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Cape Cod National Seashore

"A first glimpse of the great outer beach of Cape Cod is one of the most memorable experiences in all America."—Henry Beston, in the Introduction to Henry David Thoreau's "Cape Cod"

Nauset Beach, Cape Cod National Seashore
A lone surfer heads into the Atlantic from Nauset Light Beach, Cape Cod National Seashore.

A US national park with a difference: it's a 40-mile (63-km) stretch of Cape Cod seashore—beach, dunes, marsh, forest, and glacial ponds—stretching from Eastham and Nauset Beach to Provincetown (map).

The US National Park Service has set up four developed areas for visitors in the 44,600 acres (18,048 hectares) of land set aside for the park in 1961. Ther are Visitor Centers at Salt Pond in Eastham, and the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown. The Park Headquarters is at 99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet MA.

Nauset Area

The Salt Pond Visitor Center at Eastham on US 6 has interpretive exhibits, nature trails, an evening program, rest rooms, picnic areas, and Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach, open for swimming.

Several bicycle and bridle trails lead from the Visitor Center to the beaches through the pretty woods, marshes, and dunes.

Be sure to enter the Visitor Center building and take in the picture-postcard view of Salt Pond, below.

Marconi Station Area

The Seashore's headquarters is here near Wellfleet, and there's also an interpretive shelter and nature trail at the site of Marconi's wireless station, the first in the United States. Marconi Beach is open for swimming. The Great Island Trail is in a separate area southwest of the town of Wellfleet.

Salt Marsh, Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Salt marsh near Eastham.

Pilgrim Heights Area

Between North Truro and Provincetown, this area includes an interpretive shelter dealing with the Pilgrims and the Indians, nature trails, a picnic area, and, nearby, Head of the Meadow Beach, open for swimming.

You'll also see signs pointing the way to Highland Light, with its picturesque lighthouse and ocean observation point. On a nearby hill are several radar installations which look surprisingly like enormous golf balls. And then there's a golf course, right below.

Province Lands Area

A Visitor Center outside Provincetown on Race Point Road provides information and exhibits dealing with the Seashore and its natural treasures, with a schedule of programs at the amphitheater in the evening.

Two beaches, a picnic area, a nature trail, and a bicycle trail are here as well. Park at Race Point or Herring Cove.