Discovering the Magic of Cape Cod and Islands Vacations

Travel writer

Cliff Calderwood has been kind enough to share his insights with us on some of the lesser known spots on beautiful Cape Cod. Below are his tips on discovering another side of this New England vacation destination.

Most guide books and articles about Cape Cod and Islands vacations cover the highlights such as the beaches, whale watch cruises, the bike paths, and of course Hyannis. These are all places that help make special memories for visitors to the Cape, and are reasons why Cape Cod remains one of America’s most popular destinations for tourists.

But as great and as beautiful as these places are, the Cape is much more than just these destinations and activities. And when you find yourself wanting to see a different Cape then browse through this list and journey to another side of this most easterly peninsula in the U.S.

Getting Out onto the Water:

Ferry services to the Islands and whale watching cruises are the stock-in-trade offerings to cruise companies operating out of Cape Cod waters. But do you know these same companies also offer harbor tours, deep fishing expeditions and seal cruises?

There is no excuse for taking a Cape Cod vacation and remaining on land the whole time. Cape Cod is all about the ocean and a good deal of the magic to me is getting out onto the water.

You can take a Hy-Line Cruise around Hyannis Harbor and learn about the local history and see the Kennedy Compound and view the beach line and Lewis Bay Light as well as Egg and Squaw Island. During the season kids ride free on morning trips and they offer Sunday ice cream floats in July and August. Hy-Line also offers a cruise through the Cape Cod Canal and explains the history of its building and its staggering engineering accomplishment.

Out of Chatham you can take the Monomoy Island Ferry Seal Cruise and experience the hundreds of seals that call these waters and major “sandbar” home. The cruise operates during the summer months and lasts for 90 minutes.

If the call for bluefish and striped bass is your reason for messing about on boats then look no further than taking one of the charters out of Rock Harbor in Orleans. Here one of the largest charter fleets on the Cape leaves for the fertile fishing grounds around Cape Cod.

The Charm of Sandwich:

While the National Seashore beaches are hard to beat for scenic beauty they do attract all the attention and hence… also the crowds. Sandwich is a town distant from the Lower Cape with some gorgeous beaches and warmer waters. The Sandwich boardwalk fords Mill Creek across the harbor to a public beach. The views as you walk are worth capturing in pixels and I’ve often just walked out to the beach so I can stroll along this most scenic of boardwalks.

Sandwich hides a number of gems with the photogenic and historic Dexter Grist Mill – circa 1640 - and the swans at Shawme Pond. Take some time out and also visit the Heritage Museums and Gardens with its automobile museum and wonderful antique carousel - you get to ride free as many times as you want!

Other spots not to miss include the Sandwich Glass Museum, and if you remember the Thornton Burgess stories from your childhood then at Green Briar Nature Center and the Briar Patch, you can wander through the woods and meandering trails that were the inspiration for his Peter Rabbit stories.

Travel on the Dunes of the Cape:

The Cape Cod dunes, especially in the National Seashore region, are mostly off-limits as they are a fragile environment and home to a lot of nesting species. Yet they’re also one of the great attractions of this peninsular. As the National Seashore is run by the parks service they do offer guided ranger tours on the dunes both in the High Head area in North Truro and Province Lands – these are free, but space is limited so visit one of the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor centers in Eastham or Province Lands for details.

An alternative is take one of Arts Dune Tours operating out of Provincetown. They have daily tours and sunset and special clambake tours. The daily trips are a one hour narrated tour through the historic sand dunes in one of their special passenger trucks. Art’s is a privately owned tour company but because it was in existence before the National Seashore Park was created it was grandfathered and is the only private company allowed in the protected beach areas.

Hiking on Great Island:

There are many nature trails on the cape but none as exhilarating as the Great Island hike in Wellfleet. This is a 6-mile hike located on Cape Cod Bay and takes you out to a point where a tavern once stood – there’s just a plaque there now. Outside that it’s deserted but it makes for one pleasant half-day excursions away from the tourists and crowds and the commercialism. The trailhead starts at Chequesset Neck Road. This is a real hike so pack a lunch, plenty to drink, and be prepared to be amazed.

The Islands off Cape Cod:

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are two of New England’s largest islands and both are off the coast of Cape Cod. The Elizabeth Islands are mostly privately owned and have limited ferry service.

Martha’s Vineyard is highly accessible by ferry service from Woods Hole near Falmouth and Hyannis, and can be a day trip if you’re already vacationing on Cape Cod. Nantucket is a longer ferry ride and is better visited with an overnight stop. Of course both these islands make popular week-long vacations.

Off the beaten path places to visit on Martha’s Vineyard include the wildlife refuge area on Chappaquiddick Island – take the “on-time” ferry from Edgartown – the much photographed and scenic rusty colored cliff’s at Aquinnah and the small harbor at Menemsha. If you recognize Menemsha then it’s because it was used as the fishing village in Jaws.

On Nantucket just about any place away from the town of Nantucket takes you away from the crowds. Cycling and walking are the best ways of getting around. The village of Siasconset - the locals just call it ‘sconset – is full of classic New England seaside cottages with roses growing up the sides. Other attractions to take in include the two lighthouses at Great Point and Sankaty and the Coskata-Coatue wildlife refuge where you can take a guided natural history tour through this complex and fragile ecosystem.

Cape Cod and Islands up to the Nineteenth Century was considered a wild and inhospitable environment known mostly for shipwrecks and salt mills. Today it’s considered one of America’s premier destinations. This sample of its rich diversity and lesser known attractions offers some insights into why it’s so popular and likely to remain so until the ocean reclaims it for good.

For more details on these and other attractions to see during vacations on Cape Cod and to pick up your free trip planner package go to Cliff's New England Vacation Guide at:

Return from Discover Cape Cod to Newport Discovery Guide home page

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Here's another way to pay it forward...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.