The Cape Cod National Seashore is a star attraction for people at home and abroad, with millions of visits counted each year by traffic counters embedded in the park’s roads.
In 2021, the Seashore ranked 17th out of the park’s 423 service units, with 4,017,239 visits. New England’s top ranking was won by Acadia National Park in Maine, which edged out Cape Cod by about 50,000 visits.
Leading the 2021 parade with nearly 16 million visits was the Blue Ridge Parkway, touted by the National Park Service as “America’s favorite road.”
So we started wondering: can you break down Seashore stats by location to determine which Cape Town spots are the most popular? It seemed impossible until Linzy French, visual information specialist at Seashore, introduced a reporter to IRMA.
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IRMA sounds like a friendly name, until you find out it stands for “Integrated Resource Management Application” and your head starts spinning. Billed by the National Park Service as a “web portal containing information about parks and park resources”, it’s actually quite easy to use and there’s a lot of great information available to the public.
The French kindly provided IRMA boating tips, and voilà, it was possible to see which Cape Cod National Seashore locations saw the most visits in 2021. So here we go with our list of the top 5 most popular locations in the Cape Cod National Seashore:
Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown (182,544 visits in 2021)
While other Seashore beaches are located on the wide and sometimes wild Atlantic Ocean, Herring Cove is on the Cape Cod Bay side. This means the water conditions tend to be milder, making it a good beach for people who don’t want to struggle with big waves. It’s also a great sunset spot and has restrooms, ample parking, a dandy snack bar in season, and easy access to the fun Province Lands bike path.
Race Point Beach, Provincetown (164,702 visits in 2021)
Herring Cove’s wilder neighbor, Race Point Beach, gives visitors more of that open Atlantic Ocean vibe. It’s a big, wide beach, with plenty of room for everyone, and occasionally whales can be seen feeding relatively close to shore. It’s also home to the very cool Old Harbor Lifeboat Station, a structural throwback to when people patrolled the beach to help stranded ships. It is also accessible from the Province Lands Bike Trail.
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Coast Guard Beach, Eastham (154,269 visits in 2021)
Arguably the most glamorous beach on the Seashore, the Coast Guard often lists the Top 10 best beaches in the country. Wonderfully scenic, but at times prone to erosion, which has sometimes forced authorities to reconfigure the path to the beach. Home to a beautiful former Coast Guard station and backed by the impressive Nauset Marsh, the place is a must-see. It is also accessible by a bike path that departs from the Salt Pond Visitor Center.
Salt Pond Visitor Centre, Eastham (142,806 visits in 2021)
A gem of the Park Service’s Mission 66 architectural style, the Salt Pond Visitor Center is a great place to experience what the Cape Cod National Seashore has to offer. Helpful rangers offer advice and run educational programs and the museum and bookstore are must-visits. The excellent Nauset Marsh Trail starts behind the amphitheater and the washrooms are popular. And there’s an epic view of Salt Pond to boot!
A look back at last year’s popularity:How popular is the Cape Cod National Seashore? Number of visits published for 2021
Nauset Light Beach, Eastham (142,402 visits in 2021)
It may sound crazy, but you have to check out the new restrooms at Nauset Light Beach. The buildings are quite elegant and fit well into the landscape. This is another beach where erosion is biting, and in recent years a very scenic new walkway to the beach has been built. After a lot of construction and reconfiguration, this place really comes into its own. And the glorious Nauset Light faithfully watches over the entire scene.
Further down the list we find a few “sleeping” places worth visiting, both notable for their natural beauty and the fact that there are likely to be fewer people around. these include Great Island in Wellfleet (32,319 visits in 2021), home to the park’s longest and most challenging hiking trail which can reach a length of around 8 miles at low tide, and the area from Pilgrim Heights to North Truro (40,168 visits in 2021) with two lovely short hiking trails that are great for kids and have great views.
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