Updated in 2021!
Thanks to a family connection, we spend many summer weekends on Cape Cod enjoying its beautiful beaches. In the fall (with all the kids’ activities), we don’t get to visit as often, but we look forward to getting off the beach chairs to follow our favorite biking path to the National Seashore and to engage in our other Cape Cod favorite fall activities.
For our readers outside of Massachusetts, Cape Cod – locally known as “The Cape” – is a geographical cape extending into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southeastern Massachusetts. We have spent most part of summer 2020 here and created our Best Cape Cod Beaches Guide and YouTube Video report.
Here are some of our FALL WEEKEND FAVORITES ON CAPE COD:
EXPLORING THE BEACHES
You are never too far from a beautiful beach on the Cape! In the summer, we prefer the warm water beaches of Nantucket Sound in Hyannis (or Falmouth), but in the fall we go further to the outer Cape to admire the dunes and waves of the National Seashore Beaches.
See our Guide to Cape Cod beaches.(or watch our popular youtube video)
There are no life guards on the beaches after Labor Day but parking lots stay open all year (parking fees are not collected after Labor Day).
Our newly discovered favorites are Cape Cod Bay beaches in Dennis. Mayflower Beach in particular is known for its gorgeous sunsets.
There are a total of 120 miles of biking paths on the Cape – along the ocean vistas, meadows and lakes. Our new (easy) favorite is Shining Sea Biking Path in Falmouth. We park in Falmouth and ride for about 5 miles to Woods Hole along the gorgeous stretch of beach.
Our old favorite (which is getting to be a bit much for my knees) is the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT), which follows a former railroad way for 27 miles from the town of Yarmouth in the south through the towns of Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. The surface is paved and the hills are few (maybe not) – what’s not to like for a family of casual bikers?
There are several rental shops along the Trail, the biggest being Barb’s at the southern end of the Trail in Dennis. There is access to National Seashore (Marconi Beach) in Wellfleet, not far from the trail head near PB’s boulangerie.
DAY TRIPPING TO THE ISLANDS OF MARTHA’S VINEYARD AND NANTUCKET
We recently added a trip to Nantucket to our weekend list, but Martha’s Vineyard (seven miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod) remains our favorite island to day trip to. Here is a report from our very recent October visit (and This post has a lot of practical information for day-tripping Families including how to get to and around the island).
There are numerous campgrounds on the Cape and September-October is typically mild enough to enjoy a family camping weekend, and even go for a swim. One of our favorite campgrounds on Cape Cod is the North of Highland Camping area in Truro. This campground in the pine tree forrest is situated directly on the preserved National Seashore and provides access to Head of the Meadow Beach.
Our other favorite is Nickerson State Park in Brewster. Now, I have a disclaimer to make. Over this past summer and in the beginning of fall, we have been spending time there without actually putting up a tent, all due to our hospitable friends who were staying there. If you don’t have such friends, you can still enjoy the park and its lakes for a small day fee (see note on watersports below).
We have discovered Cape Cod kayaking only recently and were already tested in kayaking under small rain (we passed!). So we are now fully confident in recommending the kayaking as fall activity on Cape Cod. For newbie kayakers like ourselves we recommend a quiet (motor-boat free) Swan River. You can kayak from Cape Cod Waterways Rental in Yarmouth, for example, to unique Ocean Beach where the river flows right into the ocean (you should be able to get off your kayak before this happens; about 30-40 mins each way).
Another new family sport this year is paddle boarding (equipment purchase included). While some members of the family already practiced it this September, I am afraid we won’t be able to do it in October when the water temperature gets colder (maybe with a wet suit?).
We love the Cliff Pond at Nickerson State Park (you can rent both kayaks and paddle boards there); camp site reservation is not required for a day use of the public beach (small fee collected at the entrance).
VISITING ECO PARKS
There are nature trails on all parts of Cape Cod and we still have lots to explore. At Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham you can hike, watch the shorebirds and take a boat ride to a wilderness island (typically in May-October, but boats are not offered in 2020). You can also view the seals on the sand bar along the harbor inlets or at the Chatham Fish Pier (5 Barcliff Ave).
Sandy Neck Beach Park “living museum” in Barnstable has literally taken thousands of years to develop into 4,700 acres of dunes, maritime forests, and marshes.
WALKING THE MAIN STREETS
Without the summer traffic and crowds, fall weekends might be the best time to visit Cape Cod’s cute Main Streets. While in the past years we have enjoyed our fall visits to the colorful Provincetown at the very tip of the Cape (and here is our YouTube report to prove it), this year our favorite Main Street is the one in Chatham.
We might still book a Provincetown walking tour to learn about the town’s rich literary heritage or let a van tour take us to the the dunes (I heard Art’s Dune Tours are great).
VISITING A MUSEUM
Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, which houses American cultural artifacts in its three galleries and features the largest garden in all of Southern New England is open through October 18, 2020. There are numerous nature trails and hidden treasures (and a nature playground for the kids) to spend a full day exploring the indoor and outdoor collections themed around history, technology, art and society (many exhibits change yearly)
Chatham (twin) Light House is an active aid to ocean navigation and is not open to the public, but the original lens and lantern are on display at the Old Atwood House and Museum of the Chatham Historical Society.
ENJOYING A FESTIVAL
Provincetown annual September Tennessee Williams Theater Festival has takes place each September in Provincetown with live theater performances.
Wellfleet’s Annual Oyster Festival has been unfortunately postponed yet again due to ongoing pandemic public safety concerns…
The nights are getting chillier but early fall is still a wonderful time to enjoy a waterfront drink on Cape Cod. I felt pretty toasty next to a heating lamp at the waterfront deck of Wequassett Inn in Harwich and have added it to our list of Cape Cod fall activities! We welcome your own suggestions for “heated” outdoor waterfront terraces to take the outdoor dates well into the Cape Cod fall! (I have very recently discovered beach-front dining deck at the Popponesset Inn in Mashpee/New Seabury but not sure if they provide the “heating”).
VISITING WATER PARK
Update: Day passes are offered in 2021!
We have visited the indoor/outdoor water park at Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis on some rainy days before, but the “lazy river” felt especially right after some 15-mile bike rides along Cape Cod Rail Trail.
After a major recent renovation, the park now has four slides, a lazy river, little kids splash area, 10,000 sf wave pool, as well as hot tub and sauna for parents. In the summer, they open the retractable roof to let the sun in. Call ahead for day passes or check their website here.
Here are more places to explore on Cape Cod during fall season:
Woods Hole Science Aquarium is small public aquarium with 140 species of marine animals from Northeast and Middle Atlantic waters. Entrance is free (donations welcome).
Truro Vineyards offers daily wine tastings from April to December, and the tours from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
And when the Covid pandemic is under control, fall will be a great time to check out Cape Cod’s theater events: at the thought provoking WHAT (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater) or at more family-oriented Cape Cod Theatre Company (home of Harwich Junior Theater) and The Cape Playhouse (Dennis).
Have you visited the Cape in the fall? What are some of your favorite things to do?