Long Walks on Cape Cod
Copyright 1996 Cape Cod Trails Conference
USGS Maps: Provincetown
Province Lands Visitors Center on Race Point Road, north of Route 6 in Provincetown.
Park at the Visitors Center, and take in the view from the observation deck. It is spectacular. Ask the person at the desk for the brochure entitled "bicycle trails." For this walk, you will be partly on the Province Lands bicycle trail, and the little map in the brochure will be helpful, in addition to the topographical map. Also ask for the brochure entitled "Beech Forest Trail." You will be on that trail soon. The center is open from April through November.
From the Visitors Center, walk down the entrance road to the parking lot and you will see the paved bike trail to the left of Race Point Road. Walk southeast on the bike trail for about one mile until it crosses Race Point Road and then crosses the parking lot for the Beech Forest Trail.
Walk to the north end of the parking lot on the edge of the pond and then follow the signs to the trail. You will be walking counter-clockwise for a little over one mile on this trail. The brochure will tell you all about this area. Ignore the crossover trail and continue to the north end of the trail.
At the section of rail fence, turn left and ascend the log stairway over the ridge and then down to the trail leading south back to the parking lot. You are in a unique, wooded environment, as the brochure tells you. When you get back to the parking lot, walk to the south end and pick up the bicycle trail heading southwest.
The bike trail meanders for about one mile and one-half until it reaches a trail junction with signs indicating various directions and destinations. Just to the east of the junction, a foot path goes off into the woods due south. It is a well-worn path, easily followed.
In about one-quarter mile, you will reach a T intersection with a pronounced woods road. Turn right and walk west on this track as it meanders along the edge of the swamp above Clapps Pond, for about one mile. Suddenly, the road will make a sharp horseshoe turn to the southeast, and the Pilgrim Memorial Tower will appear to your left. You will immediately come to another woods road going east and west. Turn right, heading west.
In 100 yards you will come out on Province Lands Road. Turn left, heading southwest. You will see the bicycle trail coming in on your right. Walk the trail to the parking lot for Herring Cove Beach, just ahead of you. Walk out to the beach, and you will see Race Point Lighthouse to your right, off to the northwest. Walk toward it.
From Herring Cove Beach, it looks as though you could walk straight to the lighthouse on the beach. But you can't. An inlet to the tidal flat that is "Hatches Harbor" prevents your reaching the spit that is Race Point. So walk along the beach for about one-half mile, where the tidal flat comes into view.
Now turn right and walk up over the dunes and head overland at a compass direction of 50 degrees. Don't worry about precision. On this trek, you will be able to see landmarks all around you and can simply follow a sight line. Race Point Light is now to your left. The Pilgrim Memorial Tower is to your right. Dead ahead, sitting at the highest point on a hill, is the Visitors Center.
To the northeast, you will see the Coast Guard Station, painted white, with an orange-red roof. Further to the right of that is a weathered old building with a tower on top. That is the old lifesaving station that is now used to reenact the work of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Also, do not be concerned about trampling on vegetation. There is ample open space along the trek. People walk all over here, as you can see from the foot tracks going everywhere. Climb up on the high points every now and then to enjoy the view, and confirm your direction.
After about one mile of bushwhacking in what the topographical map calls "Snake Hills," you should see the bike path and road merging toward you. If you are a little off to the right, you will walk onto the bike trail. If you are a little off to the left, you will come to a wide road in the sand. That is the track that could take you to Race Point, which will be the subject of the long walk entitled "Race Point." Turn right on the track, and you will intersect the bike trail just before it goes into the tunnel under the road.
Either way, go through the tunnel and stop at the junction of bike trails, with signs all around you. You could have spent the whole walk on the bike path. It's too bad that the park service chose to pave the best walking route in the area. Bicyclists are not as likely to stop and admire the scenery and views as you have.
You have left the bike trail at various points to explore environments that only walkers can enjoy. So finish up the hike by bushwhacking to the Visitors Center on the east side of Province Lands Road, and you will get a brief feel of the wilderness that the Pilgrims encountered when they dropped anchor in the harbor.
This walk is eight to nine miles, depending on how much wandering you have done. Allow four and one-half hours for a small group. If this adventure seems a little tame, try walking down Commercial Street in Provincetown on a Saturday night during the height of the season!