Over the years we’ve developed a somewhat conflicted relationship with popular tourist destinations. On one hand, we want to visit those ultra-popular national parks like Zion, Yellowstone, and Acadia, and we want to experience attractions like the Kennedy Space Center, the San Diego Zoo and the Washington Mall. Like everyone else, we prefer to visit these places when the weather is at its peak. Which means we often find ourselves fighting the crowds and sharing the view/trail/museum with hundreds of strangers.
For the most part, we’ve gotten good at making peace with the crowds. Since we don’t have the kind of schedule that allows us to get out and about during the less busy times (like early morning or mid-week) we’ve learned to embrace the weekend crowds and not let it ruin our fun. But despite our (usually) accepting nature of crowded places, we really love this time of year when the campgrounds thin out and nature becomes a bit more peaceful.
Which is exactly why we decided to spend the first two weeks of October on Cape Cod. This skinny, 65-mile long curved spit of land is famous for its bustling summer tourist season. With only one main road going in and out things can get very congested at the height of the season.
October though, October is a different story. October is when the crisp air starts to creep in and the shorter days make for chilly nights and mornings. October is when many of the seasonal businesses shut down, the beaches are too cold for sunbathers, and the campgrounds clear out. In short — October is one of the best camping months. That is true pretty much anywhere, but especially in the northeast beach communities where things tend to get a bit nutty in the summer and early fall.
We spent our first week on the Cape at Nickerson State Park which is about halfway out between the tiny towns and Brewster and Orleans. The campground was nearly empty when we arrived on a Saturday. This was to be their last week open for the season — they close after Columbus Day — and already one of the loops was closed to campers. We got a nice spot in loop 6X and settled in for a quiet week.
Well…a mostly quiet week. With no hook-ups at any the sites and lots of trees shading the solar panels we had to rely on generator power for the week. And so did the other RVs in our loop. The sound of our own generator is never as annoying as the sound of other people’s generators (I think that might be the same phenomenon as thinking your own sh*#t doesn’t stink). The weather wasn’t great for much of the week. We had day after day of cloudy skies and dreary damp weather. Despite this, we did get out to explore the park and surrounding area. Probably not as much as if it had been sunny and warm, but that’s sometimes the price your pay for off-season fun.
Nickerson State Park is a big campground with seven different loops containing over 400 campsites, eight ponds, an 8-mile bike trail that connects to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and numerous hiking trails. One afternoon we rode the campground bike trail in its entirety with side trips around most of the loops. It was a great trail with lots of rolling hills and scenic wooded sections.
Near the end of the week, the sun finally came out and we took a paddle around Cliff Pond. Cliff is the biggest of all the ponds in the park and the only one with a boat ramp.
It also has several different sections of sandy beach and a hiking trail that circles around the pond. We enjoyed both.
Speaking of sandy beaches, the cloudy weather didn’t keep us from visiting two of the nearby beaches. Since this is the off-season the parking is plentiful and free, and the beaches nearly empty. Just the way we like it.
The Coast Gaurd Beach with its long stretch of uninterrupted sand and nearby salt marsh was our favorite.
From here it was only a few miles to the Nauset Light. Like so many lighthouses this one has an interesting history. Originally built in 1877, this 48-foot tall cast iron and brick structure was once part of a pair of lighthouses located in Chatham. In the 1920s the old wooden lighthouse in Eastham was retired and it was decided that one of the Chatham pair would take its place. So they dismantled the northern tower, moved all the parts and pieces to Eastham, and reconstructed it about 200 feet from the edge of a cliff. Unfortunately, erosion eventually took its toll and by the mid-1990s the lighthouse was in danger of falling into the ocean. So they moved it again. This time, the lighthouse was moved in one piece by jacking it up, putting it on a special truck, and very, very carefully moving it to approximately 300 feet across the road to a new site.
You can read more about the move and see pictures here.
Oh yeah, if this lighthouse looks familiar it’s because this is the one featured on every delicious bag of Cape Cod Chips. And now I want chips! More from our second week on the Cape coming soon…