Thursday, February 18, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 24: Cape Cod Rail Trail

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund
Trip 24: Cape Cod Rail Trail
February 18, 2010

            The miles of beautiful beaches can fill your heart with happiness.  The lighthouses that dot the coastline can fill your mind with history.  However, the best way to really fill yourself up with the soul of Cape Cod is to take a ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  The paved main trail from Dennis to Wellfleet is more than twenty miles of pure Cape beauty.
            First begun in 1976, and having gone through many cosmetic changes through the years, the Rail Trail mixes a little bit of everything that makes the Cape special.  There are several parking areas along the trail if you do not feel like riding the full distance and there are other trails on the Cape as well although the Rail Trail is the most well known.
            As for the actual meat and potatoes of the ride there is something for everyone.  A little over a mile from the beginning there is the West Reservoir which is almost always inhabited by swans and ducks.  There is a pathway to lead you to the water’s edge or you can observe the wildlife from the elevated perch of the trail.  There is a chance for another detour at the Bells Neck Conservation area in Harwich.  The bike trail goes through it along the northern fringe but is worth a closer look if you have the time.  The trail also passes along the Thatcher cranberry bog which is enormous as well as by a large blue water tower on the right side along Lothrop Avenue.  
            The trail forks off in Harwich with the main trail continuing on north and an offshoot trail heading onto Chatham and ending at the Chatham Municipal Airport.  The main trail crosses over the highway in a section of the trail that has only recently been developed.  For many years riders had to navigate along a treacherous section of Route 124 that included the on and off ramps at Exit 10. 
            The Pleasant Lake General Store in Brewster sits along Rt. 124 across the street from Hinckleys Pond which is also called Pleasant Lake.  This historic store is more than 150 years old and was once a railroad station and post office.  Now it is a must see spot and is a great place to fuel up with snacks and drinks.  There are picnic table outside of the store, this place is a favorite of mine and will surely create a fond memory for all travelers as well.
            The Rail Trail snakes its way in between Seymour and Long Pond on its way along Rt. 124.  There are great views of both water bodies but in summer the shores of Long Pond are privately rented and so looking from the trail is probably best.  The trail continues on its way through Brewster and passes by Nickerson State Park(above).  The Rail Trail heads off underneath Rt. 6A toward Orleans but Nickerson has its own bike path that can be accessed by cutting through Nickerson’s main parking lot.  There is another bridge over the highway as the Rail Trail passes through Orleans and heads for Eastham.  From this bridge, which passes over Rock Harbor Road as well, there is a great view of the Orleans Courthouse as well as the Orleans Rotary(right). 
            From this point the Rail Trail heads up into the National Seashore which begins by passing along several beautiful ponds in Eastham.  From the trail you can observe Herring Pond, Depot Pond, and Great Pond.  After crossing Rt. 6 the Rail Trail continues along to the Marconi Beach Rd.  If the time permits you should take the time to visit the Marconi Site and beach which I covered in my Wellfleet article.  From this point the trail continues on to Lecount Hollow Road which is where it comes to a close.  There is a great beach at the end of Lecount Hollow Rd. if you feel like continuing the ride.
            The Cape Cod Rail Trail is not the only bike path on the Cape.  In Falmouth there is the Shining Sea Bikeway which was mentioned in my Falmouth & Woods Hole article.  The trail is just over ten miles long and follows Cape Cod’s west coast through the Salt Pond Bird Sanctuary and then along the beaches in West Falmouth down into Woods Hole. 
            In Provincetown the Province Lands Bike Path(left) gives you a spectacular journey through some of the untouched majesty of Cape Cod.  Beginning at Herring Cove Beach and at just over five miles in length the trail includes several offshoot trails.  This bike trail needs to be experienced at least once.  The elusive Race Point Light is located down a dirt road adjacent to the trail and is a worthwhile walk for any visitor.  Plus there are many views of the nearby Pilgrim Monument which towers above the dunes and pine trees.  Some of the sand dunes stretch twenty to thirty feet into the air, it adds to the splendor of the ride and give the bike path a secluded feel.  It ends at Race Point Beach, the northern most point on the Cape, which also should be explored further if time permits.
            With several bike paths covering Cape Cod it may take a few trips before they are all seen and ridden.  The exercise you get from riding, or even walking, these trails is secondary to the enjoyment of becoming one with the very soul of Cape Cod.  Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: Cape Cod Rail Trail: From Rt. 6 take Exit 9A, turn left into the bike path’s beginning parking lot just after Cranberry Square Plaza.   
Shining Sea Bikeway: From Bourne Bridge take Rt. 28 south, turn right onto Locust Rd., parking lot is 1 mi. passed, just after Pin Oak Way.
Province Lands Bikeway: Take Rt. 6 into Provincetown.  Turn right onto Province Lands Rd., enter Herring Cove Beach parking lot on left.  Bike trail begins at north end of lot.
References:  Shining Sea Bikeway
            Province Lands Bike Trail
            Cape Cod Bike Guide - Rail Trail
            History of Pleasant Lake

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