Cape Cod Dunes: The Best on the Cape

Cape Cod DunesCape Cod Dunes

With bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and sweeping dunes and beaches below, the Cape Cod National Seashore is unlike anywhere else on the east coast and would be prime real estate for builders if it weren’t for conservation.

The complex history of the dunes begins with eroded glacial scarp, leaving the dry sand dunes today.

Wind easily transforms the landscape, and, combined with environmental factors, has caused significant erosion over the years. The dunes are covered with vegetation and dune species that have adapted to current conditions; American beach grass and seaside goldenrod are the most common plant species.

The dunes are located primarily along the OuterCape, from Chatham to Provincetown, and comprise about one third of the National Seashore. Here are some recommended locations to access and enjoy the dunes of Outer Cape Cod.

1. Province Lands

In Provincetown, the Province Lands and sand dunes in the surrounding area are some of the most beautiful on the Cape. Here, you’ll find some of the largest dunes and most spectacular views. Art’s Dune Tours offers narrated off-road tours that last about an hour. To access the Province Lands, drive to Race Point Road and look for brown and white signs marking the Beech Forest area and Province Lands Visitor Center. The Head of the Meadow Area is one of the most scenic drives on the Cape with spectacular sand dunes and views of the Bay and Atlantic Ocean. The Province Lands Bike Trail goes through the forest and dunes with openings to public beaches. The Province Lands Visitor Center provides the opportunity to learn about the history and observe the dunes, which range from a few dozen feet tall to over one hundred feet in several locations.

2. Cahoon’s Hollow

Across most of the Cape, sand dunes are protected in restricted areas due to environmental reasons. At Cahoon’s Hollow in Wellfleet, the Beachcomber restaurant and parking lot for the beach sit at the top of the dunes, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Though you are not allowed to walk on the dunes, you can experience the perspective of being on top of the dunes.  There is a designated section to descend to sea level, which is quite a hike on the way back!

Cape Cod Dunes

3. Pilgrim Heights

Off Route 6 in North Truro, Pilgrim Heights offers nice views of kettle holes and dunes from the bluff. The lightly-visited area offers self-guided trails at Pilgrim Heights that are approximately 3/4 mile loops of hilly terrain. The area displays habitat changes that are results of environmental changes that leave the area dominated by coastal dunes today. Just north of Pilgrim Heights, the road descends from the heights, yielding more views of sand dunes and the town.

4. Beech Forest Trail

This trail is on Race Point Road in Provincetown and is a one mile walk in the sand. It passes ponds and winds through smaller dunes. Like the Province Lands, glaciers that retreated northward from Cape Cod left a different landscape. Though this trail is primarily for bird watching and strolling, bikers find their way through seaside dunes that contrast the lush forests.

Cape Cod Dunes

5. Nauset Beach

The favorite beach for surfers, NausetBeach has dunes that are perfect for watching the surfing and activities below. Nauset’s cliffs and dunes also are a good place to view coastal erosion and conduct studies regarding the environmental issue. The Three Sisters of Nauset Lighthouses, which can be viewed nearby now, were moved due to the washing away of the bank.

6. Marconi Station Site

The location where Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi first sent wireless transmissions across the Atlantic, Marconi Station rests on high cliffs and dunes overlooking Marconi Beach in Wellfleet. The 85-foot cliff is a good location to observe the east-to-west flow of glacial outwash. The Marconi observation platform enhances the view of sea horizons and the coast.

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