Down to Provincetown and back in a day


Katy Donovan

Looking east at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, MA.

There’s just something magical about Cape Cod: near-endless stretches of coastline, small towns, and historic lighthouses that rise up from the sandy landscape.  With its beautiful, spacious beaches and warm-weather attractions, the Cape is a legendary summer destination that draws countless visitors every year.  However, as I learned on a recent road trip, there’s plenty to do in the off-season – it just takes a little longer to find.

First off, the bridges spanning the Cape Cod Canal see much less traffic in the winter months than they do in the summer, making for a smooth passage to the Upper Cape (which, despite its name, is the end of the peninsula closest to the mainland.) The Sagamore Bridge, located in Bourne, Massachusetts, carries Route 6 over the canal. A quick look to either side of the bridge will give you a broad view of the canal and surrounding land. To the south, the town’s namesake Bourne Bridge allows Route 28, the Cape’s other main highway, to cross the canal.  From Bourne, Route 6 runs as the Mid-Cape Highway to Eastham and continues along the “arm” all the way to Provincetown, allowing Route 28 to connect in Orleans.

An off-season cranberry bog by the side of the road in Orleans.

For our first stop, we headed into Harwich to look for the classic A&W Root Beer restaurant. The chain still has numerous locations operating throughout the U.S., but the one in Harwich proved abandoned, as it no longer had a sign on the trademark orange roof.  However, Chatham Lighthouse was just a few miles away and provided another opportunity to explore the area before moving on.  The lighthouse sits across from its companion, Lighthouse Beach, and today serves as a U.S. Coast Guard station.  A well-known feature of the beach is its sandbars, where seals often rest in the summer and draw the infamous great white sharks closer to the beach.  As we continued toward the tip of the Cape, I caught multiple views of the shore from the road, as well as a cranberry bog in Orleans that made for a scenic photo opportunity.

Further along, glimpses of the ocean between Colonial houses, small local shops, and restaurants boarded up for the winter give way to a view of the harbor of Provincetown from the top of a hill and vast sand dunes just off the road.

Katy Donovan
The pathway leading into Race Point Beach from its access road and parking lot.

For our trip, we took the winding road uphill past the Provincetown Airport to Race Point Beach.  A small path is marked by sand fences on either side, and sea grass grows all along the upper ridge of the beach.  At the bottom of the path, the sand and rolling waves stretch into the distance on either side, making for a beautiful view and providing a scenic place to walk around or simply relax.  Race Point Lighthouse is also a short drive away at the end of the beach in Cape Cod Bay, where the Boston skyline can be spotted in the distance.

In the busier section of Provincetown, the Pilgrim Monument overlooks the downtown area.  A one-way street runs between closely packed restaurants, gift shops, and art galleries, making it easy to imagine the lively summer atmosphere of the village.  Just beyond, MacMillan Pier reaches out into the harbor and hosts both fishing and passenger boats year-round.

Katy Donovan
Nauset Lighthouse, Eastham, MA.

As a final stop on our way back up the Cape, we took a detour to Nauset Beach in Eastham to enjoy the sights. The beach, aside from being a popular summer spot and attracting the occasional group of winter surfers, is home to the iconic red and white Nauset Lighthouse featured on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag. So, the next time you are enjoying some of New England’s signature chips, remember this: the Cape may be an unexpected destination for mid-winter, but regardless of the season, there is no shortage of nature and history waiting for you to discover on Massachusetts’ long arm!