12 Things Every Traveler Should See at Cape Cod (2022)

My mom lives in New England and is a fanatic for lighthouses. I traveled to Boston for a work conference in March and took a red eye flight so we could spend the day together. I was responsible for the itinerary, and after researching lighthouses in Massachusetts, Cape Cod shot to the top of the list.

Since we were there during the off-season, there were no crowds, but there were also some tours that weren’t running. Many of the restaurants were closed as well, but we were able to enjoy the sites and a good meal.

Here’s a rundown of the 12 things every traveler should explore at Cape Cod – off-season or not.

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Cape Cod National Seashore is the southeastern part of Massachusetts; roughly two hours southeast of Boston. From Boston, take Interstate 93 south and connect with Highway 3. You’ll drive past Plymouth – in the event you want to visit Plymouth Rock – and eventually you’ll head east along Highway 6, which takes you directly to Cape Cod.

Beach access fees are collected during the peak summer season – late June through Labor Day. It’s also collected on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to late June, and Labor Day through September. If you’re visiting outside of those times, no park entrance or beach access fees are collected.

The entrance fee for a private vehicle is $20

However, you’ll want to be on the lookout for Fort Hill Road, which will be on your right-hand side less than two miles after the roundabout.

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Captain Edward Penniman was a whaler (meaning he would hunt whale) in the mid-1800s. The whalebone and ivory were profitable, but not as profitable as the oil derived from the whale blubber. Captain Edward built this home in 1868 and used the finest materials and innovations of that era. In fact, the Penniman House had the first indoor flushing toilet in town. The Penniman family occupied the home for about 100 years.

There is no fee to tour the Penniman House, but tour times vary by season. Reservations are required and can be obtained by callingSalt Pond Visitor Center at 508-255-3421 ext. 0. Tours last about one hour.

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Further up the road from the Penniman House (along Highway 6) is the turn off to the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Much like any national park visitor center, you can watch education films about the area, explore exhibits and learn about the history of whaling and Cape Cod and pick up the Junior Ranger booklet.

In the museum, you’ll find a collection of items made from whale bones, and learn about the history and environment of Cape Cod.

You’ll also find the Nauset Marsh Trail – a 1.3-mil loop that takes about an hour to hike. If you’re interested in taking the hike, check with the Ranger because parts of the trail may be submerged in high tide.

After exploring the Visitor Center, head east toward the coast. This is where you’ll encounter the beach. Parking is limited, so if you’re visiting during peak season, you may be required to park elsewhere and be bused over to the beach.

The beach does offer restrooms and showers to rinse off after your time at the beach. The large building near the parking lot is a former Coast Guard Station, used until 1958.

If you’re planning to visit the beach and swim, be sure to check on any safety issues. Various flags are displayed to let visitors know if there are dangers in the water. For example, a RED flag means there are high hazards. A PURPLE flag with a shark silhouette means there are white sharks feeding in the water. If you’re unsure about the safety of the water, check with a ranger or life guard.

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North of Coast Guard Beach is Nauset Light Beach. If you’ve ever seen a bag of Cape Cod chips, you may recognize the Nauset Light, which is featured prominently on the bag. There is a large parking area, and a trail to direct you to the Nauset Light.

If you want to learn a little more about the Nauset Light, there are tours available, but they vary by season. The sign posted nearby will let you know tour times, but you can also call the Cell Phone Tour Stop and press option 7 to learn about Nauset Light.

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A quarter mile west of Nauset Light you’ll find Three Sisters Lighthouses. Back in 1838, three brick lighthouses were built on the seaside cliffs. They feel victim to erosion and movable wooden ones were built in their stead. When Nauset Light was built, the Three Sisters were moved further back and remain as historical buildings in the area.

Tours and open houses are available during peak seasons. Check at the Visitor Center for specific times based on the time of year you are visiting Cape Cod.

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While many people may come to visit Marconi Beach, they should also check out the Marconi Station Site. It’s where an Italian inventor, Marconi, successfully completed the first transatlantic wireless communication between the United States and England in 1903. There is a stone and sign marking the spot where the communication occurred, but be sure to visit the nearby observation deck for a higher vantage point of the area.

If your intent was to visit the beach, you’ll find access a little further south.

But before leaving the Marconi Station Site, give the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail a try.

