Cape Cod Scenic Drives: Lower Cape Cod

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Driving Cape Cod

Often on a sunny afternoon, Rich and I will head out to explore Cape Cod beyond the immediate environs of our bed and breakfast inn. Armed with my trusty Cape Cod Street Atlas and Rich’s GPS, we set off on an adventure of discovery. It was on one of these missions that we uncovered some of our favorite off-the-beaten path destinations on the lower Cape. Starting from the rotary at the Orleans/Eastham line where Route 6 and 6A meet, the drive continues as far as Provincetown, covering roughly 25 miles. You can take Route 6 from West Barnstable or follow the more meandering path of Route 6A to Orleans. We prefer 6A if time allows, as it is perhaps more scenic, but generally return via Route 6, the Mid-Cape Highway, as it is more direct and definitely faster. Traveling from the High Pointe Inn, the drive is approximately 120 miles round trip and will take the better part of the day to fully enjoy.

NOTE: All scenic spots are marked with the corresponding page number and grid marks in brackets from American Map’s “Cape Cod Street Atlas”.

Penniman House Fort Hill

Fort Hill, Penniman House, and the Red Maple Swamp [Eastham, pg. 49, 5-G]

Just past the rotary in Eastham, you’ll see a brown road sign on the right labeled “Fort Hill”. The road is actually Governor Prence Rd and leads past the Penniman House (an old sea captain’s mansion with a whale jawbone for a gate) to Fort Hill at the crest of the hill. Here you’ll find a small parking lot and a few benches on a grassy knoll at the start of the nature trail. There was never actually a fort on the site, but the hill itself, being one of the highest points around was used as a look-out for British ships during the American Revolution. We often bring folding chairs and a picnic to enjoy the gorgeous view across Town Cove to Nauset and Coast Guard beaches. When the tides are right kayakers wend their way through the channels of Nauset and Salt Pond bays below. You can follow the trail along the salt marsh through old farm lands, keeping an eye out for great blue herons and other native songbirds. At the end of the trail you enter into the Red Maple Swamp and the trail turns into a raised boardwalk suspended over squishy earth. You can learn something along your walk about local Native American history and native plants, as the trail is marked to correspond to an interpretive presentation by the National Seashore.

Red Maple Swamp

Salt Pond Visitor Center [Eastham, pg. 47, 5-E]

Return to Route 6 and turn right to continue heading east. A few miles up on the right hand side is the Salt Pond Visitor Center. The Salt Pond Visitor Center is Cape Cod National Seashore’s main visitor facility, with frequent orientation movies, a well stocked bookstore, a comprehensive museum, and restroom facilities. The indoor theatre routinely offers 5 short films that rotate daily . Offering breathtaking views of Nauset Marsh and the Atlantic beyond, the Visitor Center is also convenient to the popular 1.5 mile Nauset Marsh Trail and the Buttonbush Trail (a .25 mile multi-sensory trail that features a guide rope and text panels printed in large lettering and Braille), and the Nauset Bike Trail.

Ocean View Drive [Wellfleet, pg. 121, 7-F]

Continue on Route 6 toward South Wellfleet, watching for the green road sign announcing Lecount Hollow Rd. on the right. Follow Lecount Hollow Rd. to the entrance to the parking lot for Lecount Hollow beach, a residents-only sticker beach. Take a left onto Ocean View Drive just before the entrance to the parking lot. This road leads through the dunes of the National Seashore, past quirky cottage colonies and is an extension of the Cape Cod Rail Trail bikeway. You’ll pass the entrance to Cahoon Hollow beach, another residents-only sticker beach, and the road that leads to the Beachcomber Restaurant, a casual full-service waterfront restaurant and bar located directly on Cahoon Hollow Beach. On a good day you can catch surfers riding the waves and if you time it right, a magnificent sunset reflecting off the Atlantic ocean. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day since 1978, the Beachcomber is a Cape Cod summer institution. At the intersection of Gross Hill Road, turn left to return to Route 6.

