Outdoor Adventures on the Lower and Outer Cape

The Brewster Mill and Herring Run

If your family enjoys hiking and exploring outdoors, here are a few suggestions for Cape Cod day trips I have enjoyed with my own family. Brewster is only 30 minutes from the Cape Codder Resort and Provincetown, an hour’s drive. Well worth the trip!

The Brewster Mill and Herring Run
Corner of Setucket and Stoney Brook Roads, Brewster

The Brewster Mill was built to grind corn using the force of the water running from Mill Pond to the bay. In the Spring the herring come up the Stony Brook to spawn in the pond.

The Brewster Mill is open to the public, selling freshly ground cornmeal, Saturdays June 25 – August 27 from 10-2. Multiple streams tumble over rocks and under bridges in a woodland setting, a cool respite from summer beaches.

Nickerson State Park
On Route 6A, Brewster near the Orleans border

You don’t have to be camping to enjoy the woodlands of Nickerson State Park in Brewster. Maps of the park can be obtained online or at the entrance. The entrance fee is free for hiking, biking, swimming and fishing although you will need a freshwater State license to fish. Freshwater State Fishing licenses can be purchased online, any tackle shop or at some Town Clerk offices (but not Brewster). Nickerson has two clean swimming ponds, Cliff and
Flax. There is also a very cool frog and fish pond east of Cliff Pond called Little Cliff. You can rent a canoe, kayak, paddle boat or sailboat from Jack’s Boat Rentals on Cliff Pond for a reasonable family budget fee. There are hiking trails around all the ponds making it possible to find a quiet private spot, and allow a friendly dog to take a swim.

Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Walking Trails
Route 6A, Brewster

The exhibitions at the Museum are known for saving a rainy day, but there are also two worthy trails leading from the free parking lots. The John Wing Trail starts next to the Museum building and heads for the tidal beach through level woodlands and the salt marsh. There are many plant identification plaques and a Stonehenge like Solar installation. The bay is fun for children at any tide: walking far out into the bay at low, checking out the shallow pool creature at mid tide and swimming at high tide.

The South Trail starts across the road (Route 6A) journeys through the salt marsh of Stony Brook, (the stream of the Herring Run and the Brewster Mill) and circles around upland through a Beech tree forest. Some of the path is steep and rocky providing just enough challenge to empower youngsters.

Fort Hill, Eastham
About a mile north of the Orleans rotary, you will see a sign for Fort Hill.

There are two parking lots, one at the base of Fort Hill and one on top. Fort Hill offers a spectacular view of Nauset Marsh, Nauset Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean.

The hiking path winds along the cliff, down to a short Maple Swamp walk and through open fields reminiscent of a time when Eastham was all farmland. Great for bird, bunny and chipmunk watching.

Marconi White Cedar Swamp Walk, Wellfleet
Heading north, from Route 6, turn right for Marconi Beach.

On the way to the beach will be a parking area for the mile and a half White Cedar Swamp Walk. A raised walkway meanders through the shade of the native wetlands of high bush blueberries, bear berries along with the white cedar. The entire family will enjoy this refreshing diverse ecosystem.

Snail Road Trail, Provincetown

For me, one of the more surprising and breathtaking adventures on the Cape is the Snail Road trail. This 1.5 mile hike is not for complainers. Keep your eye out for Snail Road when approaching Provincetown from the south on Route 6. You will see the sign on the left, but on the right are three small parking spaces along the highway pointing into the woods. If there are already cars parked you may park along Snail Road on the other side of the highway on the left. The trail starts out in woodlands and then breaks out into a vertical climb up a dune, flows through an expanse of hot sand hills descending into scrub pines and vernal pools (some with cranberries and frogs) passes by an occasional dune shack (almost all are occupied so keep a respectful distance) and culminates at the Atlantic Ocean. Here, you will seldom see people, almost always see seals, and tern nests that have been fenced off by the National Seashore. As you walk along the shoreline far enough from the cages, the adult terns may go into their “broken wing” performance. An injured bird is rather disconcerting when viewed for the first time until you realize almost every adult tern along the beach is hobbling and dragging a wing unless you approach and then it miraculously flies away. Fun.