NAUSET MARSH TRAIL AND COAST GUARD BEACH, EASTHAM
By David Weintraub
HEALTH STATS NUMBER OF STEPS – 9,000 | ESTIMATED CALORIES BURNED – 404*
*Number of steps based on approximately 2,250 steps per mile; average stride 2.35 Feet. Calories burned based on 160 lb. walker, from walkmeter app.
Don’t miss this scenic stroll beside Nauset March, one of the Cape’s natural wonders and setting for two classics of nature writing – The Outermost House by Henry Beston, and The House on Nauset Marsh by Wyman Richardson. The Richardson house still stands, but Beston’s cabin, which was nestled in the dunes on Coast Guard Beach, was last seen floating out to sea during the blizzard of 1978. The mostly level trail winds through forest and beside the marsh, giving you the chance to study some of the area’s plants and wildlife. Trailside markers identify some common trees and shrubs.
From the trailhead, follow a paved path downhill just right of an amphitheater, passing a box for trail brochures. Now descending a dirt-and-gravel trail, you soon reach Salt Pond, a circular kettle pond connected to Salt Pond Bay in Nauset Marsh by a narrow channel. From here, bear left and follow a sandy trail and an elevated boardwalk that skirt the pond’s north shore. A boat landing, visible to the right, is a favorite with canoers and kayakers heading to the marsh, one of the Cape’s premier paddling destinations. Soon the trail bends left and follows the narrow channel, which may have a swift tidal current.
When you reach a fork, stay right unless a tide-flooded stretch of trail forces you left. The fork’s branches soon rejoin near a rest bench. Salt Pond Bay, part of Nauset Marsh, is just ahead. The marsh consists of bays, channels and islands – all protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a barrier beach and low dunes. The marsh floods at high tide through a break in the barrier beach, and parts of it nearly empty at low.
Now cross a dike with a bridge over a little creek that feeds a salt marsh, which is left. Stroll a bit, turning left and then right, to enter a forest of eastern red cedar. A curvy, moderate climb leads to a level stretch through a serene forest. A vantage point with rest benches affords the first real look at the expanse of Nauset Marsh, extending south to Fort Hill in Eastham and southeast to Nauset Heights in Orleans. You may even be able to see the break in the barrier beach, which allows cold North Atlantic water to fill the marsh.
Now descend via dirt steps and enjoy a level walk beside a salt marsh. Soon you reach a junction: the Nauset Marsh Trail turns left, and a trail to the Doane Memorial and Coast Guard Beach goes right. (To shorten the walk, turn left and follow the route description, below, from the 3.4 milepoint back to the visitor center.)
If you continue along your full 4-mile walk, turn right toward Doane Memorial and follow a dirt trail that wanders through alternating open and wooded areas on a gently rolling course, passing a partially overgrown pond, which is right. At about 0.9 miles, cross a four-way junction with a dirt-and-gravel road and then continue straight.
The route now rises steadily on a gentle grade, soon entering a mixed forest. A slalom descent quickly leads to a level course that meanders about 0.3 miles to a junction. Here a short path goes straight to a paved bicycle trail, but you curve right and walk parallel to the bicycle trail. Topping a low rise, drop to meet a paved road, which you cross. At about 1.5 miles, you reach a T-junction with a paved path, signed for Doane Rock, Little Creek (left), and Coast Guard Beach (right). Here you turn right.
Follow the paved path for about 150 feet. Just before the path merges with a partially paved road, there is an interpretive panel to the right, telling the early history of this area, settled in 1644 by seven families form Plymouth. Deacon John Doane was one of this group. The other family names were Bangs, Cook, Higgins, Prence, Smalley and Snow. These names still resonate today as you wander the Cape.
Now go straight on the partially paved road a few paces to a T-junction. About 40 feet ahead is a memorial erected in 1869 by Doane’s descendants, which marks the Doane homestead. Turn left (northeast) at the junction and follow a paved path signed for Coast Guard Beach and Doane Picnic Area. After about 150 feet, turn right and walk downhill on a dirt trail. Dirt steps lead downhill to a fringe of salt marsh, where the trail curves left.
The view from here takes in Nauset Bay, a large shallow area at the northeast corner of Nauset Marsh. The old Coast Guard station that stands on a bluff overlooking Nauset Bay now serves as an environmental education center.
At about 1.8 miles, after a short stretch of boardwalk and more dirt trail, meet the paved bicycle trail at a T-junction. Here turn right and stay on the trail’s right side. Soon reach a much longer boardwalk that carries you across an expanse of marsh and a narrow channel. At the east end of the boardwalk, the bike trail curves left, but you angle slightly right on a dirt trail that climbs through an old pear orchard mixed with eastern red cedar.
Soon you emerge at the parking area for Coast Guard Beach. There is beach access here, and vantage points overlook the ocean and the marsh. Seasonal restrooms are available.
When ready to resume the walk, retrace your route to the junction with the Nauset Marsh Trail, at about 3.4 miles. Here, angle right and follow a sign for the visitor center. Climb on widely spaced dirt steps and then follow a rolling course, descending via a single switchback and traversing near a shrub-bordered pond.
Now climb away from the pond, again aided by dirt steps. When you meet the bike trail at a four-way junction, cross it and continue on the Nauset Marsh Trail. Nauset Road is immediately right, behind a screen of vegetation. After crossing a paved driveway, continue following the trail, with the bike trail immediately left. Soon cross the bike trail, go about 200 feet, and turn left on the Buttonbush Trail (here part of the Nauset Marsh Trail), a wide dirt-and-gravel loop designed to highlight nonvisual natural features. The trail has a guide rope, text panels in Braille, and large lettering. Soon the Buttonbush Trail departs sharply right. Go straight about 25 feet to a T-junction with a paved path. The amphitheater is left, and the parking area is right.
|Distance: 4 miles
||Scenery: Atlantic Ocean, forest, Nauset Marsh, Salt Pond
||Bicycles not allowed
|Type of Walk: Balloon
||Exposure to sun: Partial
||Dogs not allowed
||Trail Surfaces: Dirt, gravel, pavement
||Hunting not allowed
|Time to walk: 2 to 3 hours
|Trail traffic: Heavy
||Facilities: Restrooms, water, visitor center, phone
From the southernmost intersection of Route 6 and Nauset Road in Eastham, marked by a traffic signal and a sign for Cape Cod National Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center, take Nauset Road northeast a few hundred feet; then turn right into the large paved parking area. The Salt Pond Visitor Center is adjacent to the parking area. The trailhead for the Nauset Marsh Trail is on the southwest corner of the parking area, between the visitor center and the restrooms.