Provincetown on Cape Cod: A Weekend Planner
A Visit to "P-Town" On Cape Cod
Slogging our way through Boston traffic on a Friday at rush hour was not the best way to start the weekend. But Cape Cod beckoned and the promise of a few days at the National Seashore was enough incentive to keep our spirits up. As we made our way onto the Cape, the traffic gradually diminished and we soon found ourselves driving alongside the towering sand dunes of the National Seashore.
We passed through a few towns, including Truro, which had a great looking vineyard within view of the road. I made a mental note to check that out while we are here. Just a few more miles and our campground sign appeared.
Dunes' Edge Campground is tucked into the huge dunes bordering the National Seashore. The entry is steep and narrow and I wondered if our RV would fit on the narrow camp road. No worries though, we had reserved a site near the entrance and that made it easy to get in and out for touring the area.
The campground itself is pretty basic. No frills, but quiet and nestled in the dune forest. It is owned by the Trustees of Reservations, an organization dedicated to preserve properties of exceptional scenic, historic and ecological value in Massachusetts for public use and enjoyment. Our site was part of a terraced set of sites in the trees. The manager checking us in mentioned that we might want to walk into town and get bikes. "There is no parking to speak of, and the roads are quite narrow" - looking at our small RV he continued, "even that size won't make it in downtown Provincetown".
MacMillian Pier and Fisherman's Wharf
We heeded his advice and, after setting up camp, we walked into town to look for a bike rental shop and find dinner at one of the popular restaurants. The walk into town was short, but with no sidewalks and very narrow streets, we found ourselves dodging cars between our campground and the downtown area. Finally, we arrived at the main street. It was mobbed with people, and cars weaving through the crowds. Crazy.
We walked through the melee to the beach - a much safer pathway. We walked along the sand to the MacMillian Pier at the heart of downtown. It is home to the Boston ferry, charter fishing boats and wildlife-watching tour boats. There are also a few artists booths with photographers, painters, and jewelers showing their wares. Provincetown is an art-lovers haven. A longtime artists colony here provides a remarkable variety of beautiful and creative wares.
At the end of the pier is a Pirate Museum, but what caught my attention was the old boat shed in the distance. It had wall-sized photographs of several women. I had seen pictures of this building in a magazine and recognized it immediately. Titled, "They Also Faced The Sea", by artist Ewa Nogiec, the installation was designed to keep the spirit and the presence of Portuguese culture alive.
The five larger-than-life black and white photos of Provincetown women of Portuguese descent, are mounted on a building at the end of Fisherman's Wharf. The women, Almeda Segura, Eva Silva, Mary Jason, Bea Cabral, and Frances Raymond, are meant to represent all of the women of Provincetown, whose families made significant contributions to the history and culture of Provincetown. The art installation is a tribute to their strength and courage. The huge images of those expressive faces were captivating and I stood there a long time reflecting on them.
Jim reminded me we were looking for a restaurant, so we redirected our stroll back to the main street. Our campground manager suggested the "Lobster Pot" which he admitted was a bit touristy, but the food is very good. Getting hungry and not knowing the area, we took his advice and found a table there overlooking the harbor. Our host was right. It was very crowded, but the food was excellent as was the service. Everything from fish tacos to Portuguese specialties - truly a great menu.
After dinner we decided to walk around the town and navigated away from the crowds that packed the main street. We soon found ourselves at the Pilgrims Monument. Founded in 1892 as the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, its purpose is to commemorate the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first landing in the New World in Provincetown, in November 1620. The Pilgrims spent 5 weeks exploring the tip of Cape Cod, before they sailed on to Plymouth. They also drew up and signed the Mayflower Compact, which established the rule of law for the new land. It's a bit of a climb to the top, but the view is spectacular. If heights aren't your thing, enjoy the Provincetown Museum at the base!
Too tired to walk back to the campground or find the nearest bike rental, we decided to just "Uber" back to camp. Tucked into our snug RV, we enjoyed glass of wine and planned our trip to the National Seashore for the next day.
Cape Cod National Seashore - Province Lands
The morning was overcast, but quite warm, so after breakfast we buttoned up the RV and headed out. The drive only took about ten minutes to the National Seashore Visitor Center. We climbed to the observation deck to view the dunes and seashore beyond. The dunes are massive. More like foothills than sand dunes. They make up about 8,500 acres from Chatham to Provincetown and began forming after the glacial retreat. The morning we were there, the dunes were shrouded in a heavy mist and looked quite dramatic as the fog rolled in and settled into the dune forest.
The area is quite wooded but there are paved bike paths throughout the dune forest. Hiking or biking the paths is a great way to see the whole area. We made our way to the beach heading through a cut in the dunes to the shore. We were stopped short by a sign warning about great white sharks in the area! The sign offered safety instructions for swimming and kayaking in these dangerous waters. No need, I don't think we will go in the water this trip!
The surf was rough, and the dense fog had settled on the water. It was hard to see more than fifty yards out to sea. What we did see was what we thought was a person swimming. Then, as he got closer, we realized it was a seal! He cruised down the shore line looking for his next meal. Seals are a great white shark's favorite food, so he had best beware- The sign said so!
We toured the rest of the park in the RV, enjoying the dunes and the forest views, stopping to take photos and walk around the dunes. Then headed to the nearby town of Truro to see the Highland Light Station.
The Highland Light Station
As we arrived in Truro, the heavy mist we encountered on the dunes remained wrapped around the lighthouse. We walked down a sand and gravel path to the Light, passing a museum and a golf course along the way. (That would be an interesting round of golf with all that fog!).
