Encompassing almost 45,000 acres, Cape Cod National Seashore protects the outer Cape’s treasured beaches, coastal tidal marshes, upland pine-oak woodlands, glacial ponds, and spectacular dunes. From Orleans’ Nauset Beach at the Cape’s "elbow" to Race Point at terra firma’s farthest reach into the Atlantic, the National Seashore lands stretch along the entire eastern edge of Cape Cod.
Located on the ocean side of the Cape, Nauset Beach is a long strip of barrier beach that protects Chatham and Orleans from the Atlantic's crashing waves. For the walker who wants Cape Cod beach the way Thoreau experienced it, Nauset Beach offers miles of waves and sand, and solitude most of the year. Fort Hill, overlooking vast Nauset Marsh, is the place to see Peregrine Falcons, which hunt the marshlands in fall and are likelier here than at any other spot on the Cape. A nature trail winds around the open meadows and through a Red Maple swamp. The fields attract many butterflies.
The road to Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham also leads to two fine outer strands -- Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach. Away from the parking areas, these beaches are relatively uncrowded, and the birding potential is great. The Buttonbush Trail for the Blind is near the visitor center. Marconi Station in Wellfleet is the location of the first US wireless station and present headquarters of the national seashore. Horned Larks breed in this fascinating area, as do some of the Cape’s last remaining Vesper Sparrows. The vegetation is a mixture of pines, bayberry, and moorland plants, including Bearberry and the local Broom Crowberry. The boardwalk along the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail traverses a beautiful cedar stand.
Detour about 12 miles north and west of Marconi, through the town of Wellfleet, and take in the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay on Griffin and Great Islands, now part of the mainland. Watch the tides carefully, as parts of the area are impassable at higher tides. Farther north is the perfect spot for the migration watcher, Pilgrim Heights, offering fabulous views of the North Truro-Provincetown dunelands. Dragonflies, butterflies, and hawks of all kinds stream by Pilgrim Heights in both directions on favorable spring and fall winds.
The Beech Forest, along Race Point Road in Provincetown, is a remnant of the varied woodlands that once covered large areas of Cape Cod. Cape Cod birdwatchers consider the Beech Forest to be the region’s single most productive spot for migrant songbirds in spring. At the Cape's tip is beautiful Race Point Beach. Several hundred yards offshore, the water changes color from light to deep blue, marking a drop-off to deep water. Huge baleen whales, especially Humpback and Fin, which require deep water for feeding, can navigate surprisingly close to land at Race Point and may readily be seen by the careful observer.
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