If you’re looking to explore the Cape on two wheels, the Cape Cod Rail Trail has a wider array of natural scenery than most bike paths and hiking trails in the region. Weaving more than 25 miles through pitch pine forests, kettle ponds, cranberry bogs, salt marshes and soft sand beaches, the rail trail offers landscapes for every nature enthusiast, especially in the fall.
Here are some of my favorite detours on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
Bass River Bridge, Dennis/Yarmouth
Bass River separates Dennis from Yarmouth, and when the rail trail was extended into Yarmouth a few years back, a railroad bridge spanning the river was converted into a bike and pedestrian bridge. As a child, I remember swimmers jumping from the railroad bridge into the river below, as we watched from Route 6 entering Dennis. The sunset over Bass River is second to none and the bright oranges, yellows and reds of autumn that frame this area of the trail look like something out of an Edward Hopper painting.
Great Western Road, Hinckley’s and Seymour Pond, Harwich
There are few things more synonymous with fall in New England than the cranberry harvest. Upon reaching the trail’s crossing with Great Western Road on the Harwich/Dennis line, you’ll find a crimson cranberry bog full of red ripe cranberries ready to be pressed. There’s also a bog along Hinckley Pond near the Headwaters Drive Parking lot. Pedaling up a small hill past the Pleasant Lake General Store, the fall foliage reflects off the serene still waters of Seymour Pond. Make sure your phone or camera is charged before arriving at this Instagram-worthy spot.
Nickerson State Park, Brewster
Crossing into Brewster is the wooded wilderness of Nickerson State Park. This is a great place to stop and rest your legs, grab a drink of water, and enjoy the majestic fall scenery that adorns the 1,900 acres of forest surrounding you. You may make a friend or two with the large number of campers there to enjoy the bright fall colors, lighter crowds, and crisp clean air wafting through this spectacular natural resource.
Nature isn’t the main attraction in downtown Orleans, but the shopping in the quaint hub is. A favorite stop is Hot Chocolate Sparrow, where you can warm up with a hot chocolate, coffee or espresso (pair it with one of their delicious chocolates for a quick fuel up before entering the homestretch of the rail trail). Weekend travelers can also enjoy fresh fall produce from the Orleans Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. If you’re looking to experience a unique outdoor experience, a 1-mile side trip to Rock Harbor offers one of the most stunning sunsets on the Cape.
Salt Pond Visitors Center, Eastham
The Salt Pond Visitors Center is the main facility for guests to familiarize themselves with the culture, history, and ecological importance of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Visitors can take in the award-winning move "Stand Bold," which provides an in-depth look at the history, recreation, culture and sustainability of this critical natural resource. If you’re looking to experience the grandeur of fall colors along the National Seashore, the visitor center has access to trails with diverse ecosystems over a 60-mile stretch of coastline, from forests and marshes to pristine beaches. Note: The center is only a half mile from the Cape Cod Rail Trail, but you do have to cross Route 6 to get there.
LeCount Hollow Road and Marconi Beach Wellfleet
Heading west to east and south to north on the rail trail, LeCount Hollow Road marks the end of the more than 25-mile journey. Probably the best overlook is right along Blackfish Creek in the last mile of the trail. Also near the trailhead are LeCount Hollow and Marconi Beaches, which offer some of the biggest waves in the area. You may see a surfer or two looking to ride a clean wave or perform an aerial. Marconi is also a historic site where the first transatlantic radio transmitter was built. If you’re staying in the Outer Cape area, a stop at one of the local restaurants to sample the renowned Wellfleet oysters is a must.