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An Introduction to Cape Cod


A map of Cape Cod broken down by town

Cape Cod consists of 15 towns, with each town having an assortment of Villages. The Upper Cape refers to the area including Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich and Mashpee. Barnstable, Yarmouth and Dennis are considered Mid-Cape. Brewster, Harwich, Chatham and Orleans comprise the Lower Cape area and the Outer Cape includes the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. For clarification, Barnstable is the largest town on the Cape. Barnstable is also a Village within the town, and the entire Cape is in Barnstable County.

It was England’s Bartholomew Gosnold who gave the Cape its name after the plentiful cod he found here in 1602. And of course, in 1620 the Pilgrims landed here first before continuing on to Plymouth to settle. More than 400 years later, visitors increase the population two and sometimes three times in the summer – not bad for a glacial deposit formed in the last Ice Age.

Due to this geological formation, the peninsula known as Cape Cod has a distinct form in the shape of a hook, jutting farther out than any other part of the United States on the Atlantic Ocean. It is 64 miles long and its width varies from 1 to 16 miles. In Chatham, the land bends and extends northward for over 20 miles.

With the completion of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, Cape Cod became a bridged island, surrounded by the waters of Buzzards Bay to the West, Nantucket and Vineyard sounds to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the East, and Cape Cod Bay to the North.

The biggest draw of course, are the beaches, which are some of the best in the world. Choose from the Northern waters of Cape Cod Bay or the chillier Atlantic on the ocean side. Surfing, fishing, swimming and boating are a few summer pastimes. Drive down Cape to the 27,700 acres of the Cape Cod National Seashore for dramatic sand dunes, cliffs and infinite stretches of beaches. If you prefer fresh water, you are in luck! Cape Cod has hundreds of “kettle ponds”, for swimming, fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

Another reason for Cape Cod’s sustaining popularity may be attributed to the unique character of each town. Quilted together to make this special peninsula, each town has something different to offer and the ability to appeal to people of many interests.

The Cape has always been a destination for musicians, artists, actors and writers. The beauty and solitude, which can be found any time of year, is a constant source of inspiration. Because parts of the Cape are so narrow and surrounded by water, the light in areas can be other-worldly, especially at dawn and dusk. Its beauty has lured artists and photographers from all over the world.

To get a feel for Cape Cod’s geography, drive along Route 6A from the bridge to the tip of Provincetown and see for yourself the distinct differences in the Upper, Mid, Lower and Outer Cape. When visiting the Cape, whether for a day or a month, it is important to get beyond the main roads and do a little digging. Discover the nooks and crannies that you can call your own, whether it’s a pond, beach, bike trail, gallery or restaurant.