Lyme disease is carried by a tick commonly known as the deer tick (or black-legged tick). Deer ticks pass the bacteria to a human or animal as it feeds upon their blood.
Other types of ticks exist in Massachusetts and can pass other diseases, but it’s the deer tick and Lyme disease that you need to worry most about – especially if you have children or pets.
Deer tick season on Cape Cod
Deer ticks are active on Cape Cod year round — especially during years with mild winters.
How bad are ticks on cape cod? Take your dog on a walk in the woods and you’ll find out pretty quickly that many areas are completely covered with them. It’s not uncommon to pull a dozen or more ticks off of your dog after a walk, and many people will avoid narrow trails altogether.
Understanding how ticks feed and spread disease can help you protect your family and pets.
Three-stage life cycle of deer ticks
Deer ticks have a three-stage life cycle. The adult tick is active in the late fall and early spring while the larvae and nymphs are active during the late spring, early summer, and fall.
Deer tick larvae: extremely small, similar in size to a period.
Deer tick nymphs: the size of a poppy seed and are difficult to see.
Adult deer tick: the size of a sesame seed and appears dark reddish brown.
How do deer ticks spread Lyme disease?
All stages of deer ticks can be carried by dogs and cats. But the usual hosts are woodland mammals such as the while-tailed deer and white-footed mouse.
Adult ticks feed and mate on large mammals in the fall and early spring. Female ticks drop off and lay eggs on the ground in the spring.
Small larvae hatch and feed upon white-footed mice, other small mammals, and birds. If the host mammal is infected with Lyme disease bacteria, then deer tick larvae will become infected. After they feed the larvae are inactive until early spring, when they molt into the nymph stage.
Nymphs that have picked up the bacteria in the larval stage are capable of transmitting the bacteria to humans or other hosts, including pets. This stage is most active in June, and causes more cases of Lyme disease than the adult tick.
In the late spring and summer nymphs seek a host for a blood meal. The host may be a small mammal or bird, but if you’re unlucky it may also be a dog, cat, or a human.
After feeding, nymphs molt into the adult stage. Adult ticks start the cycle again by feeding on a large mammal such as a deer, pet, or human.
Note that both infected nymph and adult ticks can transmit the Lyme disease bacteria. These ticks may also transmit Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis.
Types of ticks on Cape Cod
Wondering what kinds of ticks are found on Cape Cod? There are three ticks found most commonly on Cape Cod and the Islands: the deer tick, the American dog tick, and the Lone Star tick. American dog ticks and Lone Star ticks are larger than deer ticks — so they’re easier to see and remove.
Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis)
Note the relatively smaller size and teardrop shape. The dorsal shield is blackish; the abdomen is reddish-brown. The male tick is uniformly dark brown.
Here’s how deer ticks look when they’re engorged after feeding:
American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
The dorsal shield of the commons dog tick is whitish; the abdomen is chestnut brown.
Female dog ticks become engorged or greatly swollen during a blood meal. The color of the abdomen changes to a uniform gray.
The male tick is mottled gray.
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)
The Lone Start tick is a relatively recent arrival on Cape Cod. The female Lone Star tick is easily identified by her pronounced white dot or star in the center of her back.
This tick is not a passive opportunist like the more common dog and deer ticks. While those tick species wait until a host makes contact with them, the Lone Star tick will actively pursue a host.
How to identify a tick
Using the image below you should be able to identify deer ticks (aka black-footed ticks), dog ticks, or lone star ticks.
If you’re going to be walking in these types of areas, take the following precautions.
Wear light-colored clothing so it’s easier to see them on you
Wear long pants and tuck the pant legs into your socks – not just a good tick safety tip, but a pretty killer fashion tip as well
Stay in the middle of trails and avoid brushing against vegetation. This includes wooded trails, but also beach grass.
Check for ticks frequently on yourself, children, and dogs
Apply insect repellent containing DEET (N-N-diethyl-metatoluamide) on adults, including exposed skin and clothing. Use with caution on children.
