Long Walks on Cape Cod
Copyright 1996 Cape Cod Trails Conference
USGS Maps: Sandwich, Hyannis
Parking lot for Sandy Neck Beach, at the end
of Sandy Neck Road in Sandwich.
You can download the Town of Barnstable sketch map for this
area from the link above. Of if the ranger station at the entrance
is manned, you may obtain a sketch map there. This guide is easy to
follow. The topographical maps give you a splendid picture of the
area, but are not actually necessary. You will be able to see where
you are going at all times.
Walk down to the beach from the parking lot on the wooden steps.
Then walk out to the middle of the beach to find as firm a footing as
possible. The pebbles are a bit rough to walk on, but they help to
stabilize the sand. Do not walk in the vehicle ruts, which are almost
always soft sand.
If you look to the west, you will see the canal power plant and
smokestack clearly. On a very clear day, you can make out the Pilgrim
Monument in Provincetown to the northeast. You are on a sand spit
extending almost seven miles to the entrance to Barnstable Harbor.
You are blocked from walking to the very end by wildlife protection
areas and by private property.
But this guide will take you to the farthest point on the beach
allowed, then lead you back on the marsh side of Sandy Neck. If you
are reading this guide to plan the expedition, we suggest consulting a
tide chart and picking a day when low tide occurs in the early afternoon inside Barnstable Harbor.
This hike is also most enjoyable on a cool, sunny day with not
much wind. Do not attempt it on a hot day in early summer, nor in raw,
windy conditions. There are various crossover trails along the way
which you can use to return on the marsh trail, if the weather takes a
turn for the worse.
The sketch map and the topographical maps both indicate Trails 1,
2, 4, and 5. Apparently there never was a Trail 3. Start walking east
and in about twenty minutes, you will pass a wooden sign on your right
indicating Trail 1. Another forty minutes at a moderate pace will
bring you to Trail 2.
At about this point, you will be aware that you are putting all
vestiges of civilization behind you, even though Hyannis Center is only
a twenty minute drive to the southeast. Off season, it is possible to
do all the rest of this hike and not see another living soul!
Another half hour of walking takes you to Trail 4. If you chose
to cross over at this point, you will have about a four hour walk at a
moderate pace. Consider the wishes and condition of your group before
venturing on. Continuing to Trail 5 and thence returning on the marsh
trail makes a twelve mile walk in total, lasting five to six hours.
In about a mile and one-half, you will come to two high dunes
with the sign for Trail 5 nestled between. Keep your eyes alert for
it. Just before reaching the trail sign, the beach bends slightly to
the right, and the entrance to the harbor comes into view.
Turn on to the trail and slog along in the soft sand. The going
will be slow until the horse trail goes off to the west. Now you will
be walking in a true dune area with grass and scrub pine, and even a
little shade. A fork will lead you to the right and to the marsh trail
heading west. You are now on the return leg, but it will be slower and
When you break out into the clear, the whole panorama of marsh
and harbor unfolds in front of you. On the way west, you will pass
duck hunting shacks along the edge of the marsh. When you come to a
faded wooden sign that says "Trail closed. Property owners only. $200
fine," pay no attention to it. The marsh trail is on the Sandy Neck
peninsula, which is public land of the Town of Barnstable.
You will, of course, stay on the trail, and not trespass on the
little lots with the beach shacks. When you come to the tidal stream
that interrupts the marsh trail, walk inland a bit until the stream
becomes narrow enough to hop from one side to the other. That is one
reason we suggest planning the walk for low tide in the early afternoon.
You also avoid picking your way around tidal flooding of some portions
of the trail.
At the point where the trail juts south into the marsh, look back
to the east. You will see a row of little beach houses at the end of
the spit. They are summer houses which can only be reached by boat or
by over sand vehicles, when it is allowed. The area is called Beach
Point, and has an interesting history.
When you pass the reverse of another "Trail closed" sign, you
will see a triangle intersection to your right. At the head of it
is a small faded wood sign designating Trail 2 back to the beach. If
you have had enough of the marsh trail, and want to return on the beach,
this is a good place to do it.
The hunting shacks from this point west are more civilized, with
propane stoves and beach chairs evident. You will know when you are
nearing the end of the marsh trail when you round a bend and see a row
of substantial houses sitting on the the bluff. The next landmark will
be the ranger station with a flag flying above it. When you reach the
ranger stations, walk the drive northeast to the parking lot.