Cape Cod is known for its amazing coastline and beaches, and with that also comes some pretty epic hiking opportunities, as well as scenic nature trails that are perfect for relaxing strolls. And the great thing about Cape Cod walking trails is that they vary so much in terrain and landscapes, offering everything from otherworldly sand dunes that tower above you, to salt marshes, to stunning coastline views – there will be something for everyone.
This post rounds up my favorite walking trails and hikes on Cape Cod that provide the absolute best views, and I’ve included everything from easy, scenic walks, to more challenging hikes for those feeling extra adventurous.
Best Scenic Walking Trails & Hikes On Cape Cod
Below is my list of the absolute best, scenic Cape Cod walking trails, and I’ve included helpful information for each one, including where to park, how easy or difficult it is, and things to know before hitting the trail.
1. Great Island Trail
Length: 4-9 mile loop, depending on which route you take
The Great Island trail in Wellfleet is widely considered as one of the best Cape Cod walking trails, if not the best, and for good reason! Not only can you customize it to go for as long as you want, but it also offers some of the best views of any of the trails on this list. This trail also provides different landscapes to enjoy throughout the hike, including sweeping views of Cape Cod Bay, coastal sand dunes, salt marshes and forest.
The shortest loop on this trail is called the Tavern Loop, which will clock you in at just under 4 miles, out and back, and you’ll experience all four landscapes mentioned above on this option. For this portion of the trail, the reason I consider it moderate is because you’ll be walking a lot in soft sand along the beach, which is more tiring than it sounds. But otherwise it’s pretty easy with very minimal elevation gain.
If you want to do all 9 miles on this trail, you’ll be hiking out to Jeremy Point, which is essentially a sand bar that’s exposed at low tide, and you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the world. You’ll want to check the tide schedule before deciding to hike out to this section, since it’s not accessible at high tide. But during low tide, it’s absolutely incredible, and quite the adventure!
Parking For The Great Island Trail
Parking for this Cape Cod walking trail is free year-round, and can be found along Chequessett Neck Road. If you type Great Island Trail into Google Maps or your GPS, it should come right up. When you arrive, you’ll see a small parking area along the road. If that parking area is full, look for the brown Great Island Trail sign, and turn down the small street to another parking area.
Tips for hiking the Great Island trail:
- Most of this trail is in direct sun, so be sure to apply sunscreen, or wear lots of protective clothing if visiting on a sunny day.
- I actually suggest doing this trail on a cloudy or overcast day for this reason.
- Mosquitoes can be an issue on this trail, so come prepared with bug spray.
- Swimming is allowed along the beach, so bring your swimsuit and a towel if you want to hop into the water.
- You may want to consider packing an extra pair of shoes to wear during the portion in the sand. Bare feet will probably be tough, but hiking sandals or water shoes might be a good option. Sand will get into sneakers and possibly cause some discomfort. Hiking boots that cover your ankle will work for the entire trail
- Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially if you plan to head out to Jeremy Point.
- This trail is not well-marked, and I highly suggest you download the trail map before heading out. You’ll likely be able to figure it out because it’s pretty intuitive, but better safe than sorry.
2. Nauset Marsh Trail
Length: 1.3-3.3 miles, depending on which route you take
The Nauset Marsh Trail is one of my favorites if you’re looking for an easy, relaxing walk through a serene salt marsh. This entire Cape Cod walking trail is completely flat, and you have the option to walk just just over a mile round trip, or go an additional 2 miles and walk to Coast Guard Beach and back, making it a 3-mile loop.
On this trail, you’ll start by walking around Salt Pond, and be able to watch kayakers paddle by, and enjoy gorgeous marsh views that look to be out of a postcard. The trail will then lead you through a wooded area before looping back to Salt Pond and the parking area.
To continue to Coast Guard Beach from this trail, you’ll want to keep an eye out for signs, which will point you in the right direction. You’ll eventually merge with a bike path, and end at Coast Guard Beach. The walk to the beach is 1 mile each way, which will add 2 miles to the loop, but the walk continues to be flat and easy.
