Bike to the Beach on the Cape Cod Rail Trail

by Joanna Eng

Biking season is finally upon us in New England. Bike enthusiasts and newbie cyclists alike can take advantage of one of the best-quality bike trails in the country right on Cape Cod. Dust the cobwebs off your bicycle, or head to one of the many local rental shops, and set out on a ride while breathing in the sea breezes.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail is 22 miles from end to end, starting near the center of the Cape in South Dennis and following a former railroad route all the way to Wellfleet. But of course, you can hop on anywhere along the way. Granite markers tick off every mile so you know how far you’ve gone and how far you are from your home base. If you want to start in Dennis, there are plenty of FlipKey rentals to serve as your launch-off point, including this two-bedroom cottage with a bicycle shed.

The first few miles are the most heavily used part of the route, with plenty of local businesses (read: ice cream and bike rental shops) to stop at. After mile-marker 3, you’ll reach a bike rotary, with the option to branch off into Harwich and Chatham on the Old Colony Rail Trail. Those who make it all the way to the center of Chatham—located near the tip of the “elbow” of Cape Cod—will want to stop and stroll along its quaint and walkable Main Street, dotted with candy, gift, and book shops.

Continuing north on the original Rail Trail brings you into the town of Brewster and past a series of glacial ponds. Seymour Pond is one that is ideal for swimming, and can be accessed with a pass that comes with some vacation rentals in the area, like this four-bedroom house that’s only 0.4 miles from the bike route. Keep going through Brewster, and you’ll reach Nickerson State Park, at the halfway point of the Rail Trail. The park offers picnicking spots, hiking paths, several ponds, and an eight-mile bike trail for a little side excursion. You can also walk or bike to the Cape Cod Bay on the other side of the park.

At mile 13, you’ll hit the center of the town of Orleans, another charming place to stop for lunch or some window shopping. This is where Cape Cod starts to turn into a narrower strip of land, which means easy access to both the bay and the ocean side beaches. Get extended access by staying somewhere like this four-bedroom rental in Orleans, only 100 yards from the bike path.

If you’re still going strong, stay on the trail for the best glimpses of nature yet, on the Cape Cod National Seashore. From the Salt Pond Visitor Center near mile 16, there’s a bike path—the Nauset Trail—that leads you over the area’s characteristic marshlands and right to the ocean. Along this section of the route that goes through Eastham, you’ll find plenty more places to stay, like this remodeled three-bedroom on a pond, a quarter of a mile off of the Rail Trail.

You’re almost there: pedal your way into Wellfleet, one of the narrowest sections of the Cape, to continue to enjoy the wonders of the National Seashore, as well as the Audubon’s wildlife sanctuary on the bay side, around mile-marker 20. At the very end of the trail, mile 22, there’s a restroom and a parking lot, and you may even get a glimpse of a section of the old railroad tracks. Reward yourself with a dip in the Atlantic Ocean—you’ve made it!

Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.