It's true that a whopping 4 million visitors enter the Cape Cod National Seashore annually, but few people might guess that in the fall months, September through December, a hefty 1.1 million visited the park last year.
There are good reasons for that robust number, and it's undoubtedly tied to the beauty of golden-colored marsh grasses bending in the breeze, the splashes of red, orange, and yellow fall foliage across the woodlands and meadows, and the stretches of wide-open, deep-sand beaches with the blue Atlantic as the backdrop. And with the fall season comes the ability to walk or bicycle the park's vast and pristine trail system without the hustle and bustle of summer crowds.
With the stroke of his pen in August 1961, President Kennedy created the 43,000-acre Cape Cod National Seashore, forever preventing commercial development on its 40-mile stretch of oceanfront land. Located in Cape Cod's outermost towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, the park is home to several historic lighthouses, including Cape Cod's oldest and tallest, Highland Light, built in 1857 and standing at 170 feet.
Park entry fees are waived beginning in mid-September, and while cooler temperatures and windy days call for a sweatshirt or jacket, a visit to Cape Cod National Seashore is an unforgettable autumn getaway.
Fall Is A Great Time To See Cape Cod National Seashore's Beaches
Cape Cod National Seashore has six beaches, including five facing the Atlantic Ocean and one fronting Cape Cod Bay. Herring Cove, in Provincetown, is a bayside beach where visitors will find calm waters that children can splash around in – even in autumn since water temperatures typically are still mild.
Visitors will find high-surf beaches on the oceanside, and through the autumn months, wet-suited surfers can routinely be seen catching waves. At Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, visitors can see a former Coast Guard station and take advantage of several overlooks that offer panoramic views of not only the ocean but the massive Nauset Marsh, a tidal estuary where wildlife such as great blue herons can be spotted.
A few miles up the road, along scenic Oceanview Drive, Nauset Light Beach is named for the Nauset Light lighthouse that sits atop the dune, and farther north in Wellfleet, Marconi Beach welcomes visitors to its wide sandy shores backed by 40-foot sand cliffs. The beach is named for Guglielmo Marconi, who completed the first transatlantic wireless communication between the U.S. and England from the top of the cliffs in 1903.
Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro, and Race Point, in Provincetown round out the park's easternmost beaches, and both are perfect for visitors who want solitude while exploring the coast in the fall season.
See Autumn Colors On Cape Cod National Seashore's Trails
The Cape Cod National Seashore features several trails for walkers and bicyclists. The Province Lands Trail, for bikers, is a 5.5-mile loop that takes riders through pine forests, dunes, and cranberry bogs and connects to both Race Point and Herring Cove. It has some steep hills. Other biking trails are at Head of the Meadow, a 2-mile trail, and the popular Nauset Trail, a 1.6-mile route that begins at the park's main visitor center, the Salt Pond Visitor Center, and ends at Coast Guard Beach.
Walkers have several excellent trails to explore in the Cape Cod National Seashore. The Red Maple Swamp Trail is just under a mile and begins at the historic Fort Hill area of the Seashore in Eastham. A boardwalk allows visitors to walk through the swamp, which is at its peak of color in the fall.
At Marconi Beach, walkers can enter the White Cedar Swamp Trail, a 1.2-mile loop featuring an oak and pine forest, and then a boardwalk trail through the swamp. The loop continues along a deep-sand path back to the starting point and has a section of steep stairs.
For the more adventurous, the Great Island Trail has two loop options, one at 4 miles and another at nearly nine miles. The elevated trail runs between Great Island and Great Beach Hill and is considered the park's most difficult trail. Go at low tide since portions of the trail are submerged at high tide.
Fall foliage seekers won't want to miss the Beech Forest Trail,a mile-long loop near Race Point. It's a picture-perfect beech forest, and walkers will see the Beech Forest Pond as well.
See A 19th-Century Sea Captain's Home In Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore's historic Fort Hill area comes alive with autumn colors, thanks to its plentiful woodlands that surround its vast open meadow, and sitting aside the woods is the 19th century French Second Empire Period home of Captain Edward Penniman, who made his fortune as a whaling ship owner and captain.
The ornate home's mansard roof and stained glass windows give it a regal look, and fall visitors can wander around the grounds, as it is only open for tours during limited times in the summer.