July’s beastly heat wave on Cape Cod made people think twice about doing things outdoors. Unless I was swimming, I would curl up indoors in front of a fan, worrying about my patch of sun-dried tomatoes. As a big fan of hiking, becoming a lethargic mass started to bother me.
Luckily, I came across some intriguing information from the Massachusetts Audubon Society which suggested “wandering through the woods amid leafy oaks and beeches, and conifers with their thick needle-like branches, you may find yourself wonderfully enveloped under a cool and shady canopy thanks to a microclimate created by the forest.
It got me thinking about hiking Cape Cod in a new way. During the cooler times of the year, I often try to turn a sunny beach into a walk for the sake of scenery. But a hike “made in the shade” makes sense in the summer, especially when the heat makes you want to wave a flag of surrender. So here is our list of the top five shaded hiking spots on Cape Cod.
Bridge Creek Conservation Area, West Barnstable
If you love deciduous trees and giant ferns, the Bridge Creek Conservation Area in West Barnstable might have the lush forest hike you’ve been looking for. Here is the intriguing description of the trail from the Town of Barnstable website:
“The Bridge Creek Conservation Area is notable for its remarkably diverse and accessible wetland habitats. It encompasses 246 acres in total. The area is home to an array of interesting features such as stone walls, abandoned cranberry bogs, tidal and freshwater streams, open marshes, hardwood swamps and uplands.” It makes a good pairing with the adjacent Jenkins Wildlife Sanctuary.
Cape Cod Hike:Head of the Meadow Loop in Truro
The 2.5 mile trail system is V-shaped and out-and-back. Parking at Jenkins Square (Church Street, West Barnstable) allows you to split the hike into two round trips, so you can return to your car at “half time” or shorten the hike, while the square parking lot behind the West Barnstable Fire Department (2160 Meetinghouse Way) takes you on an 8 mile round trip, with most of the walk under the refreshing shade of giant trees.
Cliff Pond Trail, Nickerson (Brewster) State Park
If you like to mix hiking in the woods with a swimming option, the Cliff Pond Trail at Nickerson State Park will make you happy. This is a nice 3.2 mile loop hike around a 204 acre kettle pond with almost continuous water views and plenty of places to cool off. Parking is at the end of Flax Pond Road.
Want a full workout? :The Cape Cod Nordic Walking Club meets for walks with poles
First, the semi-bad news: There are daily parking fees at Nickerson State Park from Memorial Day through October 30. Massachusetts residents pay $8 and non-residents pay $30. Residency status is determined by the license plate of the vehicle. I would say it is money well spent for a fantastic experience. The park is also along the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
The Cliff Pond Trail is simply a feast for the eyes from the start, and part of the trail goes right by the edge of the clean, clear pond. Allow about 90 minutes to complete the hike, which is a bit hilly in sections, but generally quite flat and easy. Once in the park, you might also want to swim at Flax Pond, which has a nice beach and restrooms.
Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, South Wellfleet
The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail is a unique short loop hike that even kids might enjoy. That’s because the big attraction is a very cool boardwalk that winds through what the National Park Service calls “an isolated remnant of an ecosystem created after the last Ice Age and normally found in central Canada or further north”.
The 1.2 mile trail descends from the Marconi Station area, a place also worth a visit, due to the spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and rolling dunes. The good-sized car park at 195 Marconi Station Road offers access to both areas and has seasonal restrooms. Allow about an hour for the hike.
In Yarmouth:There are 300 acres of trails in the Bud Carter Conservation Area
You will start by descending a hill through a shaded forest of pines and oaks. The newly renovated boardwalk stretches 2,500 feet through the cedar swamp, twisting and turning through towering trees that create a canopy. On a hot summer day, the shade brings a welcome coolness.
Mashpee River Forests
This hiking adventure combines the adjacent Mashpee River Reservation, a property of the Reservations Trustees, and the Forests of the Mashpee River, a city-owned conservation area. They wrap around the river south of Route 28, with parking on Quinaquisset Avenue.
Cape Cod Hike:The Marsh Trail at Sandy Neck – a long walk or gentle loop to the beach
The combined areas offer miles of hiking trails through the forest and along the beautiful Mashpee River. It’s quite amazing to find so much open land in such a busy and populated part of Cape Cod. One of the trails goes through the tallest pine tree I have ever seen in Cape Town.
There is plenty of natural beauty to take in as you walk, but perhaps the most intriguing thing along the trail is a man-made object known as the Great Bridge and a section of the old road that was once part of of Route 28.
Maple Swamp Conservation Area, Sandwich
The Maple Swamp Conservation Area Trail System is a challenging network of trails that wind through the forest for much of the terrain. And although Cape Cod tends to be a flat place, the area is hilly and you will have to climb to reach the highest point. But the payoff is a terrific view, complete with a lovely viewing platform.
According to the Town of Sandwich, “The Maple Swamp Conservation Lands consist of 500 acres of upland property which is made up of 25 different parcels. Located on the service road between exits 3 and 4, (the) property also boasts some of the most diverse topography on Cape Cod. (Extending from 40 feet above sea level to 250 feet above sea level, Maple Swamp offers spectacular views north over Cape Cod Bay to Provincetown and south to in Vineyard Sound.”
Take this hike in Chatham before the ocean takes him back
Curious Cape Cod: Incredible waterfront views and amazing hike to Cataumet
The trails meander beautifully through the forest, gaining elevation without a ton of steepness. The big plus is the observation deck on top of Sam Nye mountain. The main Maple Swamp Conservation Area parking lot is approximately 160-174 Service Road, Sandwich, if using a mapping app. This part of the service road runs along Route 6 between exits 61 and 59 (formerly exits 4 and 3).