If you use a contact insecticide such as permethrin, apply it only to outer clothing. Read and follow label directions carefully. It can also be applied to the outside of your tent if you’re camping on cape cod
Ask your veterinarian about Lyme vaccines. Use veterinarian-approved tick control products on pets that go outdoors
Keep brush and tall vegetation away from the house and try to eliminate tick-friendly environments in your yard
Where to check yourself and children for ticks
A careful tick check is the most effective way to protect yourself, your family, and your pets from Lyme disease.
After outdoor activities, brush off clothing thoroughly. Do a visual inspection. Pay attention to folded areas such as cuffs, belts and shirt collars. Ticks love to burrow in.
Do a complete body check on a daily basis. Check children and pets more frequently, and especially each time they’re done playing outside.
Inspect the hairline and scalp as well as difficult-to-see areas such as the back. Checking yourself and kids when you shower each day is a great idea, it’s much easier to spot them when clothes are removed. Don’t forget to check the clothes too, sometimes ticks are still crawling around there before they get to attach to your tasty flesh.
Where to check dogs for ticks
Ticks may hitchhike indoors on pets or clothing and then fall off. Dogs should be checked for ticks on a regular basis, particularly around the eyes, ears and underbelly.
Tick removal for pets follows the same technique that is used on humans. Ask your vet to recommend a tick preventative product to kill any ticks who do bit your pet.
Tick Spraying on Cape Cod
One of the best ways to protect your family and pets against ticks on Cape Cod is to spray your yard with pesticides.
But tick spraying alone won’t solve the problem. It’s best to try and eliminate areas where ticks may live prior to applying pesticide. This includes:
Remove leaf litter
Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns
Place a three foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas
Mow your lawn frequently
Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (to discourage rodents).
Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees
Build fences to discourage unwelcome animals from entering your yard, and to keep your pets from entering tick habitats
What to do if a tick bites you
How to remove ticks the right way
A tick’s mouthparts are barbed like a fish hook. Once inserted, a cement-like substance is released, making tick removal difficult. Proper and prompt removal of ticks includes the following steps:
Grasp the tick at the point of attachment using fine tipped tweezers. Do not squeeze the body.
Pull straight out with slow and steady pressure. Avoid twisting the tick.
Apply an antiseptic to the bite area.
When removing ticks from pets try to avoid pulling out too much fur.
Do not apply petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, or a hot match to the tick. This will not make the tick back out.
Most people who get Lyme disease don’t even know they’ve been bitten by a tick. Deer ticks are tiny and they’re easy to overlook.
The symptoms of lime disease at the early stage include:
Chills and/or fever
Pain in muscles and joints
Skin rash (circular) that increases in size
Getting a round or circular rash is a tell-tale sign. But many people who have Lyme disease don’t develop a rash. If you think you may be infected don’t wait. See a doctor right away. Antibiotics can be prescribed to help treat it.
Delaying treatment for Lyme disease will intensify symptoms. Major medical problems such as potentially serious heart, nervous system, and arthritic conditions can develop.
If you live or vacation on Cape Cod then you are at risk for Lyme disease. See a medical professional right away if you suspect you have it.
If you suspect that you have Lyme disease or were recently bitten by a deer tick then consult your physician. If your dog was bitten then consult your vet.
The symptoms of Lyme disease are easy to confuse with other illnesses so they’re often overlooked. Antibiotics are generally prescribed for treatment.
The bacteria can move very quickly from beneath the skin to deeper tissues in the body quickly (before the blood tests can detect evidence of illness). Because of this some doctors choose to treat preventatively before symptoms arise.
Additional Resources on Ticks on Cape Cod
Our page contains tick safety information about ticks on Cape Cod that was compiled from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Town of Brewster.
Here are some links to their sites if you want to learn more about ticks:
The Cape Cod National Seashore are the most dog-friendly beaches on Cape Cod. The National Seashore’s dog rules allow pets throughout the summer, although access frequently gets restricted due to nesting shorebirds.
The National Seashore’s sprawling sand dunes frame endless stretches of white sand under the crashing power of the Atlantic ocean. The beaches are perfect for long dog walks, sunbathing, surfing, fishing for striped bass, and endless rounds of fetching a tennis ball from the surf.
