Nauset Beach is a stunning coastal destination located on the outer edge of Cape Cod in Orleans, MA. Situated facing the Atlantic Ocean, it stretches from Nauset Bay in the North down to the mouth of Chatham Harbor. it is known for its pristine shoreline, rolling sand dunes, and captivating natural beauty. It is a top pick for beachgoers looking for a memorable vacation experience, and one of the best beaches on Cape Cod.
With its unspoiled landscape, Nauset Beach is a must-visit destination for people who love big waves. It has everything you could want from a seaside location — miles of clean sand, refreshing water, stunning views, and lots of activities to enjoy. Whether you are looking to relax on the sand, take a dip in the ocean, fish, or surf among the great white sharks, Nauset Beach has something for everyone.
Vacation Activities at Nauset Beach
Long Beach Walks
With 10 miles of pristine coastline, Nauset Beach is one of the best beach walks on Cape Cod. You can stroll along the water’s edge for miles, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and take in the beautiful views of the rugged Atlantic Ocean. The curve of the shoreline obscures your path ahead, providing a sense of the unknown waiting just around the corner.
If you walk to the south (to the right of the public beach if facing the water) you’ll come to Exit 1 of the the ORV trails. Many miles beyond, at Exit 8, you’ll come to the end of the beach at Chatham Inlet, one of the coolest views on Cape Cod. Look for the flash of Chatham light.
If you’re walking the length of the beach, make sure to cut across to the warmer waters of Pleasant Bay, which is located behind the Southern part of Nauset Beach. It’s a long trip by foot but worth it. If you’re not up for the long walk, it’s much easier to get there on the oversand driving trails.
It gets hot and there’s little opportunity for shade, so bring lots of water if you’re planning to hike the beach. There can be insects such as green heads, sand fleas, or the small black flies which are fast and hard to kill. We bought an electric bug zapper racket and it is a cool thing to have when they come out, it’s fun to hear them crackle. Nothing ruins a late summer afternoon at the beach then becoming a pincushion for hungry insects.
A note for new visitors to Cape Cod: Nauset Lighthouse is not located at Nauset Beach. Head north to Nauset Light Beach in Eastham if you want to see it, it’s a short walk from that parking lot (and also near the Three Sisters lighthouses site). To see Chatham Lighthouse from Nauset Beach, walk all the way to the point at the South side beyond Exit 8 of the oversand vehicle trails. Learn more about visiting lighthouses on Cape Cod.
The waters of Nauset Beach are refreshing and inviting. And crisp. The water is cold due to Nauset’s location facing out towards the open Atlantic. Expect temperatures ranging from the high 50’s to the low 60’s later in the summer.
Whether you are a seasoned swimmer or just looking to cool off, the ocean is perfect for taking a dip. With its long, wide stretch of sand, there’s plenty of room for everyone to find a spot to relax and enjoy the water. Don’t swim out too far though. There are seals everywhere. And Nauset Beach is loaded with great white sharks.
It is safest to swim in crowded areas near the lifeguard-protected beach. Lifeguards are always on the lookout for sharks and will clear the water if one is spotted.
If you swim at more remote locations at Nauset you’re taking a gamble. Don’t swim out too far, and stay in a group to reduce your chances of an encounter with a hungry predator.
Nauset Beach is a popular spot for anglers, and for good reason. With its abundance of fish, you’re sure to have a great time casting your line dand reeling in your catch. Striped bass are a popular target, as are bluefish. The seals sure catch a lot of them. You may not be so lucky.
Surfcasting for striped bass at Nauset Beach definitely isn’t what it used to be. Chunk bait, eels, or sea worms are good if you’re using live bait with a heavy sinker, You can also Cast variety of lures such as topwater plugs, heavy spoons such as Kastmasters, or large baitfish imitations.
In the summer you’ll often see a lot of boat fishing activity just off the shores of Nauset Beach. When striped bass are in the area you’ll see the boats stacked right on top of each other all day long. Schools of bluefin tuna sometimes park off the shores of Nauset, giving a nice near-shore opportunity to catch these awesome fish.
