Cape Cod is full of activities for children, from sand-castle building to mini-golf. But Cape Cod is also home to unique ecological habitats and natural landscapes that are wonderful to explore with kids. Our family visited the Cape last week and these were some of our favorite activities:
Visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore and many other beaches: The beach is one of the main reasons people go to Cape Cod, but there’s more to do there than just swim and play in the sand. On the bay side, the relatively calm waves wash piles of seashells up along the shore. Rinsing them off and sorting them can lead to conversations about ocean animals, habitats, and food webs. A walk along the ocean’s edge is perfect for having kids attune their senses to nature, listening to the waves, feeling the breeze on their skin and tasting the salty air. Even on not-so-pleasant days, the beach is worth visiting. We stopped by Nauset Beach, which is part of the National Seashore, on a drizzly, chilly day. The beach was relatively empty and had a grand sense of primal beauty.
Roaming the flats at Breakwater Beach at low tide: Most people think of clean, beige sand when they think of the beach. But some beaches gain a whole new dimension when the tide rolls out. At low tide at Breakwater Beach, you can’t even see the edge of the ocean from the entrance. Instead, there are endless mud flats, punctuated with salt water ponds. In these lakes and puddles, you can find animals left behind by the retreating waters. We found numerous hermit crabs, snails, tiny crabs (possibly blue?), an egg-sack from a marine worm, lots of barnacles, a millipede, mussels, and live oysters. My son really liked poking the mud to see what he could stir up.
Watching whales and other ocean critters: Even for folks who aren’t normally into spotting wildlife, going on a whale watch is a rite of initiation in Cape Cod. While sometimes all you see is the far-away tip of a tail, we lucked out big time on our watch with the Dolphin Fleet. On the way there, we saw a 200-300 strong pod (group) of dolphins. Once we reached the whale feeding ground, humpback whales formed bubble nets to catch fish, slapped the water with their tails, and generally loved being near the boat. We even saw a mother and baby breeching (jumping out of the water)! Unfortunately, I missed much of this wonderful activity due to my stomach heaving, but Sprout loved it. I only wish I loved boats as much as I love whales. In addition to the whale watches, the local Audubon society chapter runs boat tours out of Hyannis where they bring animals up to the surface. It sounded fantastically cool, although we didn’t have time to do it.
Take a hike: Beyond the seashore lies a variety of other ecosystems, all ripe for exploration. The Cape Cod National Seashore Visitors’ Center has a whole trail system out its back door. We took the 1.3 mile Nauset Marsh trail, which meandered alongside a lake for most of its distance. It then turned up an incline and into a forest with charmingly scrubby pine trees and bushes. Along the way, we spotted crabs, butterflies, tadpoles, and a chipmunk. In addition, the Visitor’s Center also has the Buttonbush multi-sensory trail, which has adaptive features like a guide rope and panels written in Braille. We didn’t get over there – there’s only so much hiking you can fit in a day with a three-year-old – but the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary looked very good as well.
Visit a fish market to see some seals: Going to the Chatham Pier Fish Market, we just expected to pick up some tasty lobster. Instead, we found that we weren’t the only ones there for dinner – the local seals had stopped by too! Attracted by the fish dropped by the boats, the seals seem to be common visitors to the docks. After we picked up our food, we hung out on the boardwalk above where the boats come in and watched the seals ducking in and out of the water.
None of this was sponsored – these were just places that either we visited on vacation and enjoyed or looked very promising. For more posts on getting outside with your kids, check out Waterfalls and Locks: Great Falls at the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal and Eight Places to Visit for Earth Day with Kids in the D.C. Region.