In this articles we’ll discuss the cape cod national seashore dog rules and show you the best places to go to plan your vacation.
In this article we’re going to focus on public beaches. Like every list on the subject we’re a bit biased, but these are the nicest beaches on Cape Cod that we’ve found.
Best Beach for Kids on Cape Cod
Our vote for the best beach for kids on Cape Cod is Skaket Beach in Orleans.
Skaket Beach has pure white sand, warm gentle waters, and lots of great areas of children to explore. Like most of the beaches located on the Cape Cod bay side the water is far warmer and gentler than the beaches of the outer Cape that face the open Atlantic.
The water recedes at low tide to reveal huge tidal flats. You can walk far into the water Skaket Beach and it will stay shallow. There’s lots of of interesting wildlife for kids to discover. Your children will love catching small fish and hermit crabs so bring a net and a bucket.
Nice sunsets here too. But bring bug spray, sand fleas and other biting critters await in the evenings.
The parking lot sells daily passes. It’s a short, flat walk to the beach area. Which is great if you’re lugging armfuls of toys.
Other great beaches for families
Most towns on Cape Cod have bayside beaches with similar warm water and gentle wave conditions, so you needn’t drive far to find a great beach for kids.
Bayside beaches can be found stretching from Sandwich, Barnstable, Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, Wellfleet, and Provincetown. Anything bayside is generally much gentler and warmer than what you’ll find on the Nantucket Sound or Outer Cape beaches. Bayside beaches are especially popular for families with young children, there’s much less to worry about.
Best Beach Sand on Cape Cod
Cape cod has some nice beaches, not all of them have great beach sand. If you’re looking for bleached white sand, not all cape beaches can deliver. Many have mixtures of dark sand mixed in, so the colors are usually more of a tan than a classic Caribbean white sand.
Head of the Meadow Beach has some of the softest sand on the Outer Cape Beaches. It’s less populated than other beaches in the area, and less people generally means cleaner sand. When the ORV trail at Head of the Meadow was open years back you could drive away from the busy public beach find yourself stretches of beach without footprints. The conditions were pristine.
But is the sand really clean? With thousands of seals offshore, each eating (and pooping) 50+ pounds of seafood per day, the water is just filled with bacteria. This scent trail is what draws in the Great Whites. So “clean” beach sand on Cape Cod is kind of a relative term, even in areas where people don’t go often.
Many Outer Cape beaches have lots of rocks at the tideline, which isn’t ideal for long barefoot beach walks. A few have chunks of pavement from parking lots that fall into the sea.
Nantucket Sound beaches such as those in Dennis, Yarmouth, and Harwich all tend to have broken lady slippers and other shells. Many Sound-facing beaches have Jetties which trap mountains of seaweed with the tides, which can make walking to the water a bit challenging
Some of the bayside beaches have find sand. Tidal flats such as those at Rock Harbor in Orleans have soft sand that appears in cool patterns as the tide recedes. These beach areas are great for walking barefoot, but some paths require stepping through vegetation so watch out for crabs!
Worst Beach Sand on Cape Cod:
Some Cape Beaches have a silty dirt consistency. After a day in this sand your skin and towels will be covered in this fine dust. Sorry, Cahoon’s Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. Your beach is great and one of the most fun places to have a beer around a beach fire. But your sand is yuck-yuck.
Most Remote Beach
South Beach in Chatham, MA
South Beach in Chatham is a thin strip of barrier beach that extends south of Nauset Beach out towards Monomoy Island. You can only get there by boat and it’s a long stretch of beach, so you’ll have plenty of room to spread your towel.
The East-facing dunes of South beach beach stands directly in the way of the open Atlantic. Huge waves and powerful rip currents are here, which by themselves would make swimming here a big risk.
But the real risk to swimmers are the plentiful great white sharks. South Beach and the entire outer Cape is an active shark feeding ground and the abundance of tasty seal flesh makes swimming far offshore a foolish endeavor. But you’re especially remote at this beach, so medical care isn’t an option.
The back side of the dunes at South Beach face Chatham Harbor. This is where you’ll anchor your boat, and from there it’s a quick walk across the island to the impressive outer beach.
