From Railroad to Rail Trail – Connecting the Cape
Up until the arrival of the Cape Cod Railroad in the mid-1800s, much of Cape Cod was cut off from the rest of Massachusetts, only accessible by slow-moving trails and rough roads. Provincetown’s marina connected the outer Cape to the broader world, but only by ship and sea. With the railroad’s arrival, the mid and outer Cape became an easy train ride from Boston rather than a several-day journey by wagon. The rail line changed life on the peninsula, linking Cape Cod to the rest of the state while connecting the many once-isolated towns from Sandwich to Provincetown.
After a century of steadily declining use and changing hands between several rail companies, the railroad eventually went out of business. But in the 1970s, the railroad route was reimagined as an 8-foot wide asphalt trail named the Cape Cod Rail Trail, maintaining the connection between the different Cape regions, this time by foot and bike instead of by train car. The initial project was 19 miles in length, expanding further out on the Cape to 22 miles in the 1990s and even further in recent years to its current 27.5-mile expanse.
The trail has become a cherished part of the Cape Cod experience for locals and visitors alike, and exploring it is a must-add to your itinerary during your stay at Provincetown Hotel.
An Adventure Along Every Section, Whether Pedaling or on Foot
Although the plan is to extend the trail to Provincetown – in a fascinating bit of related local history, the original railroad station in Provincetown was on Bradford St, right near our location – the Rail Trail currently extends from Yarmouth to Wellfleet.
Take a short and picturesque 20-minute drive from Provincetown to Wellfleet, where you can rent bikes at the Little Capistrano Bike Shop, which has been locally owned and operated for over 50 years. Their shop has adult and children’s bike rentals, with cruisers, hybrids, mountain bikes, and even tandem bikes available. Every rental comes with a free lock, helmet, bike map, after-hours rental return, and rentals are by the hour or the day.
If you’d rather walk or run, you can start in Wellfleet or choose among many towns along the way, such as Eastham, Orleans, or Brewster, all of which have nature-lined sections of the Rail Trail connecting them. Most of the Rail Trail route is relatively flat, making it ideal for athletic and casual outings, and the whole family will love the seaside views along the way.
A Perfect Day on the Rail Trail and Recommended Stops Along the Way
As the Rail Trail winds through the scenic Cape Cod landscape, you’ll pass by gentle creeks, saltwater marshes filled with seabirds, local farms (cranberries flourish here among other crops), and long sections shaded over by pine and oak trees. And, of course, you’ll be treated to stunning ocean views of Cape Cod Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
Heading out of Wellfleet, the first section goes right through the Cape Cod National Seashore, where you can make side trips to popular destinations like Nauset Lighthouse and Marconi Beach. Further down the trail, you’ll pass other places worthy of a pitstop, like the Salt Pond Visitor Center and Nickerson State Park. Both are great for taking a breather, having a snack at the picnic tables, or using restroom facilities. If you want to swim and cool down mid-way, especially if you’re visiting during summer, you’ll have your choice of freshwater ponds and secluded beaches around every turn.
Along with enjoying the natural beauty along every mile of the Rail Trail, add to the fun by grabbing ice cream at the charming Pleasant Lake General Store, or a refreshing glass of wine at First Crush Winery, all of which are along the route.
Book your stay with us and plan a day trip to remember along the Cape Cod Rail Trail!