Long Walks on Cape Cod
Copyright 1995 Cape Cod Trails Conference
South Beach and Morris Island
USGS Map: Chatham
1. Parking lot for Chatham Light on Shore Road in Chatham.
2. Morris Island Road causeway parking, just north of Morris Island.
3. Monomoy Wildlife Refuge parking lot on Morris Island.
NOTE: Trailhead 1 has signs limiting parking to 30 minutes.
You will notice that the topographical map for Chatham, issued
in 1974, shows Nauset Beach continuing south to a point well below
Morris Island. The storm of 1987 rearranged the landscape. A break
opened to Chatham Harbor opposite Chatham Light, and the rest of the
That is now called South Beach and is the first half of this
walk. You can access the beach at the stairs from trailhead 1
or from a path just a little further south on Shore Road. Note the
Head out to the ocean and walk along the edge of the ocean. If you walk on the damp area where the tide has receded, the footing will be relatively firm, and the walking much less tiring. Notice the remaining sand bar to your left, and Morris Island to your right.
At the east edge of South Beach, you will get the feeling that you are out in the middle of the ocean. As Henry David Thoreau said, "You can stand here, and all America is behind you!" As you walk further south, the sand bar disappears, and the breakers crash directly onto the beach.
Walking south, you pass one grassy knoll after another to your right. About one-half mile past the last knoll, the terrain begins to become level. At this point, walk west to the harbor side of South Beach. Further south, you would get into a maze of tidal streams and pools, even at low tide.
As you walk west, you will be able to see South Monomoy Island
to the south, and perhaps spot the lighthouse on it. North Monomoy
Island is directly in front of you. Turn north, heading for Chatham
Light. Harwichport and Dennis Port are visible, beyond the entrance
At low tide, you will see clammers busy with their rakes and
buckets. To residents, this vista is Cape Cod, and home. To
visitors, it borders on the exotic. Look south from time to time to
Continue walking north, winding around the shore. The footing will be a little softer than on the ocean side, so experiment with the damp areas to find the firmest surface. At the point where you start heading west to Morris Island, you will probably have walked for two hours or more.
As you walk the shore to Morris Island, you will encounter a tidal creek from Outermost Harbor. At dead low tide, and on a warm day, you may choose to wade it. Otherwise walk around the manufactured inlet that is labeled Outermost Harbor.
Pick up a sandy track that parallels Morris Island Road to your
right. Walk it south to its end, that is where it meets a
perpendicular track. Ignore the large, stern sign on that path that
You could also walk up to trailhead 3 on Morris Island Road. The
marked trail from the entrance to the refuge, while short, is a very
popular walk. Descriptions of it are published in most guides to Cape
Cod. Look at the map on the sign board, and help yourself to a
As you proceed down the trail, a lookout appears on your left which offers splendid views of South Beach and the Monomoy Islands. A set of steps takes you down to the beach, and from there, trail signs guide you along the way. If you walked around Morris Island from trailhead 2, this is where you intersect the trail.
The trail leads you through the scrub in the interior, and past another entrance to the refuge. Soon the trail sign directs you back to the beach. Continue walking the trail to the southwest, which is obviously heavily used by locals. Shortly you will have a complete view of Stage Harbor. You can continue all the way to the harbor inlet, just opposite the old lighthouse.
This whole area is shown on the topographical map as flooded at
high tide. It is now, of course, high and dry. The trail eventually
meets a perpendicular track that goes to either side of the point.
You may choose to go to the right, then walk completely around the
If you use the Topo Map (see link above), you will start at 001 and circle
counterclockwise to 013, then proceed either to 004 or 014 to return.
The whole walk is about ten miles. The South Beach and Morris Island sections are each about four to six miles, depending on where you started from. You will do a little doubling back long the shore in each.