South Dennis trailhead parking area, where a sign clearly marks the trail entrance. Distance is marked along the trail with granite mile marker signposts; usual road rules for cyclists apply; and intermittent road crossings clearly alert the bike rider that automobiles have the right of way at these crossings.

Traveling east from South Dennis, the trail passes fresh water lakes known as “kettle” ponds, created thousands of years ago from enormous blocks of ice left behind from retreating glaciers. Crossing into Harwich at mile marker 2, Sand Pond has a public beach area complete with lifeguard and restrooms. Pleasant Lake General Store, in operation for over 150 years, is right on the bike path providing the growing number of trail users with deli sandwiches, ice cream cones, and baked goodies. Between mile markers 4 and 5, a bicycle rotary connects the north heading CCRT with an eight mile auxiliary extension continuing east to Chatham; opt for this alternate route and pedal to White Pond, or to visit Fish Pier.

When the CCRT enters Nickerson State Park in Brewster, the 1,900 acre wilderness amps up the volume on Cape Cod’s natural beauty. Cliff Pond, in particular, nestled deep in the piney woods, has a soft sandy beach and crystal water evoking paradise. Hiking trails, curvaceous dirt bike trails, and guided botanical tours pay deserved tribute to this outstanding park.

Continuing to Orleans, the trail skirts past Main Street where the Hot Chocolate Sparrow brews a potent cup of fair trade coffee along with soups, pastries, sandwiches, and homemade chocolates. Seasonally, the Orleans Farmer’s Market sets up across the road with locally grown produce and fresh caught lobsters. Onward through Eastham, the trail negotiates wooded areas and ponds for several miles. For a detour to Cape Cod’s National Seashore, exit at Locust Street (mile marker 16.5) and head east for 1/2 mile to Route 6 where a traffic light allows safe crossing to the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Pedal 1.6 miles to Coast Guard Beach, and another mile to Nauset Light Beach; otherwise, forge ahead and prepare for a brief ride through a tunnel beneath Route 6, repositioning the trail to allow better access to ocean beaches, eliminating the need to cross the busy street above.

In the summer, when the Cape’s roads are choked with traffic and parking lots at public beaches are full, a bicycle serves as your passport to an otherwise inaccessible ocean.

Expect several low grade hills for the next four miles interspersed with posted menus from the trailside cafés serving ice cream, pizza and fried clams. Intersecting the CCRT at mile marker 21 in South Wellfleet is Marconi Beach Road, leading to Marconi Beach, Marconi Station, and the National Seashore Headquarters. Remain on the trail for the final mile to the endpoint at LeCount Hollow parking area, relishing the rewards of a uniquely breathtaking look at Cape Cod.

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