• Kayaking the Outer and Lower Cape

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    Luxx thanks the Cape Cod National Seashore and Goose Hummock for help with this article.

    When travelling on the water, safety is priority #1. Here are a few basic paddling essentials for a safe day on the water:

    There is no more important piece of safety equipment than your PFD (Personal Flotation Device), and it only is effective if you are wearing it.

    The water is usually cold (below 60°F); paddlers should wear appropriate clothing.
    Paddling in a group is safer, and usually more fun, than paddling alone. If you do choose to paddle alone, let someone know what your travel plans are.

    Consider the effect of wind and tides when planning your trip.  Stay safe. Enjoy the view of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    Paddling the National Seashore

    The Cape Cod National Seashore has dozens of well-marked walking trails. From Nauset Beach, Orleans, to Race Point, Provincetown, they provide visitors with grand ocean vistas and access to unique micro-ecologies hidden in the forest.

    But, there is another set of nature trails that turn your perspective around 180°. These “trails” exist on the water.

    They are certainly less well marked, and definitely less crowded, but these “water hikes” provide a unique view into the marine environment that is very much the essence of the Outer Cape.

    One of the simplest ways to access the marine environment that surrounds the National Seashore is via kayak. From short trips on protected waterways to full day paddles covering several miles on open water, there are a multitude of options for getting out on the water.

    For beginners, two questions invariably arise when contemplating the first trip. “What level and type of physical exertion is required?” “What type of equipment do I need?”

    Assuming you are planning a 1-2 hour trip on protected water, the level of physical  exertion is on the same level as a brisk walk, with more emphasis on the upper half of your body. As far as equipment goes, the absolute minimum is the kayak, a paddle, a PFD (life jacket), and water-friendly clothing and footwear.

    Signing up for an outing with an experienced outfitter is great way to gain experience  before purchasing your own equipment. A guided tour is also a great option for visitors who may have left their gear at home. There’s an added bonus too: The guide not only knows where the great locations are, but also when to go.

    Weather and tidal currents can change the dynamics of a trip on an hourly basis. The National Park Service does require that outfitters operating in the Seashore obtain an annual permit. Checking to be sure an outfitter has an up-to-date permit ensures a responsible approach to safety requirements and environmental issues. Safety on the water should be everyone’s top priority.

    Top spots

    Nauset Marsh, Eastham

    Whether you decide to strike out on your own, or go with a local outfitter, one of the top areas to paddle in the Seashore is Nauset Marsh. The two most popular launch points for access to the marsh are the Salt Pond (right behind the Visitor Center), and Hemenway Landing in Eastham (accessible off Route 6 about ½ mile south of the Visitor Center).

    The Salt Pond area within the Nauset estuary system is a great starting point for the less experienced paddler. A small tidal creek connects the Salt Pond to greater Nauset Marsh.

    More energetic paddlers can make their way out to the backside of Coast Guard Beach.
    Nauset Marsh is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of the Seashore. One of the great benefits generated by the creation of the Seashore in 1961 was the preservation of clean water in the estuaries. By limiting development within the Seashore boundaries, the ability of the estuary’s ecosystem to filter the water was preserved.

    This fact is not lost on visiting paddlers who comment on the clarity of the water. The pristine salt marsh environment provides a great platform for viewing migratory birds.
    Although the Nauset Estuary is probably the most popular area with kayakers within the Seashore, there are several other areas that can be explored via paddle power.

    Pleasant Bay, Orleans and Chatham

    Pleasant Bay is a larger tidal estuary which borders the southern end of the Seashore boundary. Pleasant Bay can be accessed from public landings in both Orleans and Chatham. The bay has several islands that can be destinations for the trip, or just stopping points along the way. The bay is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via two channels through the outer beach. Caution and an appropriate experience level are required should you plan to paddle in the area of these channels. The tidal currents are strong and dynamic.

    Great Island, Wellfleet

    Moving north, there is another popular paddle trip that covers the western edge of Wellfleet Harbor. The best launch point for this trip is just below the trailhead for the Seashore’s Great Island Trail. After launching, paddlers can follow the Great Island shoreline down to Jeremey Point. This trip is the water-based equivalent of the terrestrial trail.

    Long Point, Provincetown

    At the very tip of the Seashore (actually in Provincetown’s West End), there is a small public landing that provides paddlers with access to the Long Point area. If you can manage the logistics of parking in Provincetown during the summer season, this access point is also great for some “urban paddling” along the Provincetown Harbor shorefront.


    April 12, 2014