If you’re a surfcaster looking for more action closer to shore, scan the horizon for diving birds and the shadows of schools of baitfish. If you see chopping at the water’s surface you may have found a school of Bluefish—voracious predators and will bite at almost anything, making them a fun catch that’s easy to hook if you’re fishing with kids.
While you can catch fish at Nauset using a kayak, it’s not a great idea given the amount of shark activity. Occasionally kayaks and paddle boards get bitten here, so use caution and pay attention.
You’ll need a Massachusetts saltwater recreational fishing permit to fish Nauset and the other ocean beaches of Cape Cod.
Sunrises at Nauset Beach
One of the best things about Nauset Beach is the spectacular sunrises. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun come up over East-facing ocean beaches as the water reflects the sky filled with a burst of colors. It’s a breathtaking sight that you won’t want to miss, but you’ll have to get up early for the privilege.
The sunrises alone justify the cost of the Offroad Camping sticker.
Nauset Beach faces East, so the sun will sink behind you into the silhouette of beach grass cresting the dunes. An orange reflective glow will illuminate the beach and highlight the whitewater of crashing waves as your shadows stretch down to the shoreline..
But if you’re looking for an epic sunset reflecting off the water, you’ll need to venture away from the main parking lot area. Head south on the ORV trail areas for an awesome view of the sun setting behind Pleasant Bay.
If you’re looking for an easier way to see a sunset in Orleans consider bay-side facing beaches such as Skaket Beach or Rock Harbor. Both offer large tidal flats at low tide, with relaxing sunsets reflected over the water which offer a great photo opportunity.
Nauset Beach has a range of beach activities that are perfect for people of all ages. From beach volleyball to frisbee, there’s always something fun to do on the sand. The main beach gets pretty packed during the summer season, but if you’re willing to walk a ways you’ll find plenty of room in each direction to spread your blanket and enjoy fun and games in the sun.
Surfing and Body Boarding
Nauset has big, powerful waves and offers some great opportunities for surfing or bodyboarding. With one great big white caveat. Hungry sharks.
So paddle out, but be careful. Don’t go out too far from shore. Stay in groups. Look for nice breaks on the sandbars, but be aware that the adjacent channels are prime hunting spots for apex predators.
And if you see spotter planes for sharks circling nearby, get out of the water. Fast!
If you’re on vacation with kids, you’ll find plenty of things for them to do at Nauset Beach. There’s lots of space for children to run around and play, and plenty of room to set up away from the water. The surf can be rough here and there’s other dangers such as strong riptides and sharks, so be careful if your kids go out swimming or bodyboarding.
Some sections offer nice sandbars which offer a little protection from the ocean’s might. But always be alert if your kids are walking the shoreline, at high tide the waves come in fast and hard. Nauset is great for shell collecting (loads of Wampum!), and it’s also a great place to build sand castles.
For families with really young children, the strong waves and rip currents here are not ideal. Other beaches nearby on the Cape Cod Bay side are much better options if you’re looking to let little toes splash in the water.
The walk to the beach from the parking lot is fairly flat, which is helpful for parents lugging armfuls of beach toys along with their chairs and coolers. Learn more about the best beaches for families on Cape Cod.
Day Trip to Nauset Beach
If you’re looking to plan a fun day trip in Orleans, plan to spend the day relaxing at Nauset Beach, getting there early and staying through Golden Hour and sunset.
But if you can’t take a full day in the sun, there’s a ton of fun things to do within a few minutes drive from Nauset Beach:
- Grab afternoon drinks and snacks at one of the many area restaurants (we like Hog Island Beer Co.)
- Grab takeout food to eat at the Jonathan Young Windmill overlooking Orleans Cove
- Head over to Rock Harbor to walk among the tidal pools while you take in the sunset over endless tidal flats
- Take in an Orleans Cardinals baseball game later in the evening
Facilities and Amenities
Parking can be a challenge at some beaches on Cape Cod, but Nauset Beach has plenty of parking available. But plan to get there early on busy weekend days.
