Brant Point Lighthouse Nantucket MA
Authors: Marco & Angelo

Authors: Marco & Angelo

We own the Candleberry Inn, a boutique bed and breakfast in central Cape Cod. We're glad to share our recommendations on all the great things to explore throughout Cape Cod.

9 Best Things to Do at the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center

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    Cape Cod is known for its natural beauty and peaceful seaside. While you can see and experience those qualities all over the Cape, one of the best places to visit is the 40-mile Cape Cod National Seashore. And, the Salt Pond Visitor Center is the best place to start.

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    Salt Pond Visitor Center boardwalk
    photo courtesy of

    An Overview of the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center

    The Cape Cod National Seashore consists of protected marshlands, uplands, ponds, and more — from the outer islands of Chatham to the tip of Provincetown. Along this stretch of coastline are trails, beaches, and lighthouses that you can visit for yourself.

    Considering the length of the landscape, you might wonder where to start. We recommend the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham. While it seems counterproductive not to begin at one end or the other, this facility is the main visitor center for the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    This visitor center has all of the information that you could want about this protected area. You can grab a trip planner to help you decide where to visit next. Then, pick up some of the trail and resource brochures to enrich your experience.

    In addition, the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center features self-serve information boards and is staffed by knowledgeable rangers who can answer any questions you may have. On top of that, the facility has a lot of fantastic educational and interesting things to do and see.

    Salt Pond Visitors Center
    photo courtesy of @just_jac_p

    Things to Do at the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center

    Start in the Lobby

    There’s more to do in the Salt Pond Visitor Center lobby than get information about your next stop. It’s the starting point for learning everything you could want to know about the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    There’s a big topographic map that shows the glacial history of the Cape. Did you know that there used to be much more land than what you see today? On the map, you can see the Cape’s location in the Gulf of Maine and how natural forces have shaped and continue to shape the land.

    Watch the Orientation & Short Films

    The Salt Pond Visitor Center lobby is only a small preview of what’s in the rest of the facility. In the theater, you can see a 14-minute orientation video — “Standing Bold.” It plays every hour, highlighting the cultural and natural history of the Cape and Seashore.

    The film was made in 2018 by Northern Light Productions. It’s joined by five other short films on a rotating schedule. One of the short films is about the discovery of an 11,000-year-old campsite in 1990. It was found on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach.

    Check Out the Museum Exhibits

    Alongside the theater, the Salt Pond Visitor Center has a museum with a lot of excellent exhibits that go into more detail about Cape Cod’s cultural and natural history.

    The exhibits at the visitor center museum cover Wampanoag history – the tribes who inhabited the land first – and the arrival of European settlers – the Pilgrims. You get to learn about the fishing and whaling boom, wildlife on and around the Cape, the many lighthouses and life-saving operations, and the age of tourism.

    All of this is demonstrated through artifacts, artwork and photos, oral histories, and a partial wetu (home). It’s the best way to get to know the area before you adventure through it.

    More outdoor information stations are located outside of the visitor center at seashore sites.

    Stop by America’s National Parks Store

    Before you leave the Salt Pond Visitor Center, stop by America’s National Parks store. You can find the entrance on the pond side of the facility. It’s a great place to browse field guides, maps, books, apparel, and other items related to the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    Cape Cod National Seashore Trails
    photo courtesy of @pt_oo7

    Nearby Cape Cod National Seashore Beaches & Trails

    While you’re on the Salt Pond Visitor Center grounds, you’ll get a taste of just how gorgeous the landscape and waterscape are. You get dramatic seashore views that beckon you to explore further. Fortunately, there are a few hiking trails and a beach in the area.

    Nauset Marsh Trail

    Next to the amphitheater at the visitor center is the 1.3-mile Nauset Marsh Trail loop. Parts of the loop wind along the edges of Nauset Marsh and Salt Pond. Other parts lead you across fields before passing through a recovering forest and heading toward the visitor center.

    The trail is easy with a moderate grade and some log steps. It crosses the Nauset Bike Trail, so watch out for cyclists. Connected to the loop is a 1.5-mile spur trail that leads to Doane Picnic Area and Coast Guard Beach.

    Buttonbush Trail

    Featuring text panels with large print and Braille, as well as a guide rope, the Buttonbush Trail is a 0.3-mile loop. The trail is a multisensory experience that involves winding through a forest, crossing a boardwalk bridge over Buttonbush Pond, and traversing formerly cultivated land.

