General description: A 63-mile scenic route along the historic south shore of Cape Cod Bay and up the Outer Beach along the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Cod National Seashore to Provincetown at the Cape’s northern tip.
Special attractions: Heritage Plantation, Sandwich Historical Museum, Crocker Tavern, Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Nickerson State Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Nauset Beach and Light, Marconi Beach and Station Site, Race Point, Salt Pond Visitor Center, Province Lands Visitor Center, Old Harbor Life Saving Station, Three Sisters Lighthouse, trails, hiking, picnicking, beaches, biking, birding, fishing, children’s programs.
Location: Southeastern Massachusetts.
Drive route numbers: Massachusetts Highway 6A, U.S. Highway 6.
Travel season: Year-round.
Camping: Nickerson State Park offers 420 campsites. Shawme-Crowell State Forest, near the Cape Cod Canal, has a 285-site campground. Call (877) 422–6762 for reservations at any Massachusetts state forest and park campground. Otherwise, there are several private campgrounds available on Cape Cod.
Services: All services in Sandwich, West Barnstable, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, South Wellfleet, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown.
Nearby attractions: Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Aptucxet Trading Post, Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Plantation, Boston attractions.
Like a flexed, muscular, 60-mile-long arm, Cape Cod bends far out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern corner of Massachusetts. This long, crooked peninsula, bordered by 585 miles of shoreline and 310 miles of sand beaches, is a quintessential New England landscape. When anyone talks of the great natural wonders of the Northeast, the Cape is always the first one mentioned—and for good reason. Here lies a magnificent landscape shaped by the earth’s most basic elements: storm and sunlight; the unceasing wind constantly resculpting sand dunes; and the restless North Atlantic pounding against the outer edges.
This 63-mile scenic drive, beginning at the Cape Cod Canal and ending at the tip of the Cape, follows a spectacular transition zone between land and sea, skirting salt marshes and cranberry bogs; passing quiet estuaries, ponds, inlets, and coves; running along one of New England’s longest sand beaches; threading through miniature forests of pitch pine and scrub oak; and crossing sand dunes anchored by beach grass. Be warned, however, that much of the Cape has succumbed to tacky strip malls, fast-food joints, factory outlet stores, and other businesses out to separate travelers from their money. Fortunately it’s easy to look beyond the T-shirt shops and see the enduring beauty of this outermost land.
The Cape offers a year-round travel climate, with each season lending a distinct flavor to the journey. Summers are the traditional beach season, with vacationers flocking onto the beaches and filling the campgrounds and trails. Weather is generally mild in summer with daily highs rising into the 80s, sunny skies, and warm water. The ocean is generally warmest in August and September. Autumns are superb. Daytime temperatures range from 50 to 70 degrees with brisk nights, little precipitation, and fewer folks to share the beach. Winter, with its heavy seas, cold temperatures, and windy conditions, might not seem like an ideal time to travel Cape Cod, but stalwart visitors will have the place to themselves. Snowfall is usually moderate. Spring is a short, fickle season. Expect cool to warm temperatures, occasional foggy or rainy days, and wind.
The scenic drive follows Massachusetts Highway 6A to U.S. Highway 6 at Orleans. This route, called the King’s Highway, is one of the oldest roads in the United States. US 6 offers a quick return trip from Orleans to Sagamore and the mainland on a limited-access, four-lane highway. The highways usually offer easy driving with localized congestion. Be advised, however, that weekends and holidays, particularly in summer, are entirely different. Cape Cod’s highways are then clogged with legendary stop-and-go traffic jams in morning and evening. Only two bridges cross the Cape Cod Canal, choking the arteries leading to them. It’s best to time your trip for quieter times of the week.