East Coast US, New England, Northeastern US, Travels, US National Parks

Labor Day Weekend at Cape Cod National Seashore

I’d been wanting to make it up Cape Cod since the day I moved to Connecticut, but for some reason it never happened. I did make it part way out once, to approximately the “elbow,” for a bachelorette party.

(Ask anyone from New England where something is located on Cape Cod and they’ll hold up their arm, bend their elbow 90°, and point.)

But I never actually made it past the elbow until our final Labor Day weekend in New England, when we booked the very last available campsite at Nickerson State Park and braved the crowds for a weekend on the Massachusetts coast.

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If I could sum up all the trips Pat and I took in 2017 in one word, it would be: rain. It rained on us over Memorial Weekend. It rained on us in the White Mountains. And it rained on us on Cape Cod. But by this point, we’d gotten pretty good at just putting on our waterproof jackets and backpack covers and heading out into the rain.

Actually, our first day on the Cape was pretty nice. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, giving the ocean a turquoise hue.

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We began our day at Salt Pond Visitor Center, reading through the exhibits and then hiking the short Nauset Marsh loop trail. This was our first encounter with the ecology of the Cape, and right away it became apparent that there are some clear similarities between Cape Code and Assateague Island. I suppose this makes sense; both are thin strips of land along the Atlantic Coast.

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Continuing up the Cape (there’s only one highway that runs north/south, plan to sit in traffic on weekends and holidays), our next stop was the Marconi Station Site. Here, Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlantic telegram in 1901. Remnants of his telegraph station are still visible.

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Remnants of the Marconi Station Site

Next, we made our way across the Cape to Wellfleet, located on the inland side. From here, we set off along the Great Island trail out to Great Island Beach. This trail is sandy, which does add a bit of difficulty, but it was largely flat as we made our way out to the beach. At low tide, this trail can be as long as 4.5 miles (7.3 km) each direction if you choose to go all the way out to Jeremy Point. However, you can reach the beach in about 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km), which is where we opted to end our hike.

There are 6 public beaches located within Cape Cod National Seashore, all of which charge a $20 parking fee. For two relative non-beachgoers such as ourselves this was not worth the cost, and we also didn’t want to deal with the crowds. In retrospect, I completely stand by this decision. Great Island Beach was free, beautiful, and – because you have to hike there – nearly deserted!

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Day two dawned grey and dreary, and by midmorning the rain had moved in. It wasn’t too terrible at first, and we were able to continue making our way up the Cape, stopping at Highland Light and Pilgrim Heights.

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Highland Light

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Pilgrim Heights

From here, we made our way all the way up to Provincetown, at the very northern tip of the Cape. Province Lands Visitor Center is here, as well as views and a couple hiking opportunities.

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Province Lands

There wasn’t much in the way of views, thanks to the rain, but we decided to brave the weather and set off on a hike.

We didn’t make it very far.

The plan was to head out to Wood End Light, which is only accessible via a dike during low tide. But by this point, it was raining at an angle (i.e. into our faces) and the rocky dike was wet and slippery and we were pretty soaked and miserable and ended up turning back. It was just not to be.

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And this concluded our Labor Day weekend on Cape Cod. There was more to see but for the time being, I’d say we did a pretty decent job of exploring this area.

This also concludes 2017 here on the blog so, after a couple more posts to wrap up my time in New England, we’ll be moving into 2018, which was undoubtedly our busiest year yet. Stay tuned for adventures ranging from Costa Rica to Germany to the Smoky Mountains to Colorado!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Cape Cod National Seashore encompasses most of the land on the “forearm” of the Cape. US Highway 6 travels the full distance of the Cape and is the only main road leading up to the area
  • Fees and Passes: the 6 public beaches within the National Seashore charge parking fees of $20 (interagency annual passes accepted) but the rest of the park is free
  • Camping: there are no campgrounds within in the National Seashore, but Nickerson State Park – located on the inside of the “elbow” – has 400+ sites for $22-35/night. Reservations necessary in the summer and on holidays.
  • Hiking: there are tons of trails for hiking and biking, both of which are popular means of exploring this area
  • Other: Traffic, traffic, and more traffic. I can’t emphasize this enough. With only one main road leading up to Provincetown, it will be crowded and you will get stuck in traffic jams. Especially on weekends and holidays.

12 thoughts on “Labor Day Weekend at Cape Cod National Seashore”

  1. How did you find camping at Nickerson State Park? A few years ago we had booked at site here (over the Labour Day long weekend actually), but we decided to make alternative plans because we were expecting an insane amount of rain. We ended up visiting the Cape the following year (thankfully we didn’t get any rain).

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    1. Honestly, we got so lucky. It was about 2 weeks in advance and I checked and there was 1 site left so I booked it. Someone must have just cancelled or something, because that campground fills up so fast!

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  2. Your post brought back memories of my fleeting visit to Cape Cod a few years back 🙂 We caught the ferry from Boston, and based ourselves in Provincetown. In early June, the crowds weren’t too bad and we had the beach we walked to (I forget the name of it) almost to ourselves 🙂

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