Walk, bike, or run — the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) is a beautiful way to see the real Cape Cod. It traverses through six towns (Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet).
The week of July 4th is a time when Cape Cod, lovingly referred to as “The Cape”, is packed with visitors eager to celebrate Independence Day with some beachy, toes-in-the-sand fun. During this week, driving down Route 6, the one main road — unless you count 6A — can be bumper to bumper. This year I decided to walk the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The trail is listed as 22 miles long, but the new Yarmouth 3-mile extension elongates the walk to 25 miles.
Footfall after footfall, I completed the 25 miles (plus 1.5 extra miles in Harwich — more on that later) in five separate stints which averaged about five miles each dictated by parking lot options. I discovered lots of scenic vistas, delicious treats, and miles of scrub pine and oak.
The trail is mostly flat, well-marked, and paved. There are good free parking options strategically placed along the trail and highlighted on the CCRT map. I listed the stops below in the order you would encounter them if you begin at the Station Avenue parking lot in Yarmouth and end at the Lecount Hollow Trailhead in Wellfleet.
1. Flax Pond
Parking is a big consideration for this adventure. In Yarmouth, I like the Station Avenue parking lot. It does start at the end of Yarmouth’s first mile, so you have to backtrack (west) if you want to get in all the sights. Backtracking will take you over the pedestrian bridge and along a scenic pathway.
Heading east from Yarmouth your first encounter, just after mile marker 1, is Flax Pond Recreation Area. Accessible from a short walk off the trail, you can enjoy the beach, restrooms, and picnic area in this charming area.
The trail numbering system is a bit confusing here. Mile markers beginning at zero and going to three miles in Yarmouth. Then the old numbering system kicks in and you are back at zero again at the Dennis Trailhead. Each mile is marked with granite posts stating the mile mark and town name.
2. Original Dennis Trailhead
The original Dennis trailhead has a good parking lot right next to Barb’s Bike Shop. You can park, rent a bike, and pedal down the trail in a jiffy. A little further down, before the second-mile mark, is Dennis Cycle Center with more bike rentals. These are great options if you want to cover more miles in a shorter time.
3. Backyard Wildlife Habitat
Keep an eye out for the beautiful landscape home with a small sign saying, “Backyard Wildlife Habitat.” Certified by the National Wildlife Federation, the site provides “elements for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.”
The gardener at this home has a trained eye for color and design.
4. Cranberry Bog
There are lots of beautiful cranberry bogs across Cape Cod. This one along the CCRT is just starting to bloom and set berries. Many farmers now harvest berries using a dry method. You will see them out thrashing the berries on a dry, sunny fall day — a good reason to visit the Cape in autumn.
Pro Tip: Learn more about dry and wet cranberry harvesting.
5. First Crush Winery
When you are ready for a refreshing stop, either while you are walking or after you are done, First Crush Winery has a charming wine-tasting spot right off the CCRT. They make an amazing wine slush that is perfect on a hot and sticky summer day.
Here is where my 1.5 extra miles in Harwich come into play. To make our walks about five miles without backtracking, we parked one car at our finishing lot, then drove a second car to our starting point. On this day, when we reached the finishing lot car, there were no keys. The driver had left them in the starting point car (visualize head slap emoji here)! While he ran back the 5.5 miles we had just walked, the rest of us walked back about 1.5 miles to First Crush Winery. We certainly enjoyed that wine slush after a 7-mile walk. I was really happy I didn’t have to run back!
Pro Tip: Check for your keys when you exit the car.
6. Seymour Pond
Seymour Pond is a lovely spot to take a relaxing break from your travels. Lake swimming, picnicking, and enjoying the cool shade are just what you want on a beautiful summer day. Harley (the fur baby) is enjoying the water, but dogs are not allowed at the beach between May and October.
Pro Tip: There are port-a-potties perfectly placed here for a well-needed pit stop.
7. Random Artwork
You never know what you will see along the CCRT. This wall of colorful lobster traps lines someone’s backyard and acts as a non-scaleable fence.
8. Stone L’oven Pizza Company
You can get hungry trekking the long CCRT. Thankfully it is mostly flat. When you do get hangry, the artisanal creations at Stone L’oven Pizza Co. will fill you up and send you along your way. Share a pie with your walking besties while you rest your feet.
A little further down the path is Cobie’s Clam Shack. Everything you could want for a Cape Cod lunch: fried clams, fish and chips, burgers, dogs, french fries, and ice cream.
10. Nickerson State Park
If you love to camp, Nickerson State Park is a great spot. Sections of the park run along the CCRT. It has waterfront lake swimming, hiking trails, and over 400 campsites. You can even rent a yurt, so you don’t have to pack your tent.
Pro Tip: Nickerson State Park is one of the Cape’s best secrets.
11. Mile Marker 12
Just after Mile Marker 12, you will run into a tricky part of the CCRT. For about a half mile, you have to hike off the manicured trail and along the road. Not well marked, the CCRT takes a right on West Road where you need to walk on the grassy shoulder. After you cross the overpass, take a left on Salty Ridge Road. Bear right about a block down Salty Ridge and it will lead you to the CCRT pathway.
12. Hot Chocolate Sparrow
Orleans Center is full of options to take a walk break. There is a bubblah (water fountain) with two and four-legged water spouts, port-a-potties, and lots of spots to rest your feet.
The Hot Chocolate Sparrow has ice cream, refreshing drinks, and light lunch fare. A sweet treat is super tasty on a hot day.
13. Depot Pond
Pretty to look at, but with no access to swimming or boating from the CCRT, Depot Pond offers a refreshing viewpoint for quiet contemplation.
14. Salt Pond Visitor Center
A short walk off the main CCRT is the Salt Pond Visitor Center. The Salt Pond Visitor Center is the Cape Cod National Seashore orientation center and it has a theater, gift shop, museum, and restrooms.
15. Arnold’s Lobster And Clam Bar
You can’t visit Cape Cod without having a delicious lobster roll. Arnold’s Lobster And Clam Bar is the best spot for a perfectly cooked lobster roll. If you need to burn off more energy, you can practice putting on their 18-hole mini golf course.
16. Lecount Hollow
The Lecount Hollow Trailhead in Wellfleet marks the end of the CCRT. After all the exploring, reaching the final stop is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Walking The CCRT
The beauty of the CCRT is that you will encounter a changing landscape as you meander from town to town. There are long stretches of peaceful scrub pine forests to walk with your thoughts. Restaurants, wineries, ice cream parlors, and bike shops are sprinkled along the way. Parks, ponds, beaches, and nature areas are strategically placed for your enjoyment.
What scenic spots will you find along the Cape Cod Rail Trail?
For more information on traveling to Cape Cod, check out these articles: