People flock to the Cape not only because of its beauty but also because it's easy to get to from many places. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., even Ohio and Canada, are all within a day's drive. From New York City it's about a five-hour drive, from Boston it takes one hour to reach the canal, and from there it's a further one hour and twenty minutes to reach Provincetown at the tip of the Cape. Whether you approach the Cape by land, sea, or air, each mode of transportation offers the visitor an equally impressive first glimpse of this summer resort.
By land, whether you arrive from the north or from the west, you will cross the Cape Cod Canal at either Bourne or Sagamore over one of two imposing bridges, allowing for a spectacular view of the canal below and Buzzards Bay or Cape Cod Bay stretching off into the distance.
Arriving by air in either Hyannis or Provincetown, a traveler by day will see the entire outline of the Cape and Islands surrounded by the bluest sea and fringed with sand dunes; at night, the Cape sparkles with thousands of lights and the beams of the many lighthouses that mark the harbor entrances and the treacherous coastline. The short flight from Boston--about 20 minutes--is truly spectacular.
By sea, whether arriving at Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, or Provincetown via Boston, the Cape emerges from a lush green horizon into a coastline of harbors and gray-shingled buildings, accented by the "widow's walks" of sea captains' homes and the soaring spires of old churches. These spires provided mariners of centuries past with visible landmarks as they made their way along the coast.
Driving to Cape Cod by Car
From Boston and points north: take Interstate 93 to Mass. Rt. 3 South. Go straight ahead at the Sagamore rotary and cross over the Sagamore Bridge, taking Mass. Rt. 6 (also called the Mid-Cape Highway), which extends the entire length of the Cape to Provincetown. Follow Mass. Rt. 6 until you see the name of the town you wish to visit. Exits are well marked. If you wish to visit Falmouth or Woods Hole, do not go over the Sagamore Bridge, but instead take the first right at the Sagamore rotary and take this road just a few miles to the Bourne Bridge. Cross over the Bourne Bridge and continue south on Mass. Rt. 28.
From Springfield, Massachusetts, and points west: Take the Mass Pike, Interstate 90 East and follow it to Exit 11A; take Interstate 495 South. I-495 merges into Mass. Rt. 25. Follow this road over the Bourne Bridge. If you are going to Falmouth or Woods Hole, go halfway around the rotary where Mass. Rt. 28 leads you on your way. If you are heading to any other town, go three-quarters around the Bourne Rotary, where you will see a sign for U.S. Rt. 6 East, a road which winds along the Cape Cod Canal. Follow this road to the first set of traffic lights, just before the Sagamore Bridge. Take a right at the lights to U.S. Rt. 6 (Mid-Cape Highway) and follow this road until you reach your exit.
From New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and points south: Take Interstate 95 to Providence, Rhode Island. Take exit 20 to I-195 East. Follow this to Mass. Rt. 25 South, which leads to the Bourne Bridge. If you are going to Falmouth or Woods Hole, go halfway around the rotary where Mass. Rt. 28 leads you to your destination. Otherwise, if you are heading to any other town, go three-quarters around the Bourne Rotary and pick up U.S. Rt. 6 East. Follow this to the first set of lights and go right onto Route 6. Exit U.S. Rt. 6 at the appropriate turning for the town you wish to visit.
Most people do, in fact, come to the Cape by automobile--more than 50,000 vehicles per day during the popular summer months. As you can imagine, at that time the major routes can be busy. The Friday evening and Saturday morning approach to the Cape toward both Sagamore and Bourne bridges is usually quite busy, and often traffic will be brought to a crawl for the last mile or two until you cross the bridge. This is because vacation rentals turn over on Saturday mornings, occasionally resulting in a Saturday afternoon backup going off-Cape, but most folks find a way to stay on the Cape one more day, meaning that the Sunday afternoon traffic usually backs up two or three miles going off-Cape.
Most of the radio stations have "travel reports" airing frequently Friday through Sunday in the summer for your convenience. Another great way to avoid traffic before you leave the house or motel is to call SmartTraveler at (617) 374-1234 (*1 on your cell phone) for up-to-the-minute information on traffic. This service employs cameras and airplanes to determine current traffic problems.
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Cape Cod Highways and Major Roads
U.S. Route 6: The Mid-Cape Highway
Mass. Rt. 28
Mass. Rt. 6A
The Mid-Cape Highway, technically U.S. Rt. 6, is the main traffic artery, running down the middle of the Cape as far as Orleans. It then continues as U.S. Rt. 6 to Provincetown. From the canal to Dennis, the Mid-Cape Highway is a two-lane divided highway; the speed limit is 55 mph. After Dennis (Exit 9) the road then becomes, for a 13-mile stretch to Orleans, a two-lane highway (one lane going west, one going east) dubbed Suicide Alley by locals.
As the highway narrows into this stretch there's bound to be a bit of congestion, especially in the summer on a busy Saturday morning, so watch out for this area if you're traveling at that time. Posted signs suggest that you use your headlights as you travel this 50-mph stretch, even during daylight hours, to increase visibility.
At the Orleans rotary, U.S. Rt. 6 once again widens to two lanes through Eastham, and then narrows again from time to time during the stretch from Wellfleet to Provincetown. Since U.S. Rt. 6 is the only major thoroughfare on Cape Cod, state police patrol these routes routinely. Also, U.S. Rt. 6 from Wellfleet to Provincetown is narrow and prone to accidents, so please be careful, especially when making left-hand turns, and do not speed--especially from the Orleans rotary to Provincetown--as the police will not be lenient.
Mass. Rt. 28 handles traffic south of U.S. Rt. 6, and Mass. Rt. 6A handles it to the north. Both these routes are more scenic and slower than U.S. Rt. 6.
Mass. Rt. 28 connects most of the Cape business districts along the south coast. Mass. Rt. 6A is more of country road, leading to many of the Cape's cozy inns and antique shops along the north shore. It has been rated one of the top scenic drives in the country (see our Tours and Excursions chapter).
These three roads--U.S. Rt. 6, Mass. Rt. 28, and Mass. Rt. 6A-- originate at the canal bridges, spread out over the Upper and Mid-Cape and then converge at the Orleans-Eastham rotary on the Lower Cape, with U.S. Rt. 6 alone carrying you northward from Eastham to Provincetown.
In many towns, Mass. Rt. 6A is also known as Main Street, as is Mass. Rt. 28 in some towns. But some towns have other Main Streets. To avoid confusion, we have decided to use route numbers throughout this book wherever applicable.
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Cape Cod Traffic Rotaries
The Cape has some notable traffic circles called rotaries--approximately 19 of them. For those not familiar with rotaries, also called roundabouts, here's an explanation: their purpose is to provide you with an opportunity to continue on your way without having to stop at major intersections. The traffic in a rotary travels counterclockwise. In other words, you can only turn right into or off of a rotary. The law dictates that you yield to a car already in the rotary, rather like merging onto the highway--wait for a gap in the traffic and then ease into that spot. Be patient when entering and driving around a rotary. Usually the signs are pretty good and you can read each one quickly as you enter the rotary so you'll know which road you need to take. If you do get confused and miss your turnoff, don't panic! Instead of slamming on your brakes (the last thing you want to do in a rotary!), simply drive around again in a circle.
Just where will you find some of these rotaries? The Sagamore rotary is on the mainland side of the bridge and connects Mass. Rt. 3 with U.S. Rt. 6, the main highway of the Cape, which travels from the Bourne Bridge up to the Sagamore rotary and then over the bridge through to Provincetown. The Bourne rotary lies on the Cape side of the Bourne Bridge (look for the topiary that spells out "Cape Cod"). At this rotary you can connect with Mass. Rt. 28, which hugs Buzzards Bay and the southern coast of the Cape and temporarily joins with Mass. Rt. 28A before branching out to Orleans. You can also go three-quarters around the rotary and pick up Mass. Rt. 6A, which runs from Bourne, along the canal, past U.S. Rt. 6 and then turns sharply to hug the northern coast of the Cape.
Mass. Rt. 6A ends at the Eastham-Orleans rotary, though it resurfaces for a 10.5-mile stretch from Truro to Provincetown.
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Cape Cod’s scenic roads and bike paths are renowned for bicycle touring, a perfect activity for campers who want to get to know an area intimately.
Scusset Beach State Reservation
Scusset Beach Rd., Buzzards Bay
What a great place to spend a vacation! Barely a few hundred yards from a beautiful sandy beach on Cape Cod Bay, Scusset Beach State Reservation offers pleasant walking trails and immediate access to the 7-mile long Cape Cod Canal bike path. Deer, foxes, upland game birds, and rabbits make their homes in the 380-acre preserve.
Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines from a stone jetty at the end of the canal or from the banks of the canal, and there’s also a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier. Scusset has 98 campsites, most in the open, including three wheelchair-accessible sites. Fresh water and dumping stations are nearby.
Many side roads intercept
US Rt. 6, Mass. Rts. 6A and 28. Locals use several principal north-south state highways to travel between the east-west routes of these highways.
Rt. 151 which runs from Rt. 28 in Mashpee (Mashpee rotary)
to Rt. 28 in North Falmouth
Rt. 130 from Rt. 6A in Sandwich
to Rt. 28 in Mashpee
(connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 2)
Rt. 149 from Rt. 6A in West Barnstable to Rt. 28 in Cotuit (connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 5)
Rt. 132 from Route 6A in Barnstable to Rt. 28 in Hyannis
(connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 6)
Rt. 134 from Rt. 6A in Dennis
to Rt. 28 in Dennisport
(connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 9)
Rt. 124 from Rt. 6A in Brewster
to Rt. 39 in Harwich
(connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 10)
Rt. 137 from Rt. 6A in Brewster
to Rt. 39 in East Harwich and continuing to Rt. 28 in Chatham (connects US Rt. 6 at Exit 11)
Rt. 39 from Harwichport
to Rt. 28 in Orleans.
The campground is open year-round; however, after Columbus Day the water is turned off in the public facilities, and only self-contained vehicles are permitted until early April. The seasonal rate is $17 Massachusetts residents, $20 out-of-staters per night and includes water and electricity. Off-season rate is $12 Mass. Resident, $15 non-resident. Large groups or clubs with self-contained RVs might be interested in reserving the 3.5-acre field with grills and tables.
Stays are limited to no more than two weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Off the beaten path, Scusset is located at the end of Scusset Beach Road, which runs parallel to the canal. To get on this road, make a three-quarter turn around the Sagamore rotary coming from Boston on Mass. Hwy. 3.
Shawme-Crowell State Forest
Mass..Rt. 130, Sandwich
The cool, wooded setting for Shawme-Crowell State Park offers a summer haven for tent campers and RV owners. Just a half-mile away from scenic Mass. Hwy. 6A, it’s close to the canal bike path and Sandwich’s marina, museums, and restaurants. Campers here have beach privileges at Scusset Beach on the opposite side of the canal.
Encompassing 742 acres, Shawme-Crowell is the fourth-largest park in Massachusetts. It has 280 sites, all with their own picnic tables and fireplaces. Scattered throughout are clean restrooms, hot showers, and sewage disposal sites. The park has no on-site hookups for water or electric. A convenience store carries firewood, ice, and other camping needs.
Overseen by friendly park rangers, this quiet, un-congested campground is open year-round for both tents and RVs—the first state park to adopt this year-round policy (previously, the park allowed only self-contained vehicles in winter). Reservations are not accepted, and at these prices you’ll want to arrive early to assure getting a site, at least in the busy summer season. The nightly fee is $10 for Massachusetts residents, $12 out-of-state visitors.
Nickerson State Park
3488 Mass. Rt. 6A, East Brewster
(508) 896-3491, reservations (877) 422-6762 (ICAMPMA)
This beautiful park, one of the state’s largest, is Cape Cod’s crown jewel. The 1,900-plus wooded acres that make up the bulk of the park once belonged to Roland Nickerson, a multimillionaire who founded the First National Bank of Chicago. The Nickerson’s, who lived farther west on Mass. 6A in an opulent estate, now known as Ocean Edge Resort (see our Hotels, Motels and Resorts chapter), had a hunting lodge on the acreage that now makes up the State Park. The Nickerson’s hosted private hunts at their “Bungalow Estates,” as they referred to their rustic playground. Nickerson’s wife, Addie, donated the land to the state in 1934 in honor of their son, a victim of the 1918 influenza epidemic, and in honor of her husband.
The park features eight kettle ponds formed by ice-age glaciers. A kettle pond that you see today may be gone next season. The ponds are completely dependent on ground water and precipitation, and the water levels fluctuate from year to year. You can spot many rare species of plants and wildflowers growing around the edges of kettle ponds, but remember it’s against the law to trample or pick them.
You could spend a month here and still have things to do. Boat or swim in the beach-edged Cliff Pond, the largest in the park, or try your luck fishing at one of the four trout-stocked ponds. (Note there are no lifeguards.) Birdwatchers will be pleased to know Nickerson is a regular stop on the migration route of such feathered friends as larks, woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, and thrushes. It’s also a watering hole for cormorants, Canada geese, great blue herons, ducks—even the occasional common loon. You may also spot owls, ospreys, hawks, eagles, and such woodland animals as red foxes, skunks, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, and nonpoisonous snakes. If you like bicycling, the Cape Cod Rail Trail passes right through the park, with a few loops branching off through different areas of the park. And that’s just in season! Nickerson is open year-round, and winter visitors can ice-fish, ice-skate, and when there is snow, cross-country ski on marked trails. The park is an easy walk or drive from bay beaches, and beach walks are among the many interpretive activities led by park naturalists in season.
Nickerson State Park offers 420 camping sites at $15 per night for out-of-staters and $12 Massachusetts residents, but does not offer electric or RV hookups. The sites are large enough to handle 2 tents, 2 cars and the rate is for 4 adults per site. Nonprofit organizations can reserve one of the two group camping sites (each cabin holds about 30 people). Reservations are strongly recommended; 80 percent of the park’s sites (up from about 50 percent a year ago) are now under the reservation system established years ago.
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Cape Cod by Air
Perhaps the best way to get a real feel for the Cape is to approach it by air. On a clear day you can see it all. You'll notice the relationships between the Cape peninsula and the two islands to the south, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and you may even be able to see Monomoy Island off Chatham and the Elizabeth Islands off Falmouth. Even Cape residents are surprised by just how narrow this land looks from the sky.
Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis is the Cape's main airport. It should also be noted that this airport has no fancy boutiques and no food courts--just friendly local people willing and able to assist you with your travel questions. The Cape also has several other smaller airports, sometimes just a runway or two, which, with the exception of the Provincetown Airport, only serve private planes. Once you arrive at Barnstable, there are plenty of car-rental options right at the airport.
Cape Air is the carrier that offers the most daily flights into Hyannis and Provincetown. It is an employee-owned company with top-quality service and loads of experience. Always call two hours ahead of your flight departure time to guarantee that your flight is taking off. Even with the most sophisticated of flight equipment, the fog can sock you in for a couple hours.
Fly to Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis on Cape Air from Boston and Providence, or on US Airways Express from Boston and New York.
Fly to Nantucket on Cape Air from Boston, New Bedford, Providence, Hyannis, and Martha's Vineyard; or on US Airways Express from New York, Boston, Hyannis, and Martha's Vineyard.
