Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fire roads and foot trails: Mountain biking in the Cape Cod National Seashore

Mountain biking to the edge of the Atlantic in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

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Some people are beach people, some are mountain people. I'm most at home in the mountains, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy some quality beach time too. Just put me in a place where there's large chunks of natural landscape and I'm happy. Luckily we've been able to find just that at the Cape Cod National Seashore, where we've spent a week of summer vacation 6 out the last 7 summers.

We've been staying in Truro, just south of Provincetown on the outer Cape. This year we lucked into a rental that's literally just steps from the Atlantic, tucked behind tall dunes. Most of our family time is spent on the beach, but each day I've been able to grab an hour or two on my mountain bike to explore miles of interconnected foot paths and fire roads of the National Seashore lands that are right out our back door, part of more than 40 thousand acres and 40 miles of coastline that have been protected.

Singletrack through Truro's woods

For those willing to invest some time exploring, the Truro area is full of trails and paths that seem to be known only to locals. Many lead to remote beaches, high dune lookouts or freshwater kettle ponds. Surprisingly, the Park Service has done little to develop or promote this trail resource - there are no trail markers, signs or maps. Some limited information and sketch maps can be found at

A reconnaissance ride on our first day took me on a six or seven mile singletrack loop that led to a series of lookouts over the Atlantic.

Approaching one of the lookouts

The Atlantic comes into view

Hard to tell, but the beach is 150' below

Miles of deserted beach below

In the woods it's easy to forget about the beach. Truro is surprisingly hilly, so there are some rolling ups and downs. The trails are sandy, but firm enough for good riding.

One of the lookouts appears to be the highest point for miles. The topo shows an elevation of 177' directly above the beach. The 180-degree sweep of ocean is breathtaking. I visited this spot every day for a week without seeing another person. The beach below was deserted for as far as I could see in both directions. It's almost unbelievable that a spot this spectacular and just a few miles from the road would see so few visitors. The view brings to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau: "A man may stand there and put all America behind him."

Approaching the 177' overlook

Deserted beach as far as the eye can see to the north...

...and to the south

Beyond the Atlantic overlooks, the trail network continues south, eventually reaching the freshwater kettle ponds along the Truro / Wellfleet border. I started and ended one of my rides at Truro's Great Pond - while Beth and the kids swam in the clear water, I rolled through the woods. There's more here than I was able to ride in the time I had, so I guess that'll be a reason to return.

Typical pine and oak woods

Round Pond - it almost looks like the Adirondacks!

A huge - and very docile - snapper in Great Pond

It always surprises me that more than 90% of the visitors to our National Parks never get more than 100 yards from their car. A beautiful, unspoiled landscape awaits those who do.


  1. Nice report, Jeff. What a beautiful place. Those trails would be even more fun on a fatbike!

    1. Thanks SBR! Yeah, a fat bike would be fun (and I "need" one anyway), but for most part the trails are plenty firm enough for good riding. My hardtail 29er was just fine.