Located 120 miles from Boston along the National Seashore on the outer most tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is a year-round destination with a fascinating history and extraordinary offerings. From incredible beaches and boundless natural beauty to an eclectic arts and culture scene and world-class dining and shopping, Provincetown offers something for each of the diverse visitors it hosts throughout the year.
Provincetown’s miles of beautiful seashore and nature trails provide endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Below is a sampling of outdoors musts.
Cape Cod National Seashore Park (CCNSP):
Provincetown is bounded by the sea on three sides at the tip of Cape Cod and two thirds of the town’s natural resources are managed by the Cape Cod National Seashore Park. The CCNSP is run by the National Park Service with the dual goal of protecting precious, ecologically fragile land, while allowing the public to enjoy incredible resources. Opportunities abound for swimming, picnicking, beach walking, dune hiking, biking, bird watching and viewing Provincetown’s famous sunsets—one of the few places on the East Coast where it’s possible to see the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. Dune tours of the National Seashore are offered by Art’s Dune Tours, and are fantastic way to experience the dune landscape. A tour highlight is viewing the legendary dune shacks that were used by playwright Eugene O’Neil and poets like Harry Kemp. For the hardy and adventuresome, hiking the dunes on foot is possible by entering at the Snail Road entrance.
Beaches & Swimming:
Provincetown is surrounded on three sides by water and is home to some of the best beaches in the country, most of which are accessible by bike trails. At Herring Cove Beach, which is one mile from town, there is beautiful sand, gentle surf for swimming, opportunities for spotting whales in the distance, ample facilities, and great sunsets. Bonfires are allowed with a permit. Race Point Beach, which is two miles from town, is great for families for its Atlantic Ocean surf, facilities, and lifeguard station. Long Point is a local beach favorite. It’s literally at the end of Cape Cod and has a lighthouse, and offers splendid beaches for sunning, swimming, and picnicking. It can be accessed by walking across the West End Breakwater near the Provincetown Inn or by a shuttle boat that runs regularly during the season both from MacMillian Pier and Flyer’s Boatyard in the West End.
During the 19th century the only human dwellers in the dunes were transient campers from Provincetown who fished and hunted there seasonally, the lighthouse keepers and their families, and the hardy men who manned the Life Saving Stations and patrolled the beaches for shipwrecked sailors. The Life Saving service eventually evolved into the Coast Guard, but the CCNSP has moved an authentic 19th century Life Saving Station from Chatham to Race Point Beach to provide a permanent exhibit of the seminal government service which has saved many thousands of lives.
Besides these mariners, there were artists, writers, and playwrights who found creative space in dune shacks in the early 20th century and lived, mostly in isolation from each other, during the warmer months. Today a local non-profit, Peaked Hill Trust, manages the shacks for CCNSP and offers week-long stays at affordable rates in a lottery system.
Art’s Dune Tours is the only tour company offering four wheel drive access to the dunes. Art Costa began giving “dune buggy” tours in 1946. Today, tours using modern SUVs and arrangements can be made for lobster bakes, and sunset and champagne tours. Tours depart daily from the center of town. For the hardy and adventuresome, hiking the dunes on foot is possible by entering at the Snail Road entrance. The hike in takes approximately 40 minutes, but is rewarded with incredible vistas and the quiet of the giant dunes.
Provincetown is the closest port to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS), a federally protected marine habitat that is home to an amazing variety of marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, deep sea fish, and sea birds. Its proximity to SBNMS makes Provincetown one the best places in the world to whale watch. Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, a family run whale watch company since 1975, worked with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), an internationally-known marine organization, to develop incredible science-based excursions to SBNMS. Today, Dolphin Fleet has its own public education and research program run by Dr. Carole Carlson, a leader in the large marine mammal conservation internationally. Trips are appropriate and enjoyable for people of all ages.
Located in Provincetown Center, MacMillan Pier is the embarkation point for many outdoor and boating activities. In addition to docking the commercial fishing fleet, from MacMillan Pier, visitors can: depart for a whale watch, sail off on The Hindu or Bay Lady Schooner, charter a sport fishing boat, catch flounder in the harbor, prepare to parasail, take a harbor cruise aboard the Viking Princess, visit the Whydah Museum and see real pirate treasure, take the fast ferry to Boston (90 minutes) or Plymouth, catch the shuttle to Long Point, watch artists at work, enjoy views of town.
Enjoy Provincetown’s beautiful waters by boat. Flyer’s Boat Rentals, a Provincetown business for 65 years, offers sailing lessons and a large fleet of sailboats and kayak rentals. Kayaking along Provincetown Harbor at sunset is magnificent.
Nature Walks and Bird Watching:
Nature trails in Provincetown take you deep into the CCNSP protected resources. Make a pit stop at The Race Point Visitors Center to get the “lay of the land” before venturing onto the trails. Trails in the National Seashore are perfect for a great walk and seeing some of the 250 species of birds and waterfowl found on Cape Cod. Beech Forest Trail is one of the best spots for bird watching as it is a major resting stop for semi-annual shore and seabird migrations along the East Coast. Additionally, there are 40 square miles of protected woodlands, ponds, wetlands, and salt marshes for bird watching or quiet walks. Tour guides and complete bird watching information can be found at the local Mass Audubon Society in nearby Wellfleet.
The recently renovated National Seashore Bike Trails, particularly the Province Lands Trail, provide unparalleled biking adventures the bonus is the spectacular views of dunes, forest, ponds, and the ocean along the way. Bike trails lead to Herring Cove and Race Point Beaches for swimming and sunning. Biking in and around town is free and easy. Commercial Street, Provincetown’s main street, is “one way” for cars, but “two way” for bikes. Every August, Provincetown celebrates biking when 7,000 cyclists finish the PanMass Challenge having biked across the entire state of Massachusetts raising funds for the Jimmy Fund.
Camping & RV Parking:
Provincetown offers two designated camping and RV areas at Coastal Acres Camping Court or Dunes’ Edge Campground. Both are fully equipped camps and within a 15 minute walk to
Provincetown Center and Commercial Street.