Explore Cape Cod Nature on Land and Sea

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Cape Cod, a nature and wildlife lover’s paradise, juts out some 40 miles off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts, facing the wild Atlantic Ocean with tall dunes, vast salt marshes and serene barrier beaches. It’s a place where exciting, nature-based activities abound and where wildlife flourishes.

Many guided nature tours are offered from mid-spring through fall by the Cape Cod National Seashore and Mass Audubon’s  Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, among other organizations. Check out these nature activities during spring, summer and fall:

Whale-watching

Visitors can climb aboard whale-watch boats at Barnstable Harbor, in the historic town of Barnstable, and in Provincetown, at the northernmost tip of the Cape. Carrying a few hundred people, the boats all head northeast to Stellwagen Bank, a prime feeding ground for humpback, right and other whales. Along the way, view the scenic curve of Cape Cod from the water, and look for dolphins, sea birds and other wildlife. Once in the feeding ground area, the boat captain will slowly approach whales that have been spotted, giving passengers up-close views of the mighty sea mammals. Each tour last about three hours.

View Nauset Marsh up close in a canoe. Photo by Donna Tunney
View Nauset Marsh up close in a canoe. Photo by Donna Tunney

Canoeing

The Cape Cod National Seashore offers many guided tours and canoeing is one of them. With two or three people assigned to each canoe, a group of roughly a dozen people strikes out from the Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center, in Eastham, and makes its way into pristine Salt Pond, a tidal waterway that twists and turns through meadow and marsh, eventually reaching the Atlantic. Participants see aquaculture such as oyster farms in the pond, and then head into the vastness of Nauset Marsh, a huge salt marsh where osprey, herons and other birds are routinely spotted. A Seashore ranger accompanying the group provides a running commentary on the seascape, pointing out sights of interest. It’s a two-hour tour.

See diamondback turtles in Wellfleet. Photo by Donna Tunney
See diamondback turtles in Wellfleet. Photo by Donna Tunney

Turtle Prowl

Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, in Wellfleet, offers a full slate of guided nature tours such as seal cruises, marsh cruises and dune hikes. In early summer it also provides a compelling tour that focuses on the diamondback turtle. During nesting season, female turtles leave the nearby marshes and travel upland looking for a sunny, sandy spot to dig their nests. Sanctuary volunteers create turtle gardens, which are small sandy areas swept clean of grass and roots to encourage nesting. Groups are guided by a volunteer, who explains the life cycle of the turtle and tracks the females as they head inland. Lucky groups will often see a diamondback slowly making its way toward the nesting sites.

 

Learn to surfcast at dawn on an Atlantic beach. Photo by Donna Tunney
Learn to surfcast at dawn on an Atlantic beach. Photo by Donna Tunney

Surfcasting

Surfcasting lessons are offered by Cape Cod National Seashore, which provides two park ranger instructors for each group of participants. After demonstrating how to bait the pole and operate it, rangers encourage each group member to strike out on their own and start casting. They do, however, stay close by the group to assist with any challenges participants might have. Toward the end of the two-hour class, park rangers gather the group together for final instructions on the nuances of ocean fishing. And if anyone has caught a fish, they help with that, too.

Hiking

Not everyone wants a group tour, so for those who wish to explore independently there’s no better place than Wing Island. Within the space of an hour and the distance of a mile, a hiker can experience the four distinct topographies that define most of Cape Cod. Wing Island is a quiet, pristine place that begins at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and rolls north toward Cape Cod Bay in Brewster, historically known as the Sea Captains’ Town. Take a map from the information board at the top of the dirt path that begins just outside the museum and begin your stroll through a salt marsh, an upland forest and a meadow before dropping down to the island’s dune-edged beach. This walk is best done at low tide since the marsh usually is flooded at high tide. Look for rabbits, osprey and other birds, and fox.

Both the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary charge fees for the guided tours mentioned here and reservations are required. Whale-watch prices vary by company and location. There is no admission charge to Wing Island.

 

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