Walk this way: The top 5 most popular hiking trails on the Cape Cod National Seashore – Cape Cod Times

While beaches are the biggest draw on the Cape Cod National Seashore, it’s also good to remember that the park contains nearly 45,000 acres of land. This enormous and undeveloped green space offers hikers a wide variety of terrain to explore, from the dunes of the Province Lands to the everchanging splendor of Nauset Marsh in Eastham.
The best way to familiarize yourself with the landscapes of the Seashore is to try out the park’s trails. They are well-maintained and have interpretive signage and maps that can help you figure out which way to go and what to look for. Once you get your feet under you, you might consider exploring the more wild areas of the park, but these organized trails are a good place to start.
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To figure out which Seashore trails are the most popular, we looked at traffic count numbers the park gathers from sensors in the road that indicate how many vehicles visited each area in 2021. So here we go with our top 5 most popular trails on the Cape Cod National Seashore!
According to the Cape Cod National Seashore, “Fort Hill was the highest point adjacent to the meetinghouse erected by Pilgrim residents of Nauset (later called Eastham) shortly after they settled the area in 1644.” The area was used for dairy farming until the 1940s, and the open fields are a reminder of days gone by.
The one-mile Fort Hill Trail winds through fields and forest, with splendid views of Nauset Marsh and the wild Atlantic beyond. The trail also connects to the Red Maple Swamp Trail, which features a cool boardwalk. If you’re looking for a pleasant stroll in a beautiful landscape that even kids might enjoy, this is a must visit. Located at the end of Fort Hill Road, Eastham.
Everyone loves the beeches of Cape Cod. Trees, that is! And you’ll find plenty of the silver-barked dandies at the Beech Forest Trail in Provincetown. The old boardwalk has been replaced with a spiffy new one, so the one-mile loop is back in action. It circles a pond, and the trail is especially scenic as the leaves change color in the fall. Bird watching here can be very rewarding, especially when spring warblers flow through.
The ponds in the area are home to croaking frogs and cool dragonflies and damselflies, and it’s an easy walk for kids. And for those who want to explore more terrain, the challenging Province Lands Bike Trail can be accessed from the Beech Forest parking lot. Located at 36 Race Point Road, Provincetown.
You may have zoomed by the Pilgrim Heights area on Route 6 on your way to Provincetown, but have you ever stopped there? One reason to spin into the area is the helpful seasonal restrooms, but there’s much more to this place. Two short loop trails wind through the woods and provide excellent vistas over dunes and marshes to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pilgrim Spring Trail runs about 0.7 of a mile from the parking area down to the Head of the Meadow Bike Trail and back. Along the way, you’ll encounter a stone marker with a plaque that the Seashore states is a “site representative of where the Pilgrims drank their first fresh water in New England.” The exact site seems to be lost to history, so take it with a grain of salt.
The Small’s Swamp Trail is a loop that runs about 0.6 of a mile. A new boardwalk along the trail is slated to be completed by the end of December 2022. The highlight of this walk is an excellent vista over a marshy area, with a clear view of the Atlantic. It can be a great place to watch for soaring hawks.
Both trails can be a good starting point for creating longer walks by adding the bike trail to the mix. To the south is Head of the Meadow Beach, and to the north looms the wild and beautiful Province Lands and a sand road that brings you to the ocean. Location: Off Route 6, 1.2 miles north of Head of the Meadow Road.
For some folks, the spectacular view of the Atlantic at Marconi Station is the big draw. It’s a very short walk from the parking lot, and there is a nice observation deck on a hill. It’s fun to think about Guglielmo Marconi and his amazing wireless telegraphy station reaching out to England from this spot back in the day.
For others, it is the access point for the charming Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, a 1.2-mile loop that descends through the forest to one of the coolest boardwalks on Cape Cod. It runs over a cedar swamp that can be quite wet on occasion, and the trees are magnificent and a little spooky at times. The atmosphere and landscape make it a unique spot on the Seashore. Located at 195 Marconi Station Road, South Wellfleet.
If you yearn for a big hiking adventure, pack water and snacks, wear good shoes and try out the Great Island Trail in Wellfleet. This is the most challenging Cape Cod National Seashore trail and can top out in the 8-mile range. But it can also be shortened, depending on your mood and ability.
A significant portion of the hike is along sandy terrain, but there are good chunks that run through pitch-pine forests to higher elevations. The views of Wellfleet Harbor and Cape Cod Bay are flat-out amazing. And it’s easy to get out on the bay beach, which adds fun and seabirds to the mix. Even for frequent visitors, there’s always something new to discover. The sense of solitude is good for the soul, and it always feels like a major accomplishment to make it out to the end. A wonderful place! Located at the corner of Griffin Island and Chequessett Neck roads.
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