Parking For The Nauset Marsh Trail
Parking for this trail is free year-round at the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center, which is a very large parking lot with modern and clean bathrooms, and a water bottle refill station. To find the trailhead from the parking lot, walk behind the bathroom building toward the amphitheater, and veer to the right of the amphitheater. You’ll immediately see Salt Pond, and the entrance to the trail from there.
The visitor’s center also has brochures and trail maps available, as well as a staffed desk during normal business hours to answer any questions you have.
Tips for walking the Nauset Marsh Trail:
- This trail can be buggy, so plan accordingly with bug spray.
- During high tide, some parts of the trail can be muddy, so it’s best to wear shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty.
- There is some poison ivy along the trail, but if you stick to the actual trail, you should be fine. To be extra cautious, you may want to consider wearing pants or socks that cover your lower legs. But most people will be fine by sticking to the marked trail.
3. Dunes Shack Trail
Level: Moderate, possibly challenging for some
Length: About 2.5 miles, but you can veer off-course quite a bit and extend your hike
For a completely unique and otherworldly experience, you’ll want to hike the Dune Shacks Trail in Provincetown. This Cape Cod walking trail is entirely through sand dunes, some towering upwards of 70-80 feet above your head, and you’ll feel like you’re on a different planet in the best possible way.
The trail will begin right away with a pretty steep climb up a dune, and immediately, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of endless rolling dune landscapes. It’s actually quite incredible. During the hike, you’ll pass by the famous shacks, many of which are now used to host local artists looking for seclusion and inspiration. At the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of the Atlantic, and have the opportunity to go for a swim if you want.
I personally think this trail is on the challenging side of moderate for the average person, simply because you’re walking in completely soft, dry sand the entire hike, and going up some steep dunes (which again, is more challenging in soft sand). Most people will be able to tackle this hike without issues, but some will need to take it slower than others.
To navigate this trail directly to the beach and back, you’ll likely be able to follow footsteps in the sand, and the path is pretty clear. But if you feel like you’re getting a bit lost (which is easy to do out there!), just go straight. From the trailhead to the beach and back, it’s a pretty straight shot forward.
Parking For The Dune Shacks Trail
There is only room for about 2 cars at the actual trail head, so most people park along the road (Route 6). If you type Dune Shacks Trail into Google Maps or your GPS, it will bring you right to the trail head, and parking will be very easy to figure out upon arrival.
Tips for hiking the Dune Shacks Trail:
- This is a popular trail, and whenever I drive by, I always see tons of cars parked on the road. I suggest you get here as early as possible to avoid crowds. But even if you go at a busy time, the dunes are so vast, that it won’t ever feel crowded.
- The entire trail is exposed to direct sun, so be sure to bring sunscreen or protective clothing, and lots of water.
- For the reason above, tackling this trail on an overcast day is a great option.
- Because the sand on this trail is very loose, it will get into your shoes easily. Hiking boots that go above your ankles would be a great option. The first time I did this trail, I wore regular sneakers, and they were full of sand within seconds of stepping foot on the trail.
- Bring your swimsuit and a towel if you want to go for a dip in the water.
- If you want to veer off-course from the trail and explore some more, just be sure to offline maps, or have a really strong sense of your surroundings. It’s easy to get turned around once you’re out in the dunes.
4. Long Point Lighthouse Trail
Length: About 6 miles round trip
This is another exciting and unique trail because it will begin with a 1-mile walk along the Provincetown causeway, and at the end, you’ll reach the very tip of Cape Cod. And as a bonus, you’ll pass by two lighthouses along the way. You’ll also likely see seals swimming in the water during this hike.
I rate this trail as moderate because the causeway can be a bit tricky to cross in some areas (not difficult, just not exactly easy), and then the rest of the walk is in soft sand. But otherwise, the trail is flat and easy to navigate.
To begin this Cape Cod walking trail, you’ll first cross the causeway as mentioned, and it’s important to be mindful of the tide schedule, as parts of it will not be accessible during high tide. You should also take note of your return time and be sure you won’t be coming back during high tide, as you’ll be crossing the causeway again to get back.
Once you tackle the causeway, you’ll make your way to the first lighthouse, Wood End Light, which you can clearly see while you’re on the causeway. The trail is pretty easy to navigate to Wood End through the sand.