    This loop is easy with a moderate grade and some log steps on the second half. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk it.

    Nauset Bike Trail

    With multiple access points, the Nauset Bike Trail is about 1.6 miles. It’s paved for a smooth ride but is moderately difficult with some hills.

    Aside from connecting to the Salt Pond Visitor Center, the bike trail connects with the Doane Picnic Area, Coast Guard Beach, and other trails in the area.

    Doane Trail & Picnic Area

    About 1 mile east of the visitor center is Doane Trail and Doane Picnic Area. The paved trail is a 0.6-mile loop that takes about 30 minutes to walk. It’s easy with a grade that’s accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. It has interpretive panels about the area as well.

    The Doane Picnic Area features picnic tables, multiple covered picnic shelters with grills, and modern restrooms. Keep in mind that the parking limit is two hours.

    Nauset Beach - Cape Cod National Seashore
    photo courtesy of @lanceraab

    Coast Guard Beach

    The southernmost beach protected within the Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach is the beginning of an uninterrupted sandy coastline that stretches for more than 20 miles north.

    Author Henry David Thoreau referred to it as the “Great Beach.” However, its official name came from the old white Coast Guard building still standing on the dunes.

    During the summer, Coast Guard Beach is a popular swimming area, and parking at the small lot here is restricted to locals and visitors in wheelchairs. The primary parking area is at Little Creek a little west of the beach, but there’s an open-air shuttle that you can use to get back and forth.

    Visitors share the sand with migrating and nesting shorebirds. Offshore, the waters are home to seals and sharks, so you don’t want to venture too far into the water.

    Interesting Fact: The Mayflower ship from Plymouth, England made landfall on what is now Coast Guard Beach on Nov. 9, 1620. It soon headed southeast toward Virginia but got caught in the shoals. After getting free, it headed north and anchored in Provincetown Harbor on Nov. 11, 1620.

    Get our free Cape Cod Vacation Guide, full of the best things to do in Cape Cod. The best activities, restaurants, museums, events, views, and much more!

    Click here to request the guide.

    Cape Cod National Seashore
    photo courtesy of @lauraweatherup

    History of the Salt Pond Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center

    President John F. Kennedy authorized the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961 amid the National Park Service’s Mission 66 program that led to the invention of a new building classification — visitor centers.

    The Salt Pond Visitor Center was designed according to that program to serve as a starting point for tourists. NPS officials hoped that the center would regulate visitor flow, provide orientation, offer services, and supply interpretation.

    It has been doing just that since its construction in 1965, serving about 500,000 people every year. In 1989, the museum was upgraded to provide better interpretations of its cultural and natural history exhibits. The exhibits about sea levels rising and climate change were added in 2012.

    Furthermore, the NPS completed a major rehabilitation effort between 2003 and 2005 to repair some systems, improve accessibility, reduce pollution, and accommodate increasing visitor numbers. Other small changes were made to improve the building design and efficiency as well.

    Salt Pond Visitor Center Hours & Amenities

    This Cape Cod National Seashore visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, the times may vary with the changing seasons, and it’s closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

    Alongside the theater, museum, and gift shop, the Salt Pond Visitor Center has an outdoor amphitheater and a boat launch on the pond for canoes, kayaks, and other small boats. There’s a terrace where you can get great photos of Salt Pond and Nauset Marsh too.

    In addition, the visitor facility has several accessible and assistive amenities — such as accessible rooms and restrooms, an automated entrance, assistive listening systems, low-vision access, and wheelchairs.

    upscale accommodations near Cape Cod National Seashore

    Luxury Accommodations to Recover From Your Adventure

    When you’re done exploring the Salt Pond Visitor Center and Cape Cod National Seashore, you can get some rest in luxury accommodations at Candleberry Inn. Our bed and breakfast in Brewster Massachusetts is only about a 15-minute drive away on Historic Route 6A.

    Every morning, we serve a gourmet breakfast to fuel your adventures. Whether you’re exploring the Cape in the summer or looking for things to do on a winter getaway, Candleberry Inn is within a 1-hour drive of almost everything on Cape Cod.

    Check our availability and rates as you start trip planning for your next visit!

    Get our free Cape Cod Vacation Guide, full of the best things to do in Cape Cod. The best activities, restaurants, museums, events, views, and much more!

    Click here to request the guide.

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