The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail is a 1.2-mile loop that takes about one hour to hike. The trail is a little more difficult than others at Cape Cod, with some steep stairs and a half-mile patch of trail in soft sand.

You’ll find variety along the trail, including a pine forest, mature woodland and the famous Atlantic White Cedar Swamp.

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Further north, along Highway 6, you’ll pass Truro and follow the signs to Highland Light. Parking is limited, but since there is no beach access, finding a spot may not be an issue.

The Highland House Museum is a former hotel that was built in 1907. Visitors can explore artifacts, images, exhibits and historical documents about the nearby town, maritime life and early tourism.

There is an admission fee to visit the museum (separate from the lighthouse), Monday through Saturday, late spring to early fall:

  • Adults: $7
  • Children and students age 6-17: $5
  • Children under 6: FREE
  • Receive a $1 discount with same-day admission to the lighthouse

The admission fee to visit Highland Light is separate from the Highland House Museum. Lighthouse admission includes access to the top of the lighthouse, but visitors must be 48″ tall. Hours vary by season.

  • Adults: $6
  • Students and seniors: $5
  • Receive a $1 discount with same-day admission to the museum

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One of the biggest challenges we discovered in our Cape Cod journey is that many things are closed in the off season. It made it a little challenging to find a restaurant for lunch, but we did end up at a place called The Canteen, which was a great little spot for lunch. The best part: They had clam chowder on their menu, which is a must when visiting New England.

While driving through Provincetown, you’ll find little shops and charter companies who will take you out whale watching. We were a little early in the season for whales, as they typically arrive in mid-April along the coast of Massachusetts. If you have the opportunity to take a tour, it’s something you should at least look into.

As we headed along Highway 6A, we came to a roundabout and saw a boat up on the rocks (photo above). I snapped a few photos of it, with the Wood End Light in the background, but it wasn’t until I got home that I discovered why the boat was like that. In short, the Artemis is a decommissioned boat that broke loose from its mooring during a storm and ended up on the rocks. Not sure how long it will stay there, but it was an interesting photo opportunity none the less.

There is a Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum you can explore during your visit, but we weren’t able to fit that in our itinerary.

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Herring Cove Beach stretches far in both directions. The parking lot should accommodate a large number of visitors, but during peak season (August), it may become more challenging to find a parking spot.

As for amenities, there are restrooms and a snack bar available, but they are seasonal. Everything was closed when we were there in late March. There are also evening concerts in July and August.

If you want to get away from the crowds on the beaches, take a stroll or bike ride along the paved bike trail that runs right past Herring Cove Beach.

Along the beach I discovered clam shells that were a good five or six inches wide – the biggest ones I’d ever seen. There were actually quite a few of them, but I’m sure during peak seasons, they wouldn’t be as visible.

Race Point Light is visible to the north, and is more visible from Herring Cove Beach than from Race Point Beach.

I noted on the website that Herring Cove Beach is wheelchair accessible. You can pick up a beach wheelchair from a lifeguard.

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The final stop of our visit to Cape Code National Seashore was Race Point Beach. As you’ll note from the photo above, the beach stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. There is adequate parking and once on the beach, sand dunes block the views of the parking lot, so you can enjoy the views.

The walk from the parking area to the shoreline is a little bit of a walk. As with most of Cape Cod, restrooms, showers and changing rooms are open seasonally.

The Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum is open daily from 2-4 p.m. There is also the Province Lands Visitor Center, but that is only open seasonally.

Race Point Beach is my favorite beach of Cape Cod. The mass-expanse of shoreline would be a great walk for my wife and I, and in the off season, we’d be able to enjoy it all to ourselves – New England weather permitting, of course.

Don’t forget the bike trail nearby, which you can ride back to Herring Cove Beach if you’d like. But take note if you do decide to explore the area – you’ll need to be mindful of ticks and the poison ivy in the area.

Address:Cape Cod National Seashore, 99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet, MA 02667 (Roughly two hours south east of Boston, Massachusetts)

Cost:Free with Annual National Parks Pass. Private Vehicle: $20; Motorcycle: $10; Per person: $3. See other park fees.

Hours:Open year-round, 24 hours a day. Peak season is Memorial Day through Labor Day. Many businesses and tourist opportunities are not available in the off-season.

Website:https://www.nps.gov/caco/index.htm

Phone:(508) 255-3421

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