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Oversand Beach Driving on Cape Cod

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.

Walking on a sandbar on cape cod

Beaches with oversand driving access

Nauset Beach

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.

map of nauset beach in orleans, maThe 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
nesting shorebirds frequently affect orv access at cape cod beaches
nesting shorebirds frequently affect orv access at cape cod beaches

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.

caesar playing frisbee on the orv trails of nauset beach in orleans
caesar playing frisbee on nauset beach in orleans

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.

a tall ship passes the orv trails on the north side of race point beach in 2015
a tall ship passes the orv trails on the north side of race point beach in 2015

cape cod national seashore

cape cod national seashore has the most extensive oversand driving trails on cape cod.

nugget the puggle jumps after a bad cuz on the cape cod national seashore's oversand driving trails
nugget the puggle jumps after a bad cuz on the national seashore’s oversand driving trails

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.

Note that Coast guard road beach in truro is not the same thing as coast guard beach in eastham (another national seashore beach, but without orv access).

the orv trails at race point beach allow oversand driving access that passes historic race point light in provincetown.
the orv trails at race point beach allow oversand driving access that passes within inches of historic race point light in provincetown.

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.

Oversand driving trail on race point beach, cape cod national seashoreorv 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.

a whale surfaces off race point beach
a whale surfaces off race point beach

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.

sunset at race point beach as seen from the orv trails

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.

driftwood bleaching in the sun at head of the meadow beach in truro, ma
driftwood bleaching in the sun at head of the meadow beach in truro

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.

the orv trail at head of the meadow beach is often closed. note the footprints and lack of tire prints
the orv trail at head of the meadow beach is often closed. note the footprints and lack of tire prints. poison ivy surrounds this trail, beware.

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.

map of the trails at sandy neck beach in barnstable
map of the trails at sandy neck beach in barnstable

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
  • Air down your tires to 11PSI or lower to avoid getting stuck!
    Make sure to check that your tires meet minimum size requirements. Spare tires too!

    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.

sunset as seen from an oversand beach trail on cape cod

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 on sand dunes at the beach!!!
Never walk on sand dunes at the beach!!!

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.

nugget scans the horizon at the national seashore

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.

A dragonfly cruises near sand dunes at race point beach
A dragonfly cruises near sand dunes at race point beach.

dog-friendly guide to the cape cod national seashore beaches

The Cape Cod National Seashore beaches are among the most dog-friendly beaches on Cape Cod. Sprawling sand dunes frame endless stretches of white sand under the crashing power of the Atlantic ocean.

Cape Cod National Seashore beaches are perfect for long dog walks, sunbathing, surfing, fishing for striped bass, and endless rounds of fetching a tennis ball from the surf.

cape cod national seashore beaches

Seven public beaches are included in the cape cod national seashore, located on the “great backside beach” of the cape cod coastline. Continue reading dog-friendly guide to the cape cod national seashore beaches

How to find a pet-friendly hotel on cape cod

Many cape cod hotels, cottages, and weekly rentals are pet-friendly. If you’re planning to bring your dog with you on vacation to the cape, you’ll have lots of options for lodging.

There are some special considerations when selecting a place to stay when you have a dog, beyond just price and location.

Walking your dog

There’s no better dog than a tired dog, and a nice long walk outside on the cape will raise your spirits as well. Make sure to choose a location to stay that has easy access to nice dog walks, hiking trails, or quiet neighborhood roads if you plan on taking your dog for a walk daily.

There’s some really nice hotels located on route 6 and busy streets across the cape, but busy locations like that can make it nearly impossible to walk safely with summer traffic. And even side roads in quiet neighborhoods become more dangerous during the busier summer season as well..

If you can’t find a good place to walk nearby or you’re looking for a change of scenery, check out our list of cool dog walks and hiking trails on Cape Cod. Really feeling adventurous? Try one of these great long dog walks.

Access to beaches

Nearly every Visitor to Cape Cod comes looking for beautiful beaches. But as a dog owner in the summertime, you will have special considerations on where you’re allowed to take your dog.

Public beaches in most towns have restricted access for pets. In the off-season (typically around Labor Day) more beaches allow access.

Beach access for dogs is always a big consideration when choosing a hotel or rental property for your vacation on cape cod
Beach access for dogs is always a big consideration when choosing a dog-friendly hotel or rental property for your cape cod vacation.

 

Beachfront lodging vs. beach access rights

You don’t necessarily need to pay big bucks for beachfront lodging in order to get access to the water.

The cape has many wonderful private beaches and small ponds available to those who live or rent in the neighborhood. If you choose one of these rental properties, you will also get access.

If you’re renting a private cottage or hotel with beach access rights, be sure to check with the rental agent or homeowner about policies on their beach regarding dogs.

Many private beaches allow dogs all summer long, some even off-leash, so this can be a big consideration when choosing a place to stay.

Dining with your dog near your hotel

You’re going to need to eat, so you’ll want to make sure there are some dinging options near your hotel that allow pets.