To fly to Nantucket from Hyannis, you can take Nantucket Airlines and Island Airlines. Fly to Martha's Vineyard on Cape Air from Boston, New Bedford, Providence, Hyannis and Nantucket. Or you can use US Airways Express from New York, Boston, Hyannis, and Nantucket.
Fly to Provincetown on Cape Air from Boston. Most of the 18-minute flight is over Cape Cod Bay, and the views of the dune-studded Cape as the plane sweeps over its tip are--there's no other word for it--breathtaking.
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Barnstable Municipal AirportHyannis Rotary, Hyannis (508) 775-2020
Barnstable Municipal Airport, the Cape's major airport, is right in the middle of the peninsula in Hyannis (town of Barnstable). With two 1-mile runways, it is certainly not the largest airport you'll ever land at, but it is far from the smallest. President Kennedy's plane would land here when he was arriving for a Hyannisport vacation. For the celebrity watchers, when the rich and famous fly to the Cape, more often than not, they'll come through Barnstable. Four airlines service the airport, three on a full-time basis and one seasonally. Also, three local airlines, Island Airlines, Nantucket Airlines, and Ocean Wings, provide service from Hyannis to Nantucket (see our Nantucket chapter for more details).
The most daily flights into Hyannis from Boston and to the Cape and Islands in the summer. On average there are about 10 flights a day year-round between Boston's Logan International Airport and Barnstable Municipal Airport. These flights take about 20 minutes; it seems once the plane reaches its cruising height it's time to prepare for landing. The airline has many flights each day to Nantucket and to Martha's Vineyard. Call ahead for your reservation. Cape Air and Nantucket Airlines also offer off-season specials in addition to discounted commuter tickets.
Nonstop flights from Boston to Hyannis and nonstop flights from New York to Hyannis. With a Saturday overnight and 14-day advance notice, ticket prices drop. The airline also offers service from New Jersey, New York, and Providence to Boston and then on to Hyannis.
Year-round service between New York and Hyannis with four daily flights each way Monday through Friday, one on Saturdays and two on Sundays. From Memorial Day to mid-October. Colgan also flies from Newark, New Jersey, to Hyannis.
Outside the main terminal, there are normally a number of taxis waiting. If you plan on leaving your car at the airport overnight, there is a daily parking fee.
If you need to rent a car you're in luck; there are four
companies located in the main terminal:
National Car Rental
(Race Point Rd., Provincetown
Located at the Province Lands, Provincetown Airport has one 3,500-foot paved runway just down the road from Race Point Beach, a short taxi ride from the town center. Cape Air flies into Provincetown from Boston on a daily basis. During the summer there are sightseeing flights.
You can rent a car at Provincetown Airport through:
U-Save Auto Rental
Other airports on Cape Cod offer landing for private planes:
Ocean Wings Air Charter
Memorial Airport, Nantucket
Ocean Wings Air Charter offers 24-hour year-round charter service to and from more than a thousand airports across the country. If it is necessary to travel quickly and on the spur of the moment, in and out of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod, Ocean Wings may fit in with your personal demands. This company has a private hangar and offers flight instruction.
Fresh Pond Rd., East Falmouth
This one-runway airport is owned by the people who live around it--in fact, all the homes have hangars for their planes the way the rest of us have garages for our cars. The 2,400-foot paved airstrip is open to the public and charters. There is a wash-down station available.
Cape Cod Airport
1000 Race Ln., Marstons Mills
Cape Cod Airport has three grass runways, the longest being 2,700 feet. It caters to private planes, but there are also sightseeing planes, biplanes, and glider rides operating out of this Mid-Cape airport.
Chatham Municipal Airport
George Ryder Rd., West Chatham
Chatham Municipal Airport has a 3,000-foot-long, 100-foot-wide paved runway with a grass strip running alongside. The airport is open to the public and offers sightseeing and biplane rides. There's a restaurant on site as well as a full maintenance facility.
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