Although it’s been nearly a century since the railroad’s active days on the outer Cape, you can still travel the once-bustling railway’s path through the woods at the edge of downtown Provincetown, enjoying the solitude, natural beauty, and city-protected landscapes. Due to the commendable and decades-long efforts by our local Conservation Trust, exploring the Old Colony Nature Pathway is one of the most memorable things to do in Provincetown MA. equally fun whether you’re casually walking, trail-running, bird-watching, or skiing after a winter storm. From our Provincetown bed and breakfast, you’ll be less than a mile from the pathway, making it easy to jump on one of our most picturesque and history-filled trails within minutes.

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The Railroad’s Arrival in Provincetown – Transforming and Connecting the Outer Cape

Until the late 1800s, when the railroad first arrived in Provincetown, outer Cape Cod was isolated from the rest of the country, accessible only by steam freighter or days-long wagon rides. Although rail lines had connected Boston to Sandwich by 1843, it wasn’t until 30 years later that rail companies extended their reach to Provincetown. The railroad’s arrival connected Provincetown to the rest of Massachusetts and transformed our town’s layout, character, and culture over the next six decades. The Old Colony Railroad and, in later years, the New York, New Haven, and Boston Railroads all serviced Provincetown – ushering in the arrival of summertime tourists, increased commerce,  and the first wave of artists who would establish what has now become the oldest continuous art colony in the US.

A block from our location, on the corner of Bradford and Standish St, is where the Railroad Depot once stood. It was the town’s hub of activity as people arrived after their 5-hour train journey from Boston. What is now Lopes Square was once Railroad Square, surrounded by freight facilities and boxcar warehouses. Once train travel ceased in 1938, all of this railroad infrastructure quickly vanished, soon replaced by car traffic and the completion of Route 6 into Provincetown.

Into the Woods – What You’ll See Along the Old Colony Nature Pathway

Today, the former “rail trail” has found new life as a protected greenway called the Old Colony Nature Pathway, which is 1.5 miles each way or 3 miles for a roundtrip outing. It comprises over 20 acres protected and managed by the Provincetown Conservation Trust, a non-profit, volunteer-run private conservation group. Since its founding in 1980, the trust has dedicated its efforts to conserving the serene habitats surrounding Provincetown, particularly the area nestled between downtown and the Cape Cod National Seashore, working with naturalists to preserve the flora and fauna that thrive in this unique mix of woodlands and wetlands.

After a restful sleep in your Gabriel’s room, head just under a mile east to start your nature walk at Nicky’s Park, the Conservation Trust’s latest land acquisition in 2006. Although only 4 acres in size, it’s a great introduction to the diversity of terrain in this zone where the railroad once traversed, featuring the lush vegetation and dense trees surrounding Jimmy’s Pond. In the springtime, look for the radiant yellow blooming flowers of the bog twayblade, an orchid rarely seen outside this specific type of bog habitat.

The Old Colony Nature Pathway, officially established in 1995, starts next to Nicky’s Park, at the corner of Harry Kemp Way and Howland St. Immediately, you’ll be immersed in gorgeous woods, providing breathtaking foliage colors in the autumn and much-appreciated shade cover in the spring and summer. Amidst the old-growth beech and oak, you’ll also walk through a rare white cedar swamp as you pass through the stretch of pathway called Fox Run, another area managed by the land trust. 

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Due to the slight dip in elevation here, water gathers and enriches the soil, a swampy area that allows these impressive 40-70-foot tall white cedars to propagate. The historical importance of these forests reaches back centuries, as the native Wampanoag tribe – who famously celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Provincetown in 1620 – created hand-carved canoes from these hardwoods, allowing them to travel along the waters surrounding Cape Cod.

Continue through the thick oak, birch, and beech tree canopy as you cross through Foss Woods and the Whistle Path Woods. This last portion of the long-lost-railway has a fascinating history – the Foss Woods portion once housed the Foss Camp, a summer gathering spot for painter Eli Foss and other notable artists in the early 20th century who visited over the summer to paint the pristine landscapes in this verdant oasis just outside downtown Provincetown. The Whistle Path Woods, part of a larger 80-acre property once owned by another legendary local artist, Max Bohm, derived their name because train conductors used to blow their whistle as they approached this zone to warn fruit pickers harvesting wild cranberries.

Things to Do in Provincetown MA: A Haven for Birds (and Birders) and a Flourishing Natural Wildlife Habitat

Discover one of the top things to do in Provincetown MA, by exploring the Old Colony trail; although the woods along the Old Colony trail are stunning in their own right, it’s also one of the best trails on the outer Cape for bird-watching, wildlife-viewing, and springtime flower-spotting, some of the most exciting things to do in Provincetown, MA, for nature lovers. Along Fox Run, bring the binoculars to spot northern waterthrushes, who love dense thickets like those found around the cedar swamp and chickadees singing their bright springtime tunes. 

It’s common to spot white-tailed deer and foxes here, inspiring the name “Fox Run.” Over 100 acres alongside the trail are part of the Provincetown Corridor Wildlife Management Area, overseen by MassWildlife and monitored to promote the success of countless animal species. Throughout this zone, you’ll also likely smell the sweet honeysuckle fragrance of swamp azaleas from late April through early June, their beautiful white and pink flowers bursting with color. If you’re inspired to see more springtime blooms around town, check out our recent blog about gardens in Provincetown.

Near the trail’s east end at Mayflower Heights, look for over a dozen warbler species congregating in these woods during their springtime migration. You also can’t miss the distinctive purple and pinkish plumage of finches commonly seen along this stretch by birders. Orioles are another classic and easily spotted springtime bird species – look for their striking orange and yellow feathers high up in the branches of the maple trees at the end of the trail, part of the Maple Grove Bird Sanctuary.

Stay with us and discover the beauty and charm of the Old Colony Nature Pathway, where trains once ran and where nature now flourishes. Things to Do in Provincetown MA await!

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