Tired of lugging all your stuff out to an overcrowded beach? These tips will prepare you to drive on the oversand trails at some of the most beautiful beaches on cape cod.
Beaches with oversand driving access
Nauset beach is a thin stretch of land extending from the elbow of the cape in Chatham down towards monomoy. when the trails are opened, much of the beach is accessible using orv trails.
The resident orv section sits north of the public beach, and the non-resident orv section sits to the south and extends into chatham.
Visit nauset beach’s orv website to order your sticker, review vehicle requirements, and access more information. orv permits at nauset are good from may 1 through april 30 the following year. rates in 2015 the rates for annual passes were:
- Resident: $66 mail in / $76 in person
- Non-resident: $196
- Non-resident – self contained camper: $266
The water at nauset is extremely cold, and the surf can be rough. Seals love the place. As do sharks. Be smart and don’t get bit. Some of the biggest great whites seen on cape cod have been tagged off nauset, and every year the numbers go up. surfers be warned.
ORV trail access at nauset is deeply impacted by nesting piping plovers. Years ago the beach would be open access all summer long, and then plover closings began closing the beach from roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day.
In recent years Orleans has experimented with new restrictions to restore limited access to trails at certain times of day when escorted by beach staff. It’s not without its drawbacks, but yet still represents a good step forward as an approach to deal with well-intentioned yet problematic wildlife regulations.
it’s worth a quick check online or calling over to the beach to ensure that the beach will be open if you’re planning to get an orv sticker at nauset on your vacation.
leashed dogs are allowed at nauset’s orv beach, but not on the main public beach. dogs are allowed offleash by the water if under voice control. make sure your dog is a strong swimmer, big waves and strong undertows are the norm here.
camping is allowed at nauset beach with an orv sticker. be sure to double check that access for campers is being allowed before planning your vacation around it though. all campers over age 12 are required to have a fishing pole.
cape cod national seashore
cape cod national seashore has the most extensive oversand driving trails on cape cod.
much of the access is often limited by erosion and nesting shorebirds, but in theory you can travel nearly the length of provincetown on the trails. truly epic.
visit the national seashore orv page to get all the details on open trails and other regulations. in 2015 the sticker rates were:
- ORV – Annual: $150
- ORV – 7-Day: – $50
- Self-contained vehicles (campers) – Annual: $225
- Self-contained vehicles – 7-Day: $75
The seashore issues up to 400 active 7-Day permits at any time, with 3000 annual permits available.
Coast Guard Road Beach, Truro
THe orv trails at coast guard road beach are open for night fishing only. No daytime access. The oversand driving trail goes right through the public beach area, so this restriction makes a lot of sense. it also means the orv section of the beach doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
It’s a great place to cast in a line, drink a beer, and watch seals swim by with fish in their mouths while you don’t catch a thing. Make sure you get your saltwater fishing permit, it’s only $10.
Coast guard road is popular with vacationers from several nearby dog-friendly campgrounds, so there’s usually lots of cool dogs to sniff. There’s a few parking spots for truro residents with stickers, and the parking lot is narrow, so use caution when driving through the lot and accessing beach.
At night you’ll pass bonfires at the bottom of the trail onto the beach, and those folks occasionally are having a beer or two or ten so be cautious.
Race Point Beach, Provincetown
race point beach in is one of the premier beaches in the united states, and one of the 5 best places for dogs in provincetown.
situated at the top of cape cod when looking at a map, the orv trails extend to the north and south sides of the main beach.
orv access is affected by piping plovers, but the national seashore does a good job of maintaining some beach access most of the time.
when beach access is very limited, as it was just prior to the 4th of july 2015, then cars will be parked on top of each other like a walmart parking lot. but typically when things are more open, you’ll have a lot more room between parked vehicles.
Race point offers a variety of beach conditions. Hatches harbor, accessible from the trail near race point lighthouse, has unusually warm water. it’s also very packed due to this. big groups of people frequent this area, can be a pretty lively scene.
as you drive along hatches harbor towards herring cove to the north, dogs are restricted. there are some amazing views in this area worth checking out.
other sections of race point offer sandbars with pools for children and smaller dogs.
Whales can be seen most of the summer off of the race point beaches, just look for spouts, breaches, and stopped whale watch boats.
if you don’t have the appropriate vehicle for the beach but still want to see race point beach, you can get guided beach tours from Art’s Dune Tours in provincetown. They even offer lobster dinners at sunset.
High Head Beach, Provincetown
High head is accessible off of route 6 on high head road. Typically only a small part of high head’s orv trails are open. but it’s really beautiful here, and most people are thankful for what they can get.
there are no air pumps, and no nearby gas stations. so make sure you plan accordingly before airing down, unless you feel like entering back onto route 6 in four nearly-flat tires.
The parking area at high head can get pretty busy, it seems very popular with dog walkers and nature enthusiasts.
Head of the Meadow Beach, Truro
Head of the meadow is a beautiful beach. soft, delicate sand that rivals any beach on cape cod. but the oversand driving trails haven’t been opened the past few years. Call before making plans to visit.
There isn’t an air filling station here, but there is a gas station at the end of the street by route 6 that can help you air up.