Once you get to Wood End Light, you’ll continue along the trail to Long Point Lighthouse, which will be the very tip of Cape Cod (and very exciting to say you’ve been there!). The trail is still easy to navigate, and will start with a section through the sand, and then veer right toward the beach to get to the lighthouse.
To return, you just make your way back to the causeway, cross it one last time, and you’re done.
If you want to take on this trail, but are looking for a short cut, I have a great tip for you! You can actually hike this trail one-way, and take a boat back to Provincetown from Long Point Lighthouse. The Long Point Shuttle runs seasonally from late-spring through Labor Day weekend, so if you plan to do this hike during that time, this may be a great option to consider.
Tips for taking the Long Point Shuttle:
- It’s cash only, and tickets are purchased on-board. No reservations are taken.
- Be sure to check their website for the current schedule, as the starting time each season has been known to fluctuate.
- It only runs at certain times each day, so plan your trip accordingly to make sure you don’t miss the last boat back.
- Since you park at the Causeway to begin the trail, and the shuttle docks at MacMillan Pier, you’ll likely need to take an Uber or taxi to get back to your car.
- You can also take the shuttle both ways for an even easier hike. In this case, you’ll take the shuttle to Long Point, hike from Long Point Light to Wood End Light and back, and then take the shuttle back to the pier.
Parking For The Long Point Trail
Parking is free year-round at the Provincetown Causeway, and parking spaces can be found along the rotary and the road. During the summer months, spaces fill up fast, but most people park there for a few minutes to take pictures of the causeway, and then leave. If the spaces are all taken when you arrive, circle around for a bit and one will likely open up.
Tips for hiking the Long Point Trail:
- It’s important enough to repeat: be aware of the tide schedule. The last thing you want is to not be able to cross the causeway in either direction and get stranded.
- The entire trail is in direct sun, so bring plenty of sunscreen and water.
- For this reason, it’s a great idea to do this hike on an overcast day.
- There is poison ivy on this trail, mostly in the mid-section. Wear long pants or socks that cover your lower legs if you’re not confident in spotting it. You can easily avoid it by sticking to the shoreline, or the trafficked section of the trail.
5. Pamet Cranberry Bog Trail
Length: 2-mile loop
One of my favorite Cape Cod walking trails that provides an awesome view for minimal effort is this one. The trail will begin with a walk through the woods that leads you to an old cranberry bog house before you’ll continue on and be rewarded with a sweeping panorama view of the coastline. There is minimal elevation gain, making this a pretty easy trail, except at the very end where you’ll have to walk up a semi-steep dune to take in the views.
The trail is a bit unclear at times, but if you’d like to see the bog house (which I recommend), you’ll want to take a left at this post on the trail (which will be pretty obvious once you’re there):
Once you turn left down the path, you’ll eventually see a tree with a sign that says “Bog House,” so you’ll know you’re on the right track. When you get to the bog house, you’ll reverse course back to the post, and continue on the trail to go up the dune (which you can easily see from the trail, as it’s not far). Then you reverse the entire trail to get back to the parking area.
Parking For The Pamet Cranberry Bog Trail
There is free street parking year-round along the road at the trail head. If you drive a few feet past the trail head, you can turn right at the white house, and there are a few parking spots there as well. Note that the trail head is not at the white house (there looks to be a trail head there, but it’s not for this trail). The trail head for this one is found along the road, and Google Maps will bring you right to it.
6. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Trail System
Length: There are 5 miles of walking trails at the sanctuary
The Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary is an amazing, protected area along Wellfleet Bay that provides 5 miles of beautiful and scenic nature trails to explore across 1,100 acres, all of which are very easy and relaxing. This is actually one of my favorite places on the Outer Cape to visit when I want a nice, relaxing nature walk.
The trails here vary, but many of them overlook beautiful salt marshes, and have opportunities to explore lily ponds, barrier beaches and woods. This is also an incredible place for bird watching, and all the trails begin at a lovely little hummingbird and butterfly garden.
My personal favorite place for a scenic walk at the sanctuary is the Boardwalk trail, which will end with awesome views of the bay.
