New England's lighthouses offer visitors a variety of viewing options - many are easily accessible by car, while others are only visible via a boat (or airplane) tour or walking or hiking. Here are three favorite lighthouse hikes on Cape Cod that run the full gamut of length and time. While elevation gain is obviously minimal along the beaches, soft sand and exposure to sun and wind are potential hazards - be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Seasonal beach fees may apply, and all visitors should respect private residences.
Above: The trails to Race Point Lighthouse offer fine views across the tip of Cape Cod and the National Seashore.
1. Sandy Neck, Barnstable. With a round-trip of more than 12 miles, this outing is for the hardy only! From the trailhead at the ranger station, the Marsh Trail offers fine coastal habitat views of marshes, dunes, and woodlands as it passes four 'crossover' paths to the beach (which offer options for shorter hikes) before reaching the lighthouse and private residences at 6.5 miles. Many people return via the beach for a long loop.
To reach the trailhead, from Route 6 take Exit 5 and follow Route 149 to Route 6A. Turn left on 6A, then right on Sandy Neck Road after the sign for Sandwich. The parking area for the trails is to the left of the ranger station; trailhead to the right.
2. Stage Harbor and Chatham Lighthouses, Chatham. This much easier walk begins at Hardings Beach at the 'elbow' of Cape Cod in Chatham. From the entrance, walk to the left (east) along the beach for slightly more than a mile to the Stage Harbor Lighthouse, which marks the west side of a channel to Chatham's Stage Harbor. Look for the Chatham Lighthouse in the distance on the bluffs above the opposite side of the harbor.
To reach Hardings Beach, from Route 28 in West Chatham, turn south on Barn Hill Road for 0.4 miles, then right on Hardings Beach Road for 0.8 miles to the parking area.
3. Race Point Lighthouse, Provincetown. The Race Point Lighthouse is one of three beacons on the outer lands of the Cape Cod National Seashore's Province Lands dunes. From the Race Point Beach entrance, it's roughly a 45-minute walk south along the very tip of the Cape to the lighthouse. It can also be reached by via a fire road off of the road to Herring Cove Beach (the trailhead is marked with a sign for Hatch's Harbor). This route is on mostly packed ground and offers nice marsh views. The nearby Wood End and Long Point Lighthouses are also accessible by walks that cross the breakwater in Provincetown; be sure to have maps and tide info and allow plenty of time.
To reach the Province Lands, follow Route 6 all the way to Provincetown, then turn right at a traffic light at a sign for the national seashore and follow signs for Race Point (maps and information are available at the National Seashore visitor center).