Cape Cod may be best known for its expansive ocean beaches, but there's a surprising diversity of paddling options as well. During our family vacation there this week we squeezed in two short kayak tours.
Wellfleet Kettle Ponds
Yes, there's freshwater paddling on Cape Cod. The Cape is full of freshwater kettle ponds, formed when retreating glaciers left behind huge chunks of ice at the end of the last ice age. When the remnant ice blocks melted, they left depressions in the Cape's sandy soil that eventually filled with freshwater.
In some ways, our tour through Gull, Higgins and Williams ponds felt more like paddling back home in the Adirondacks than on Cape Cod: the crystal clear water of the three ponds is ringed by green forests and small hills.
What's special about this tour is the opportunity to paddle through three interconnected ponds. The first, Gull Pond, is the largest kettle pond in Wellfleet at roughly 100 acres. Gull Pond is home to one of Wellfleet's town-managed beaches and boat launches, the starting point for the tour. Higgins and Williams ponds are smaller and quieter.
The out-and-back tour of the three ponds can be done in an hour and a half, which is a good thing if - like us - you are renting from the boat livery at the town beach. Boats are rented in half hour increments at about the going rate for an entire day back home. Nonetheless, the boat livery seems to do a very brisk business - there were at least two dozen other boats out on the ponds while we were paddling.
Don't let the crowds deter you, there's plenty of room to spread out and explore all three ponds. Just don't expect a wilderness experience. Our kids enjoyed exploring the shorelines of the three ponds, but the highlight of the tour for them (OK, adults too) is the cool connector channel between Gull and Higgins ponds. Beautiful sandy beaches on both sides of the passage are a great spot for a quick swim.
The flat water and short duration of this paddling tour make it ideal for families. Our kids already have some paddling experience under their belts, but this could be a perfect first-time family paddle. If you don't have fun on this one, you'd better stick to mini-golf!
A day or two after our Gull Pond trip with the kids, Beth and I put in at Pamet Harbor and paddled the Pamet River's broad salt marsh and protected inlet out into the open water of Cape Cod Bay.
Pamet Harbor was once an important shipbuilding and fishing center, but drifting sands made it impossible to maintain sufficient depth in the harbor for large boats. Today, even most recreational boaters need to navigate the harbor entrance within a window two hours either side of high tide. Kayaks however can be paddled anytime, high tide or low.
Before paddling out through the harbor into Cape Cod Bay, Beth and I paddled into the broad salt marshes of the Pamet River. The inlet and river can be paddled inland - east - for about a mile and a half, nearly to Route 6.
Turning back and paddling through the harbor, extensive sandy spits separate the harbor and inlet from Cape Cod Bay. Paddlers can pull up on the harbor side just about anywhere to swim or explore, but we continued paddling through the harbor entrance, turned south, and pulled up on a secluded stretch of beach on Cape Cod Bay.
We spent an hour and a half to two hours paddling, but the tour can be extended by paddling further up the Pamet River inlet. Paddling further north or south along the shore out in Cape Cod Bay is another option.
The next morning I returned solo to explore the Pamet River from the eastern end, launching just off Castle Road in Truro Center. The river here is narrow and twisty, doubling back on itself as it winds through the broad salt marsh. Birds are abundant - I was at least a half dozen herons. Eventually the river widens and opens up as it enters Pamet Harbor. I had forgotten to replace the battery in my camera when I recharged it the night before, so all I had was my cell phone for photos.