When we last visited, the trail to exit the beach was extremely steep and nearly impassible to a number of vehicles. Lots of shoveling and dropping more air. Not very fun. not recommended for inexperienced beach drivers.
even if orv access isn’t available, consider visiting the main public beach—it’s one of the best on the cape and not as busy as most of the other seashore beaches.
Sandy Neck beach in barnstable
ORV passes are sold at the sandy neck gatehouse for 4wd and AWD vehicles, as well as 2wd campers. Annual passes are $85 for residents and $170 for non-residents.
Camping is $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents in self contained campers (orv stickers are also needed to camp). You can camp in a tent for $20 in a designated area. Campfires allowed after sunset/7pm.
view the sandy neck beach website for vehicle requirements and other regulations. note that glass bottles are not allowed!
dogs are allowed on the orv area of sandy neck year round, but not on the main beach from May 15—sept 15. dogs must be leashed on the sandy neck corridor and trails from March 1—sept. 15 unless in cape cod bay.
Equipment needed to drive on oversand beach trails
Different beaches have different regulations, so make sure you check to make sure you’re correctly equipped. but in general the requirements are the same. You’ll need:
- A shovel (equivalent of folding military shovel or better)
- A Towing device: 1.5″ tow Strap, 3/4″ Rope, 5/16″ Chain, or a 1/4″ Cable
- Vehicle tire jack (the one that came with your car)
- Wooden board to support your tire jack. Must be at least a 10″ x 12″ x 1.5″ wooden board, or a 10″ x 12″ x 3/4″ piece of plywood
- tire gauge measuring 5psi or lower. Be aware many cheapo tire gauges sold at gas stations and convenience stores don’t go down to 5psi, make sure to buy one that does
Full size spare tire. No donuts! Sizes vary by beach (ex: check National Seashore tire size chart) but most midsize SUVs and truck tires are large enough. Always make sure to check with the beach regulations first to make sure yours are big enough.
- If you’re driving a camper or slide-in truck camper, you’ll need a fire extinguisher and permanently mounted tanks for grey and black water.
The beach etiquette of oversand driving
The biggest rule: be considerate. To the beach, other people, wildlife, and to nature in general.
The vehicle traveling with the ocean on their right side has the right of way when oncoming vehicles meet on an oversand driving trail. But don’t be afraid to pull off if you have an easier place to do it, even if you have the right of way. Be sure to wave at drivers who pull off the trail to let you pass.
Never walk or drive on the dunes. The vehicle trails are located above the high tide line for a reason. Never drive in the water, or even near it!
be respectful. pick up your trash, and don’t be afraid to pick up trash you find. help keep these beaches beautiful!
Often sections of the beach are closed due to tides or nesting shorebirds. While this can be annoying to vacationers, please abide by the signs and don’t travel in prohibited areas. Doing so jeopardizes oversand driving access for everyone.
How to not get stuck
don’t want to get stuck? The biggest rule is to make sure to air down your tires to recommended levels, typically 11 PSI or lower. This increases the size of the tire that comes in contact with the sand, keeping your vehicle from sinking in.
the beaches are filled with tough guys who don’t air down enough (“I don’t need to in MY truck!”) but this just chops up the trails for everyone else.
observe speed limits, which often are 15 mph unless otherwise noted. When passing camping areas, speed limit is 5 mph. Slow down around kids, often they dart out between parked cars. Be safe.
If you do start to get stuck, Do not gun the engine to get out! This will just bury you further. Best bet is to reduce air in your tires, and slowly try to get out. If need be, use a shovel to fill in any big holes you left. Worse case someone can use the tow strap to pull you out.
A favorite activity of all oversand beachgoers is to stare at vehicles that do get stuck and offer their perspectives to each other on what the driver did to bury themselves. “Too much air i bet!” “they cut the wheel too hard!” “shouldn’t have hit the gas so hard!” “Never woulda happened to me ya know!”
So to avoid being the subject of 100 “told you so” conversations at once, air down to 11psi or lower in the parking lot.
Considerations for dogs
Dogs are allowed at all of the oversand beaches above, but there are limitations. Leashes are required unless dogs are swimming. always clean up after your dog. observe posted signs for restricted access due to piping plovers and other shorebirds.
some things to be aware of
Beach access on some trails may be limited by high tide. Be sure to park above high water line. beach conditions constantly evolve, and the national park service does a good job letting you known when there’s an area of concern.
booze is allowed on beaches, but not in moving cars. open containers are felonies. smarten up. and remember the national seashore beaches are federal property and subject to federal (not state) laws. Thinking of you there, cheech.
Race point’s north beach has a portable toilet at hatches harbor near the lighthouse, but the other beaches don’t. plan accordingly. the water is pretty cold around here.
THe most important rule: help keep these beaches beautiful. pick up litter. clean up dog poop. cover up pee spots with sand.
and remember that in a single day the many thousands of seals poop and pee a whole lot more than all the dogs and people on the beach combined, so the water isn’t as clean as it looks.
like most cape cod beaches, pesky greenheads, black flies, no seeums, and many other insects will bite you. keep insect repellent in your car or beach bag. ticks are plentiful too, so check dogs and kids closely.