How to explore the 6 Cape Cod National Seashore beaches

Published Date: January 17, 2023

Beach entrance
Cape Cod is an idyllic summer vacation destination located on a hook-shaped, 60-mile-long peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. While nearly 6 million people visit Cape Cod each year, the shoreline is surprisingly unspoiled, thanks in large part to the National Park Service, which oversees a 40-mile stretch of coastline designated as the Cape Cod National SeashoreThe park, stretching from Chatham to Provincetown and covering 43,500 acres, was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. A summer resident of the Cape himself, Kennedy wanted to preserve the natural and historic significance of the area. Six separate beaches make up the Cape Cod National Seashore, each with its own distinct charm and recreational activities. Here’s what you need to know about visiting each beach. 

Coast Guard Beach in Eastham

Called “The Great Beach” by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau, this large strand of golden sand on the Cape’s Atlantic side is a regular on lists of the country’s top beaches. The beach takes its name from an old Coast Guard building that still stands on the dunes, and the maritime force had a good reason to be watchful: These waters have been the site of more than 3,000 shipwrecks in the last 400 years. Coast Guard Beach offers a pathway through Nauset Marsh and Nauset Spit, where you can enjoy birdwatching and spot harbor and gray seals resting on sand bars. Fun fact: This beach is where the Mayflower passengers are said to have first spotted land after crossing the Atlantic in 1620. What you need to know: Coast Guard Beach is located at the intersection of Nauset Road and Ocean View Drive in Eastham. During the summer months, the on-site parking lot is reserved for local residents and those with handicap placards. An open-air shuttle provides transportation to the beach from the nearby Little Creek parking lot. Entry to Coast Guard Beach — and all the National Seashore Beaches — is fee-based, and fees vary depending on your mode of transportation and whether you buy a day or annual pass.

Nauset Light Beach in Eastham

A broad, sandy beach backed by a steep, rocky slope, Nauset Light Beach is named for the Nauset Lighthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (On select days, free lighthouse tours are available, thanks to the Nauset Light Preservation Society.) It’s common to see seals swimming just offshore, which also means that great white sharks could be close by. Be sure to follow all posted directions and listen to the lifeguards. If you’re in the area in the winter when the beach profile is lower, you may be able to spot the brick foundation of one of the original Three Sisters lighthouses. Fun fact: In the late 1870s, the French Transatlantic Cable line that enabled telegraph communications between Europe and North America ran through Cape Cod. You can see the historic French Cable Hut at the northern edge of the parking lot. What you need to know: On-site parking at Nauset Light Beach is extremely limited, often filling up by mid-morning in the summer months. Arriving by bicycle is a smart move. Simply start at the Salt Pond Visitor Center on the paved Nauset Trail, then continue north on Ocean View Drive, past Coast Guard Beach. 

Marconi Beach in Wellfleet 

Marconi Beach has a storied history. It is near the communication station used by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi to send the first transatlantic wireless signal between the U.S. and Great Britain in 1903. During World War II, the beach was a site for artillery and rocket testing. Today, it’s known for its incredible, unobstructed natural views in all directions, thanks to the high scarp and Atlantic Ocean. It’s often less crowded than other area beaches and the gentle slope of the beach makes it popular with swimmers, boogie boarders and skimboarders. Fun fact: Located near the Marconi Station site, the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail offers a 1.5-mile nature walk through a wide range of flora, including red maples, pitch pines and white oaks. What you need to know: There’s a large parking lot, but this beach is not handicap accessible because of a long set of stairs down to the sand. 

Head of the Meadow Beach in North Truro 

Between Truro and Provincetown is Head of the Meadow Beach, a roomy and open beach with plenty of space for roaming. It’s a bit more remote, on the far reaches of the Cape, so there are fewer visitors. Shifting sands mean that sometimes smaller pools of water are created — perfect for younger swimmers. If you time it right and the conditions are perfect, you may come across some tidepools to explore at low tide.   Fun fact: At low tide, you can sometimes see the wreck of the Francis, a ship that sank during a storm in December, 1872. What you need to know: Head of the Meadow Beach is dog friendly except during much of the peak summer season, because the beach is a shorebird nesting habitat for the threatened piping plover. 

Race Point Beach in Provincetown 

Race Point Beach is at the tip of Cape Cod where it curves back toward the mainland. It’s popular with both families with children and those interested in watersports, as the waves are much smaller than other beaches on the Cape. Typically, the waters are calm and more bay-like, so you’ll often see visitors swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. The beach is also the starting point for a 1.75-mile hike to the remote Race Point Lighthouse along the Hatches Harbor Trail. The trail takes you through sand dunes, wooded areas and beautiful marshland — just don’t forget the mosquito repellant. Fun fact: During the spring months, it’s possible to see whales right from the shore. What you need to know: Race Point Beach is rarely packed, thanks to its remote location on the tip of the Cape. Make a day of it by pairing some time at the beach with a visit to the nearby Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown

Since it’s on the bay side of the Cape, Herring Cove Beach has smaller waves and sunset views. Arguably the most popular of all six beaches, Herring Cove Beach offers easy parking, a convenient beach shuttle, picnic area and a seasonal snack bar. The beach can be a bit rocky, but it’s very accessible — beach wheelchairs are available from the lifeguards. If you’re interested in exploring on two wheels, you can ride the Province Lands Bicycle Trail from Herring Cove Beach to the Province Lands Visitor Center and the Beech Forest. The 5.45-mile loop takes you through pine forest, dunes and cranberry bogs. Fun fact: The Travel Channel named Herring Cove Beach one of the best beaches on the East Coast. What you need to know: You’ll find the beach at the end of Route 6 in Provincetown. Lifeguards are on duty during peak summer months, and there’s plenty of parking just a short walk from the beach. 

Find your favorite Cape Cod beach

With so many beaches, historical sites and recreational opportunities, you’ll want more than just a week’s vacation on Cape Cod. When you become a co-owner of a Pacaso second home, you’ll have time to explore like a local, discovering rugged stretches of coastline, taking nature walks to spot flora and fauna, and watching seals and whales frolic in the Atlantic. 

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Jen Lyons

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