Remember it’s always too hot in the summertime to allow the dog to stay in the car, even just for a few minutes.

Consider staying at a campground

One of the best ways to appreciate nature on Cape Cod is to wake up to the sound of chirping birds overhead as the sun rises to meet the morning, with the faint crashing of the ocean in the distance.

we’re talking about staying in a campground, of course—not passing out after a long night of partrying at the Beachcomber. But that is another story for another day.

The cape has some incredible pet friendly  campgrounds that offer a budget way to plan your vacation if a hotel or cottage rental seems to steep.

Tent or camper, nothing beats hearing the sound of waves in the distance as you drift off to sleep.  Several camping areas in truro offer this. The open space and abundant hiking trails near many campgrounds make them a great alternative to staying in a hotel or cottage when vacationing with your pet.

Most campgrounds offer seasonal rental rates let you extend your vacation all summer long. There are even a few beaches that let you drive right onto the sand to camp. check out our guide to orv trails to learn more.

3 great long walks for dogs on Cape Cod

Looking for a cool place to walk your dog? Check out these 3 long dog walks below to see a true slice of unspoiled cape cod. 

And let’s keep it unspoiled – always pick up after your dog, even if no one is watching. keep dog access open for the full list of great dog walks and trails on the cape.

Long Point in provincetown

The path to long point covers some unique terrain as it takes you to the far tip of provincetown and cape cod.

The reward is a remote unspoiled beach connecting two historic provincetown lighthouses reached only by similar minded adventurers (and those aware of the ferry service).

Plan to bring a pack with lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and some cash (for the ferry, just in case). View beach safety tips for dogs.

The trip begins  off of Commercial Street in Provincetown.  Your journey must be timed to start a few hours before low tide, as the first part of the trail passed over a dike that becomes increasingly submerged (aka impassable) as the tide rolls in.

You’ll pass by a salt march along the dike, re-emerging in a salt march as you approach the first lighthouse, wood end light.

wood end light, provincetown
wood end light, as seen from beaches off of commercial street, provincetown

Walk to the right when facing the ocean to visit Herring Cove Beach.  Or continue to the left beyond woods end you’ll end up at long point light, near the extreme tip of cape cod.

This great long dog walk is even more remote in the offseason.  the stirring views from the outermost reaches of provincetown harbor and of the crashing atlantic beyond have been inspiring souls since footprints first appeared in the sand at long point.

long point lighthouse, provincetown
long point light, as seen from inside provincetown harbor

Tired dog? Tired owner? Mistimed the tides and the trail is submerged? You’ll be glad you remembered to take some money with you. You can take the ferry from long point back to the wharf in provincetown, and dogs are allowed.

If you’re still feeling your dog tug you ahead for more, you can continue back the way you came (lots for dogs to see and do on Commercial Street) or walk along the beach back to Herring Cove Beach (bathrooms and a snack bar).

Still want more? See the five best things for dogs to do in provincetown.

If you’re looking for an all day hiking adventure you can just keep walking along the beaches of the cape cod national seashore and continue onto Race Point Beach.

Nickerson State Park

Nickerson state park in brewster has many great hiking trails for dogs.  there are hiking trails extending into remote cape cod wilderness, including a secluded pond accessible only on foot or bicycle. here’s a few ideas for dogs of varying stamina.

Light reflects of Big Cliff Pond in Brewster
The path around Big Cliff Pond lives up to it’s name. For a shorter, easier hike, try Little Cliff instead.

The trails around Little Cliff Pond and Big Cliff Pond offer easy parking access.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the main beaches in Nickerson, but the trails that circle the ponds closely make for a great scenic dog walk.

Remember bug spray and lots of water–and of course poop bags! Be sure to check everyone for ticks when you’re done, these trails often involve contact with brush aside and overhead.

For a more remote wilderness experience, hike out to Higgins Pond.  There’s no access here for cars, so the pond takes you much closer to nature than others in the park.

There’s also a number of other hiking trails that are enjoyable in all seasons.  Try to avoid the bicycle paths, dog leashes and passing bikers don’t make for a good mix.

nickerson state park trail map
click image to view the nickerson state park trail map

John Wing Trail in Brewster, MA
map of john wing trail in brewster, ma

john wing trail is a 1.1 mile trail located off of route 6a in Brewster that is available to leashed dogs in the offseason.

Per the natural history museum’s website, the public trail allows leashed dogs from October 1 – April 30 each year. dogs are not allowed from May 1- September 30.

Note: no dogs are allowed on Cape cod natural history Museum property all year round!

the trail showcases a cross section of habitats typical to the shore around cape cod bay. you’ll see upland forest, salt meadow, salt marsh, sand dune, and tidal mud flats. Take great care to clean up after your pet, keep cape cod beautiful!

You can use Drummer Boy Park’s parking lot and then access the public trail 50 feet west of the Natural history museum’s mailbox on route 6A in Brewster.

How to avoid a great white shark attack on cape cod

great white shark alert! cape beach sharks are on the prowl all summer long. You can’t avoid them, so follow these tips to reduce your chances of ending up in a shark’s belly.

