Dear Bird Folks,
Last Thanksgiving you wrote a column about the Cape’s lesser-known nature trails. It was a nice way for some of us to get out of the house, while at the same time avoiding the crazy shopping areas. I’m wondering if you have any new suggestions for this year.
– Chris, Harwich, MA
Remember when Thanksgiving weekend was a fun time to do some early Christmas shopping? Then, somewhere along the way, it was turned into a circus of Black Friday ugliness. With that in mind, I do indeed have some additional nature trails to suggest. Although, the first trail is not “lesser-known,” but there’s a reason why I mention it. You’ll see.
Sometimes woodland trails are difficult for families. The paths don’t accommodate strollers, plus roots and rocks can be tricky for little feet or even for some older folks to navigate. That is why the first place on my list is the Cape Cod Canal. Paved service roads run along both sides of the Canal, which allow for easy walking, regardless of age or ability. Oh, sure, the Canal is popular, but parking (found at both ends) is not a problem and because the service roads are wide, it never feels crowded. You can even see birds on this walk, including loons, sea ducks and the occasional King Eider. Or, you can just enjoy the beauty of the Canal itself, which is something we all should do soon. I’ve heard rumors they might drain it.
Barnstable’s Bridge Creek Conservation Area is considerably less popular than the Canal. Parking for the trail is in one of those “hidden in plain sight” places. You’ll find it behind the West Barnstable Fire Station. When I drove in for the first time I felt like a trespasser. I was sure someone was going to yell or squirt me with a hose. But once I got past the fire trucks, I found a kiosk displaying the trail maps. For birders, I think this would be a better place to explore in the spring, when they would likely see Ovenbirds, thrushes and towhees. On my visit I spent most of the time studying some of the plants and trees I don’t often see on the Outer Cape, including white pines, hollies, princess pines and rhododendrons. There are also several cool stonewalls and a few small wooden bridges that may or may not have had trolls living underneath. FYI: The trails are marked, but I found the unexplained colored blazes a little confusing. Consequently, pay attention while you hike, or at least drop some breadcrumbs.
At the other end of the Cape, in the town of Truro, is a fairly new conservation area. On the right, just north of the town dump, on Rt. 6, is a small parking area. Here you’ll find two short, hilly trails. The trails are still covered in green moss, which is an indication that many folks have yet to discover this area. Bird-wise, it was a quiet walk, with the one highlight being two large naked people. (I’ll let that sink in for a minute.) Actually, the naked people appeared to be made of clay and were likely created by the nearby Castle Hill Center for the Arts. (How can artists get away with naked stuff, but when I do it my neighbors complain? I don’t get it.)
Farther up Rt. 6, take the exit for North Pamet Road and follow it to the end. Pull into the driveway of the old Coast Guard station and park in the area on the right. Walk back across the road in order to gain access to the Pamet Trail. After a short walk (uphill), you’ll come to a fork with a sign pointing to Bearberry Hill east summit on the right and Bearberry Hill west summit on the left. Take both trails…but take the east trail first. From here you’ll be treated to amazing views of rolling moors and the Atlantic Ocean. On my walk I also saw a late flock of Tree Swallows. They were perched on bayberry bushes, eating berries and warming themselves in the morning sun.
After appreciating the vista, retrace your steps (don’t take a shortcut through the bearberries, as my wife wanted to do) and check out the south summit. From here you’ll overlook the Pamet Valley, which most folks from other parts of the Cape never knew existed. After that, rejoin the trail and follow it north to a bluff high above the beach. This is a great place to see diving gannets, rafts of scoters, splashing seals and most likely, no people.
You should end your day with a quick stop at High Head. From Rt. 6, just before East Harbor (aka, Pilgrim Lake) is High Head Rd. Take the road up to the top of the hill and turn around. You will now be enjoying (arguably) the finest view on Cape Cod. You’ll look down on the Province Lands, Cape Cod Bay and Provincetown in the distance. If the sun is setting, get your camera out. If it’s earlier in the day and you feel like birding, walk some of the dirt roads. The thickets provide excellent habitat for late warblers and there always seems to be a hawk or two passing overhead. Just be aware that there are private homes in the area. Be considerate where you park and where you walk, or the residents will be mad at me for telling you to go there.
A few other things to keep in mind, Chris: Bridge Creek Conservation Area allows hunting, so save that walk for Sunday, when hunting isn’t permitted. Also, dogs are prohibited on the Pamet Trails, and that means everyone’s dog. However, it seems dogs are okay at the Canal. Every time I go there I see lots of dogs, so be careful where you step. But no matter how gross the trail gets, it’s still better than dealing with the Black Friday crowd. Nothing’s grosser than that.