As weather cools, so does Cape Cod

Cyclists consult a map along the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Harwich, Mass., where the trail runs along Long Pond.
Cyclists consult a map along the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Harwich, Mass., where the trail runs along Long Pond.

Cycling is more relaxed without the summer crowds

Posted: September 15, 2010

WELLFLEET, Mass. - Cycling Cape Cod in the summer is like experiencing an ice cream cone; you'll wait in line, be surrounded by kids and end up sticky. But bike riding the Cape in the fall? That's more like a cranberry cocktail: slightly sophisticated, cool and colorful.

Just as both refreshments are special treats, so is cycling here in either season along one of the paved, car-free paths.

With such great cycling options, it's no surprise that the Cape's multi-use paths are crowded in summer. The tourists who flock to the Cape's beaches in July and August also mean heavy car traffic and long waits for restaurants. But after Labor Day, the visitors leave, the temperatures cool and the Cape takes on a quieter, more relaxed flavor.

"The weather is gorgeous, the crowds are done, the birds are still interesting and the ocean is right there. It's beautiful," said Wendy Fox of Boston, who spends many fall weekends cycling the Cape. "And as the weather cools down bicycling is a lot easier."

There isn't the vibrant autumn foliage found in Northern New England, but there are subtle changes in the oak leaves and sea grass, as well as brilliant red cranberry bogs and deep purple grapes awaiting harvest.

"And as the leaves start to drop the views improve," Fox said.

Locals - from bike shop owners to the bicycling park ranger who patrols the rail trail - say fall is their favorite time to ride on the Cape. And what was good has gotten even better. Many paths have been improved in recent years. The rail trail was repaved; the Shining Sea Bikeway more than doubled in length and parts of the Province Lands Trail - which opened in 1967 as the first bike trail built by the National Park Service - were widened with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Here are some of the trail options:

CAPE COD RAIL TRAIL: This flat, 22-mile trail runs through oak trees, evergreens and marsh between Wellfleet and Dennis. It passes through Eastham, Orleans and Harwich, where a bike rotary connects a 7 1/2-mile spur to Chatham. The Nickerson State park bike network connects to the rail trail and offers another eight miles of hilly cycling around ponds, lakes and bogs.

SHINING SEA BIKEWAY: This flat path runs 10.7 miles along the coast from Falmouth to Woods Hole, through salt marsh, cranberry bogs, ponds and woodlands. It's the only bike path on Cape Cod that runs along the seashore.

PROVINCE LANDS TRAIL: This roller-coaster trail snakes for 7 1/2 miles through the dunes, wetlands and beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown.

CAPE COD CANAL BIKEWAY: This flat, concrete path runs about 7 1/2 miles between the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, offering great views of the canal's boat traffic.

With little to worry about in terms of where to cycle, visitors should focus on planning other parts of their trip. Many shops and restaurants scale back their hours come September, so it's a good idea to call first.

Planning can also help cyclists find one of the many fall festivals on the Cape. For instance, the Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod is an easy six-mile ride from Provincetown along Route 6A anytime between May to mid-December, when it closes for the winter. But fall brings the harvest and with it the annual the Grape Stomp and Jazz Festival, scheduled for Sunday.

On the rail trail in Eastham, Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar, an award-winning, fast-food-style restaurant, has a loyal summer following that doesn't mind waiting up to an hour for food. They'll be open till Oct. 11.

A new French restaurant near the start of the rail trail in Wellfleet, PB Boulangerie Bistro, plans to close only for January. Although there was seldom a wait for dinner in the restaurant, summer vacationers were lined up nearly an hour before the bakery opened at 7 a.m. to feast on take-out croissant, brioche, bread and pastry.

Owner Boris Villatte said he couldn't imagine crowds like that in the fall. For cyclists that's an especially good thing. It means that after all that riding, there's a slice of well-earned flan waiting at the end of the trail.

Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, www.massvacation.com/fallfoliage/CAPECOD.pdf. Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, www.capecodchamber.org. Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, www.ptownchamber.com.

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