One Day at Cape Cod National Seashore


Last Updated on February 22, 2024 by Grant

When it comes to planning our summer road trip itinerary, figuring out where we’ll be for July 4 is always interesting. Sometimes we’re in a city with celebrations; sometimes we’re not. On our New England trip, we ended up being in the Boston area, so we decided to celebrate the Fourth with a day at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Grant and I have been dating since early 2009. That makes this trip our 8th Independence Day together. In that time we have never seen fireworks on the Fourth of July. We have seen fireworks at Disney World, New Year’s and a random festival in Florence, Italy. There’s always been a roadblock of some sort when it comes to Independence Day. 

Check out our full New England National Parks itinerary here.

Fireworks of the Festival of San Giovanni
We arrived on the night of the Festival of San Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence, and got to watch fireworks that night.

Some years we were out of the country, one year we were inside Yellowstone National Park, a couple of years we were in a location that was so dry and had such a high fire risk that they canceled the fireworks. Our first year together, we were exhausted from driving all day. So, we settled for being able to hear the fireworks from our hotel room, even though we couldn’t see them!

Our goal this year was to actually be in a place that had fireworks. We wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July like “normal” Americans! Fourth of July at the beach sounded pretty good to me! Independence Day in the Boston area; even better!

Getting to Cape Cod

We started our day early, leaving our campsite in Plymouth around 8 a.m. We hoped we would beat the worst of the traffic out to the Cape. 

It was smooth sailing with very little traffic at all. We actually saw more traffic leaving the “island” than driving out. Cape Cod is not a natural island but became one once the canal was dug separating it from the mainland. This canal saves boats approximately 135 miles since they can go straight through and not around.

About 20-30 minutes from our first stop, the Salt Pond Visitor Center at Cape Cod National Seashore, when I realized I forgot to turn on the air conditioning and left the windows closed in the camper. 

Alee in the camper, her second home.
Alee in the camper, her second home.

That combined with temperatures in the mid to upper 80s does not make for good conditions for the cat! Without missing a beat, we turned around and went back to “save the kitty.” Of course, we knew we had to turn around, but it was frustrating nonetheless. Better to have figured that out at 8:45 a.m. than at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, though!

So, after an extra 1.5 hours, we headed back to the Visitor Center to actually begin our day of exploring Cape Cod. Interestingly, while traffic onto the Cape had picked up a little bit, traffic off the Cape had picked up A LOT! This year, July 4 fell on a Monday. If everyone spent the weekend “partying” on the beach for the holiday weekend but has to work on Tuesday morning. We were still a little surprised by the number of people leaving early in the day.

Sadly, we lost our camping kitty to a tumor in February of 2019. You can read about Alee here.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Once we finally arrived at the Visitor Center, we did a quick hike on the Nauset Marsh Trail. From there, we headed farther northeast to find a place for a picnic lunch. We ended at the Pilgrim Heights area. There are a couple of very short nature trails there but we skipped them in favor of a longer hike one of the rangers suggested.

Provincetown and the Highland Light

After lunch, we continued driving to the “top” of the Cape, where we stopped at the Province Lands Visitor Center. There we found an upper-level observation deck with views in all directions. Just a bit more driving got us to Race Point Beach.

We still wanted to get some hiking in and, well, let’s be honest, with my fair skin I can’t really hang out on the beach for hours at a time unless I have gallons of sunscreen and a tent of some sort. So, we dipped our feet in the very cold water and headed back to the truck.

View from the Province Lands Visitor Center.
View from the Province Lands Visitor Center.

We continued our drive into Provincetown, the farthest town on Cape Cod. My guidebook stated, “this sandy outpost has morphed into the hottest gay and lesbian destination in the Northeast.” Interesting, but not a problem at all.

The oddest thing to me was how many men we saw. Seriously, from our quick drive through, we saw very few women. We saw TONS of male groups and couples. I seriously have never seen that many men (straight or gay) in one place without any women to speak of. 

The walk out to Race Point Beach
The walk out to Race Point Beach

We did see a few females and a few heterosexual couples as we drove around. But with just a quick drive through the streets, we would definitely agree that this is THE spot for gay men to hang out.

From P-town, as the locals call it, we started south, stopping at the Highland Light, otherwise known as the Cape Cod Light (not sure why some of the lighthouses have two different names, but they do).

This might be the most quintessential Cape Cod photo ever.
This might be the most quintessential Cape Cod photo ever.

As we were approaching the back observation deck, we happened upon a quick, informal wedding! Grant became an impromptu wedding photographer before we continued our sight-seeing.

Great Island Trail

Based on a glowing recommendation from the ranger at the visitor center, we decided to hike part of the Great Island Trail. 

Hiking out to Great Island
Hiking out to Great Island

The trail guide “warned” that there was some hiking through soft sand. We already knew that hiking/walking through soft sand is horrible. The ranger didn’t mention it and had lots of great things to say about the trail. So, we figured it would be worth it. Unfortunately, there was a lot more of it than we expected. 

Once we got to the “island” it was better terrain and shaded, but still not necessarily awesome enough to make up for the “bad” part at the beginning/end. Still, we got in a significant number of steps and saw some stuff that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The hike out to Great Island had some excellent views of Cape Cod!
The hike out to Great Island had some excellent views of Cape Cod!

Nauset Light

Our final stop before dinner was the Nauset Light. The beach here is very popular and this parking lot fills up fast in the morning. It was full when we arrived that morning at about 10:00, but at 4:30 it was about half-empty. 

A took a short walk to the lighthouse and got a quick view of the beach. Finally, after the long, grueling hike, we were ready to clean up and change for dinner. 

Nauset Light
Nauset Light

Several of the beaches, Nauset included, have showers and changing rooms. They are nothing to get too excited about, but it is better than nothing. The changing room is just a gender-separated room with a few benches and very minimal privacy. There are two beach showers out front and a slightly better one in each of the changing huts. Don’t expect any privacy in the “inside” shower though, as there is no curtain. 

At least it provided us with a place to get out of our hiking clothes and into something a little nicer and cleaner for dinner!

Nauset Light Beach
Nauset Light Beach

Dinner and Fireworks on Cape Cod

We chose Hyannis, one of the seven villages in the town of Barnstable, for the rest of our day on Cape Cod. If Hyannis sounds familiar, that is because it is where the Kennedys (yes, THOSE Kennedys) have a house. 

We went to Spanky’s for dinner. While there was a long line, everyone in the restaurant seemed to be working their tails off getting folks in and out. Our wait wasn’t too bad, and was helped along by a very quick bartender! The food was ok – nothing too exciting, but nothing to complain about either. The highlights were the mixed drinks, which were tall and stout, and the dessert: a limoncello mascarpone cake!

Fireworks on the 4th of July... Our first since we started dating!
Fireworks on July 4, 2016… Our first since we started dating!

Following dinner, we followed the masses to Veteran’s Beach/JFK memorial for fireworks. Our timing for the day couldn’t have been better, as we only had to wait about ten minutes after arriving before the fun began! 

Final Thoughts on Cape Cod NS

Finally, after seven years, we got to enjoy fireworks on the Fourth of July together! And a day trip to Cape Cod National Seashore was a wonderful place to spend the day. The traffic back to the campground wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be… Just a little bit right in town, but once we got to the main highway, nothing really slowed us down.

It was a very long day, especially with the extra trip back to turn on the AC for the cat, but it was a great day that we will remember for many years to come.

Check out our full New England National Parks itinerary here.

Travel Resources
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Cape Cod National Seashore is gorgeous, with plenty of scenic beaches and ocean views, which made for a great way to spend the 4th of July.
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