Beachcomber Restaurant at Cahoon Hollow

Truro Vineyards and the Atlantic Spice Company [Truro, pg. 110, 8-H]

Follow Route 6 through Truro to the blinking light in North Truro where Route 6A splinters to the left. Also known as Shore Road, this is the back road into Provincetown along Cape Cod Bay and the iconic and oft-photographed Days cottages. At the junction of Route 6 and 6A sits the Atlantic Spice Company. A retail store selling herbs and spices along with a comprehensive selection of cookbooks, health and fitness guides, craft books, gourmet food items, dried fruits, coffees and teas, housewares and tabletop items, and kitchen gadgets, Atlantic Spice has become a destination for summer visitors to the Outer Cape, as well as a haven for year-round residents. Open year-round Atlantic Spice is a treat for the senses.

Truro Vineyards

A bit further down Shore Road on the right you’ll find the entrance to Truro Vineyards a local vineyard specializing in handcrafted wines created from grapes grown on the 5-acre property, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The tasting room and gift shop were created in the original 1830s farmhouse. Tours of the vineyard are offered daily from Memorial Day to Columbus Day and several special events are held throughout the season. This is a great spot for an afternoon picnic.

Highland Light, Highland House Museum, and the Jenny Lind Tower [Truro, pg. 109 7-D & E]

Turn right onto Route 6A from the vineyard parking lot and continue east to Highland Road. Turn right onto Highland, cross over Route 6 and follow the signs to Highland Light. Here you’ll find Highland Golf Links, a 9-hole golf course with an old world feel and a stunning view of the Atlantic. The oldest course on Cape Cod, it shares its location with Highland House Museum and the Highland Lighthouse. A classic example of a turn of the century summer hotel, the Museum contains 17th century firearms, shipwreck mementos, early fishing and whaling gear, household tools, farming implements, furniture, Sandwich glass, and a pirate’s chest of booty.

Highland Light

Highland Light, also known as Cape Cod Light, was Cape Cod’s first lighthouse. Built in 1797 at the request of George Washington, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1857 to the 66-foot tower that stands today. In 1996 it was moved away from the eroding high dune cliffs to save it from falling into the ocean. One of the most important lights on the East Coast for mariners, it is also a favorite destination for photographers and travelers. The current beacon, with over 620,000 candlepower, is the most powerful light in New England and shines about 20 miles to sea. A spiral staircase of 59 steps bring you to the top of the lighthouse, where you are greeted by a docent, whose knowledge of all things lighthouse is often truly enlightening. The view from the top of the lighthouse extends from Cape Cod Bay around the hook of Provincetown to the Atlantic Ocean. Lucky visitors can often spot whale spouts in the distance.

To the right of Highland Light stands the Jenny Lind Tower. Jenny Lind, called the Swedish Nightingale, was a famous opera singer of the 19th century who was brought to tour America by the celebrated P.T. Barnum. Legend has it that in order to calm a riotous group of fans one night at an overbooked concert in Boston, Jenny Lind climbed the tower next to her hotel and gave a free concert to the people in the street below. In the late 1920s, the tower was destined for demolition. A Boston lawyer and fan of Ms. Lind purchased it and moved it, stone by loving stone, to land he owned in Truro overlooking the Atlantic, where it remains today.

Race Point, the Old Harbor Life Saving Museum, and the Provincelands {Provincetown, pg. 96, 2 & 3-A}

Continue your journey east on Route 6 into Provincetown. Watch for the entrance to Race Point Beach and the Province Lands Visitor Center, which is located at the northern end of the Cape Cod National Seashore, approximately one mile from Provincetown. The observation deck at the Visitor Center provides a 360-degree view of the Province Lands dunes, the Outer Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. From this location you can see Race Point Ranger Station, Race Point Beach, the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station and the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.

Old Harbor Life Saving Station

Originally built in Chatham in 1897 the Old Harbor Life Saving Station was operated by the U.S. Coast Guard until it was decommissioned in July 1944. The building was later obtained by the National Park Service, and in November 1977, moved by barge to its present location in Provincetown. A wonderful collection of memorabilia, the collection showcases the perils of life as a member of the lifesaving service. We were greeted by a most informative and colorful docent with ties to one of the original members of the service on the day of our visit. He proudly steered us towards a darkened corner of the station where the initials of his relative were carved in the wall.

On exiting the Life Saving Station, follow the Province Land Road through the dunes of the Provincelands and back to Route 6 or 6A for your return trip. If time allows you can climb the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, browse the shops along Commercial Street, cruise McMillian Wharf and tour the Whydah Pirate’s Museum, take a Whale Watching excursion with the Dolphin Fleet, or sample the menu at the Lobster Pot Restaurant.