This trail system is one of only three on this list that requires a fee for entry, but all entrance fees go toward the sanctuary’s conservation efforts. Parking, however, is free, and there is a large lot.
7. Cape Cod Rail Trail
Length: There are about 22 miles to explore along the Cape Cod Rail Trail
While the Cape Cod Rail Trail is well-known for being an amazing biking trail, you’re also able to walk it. Spanning 22 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet, you’ll have your pick of areas to walk through.
Some scenic areas of the Rail Trail that makes for nice walks are through Harwich, which has quite a few lakeside views, Dennis, which offers views of cranberry bogs (but are really only interesting to see in the fall when they show their red color), Nickerson State Park in Brewster (which is also later on this list!), and as you get further north toward the National Seashore, there are lots of amazing spots to walk close to the beaches.
Parking For The Cape Cod Rail Trail
You can park free year-round at the following areas to access the Rail Trail (Google Maps will bring you right to the trail heads by typing in Rail Trail Parking, followed by each of these destinations):
- South Dennis trail head along Route 134
- Headwaters Drive trail head in Harwich
- Route 137 trail head in Brewster
- Orleans Center
- Salt Pond Visitor’s Center in Eastham (will need to walk about a half mile to access the trail from here, but the parking area is large)
- Marconi Area National Seashore in Wellfleet
- Lecount Hollow Road trail head in Wellfleet
You can also find paid parking at Nickerson State Park in Brewster.
9. John Wing Trail
Length: 2-mile loop
Another one of my favorite Cape Cod walking trails for a relaxing stroll with awesome views is the John Wing Trail. This one starts with crossing a primitive boardwalk over a salt marsh, and ends with sweeping views of the bay. There is no elevation gain, and the trail is very easy to navigate, making this a relaxing nature walk.
At the end of the trail, once you reach Cape Cod Bay, you can actually walk quite a bit along the shore, extending the walk a bit. Or, you can reverse course back through the trail to the parking area. I do recommend allowing some extra time to walk along the bay once you arrive because the views are really spectacular, especially for it being such a short walk to get there.
Parking For The John Wing Trail
Visitors looking to walk this trail should park at the nearby Drummer Boy Park, and then walk about 5 minutes to the trail head. From the park, you’ll walk to the main road, and go left. Stay on the left side of the street, and you’ll see signs for the trail head. If you miss the signs, keep an eye out for the Natural History Museum because the trail is directly behind it.
9. Stage Harbor Lighthouse
Length: 1.8-mile loop
This quick and fun Cape Cod walking trail takes you through the sands of Hardings Beach in Chatham, and ends at Stage Harbor Lighthouse. The lighthouse is privately owned, and not open to the public, but you’re still able to get a great view of it at the end of the trail.
Once you arrive at the lighthouse, you’ll also see signs pointing you toward the beach to your right. A great way to do this trail is to take the path in the sand on your way to the lighthouse, and walk the beach’s shoreline on your way back to experience both types of scenery.
The path to the lighthouse is through the sand, but a lot of it is packed down, and not that difficult to walk on.
Parking For The Stage Harbor Trail
Parking for this trail will be at Harding’s Beach, and parking fees will apply in-season. To park as close to the trail head as possible, you’ll want to drive all the way to the end of the parking lot. The first parking lot you’ll drive through will be the overflow lot, which is further from the trail head. The trail head can be found by going all the way to the left side of the parking lot by the beach – it’s very easily found from there.
10. Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail & Marconi Stations
Level: Easy – Moderate
Length: 1 mile loop, plus a little extra for walking to the Marconi Station area
This whimsical Cape Cod walking trail is short and sweet, and takes you on a boardwalk over a swamp through a beautiful wooded area full of cedar trees.
But the best part of the trail is that it’s located in the same area as the Marconi Stations, making it super easy to combine the two. The Marconi Stations offer absolutely incredible coastline views for very little effort. In fact, you don’t really even need to hike to get to them, just a very short 3-minute walk from the parking area, and you’re rewarded with some of the best views on the Outer Cape.