If you’ve got a Chatham shellfish permit then bring your bucket and ring – quahogs are everywhere on the harbor side. Just walk around barefoot and you’ll feel them underwater in the soft sand, you won’t even need a rake.
This beach isn’t much of a secret, so on nice summer days you’ll likely have some company. Check out South Beach in the Spring or Fall if you’re looking for more of the beach hermit experience.
Best Beach for Dogs on Cape Cod
There’s a lot of dog friendly beaches in every town on Cape Cod that we love. But to pick the best one, we narrowed it down to beaches that allow pets in the summer, because that’s the most fun time to visit.
Only a few towns on Cape Cod allow dogs in the summer during the daytime. You’ll need to visit Provincetown, Wellfleet, or the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches for summer access. Of these beaches, we’re going with the Cape Cod National Seashore for visitors on vacation since they’re all very dog-friendly, sell daily passes, and most have large parking areas. But which one?
Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro is one of the nicest beaches in Cape Cod, if not in the world, but it’s closed to dogs much of the summer every year due to nesting shorebirds. So that one is out.
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham is great too, but the parking lot requires a trolley ride and they don’t allow dogs. No bueno. Race Point Beach is amazing, and the ORV trails provide access to miles of beaches that are truly world-class. But the main beach and the overland driving trails all close at the start of the summer, and dogs aren’t allowed then either. Bummer.
Nauset Light Beach in Eastham usually stays open to dogs on at least one side of the lifeguard-protected beach area. As does Marconi Beach in Wellfleet. They’re all great beaches.
But our vote for the best beach for dogs on Cape Cod is… Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown.
Herring Cove Beach has a lot going for it. A huge parking lot that never fills up, incredible drive-up sunset views, nice amenities including bathrooms and cold-water showers, and a snack bar that serves good food and beer.
The stretch of beach to the left of the Herring Cove parking lot stays open to dogs, and the dog-to-human ratio at this beach is very high. When Race Point’s ORV trails close sticker-holders get free access to Herring Cove, and a lot of people just go there. The result is there’s tons of cool dogs to meet.
One caveat: In the summer you should check the National Seashore dogs info page to check for any current dog restrictions before you go. They keep the page updated all season long so you can find a location where pets are still being allowed.
If you’re willing to walk a ways you’re guaranteed to find some open beach space. Just don’t walk too far unless you’re looking to find the clothing-optional beach. That one’s dog friendly too in case your dog prefers things au natural.
The sunsets at Herring Cove beach are legendary. If you drive to the right of the guard booth you can pull right up and park facing the beach for a great view without leaving your car. They stop charging for beach access around 4:30, so sunsets here are free.
After the sunset you can head into Commercial Street for dinner, it’s just a few minutes ride away by car or bike. Dogs are welcome everywhere in P-town, where you’ll find tons of pet-friendly food options and shopping.
A buddy with a Jeep asked me this question the other day: “What’s the nicest beach on Cape Cod to drive my Jeep?” This was pretty easy to answer, since most of the potential oversand driving trail options have such limited beach access in the summer due to piping plovers.
The winner is the ORV Trails of Race Point Beach. It’s a great place to drop some air from your tires and bounce around. Access is usually available through mid-June, then restricted until later in the summer. In recent years it’s much worse than it used to be, so the majority of beach is closed to people for most of the summer.
Other contenders for nicest beach on Cape Cod to drive a Jeep were the ORV Trails at Nauset Beach (access restricted starting in early June heavily due to nesting shorebirds) and the ORV Trail at Head of the Meadow Beach (access restricted indefinitely due to shorebirds and tough terrain). The National Seashore ORV sticker also gives you access to other oversand driving trails at High Head Road and at Coast Guard Road Beach in Truro.
So if you’re looking to get your Jeep on a beach on some trails on Cape Cod, head to P-town in early June or late August and let the party begin. The later in the season you go the more miles of shoreline trails will be open.
If you are visiting in the offseason or don’t mind shelling out a few hundred bucks for a sticker you can’t use, check out Nauset Beach too.