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README before using our guides to Long Walks on Cape Cod

Long Walks on Cape Cod

Copyright 1995 Cape Cod Trails Conference

South Beach and Morris Island

USGS Map:          Chatham

Sketch Map of Route


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.
To the best of our knowledge, the Chatham Police do not enforce
the ordinance, but it is crowded during the summer and early
fall.  Best to use trailhead 2, then, which is the authorized
parking place.  Trailhead 3 has room for only a few cars.  Do
not park on the roads anywhere else but trailhead 2.


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
sand spit attached itself to the mainland just below Chatham Light.

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
warning that portions of the area are submerged at high tide.

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
to Stage Harbor.

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
see the expanse of islands and shoals.  To the west is the wildlife refuge. You may see hundreds of birds of all makes and models.

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
states: "Private property.  No trespassing.  No hunting."  You may continue east on that path to the shore.  Then walk south along the beach.  You will pass the stairs from trailhead 3.

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
printed trail guide.  Flora and fauna at the numbered stops are described in it.

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
point and return on the ocean side.  About 1.5 miles of walking brings you back to the steps from the wildlife refuge trail.

Topo Map

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.