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README before using our guides to Long Walks on Cape Cod

Long Walks on Cape Cod

Copyright 1996 Cape Cod Trails Conference

Sandy Neck

Sandy Neck

USGS Maps:              Sandwich, Hyannis

Sketch Map of Route


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 more varied.

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.