Dune's edge, pitch pine, Marconi beach, wellfleet, Cape Cod national seashore.

© Ronald Wilson Photography/Getty Images

Cape Cod National Seashore

Top choice in Cape Cod

Cape Cod National Seashore extends some 40 miles around the curve of the Outer Cape and encompasses the Atlantic shoreline from Orleans all the way to Provincetown. Under the auspices of the National Park Service, it's a treasure trove of unspoiled beaches, dunes, salt marshes, nature trails and forests. Thanks to the backing of President John F Kennedy, this vast area was set aside for preservation in the 1960s, just before a building boom hit the rest of his native Cape Cod.

Access to the park sights is easy: everything of interest is on or just off MA 6. The year-round Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham is the place to start. The Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown is smaller and open seasonally, but it has similar services to the Eastham center plus a fabulous ocean view.

Beach parking permits cost $20 per day or $60 per season and are valid at all National Seashore beaches, so you can use the same permit to spend the morning at one beach and the afternoon at another; pedestrians and cyclists pay $3, motorcyclists $10. The fees are collected only in summer – from late June through early September, when lifeguards are on duty – and on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day (late May) to the end of September. Outside these times, beach parking is free.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Cape Cod attractions

1. Marconi Beach

0.57 MILES

Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Marconi is a narrow Atlantic beach backed by sea cliffs and undulating dunes. Facilities include changing rooms,…

2. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

1.99 MILES

Birders flock to Mass Audubon's 940-acre sanctuary, where 5 miles of trails cross tidal creeks, salt marshes and beaches. The most popular is the Goose…

3. Nauset Light

2.81 MILES

Nauset Light is a picturesque red-and-white lighthouse guarding the shoreline at the Nauset Light Beach. Look familiar? You may have seen it on all the…

4. Three Sisters Lighthouses

2.82 MILES

While visiting Nauset Light Beach, don't miss this curious trio of 19th-century lighthouses – they were saved from an eroding sea cliff and moved to a…

5. Nauset Light Beach


Cliff-backed Nauset Light Beach, north of Coast Guard Beach, is the stuff of dreams. It's broad and sandy and its features and facilities are similar to…

6. Coast Guard Beach

3.83 MILES

All roads lead to the National Seashore's Coast Guard Beach. The main road from the Salt Pond Visitor Center deposits you here, as do cycling and hiking…

7. Left Bank Gallery


An eminently browseable gallery showing works from locally and nationally known artists working in various media, plus a gift shop of stylish, quirky…

8. Schoolhouse Museum

4.25 MILES

The kid-friendly Schoolhouse Museum, across from the Salt Pond Visitor Center, is housed in a sweet, one-room schoolhouse dating from 1869. It features a…