I rate this trail as mostly easy, and only want to mention it could be moderate in difficulty for those who have issues with stairs. Overall, it’s a pretty easy trail to take on.
Parking For The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail & Marconi Stations
Both these areas share the same parking lot, and Google Maps will take you right there by either typing in Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail or Marconi Station Area. Parking is free year-round at this lot.
11. Fort Hill Trail
Length: 1-mile loop
This lovely little Cape Cod walking trail is scenic right from the start that you don’t really even need to stray far from the parking area to see some awesome views. But the trail is still definitely worth doing beyond the parking lot.
With it being only a mile long, this is a very short trail, but you’ll get to see sweeping views of the surrounding salt marshes, including Nauset Marsh. On your way to the trail head, you’ll also drive by the Captain Penniman House, which is a an architecturally-stunning Civil War-era home that has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
This is also one of the better Cape Cod walking trails for bird watching, and bringing a pair of binoculars will come in handy.
Parking For The Fort Adams Trail
Google Maps will take you right to the trail head. On your way there, you’ll pass by another parking area on your left, but keep going past that one to the top of the hill. You’ll see the parking lot, and the trail head can be found right at the parking area.
12. Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands
Length: 2.75-mile loop
Located in Harwich, this is such a delightful and scenic Cape Cod walking trail that’s a little off-the-beaten path. Along the Herring River, as well as the East and West Reservoir, you’ll get wonderful views of the surrounding salt marshes, and can even head out on kayaks from here.
This trail is also a great spot for bird watching, especially for Ospreys, so bringing a pair of binoculars is a good idea.
Parking For Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands
Parking at this trail is very easy, as Google Maps or GPS will take your right there, and parking is free year-round.
13. Nickerson State Park Cliff Pond Trail
Length: 2.7-mile loop
While there are quite a few Cape Cod walking trails at Nickerson State Park, an especially scenic one is the Cliff Pond Trail. This trail will take you around the entirety of Cliff Pond within the state park, and the path is pretty easy and mostly flat.
It’s important to note that this is one of three trails on this list that requires a fee for entry. Click here for more information on admission fees. For out-of-state residents, the fee is significantly higher, and therefore, I think it makes sense to explore some of the other trails in the park to make the fee worth your while.
14. Brewster Flats At Low Tide
Length: Up to 9 miles
Widely considered the largest tidal pool flats in North America, the Brewster Flats are one of the most exciting walks along the beach you can take. During low tide, you’ll be able to walk out almost a mile along the ocean floor and sandbars, and look for sea wildlife and clam beds. And since the flats span across 9 miles of beaches, there are endless opportunities for scenic walks.
To access the flats, you’ll need to drive to one of the beaches, and they will all require a parking fee in-season (some of them may stop collecting fees after 4:30p).
Parking For The Brewster Flats
The following beaches in Brewster can be used for parking and accessing the flats (parking fees will apply in-season):
- Crosby Landing
- Linnell Landing
- Ellis Landing
- Breakwater Beach
- Saint’s Landing
- Mant’s Landing
- Paines Creek
15. Race Point Lighthouse Hike
Level: Easy – Moderate
Length: 3.3-mile loop
This trail will take you out to the beautiful Race Point Lighthouse and the nearby secluded beach. This lighthouse can only be accessed by vehicles with Over-The-Sand permits, or by hikers, making this trail extra special. Most people will not have a problem on this trail, but I rated it as potentially moderate because there is some walking in soft sand. I thought it would be way more intense than it was, but I found most of the sand to be rather compact and easy to walk in.
In fact, I picked Race Point Lighthouse as one of the best New England lighthouses to visit because of the fun walk out to see it!
The trail will start a section called Hatches Harbor, which takes you about halfway to the lighthouse on a dirt path, and offers you beautiful, distant views of the lighthouse and surrounding marshes. Eventually, this portion of the trail ends, and you’ll start your walk on the beach to access the lighthouse.
When you come to this section, you’ll want to go left, down to the beach, not straight.
Once you reach the lighthouse, you’ll also see signs pointing you toward the trail that leads to the beach, and you’re very likely to see seals while there, so it’s worth it to swing by.
