In My Footsteps
Trip 5: Sandy Neck Trails, Sandwich, Massachusetts
January 11, 2010
Sandy Neck Beach in Sandwich is very well known to anyone who lives on, or has visited Cape Cod. It has miles of golden sand and acres of majestic dunes that stretch out seemingly to the horizon. Most people who visit Sandy Neck drive into the parking lot and walk to the beach, the normal routine for any local or vacationer. What they may not know is that nearby are some amazing trails that will lead you right out into those majestic dunes. It gives you a view unlike almost anything Cape Cod has to offer.
Located directly across from the ranger station on Sandy Neck Road is a sign for these trails(right). It tells you the distances to each trail; the furthest distance for a trail listed is five and a half miles. Not listed is the sixth trail. To reach it simply take Trail 1 which is a short walk out to the beach, then follow the beach all the way out. This walk is more than six miles in length one way and leads you to a strip of seaside homes and a lighthouse which face Barnstable Harbor. This entrance is for walking, but be aware that there is also an entrance for driving out on these trails. In winter the trails were virtually deserted, but in summer they will probably be a little busier. Also if preparing to hike the trail out to the lighthouse remember that it is over six miles one way and that walking through the dunes and soft sand will take considerably longer than walking normal ground or pavement.
Hopefully that does not deter you as the hike through the Sandy Neck Trails sports some amazing natural beauty and a few pieces of history as well. The first few miles of the trails are bordered on the right by a marsh complete with several small birdhouses near the beginning of the trails and an osprey nest situated on top of a pole out in the marsh.
Once you get past the exit of Trail 1 you will get into the smaller dunes that lie along the side of the marsh. On the left you will start to see the larger dunes that Sandy Neck is known for but stick with the main marsh trail longer and you will get a better view of them. Keep walking along the marsh trail and you will notice the first of many small cottages, most of them a hundred years old, dotting the land(left). These are great reminders of what Sandy Neck was like in the early 20th Century as part of the fishing and whaling industry. They are usually occupied in the summer so be courteous of their property.
For the most part, up to Trail 2 the land is uniform, mainly beach sand. The majestic dunes are in plain sight the entire time. However once you pass Trail 2 and a small guard shack located just off of the trail, the land begins to change a bit. There are still mountainous dunes but trees become more abundant as do the fishing cottages. Trail 3 has been closed so if you are looking for access to the beach take Trail 2 or continue on to Trail 4.
Trail 4 will lead you through the dunes and spotty trees and vegetation to the beach and sports a tremendous view. Also in this area are trails designated for horseback riding, but they are obviously fine for human use as well. This trail takes you winding through the trees, if not for the constant hum of the ocean waves you might forget that a beach lay close by. There are many tiny ponds scattered throughout this area, swimming in them is probably not possible or recommended.
Also out in this area of the Sandy Neck land is where you will find a large number of animals. Many species of birds such as hawks and osprey will glide by. On the ground the most common animals spotted are squirrels but raccoons and skunks roam the area as well. On my trip here I spotted a large white tailed buck(left), not saying that you will see one, but they are out there.
The marsh trail weaves its way through the trees as Trail 5 and will take you out to the beach. It is here that you may go left and head back to the parking lot, or continue onto Trail 6 and the tip of Sandy Neck. It is a long walk but the views are incredible. The cottages, the marsh, the dunes(right), the trees, ponds, trails, and lighthouse all make for an amazing hike.
I will admit that this hike would probably be more appreciated in the warmer months. I walked twelve miles in a little over four hours and enjoyed every moment. If you have the capabilities I would recommend driving the trails if the thought of walking more than twelve miles does not thrill you. Otherwise, pack some snacks, water, and some comfortable shoes and enjoy the natural beauty as only Cape Cod can provide. Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: On the Mid-Cape highway take Exit 5 to Route 149. Follow it to Route 6A and turn left. Sandy Neck Road is the first right after the sign welcoming you to Sandwich. The parking area for the trails is on the left across from the ranger station.
References: 4 Wheeling Sandy Neck