The lot used to be long and wide, but a strong storm in 2018 came right up to the parking lot. It ruined Liams, an epic beachside clam shack, and also forced the beach to change the parking layout. If you get there later on busy days you’ll park in the upper lot area, and you risk getting shut out.
Daily parking passes are available. You also have to pay an entrance fee on your bicycle or as a walker, so plan accordingly.
Restrooms and Changing Areas
There are plenty of restrooms and changing areas at Nauset Beach, so you don’t have to worry about finding a spot to freshen up.
After a day at the beach, you’ll want to rinse off all the sand and saltwater. Luckily, there are outdoor showers available for you to use.
Nauset Beach has a number of picnic tables by the main boardwalk available for visitors to use. You can pack a lunch and enjoy a meal with a view. Or better yet picnic on your blanket somewhere closer to the ocean.
If you don’t want to bring your own food, there are beach concessions available where you can buy snacks and drinks.
Nauset Beach dog rules
Nauset Beach allows leashed dogs on the ORV section of the beach during the summertime. Assuming that it isn’t not shut down for piping plovers or other nesting shorebirds. It’s always recommended to check online for information about dogs on Nauset Beach to make sure that access is currently being allowed.
- Nauset Public Beach: Dogs are prohibited from April 1st through Labor Day
- North of Nauset Public Beach Parking Lot: Dogs are prohibited from April 1st through Labor Day
- South of Nauset Public Beach Parking Lot to Trail #1: Dogs are prohibited from April 1st through Labor Day
- South of Trail #1 to Chatham Inlet: Dogs are allowed on the beach in summertime! Dogs are required to be on leash (not greater than 30 feet) at all times April 1st through Labor Day
Off Road Vehicle Trails at Nauset Beach
Nauset Beach is home to an extensive off-road vehicle (ORV) trail system that allows visitors to explore the beach in a unique way. An ORV sticker gives you access to many miles of unspoiled beach, far away from fighting for towel space at the crowded public beach.
A valid sticker is required to access the oversand driving trails, so be sure to check the regulations before heading out. The stickers aren’t cheap for non-residents of Orleans. And the ORV trails are often closed or reduced in the summertime due to nesting shorebirds. So check ahead before visiting, or else you may find yourself grumbling while carrying all your stuff on foot from the main parking lot.
On busy summer weekends you can expect the length of the oversand trails to be packed bumper to bumper. Getting there by mid morning ensures you get a good spot. It fills up next to the sandbars fast.
And expect some inconsiderate people to show up mid afternoon on weekends and pull in the 5 foot gap between parked cars to ruin any sense of privacy, especially if you’re at the lower numbered exists that are closer to the main lot.
Camping at Nauset Beach
ORV stickers are also available for campers so that you can spend the night and wake up to the sound of crashing waves and an awesome sunrise.
Camping at Nauset Beach is much nicer than at Race Point Beach’s ORV trails because you’re able to park wherever you want to find a secluded spot. At Race Point they stack campers together in a small area that’s much like a Walmart parking lot, it’s a much different vibe.
Most campers here are slide-in models mounted on the back of pickup trucks, which make for a much easier ride out than longer two wheel drive motorhomes. Be mindful of high tides, during certain moon cycles the water will come up right to the base of the dunes and you’ll want to park accordingly.
Learn more about ORV trails on Cape Cod.
Nauset Beach Shark Safety
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of shark sightings off the coast of Cape Cod, and especially at Nauset Beach. It’s important to be aware of the potential risk when swimming or surfing here.
To stay safe while enjoying Nauset Beach, it’s important to follow a few simple guidelines. For example, don’t swim alone, stay close to shore, and avoid swimming at dawn or dusk when sharks are more active. The beach also has a shark detection system in place, which alerts lifeguards when a shark is detected in the area.
Nauset Beach is a stunning destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to relax on the sand, take a dip in the ocean, or explore the natural beauty of Cape Cod, Nauset Beach is the perfect place to do it.
With its range of activities, facilities, and amenities, Nauset Beach is an ideal spot for families, couples, and solo travelers. And while there are risks associated with swimming in the ocean, if you follow the guidelines and stay aware of your surroundings, you can enjoy the beach safely.