Parking For The Race Point Lighthouse & Hatches Harbor Trail
Google Maps or GPS will bring you right to the parking lot at the trail head by typing in Hatches Harbor Trail. The parking area can accommodate about 8-10 cars, depending on how close everyone parks, but there is additional parking along the side of the road.
Tips for hiking the Race Point Lighthouse Trail:
- The majority of this trail is in direct sun, so come prepared with sunscreen and lots of water.
- For this reason, this is a great trail to do on a cloudy day.
- Wearing waterproof shoes is a good idea on this trail, as some of the areas you have to cross to get to the lighthouse could be slightly flooded from the surrounding marshes. Even at low tide, I had to wade through a few shallow areas.
- Try and be aware of your surroundings once you veer off to the beach portion. It’s easy to get to the lighthouse because you’ll just walk toward it. But coming back, it’s a little easier to get turned around. If in doubt, you can actually see the Pilgrim Monument from out here – just walk toward that, and you’ll find your way back to the Hatches Harbor portion of the trail.
Best Family Hikes On Cape Cod
Some of the easier trails that are great to hike with children are Nauset Marsh Trail, Pamet Cranberry Bog Trail, Cliff Pond at Nickerson State Park, Bell’s Neck Conservation Area, Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary trail system and John Wing.
In fact, most of the Cape Cod walking trails and hikes on this list make for great family adventures! Depending on the ages of the children in your group, the only ones I would hesitate to recommend would be Long Point and Dune Shacks if your children are very little.
But if the children in your group have lots of energy, and are able to follow direction to stay on the trail (to avoid poison ivy on the Long Point trail) then any trail on this list would be a wonderful experience.
Can You Walk On The Cape Cod National Seashore?
Absolutely! Many of the trails on this list are within the Cape Cod National Seashore grounds, including the Nauset Marsh Trail, Dune Shacks Trail, Great Island Trail, Race Point Trail, Pamet Cranberry Bog Trail, & Long Point Trail. And with all these trail heads offering free parking, this is an awesome way to explore the National Seashore’s natural beauty.
Can You Climb The Dunes On Cape Cod?
Many sand dunes on Cape Cod are protected for ecosystem restoration, and will be roped off, with signs prohibiting climbing or walking. However, the Dune Shacks Trail in Provincetown allows visitors to freely walk on the dunes, and since this area has some of the highest dunes in the area, this is the best place to climb them.
Even on this trail, it’s best to be respectful, and still try to stay on the trafficked trail areas.
Free Cape Cod Walking Trails & Hiking
Even though many of the best Cape Cod walking trails are within the National Seashore, they’re still free to park and access year-round. These are the walking trails and hikes that are free to enjoy:
- Great Island Trail
- Nauset Marsh Trail
- Pamet Cranberry Bog Trail
- Long Point Trail
- Race Point Trail
- John Wing Trail
- Cape Cod Rail Trail
- Fort Adams Trail
- Atlantic Cedar Swamp Trail
- Marconi Station Area Walking Paths
- Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands
The only trails on this list that require a fee to enter are the Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary, Nickerson State Park, Stage Harbor Lighthouse Trail (beach parking fees apply to park your car, otherwise free for pedestrians) and the Brewster Flats (the Brewster Flats are free for pedestrians, but beach parking will apply in-season to park your car).
You may also find these posts helpful:
- Best Time To Visit Cape Cod
- What To Pack For Cape Cod
- Best Towns To Stay In On Cape Cod
- Unique Things To Do On Cape Cod
- Best Ice Cream On Cape Cod
- Best Things To Do On Cape Cod For Adults
- Best Lobster Rolls On Cape Cod
- Best Sunsets On Cape Cod
- Best Waterfront Restaurants On Cape Cod
- Things To Know When Visiting Cahoon Hollow Beach
That’s A Wrap On The Best Walking Trails & Hikes On Cape Cod
And there you have it! That’s my round-up of the best and most scenic (and my personal favorite) Cape Cod walking trails and hikes. While the beaches are definitely my favorite part of the Cape, the trails in the area definitely give them a run for their money, and offer so many different landscapes to appreciate. Which trail is one you want to try first (or next!)?