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30,000 steps on Cape Cod: A three-day walking tour

Enjoy a change of scenery on these standout trails during an escape built around walking 10,000 steps daily through the Cape’s rich blend of geography, history, and culture.

Illustration of a couple walking along a beach on Cape Cod with a lighthouse in the foreground.
Jack Richardson for the boston globe

It was a smart watch instead of a Fitbit, but the well-intentioned gift was fraught with guilt. We knew we’d never match the writer David Sedaris, who claims to walk as many as 65,000 steps a day, but prompted by the “Great Enumerator” on one of our wrists, we usually managed 6,085 steps on our morning Charles River loop. To hit the magic number of 10,000, we needed a change of scenery. We’ve been spending time hiking on Cape Cod, and gathered some of our favorite trails for a three-day spring escape built around 10,000 daily steps through the Cape’s rich blend of geography, history, and culture.

You’ll need a base for the weekend, and it’s hard to beat a nicely appointed villa at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club (508-687-0556, oceanedge.com) in Brewster.

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One-bedroom apartments include a kitchenette (fridge, stovetop, microwave) for making your own meals or reheating takeout, and without summer traffic, getting around is a breeze.

FYI: It’s handy to have your own paper or digital maps of the trails. Some can be downloaded from the sites, the remainder from AllTrails.com.

GET BACK TO NATURE WITH THESE STORIES: Getting outside | Birding | Fly-fishing | Gardens

DAY 1

We like to get started as soon as we cross the Sagamore Bridge. Most people think of Cape Cod as one big beach, but much of the peninsula’s charm lies in the pond-dotted inland woods. We both grew up on the Old Mother West Wind stories by Sandwich’s own Thornton W. Burgess. One of the best intros to the kindly storyteller’s universe is the loop trail to Hoxie Pond at the East Sandwich Game Farm (508-888-6870, thorntonburgess.org), which is managed by the Thornton W. Burgess Society. Drive down the potholed entry road to the parking lot for a warm-up stroll through the environs of Reddy Fox, Sammy Jay, and Johnny Chuck.

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The Stats: 2,200 steps, 25 minutes

Just a few miles away, the geological story of Cape Cod is literally laid bare at Sandy Neck Beach Park (508-790-6272, town.barnstable.ma.us/sandyneckpark/default). Granite and quartz pebbles scraped by glaciers from the mountains north and west line the gently sloping barrier beach. The lighter, more finely ground glacial grit heaps up as windblown sand dunes. For a simple workout, walk 40 minutes east on hard-packed sand by the water, then ramp up the exertion by returning in the squishy dry sand just above the wrack line.

The Stats: 7,800 steps, 80 minutes

Once you’ve checked in at Ocean Edge, you can order a tasty takeout meal (pan-seared scallops, a lobster roll) from the property’s Frost Bar. If it’s warm enough, you might want to dine on your unit’s balcony.

DAY 2

Provincetown has stayed remarkably active in the off-season, so we sandwich our hikes around an intermission in town. Our morning warm-up is a brisk but easy hike from the Province Lands Visitor Center (closed, but heated bathrooms open) down the bike path to Old Harbor Life-Saving Station (508-771-2144, nps.gov/caco). The museum is also closed, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision the heroism of the long-ago lifesavers who plucked unlucky sailors from a roiling ocean. Watch the water for plumes of whales coming up for air. They’re migrating north this time of year. Climbing back uphill on the paved path through pitch pine forest is a satisfying aerobic workout.

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The Stats: 5,100 steps, 50 minutes

Back in town, the deli sandwiches at Angel Foods (508-487-6666, angelfoods.com) are usually so large that we get one to split along with a couple of their equally big cookies. Practically across the street, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (508-487-1750, paam.org) is open by reservation. Oil, tempera, or watercolor — the works on the walls illuminate the Outer Cape landscape and great dome of sky that has attracted so many artists to Provincetown.

Some of those painters did their best work living in shacks on the parabolic dunes of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District. The Cape Cod National Seashore generally forbids walking on the dunes, but one trail through the dune shack district is an exception. It crosses an otherworldly moonscape of seven-story dunes rising and falling between bay and open ocean. There are no trail markers — just follow the footsteps in the sand. Three parking spaces at the trailhead across Route 6 from Snail Road (with overflow on the shoulder) provide access. Random patches of bearberry, dune grass, or bonsai-like pitch pines anchor the sand in places, but the soft footing makes the trek somewhat strenuous. The profound emptiness of the wind-shaped dune-scape is as vast as the nearby ocean.

The Stats: 5,100 steps, 80 minutes

If we’re feeling fancy, we treat ourselves to heat-and-eat prepared entrees from PB Boulangerie Bistro (508-349-1600, pbboulangeriebistro.com) in Wellfleet on the way back to our base. Reasonably priced beef bourguignon actually comes in a boilable bag! For dessert, we add individual lemon or chocolate French tarts. (This getaway is about fitness, not dieting.)

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DAY 3

The 5 miles of interconnected trails at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (508-349-2615, massaudubon.org) may pack the most beauty per step on Cape Cod, touching on every Cape ecosystem except dune lands. It’s the naturalist’s equivalent of riding all the rides at Disneyland.

From the visitor center, the Silver Spring Trail loops around a stream where freshwater critters are just awakening for the season and songbirds flit through the woods. It continues onto the Goose Pond Trail, where signs ominously predict future high tide marks. This loop winds through a salt marsh populated with herons that seem all elbows and knees when standing, but resemble pterodactyls in flight. The farthest reach of the trail connects to the Try Island Trail loop (driest when the tide is out); a boardwalk provides vistas of the outer beach where plovers skitter in and out of the surf zone.

On the north side of the sanctuary, the Bay View Trail begins at a beach and soon diverges into a sand plain grassland and heath. It loops back to the visitor center through piney woods. Views here seem like they were intentionally framed. Every time one of us says, “Wow, that’s pretty,” we encounter a bench where we can sit and contemplate the natural world spread out before us.

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The Stats: 10,300 steps, 2 hours

* Official COVID-19 guidance changes frequently. Check state and local regulations before traveling.


Patricia Harris and David Lyon are frequent contributors to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.