Also known as the Cape Cod Light, the area is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. The original 45-foot wooden tower was built 500 feet from the edge of the cliff. But the present light, which replaced the wooden tower in 1857, had to be moved back 450 feet in the early 1990's as the sea continued to undermine the clay cliff face.
The light is still functional and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, warning sailors of the dangerous shoals in the nearby Atlantic. There is an observation deck overlooking the 125 foot cliff and sea below. We could hear the heavy surf but the observation deck was too far back from the edge to give us a view of the water. Like the lighthouse, the observation deck had to be moved back to keep it from falling into the ocean.
As always, weather is a factor when camping and this trip has provided more than enough reasons to watch the weather closely. We have been chased up the coast by two different hurricanes! As we monitored the forecast, it became clear that more severe weather was on the way.
When the Cape was included in a tropical storm warning we decided to cut our visit short and head for the mainland. High wind and rain are no fun for driving a high profile vehicle like an RV. We wanted to get over the bridges and back to the mainland before this next storm made its appearance. But we had one more stop on our Cape Cod itinerary.
Since we had to drive right through the town of Truro, we decided to stop and visit the vineyard we saw on the way in. It was lovely. Set on a hill, the vines provided a picturesque backdrop for the large farmhouse. Several additional buildings on the property housed the press and bottling operations along with a distillery for making rum and gin!
So, we could visit a winery and a distillery in one trip! Interesting mix. The literature pointed out that the micro-climate for grapes has produced some good wine in this area and the gin is distilled from juniper grown on the property. How could we argue?
The gravel parking area is trucked between the vineyard and a sprawling lawn shaded by huge trees. The nearby food truck was preparing for lunch and the Adirondack chairs scattered around the lawn encouraged a relaxed visit. We went inside and browsed the gift shop while we waited for the scheduled wine tasting.
Though the hostess for our wine tasting was less than inspiring as she muddled through her presentation, the wines were pretty good. We picked up a Bordeaux-type red and a bottle of the distillery's gin before heading out for the mainland. It's always good to pick up a few souvenirs!
The Practical Matters
Dunes' Edge Campground
Tucked up against the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Dunes' Edge offers 80 campsites but only about 15 RV-type sites which accommodate up to 30-foot rigs. The campground is about a 15-minute walk from downtown Provincetown and only about a mile from the National Seashore Visitor Center. Since this is a small campground and very close to downtown and the National Seashore, the demand for sites is high. You'll need to make reservations well in advance for dates in the summer season. Rates are moderate, ranging from $50 to $64 a night for RV sites and are site specific. There is a 2-night minimum for weekends and off-season reservations. Some advance summer reservations require longer stays so check the website for details.
Water and 20 amp electrical hook ups
Bath house with coin-op showers
Dunes' Edge Campground
386 Route 6
Provincetown, MA 02657
Provincetown Pilgrims Monument and Museum
Rising 252-feet, the granite monument towers above Provincetown. An amazing view awaits for those who venture to the top, and a well-placed museum at the base entertains those who stay nearer the ground! The climb is about 116 stairs and a series of ramps so not as bad as it might sound at first.
Provincetown Pilgrims Monument and Museum
1 High Pole Hill Road
Admission - $12 for adults/ $10 for seniors/$4 for children
Cape Cod National Seashore Province Lands Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is located just off of Route 6 in Provincetown and just a stone's throw from Dune's Edge Campground. Bring your bikes to ride along the the 5+ miles of the paved Province Lands Bike Trail through the dune forest. By all means stop for a while at the Visitors Center to see the exhibits and enjoy its huge decks overlooking the dunes and forest.
The Province Lands Visitor Center
171 Race Point Road
Hours: daily, mid-April to mid-October, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Admission - Cape Cod National Seashore beach entrance fees are collected from late June through early September when lifeguards are on duty, and on weekends/holidays from Memorial Day to the end of September. Beach entrance fees are collected at all six seashore beaches. Daily vehicle - $20, Motorcycles - $10, Pedestrians, bicyclists - $3
Highland Lighthouse and Museum
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the lighthouse itself was the first on Cape Cod. Operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the light is still functional, warning mariners of the treacherous shoals along the coast. A non-profit partner of the National Park Service runs the "Keepers Gift Shop" and offers guided tours and "Lighthouse Climbs" from April through October. All proceeds from the gift shop and tours are donated back to the National Seashore to preserve and maintain the historic lighthouse. There is also the Highland House Museum located across from the Lighthouse. An historic former hotel, the museum exhibits what life was like at the turn of the century for residents and guests of this area.
Highland Lighthouse and Museum
27 Highland Light Road
North Truro, MA 02652
Admission - $6 for adults; $5 for students and seniors; $1 off with an admission ticket from the Highland House Museum
Truro Vineyard and Distillery
The vineyard offers free tours of the winery and distillery from Memorial Day until Columbus Day. Guided Tastings are $10.00 per person and provide five different wine samples on a lovely outdoor patio. There is a good-sized gift shop where you can purchase wines, gin and rum distilled on-site as well as souvenirs.
PO Box 834
11 Shore Road (Route 6A)
North Truro, MA 02652
The Lobster Pot - Excellent seafood menu along with surf and turf selections. The sea scallops are divine and the lobster bisque is a great starter.
The Lobster Pot
321 Commercial Street
Provincetown, MA 02657
Provincetown is easy to get to by car or ferry from Boston, but it is not a "car-friendly" place. The downtown streets are narrow and parking is scarce. That said, it is very walkable and a bike is really all you need to get around. In fact, there are miles of biking/walking paths throughout the National Seashore. If you drive in, plan on using a bike or Uber to get around and leave your car parked at the campground or hotel. You can find bike rental shops all over the Cape.
Don't forget to bring:
binoculars for watching birds