1. Stay close to shore

In 2012 the inevitable occurred. a local swimmer was bitten by a great white, and the news media has circled in to reconfirm your fears about the safety of your cape cod vacation posting every video and sightings of even harmless basking sharks as if an ill-tempered jaws suddenly resurfaced with friggin’ laser beams on her head.

The 2012 Ballston beach shark attack occurred 80 yards from shore.  While it was just an exploratory bite, which is common amoung great white shark attacks on humans, try swimming back to shore with one leg hanging off and you’ll quickly agree that it makes sense to play it safe and stay nearer the shoreline.

you can’t avoid seals. They can outswim sharks. you cannot.

Stay near shore. Keep your dog (and kids) close to shore on outer Cape beaches where Great White Sharks are hunting seals.

This includes beaches for all towns on the outer cape: Monomoy Island, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. Including the entire stretch of the beautiful yet shark-infested cape cod national seashore.

don’t look for fins. the best way to spot sharks from shore is to look for shadows, slowly creeping past.

2. avoid swimming near seals (?)

Avoid swimming near seals—a tip you’ve heard ad infinitum each time the TV news exploits a shark sighting.

good luck.

fat, tasty seals overrun the outer cape beaches due to decades of our efforts to protect then. you’ll never avoid seals, there’s too many.

so if you must swim with seals nearby, observe them for unusual behavior. if you notice them take off suddenly or converge close to shore, they might be trying to avoid a great white shark. or they just might be messing with you.

on south beach in chatham, for example, you may see seals swimming onshore inside of the dropoff point to avoid great white sharks. so think twice before drinking a few beers and showing your friends how tough you are by swimming out beyond the breakers.

remember: Seals can outswim sharks. You cannot.

tIps to avoid a great white shark attack

3. avoid swimming alone in shark-infested cape cod waters

the easiest way to reduce the odds a great white shark bites you is to stay close to other people when swimming. While it may not prevent an attack, swimming in the middle of a crowd will certainly will lower the odds that you will be the one who gets bitten.

There’s nothing scarier than being far offshore on a surfboard by yourself, and having a big seal loudly splash its head up 5 feet behind you. you never know what’s coming behind you for a closer look.

so don’t go it alone. having even one person next to your cuts your chances of getting eaten in half. now that’s smart math they don’t teach in school.

4. don’t do anything that is known to trigger great white sharks to attack

great white sharks locate food by sensing vibrations and smells in the water. flailing and splashing simulate injured prey to sharks, and can stimulate an attack response. avoid unnecessary splashing, kicking or struggling motions when swimming.

dogs who swim poorly are sitting ducks. keep them onshore on days when the fins come cruising by. Or better yet, when you see dark shadows floating by, which is more likely how you’d detect the presence of a shark.

don’t go in the water on cape cod if you are bleeding or have open wounds. great white sharks have exceptional senses of smell. scent is detected by sharks using their olfactory bulbs, and these bulbs compose 14% of great whites’ brain mass. blood, urine, and other scents will alert great whites to your presence and put you both on the menu.

great white shark attack on cape codthankfully the era of the 1980’s bright neon wetsuit colors has subsided, as bright colors were said to attract sharks. wetsuits are mostly dark now, but unfortunately so are the seals.

from below the profile of a paddling surfer resembles a seal, at least in theory. body borders wearing fins look even more delicious, complete with the thumping of surf fins to heighten awareness. body boarders might as well dangle a sunday roast off a chain on their ankle.

consider surfing near the lifeguard-protected beach area where spotters are on the lookout for sharks. a solitary hike down marconi beach in the peaceful early evening might provide some great waves to ride, but getting pulled from a barrel by a two ton great white can ruin a good mood fast.

5. Don’t buy into the great white shark hysteria created by the news media.

the last shark attack in massachusetts was in 1936 in mattapoiset, maSharks have always hunted for prey off the shores off of Cape Cod. Sure, there’s far more great whites now, but they’re not looking to eat people.

no one has died after getting bitten by a shark in Massachusetts since a poor fellow in Buzzard’s Bay back in 1936 – and that shark wasn’t even a great white.

The 1936 attack was from a bull shark, a species that can live in fresh water rivers and lakes. If you want to be scared of a shark, that’s one worth worrying about.

recently there have been sharp increases in great white shark sightings off of the cape cod coast, due mainly to an increase in food supply due to decades of human efforts to protect gray seals.

sharks prefer these calorie-rich seals over bony dogs and humans, but at the same time its hard to resist and easy meal. exploratory bites like the one  that killed Joseph C. Troy, Jr. in 1936 are often all it takes to be fatal. You should be more scared of bull shark attacks in rivers and lakes then great whites.

we all knew eventually someone will get bitten again by a great white shark on cape cod. when the attack on July 30, 2012 happened, it was the first of the many shark attacks that will come.

follow these tips to prevent a shark attack and you might stand a chance. good luck!