One of the most common questions we get at the bike shop about the bike trail revolves around being able to see the ocean. Everyone wants to know, “Where do we go so that we can ride the bike trail and see the oceanfront at the same time?”
The answer is somewhat complicated. Our beautiful network of bike trails centers mainly on the former rail bed of the Old Colony Railroad Company. Logically, when they started laying the tracks in 1848, they were run more toward the center of the Cape with the only exceptions being where it runs along the Cape Cod Canal and from South Wellfleet northward to Provincetown. The Cape Cod Rail Trail, however, starts in Dennis and ends in South Wellfleet. This means that the sections of rail bed with an ocean view are still just that--rail bed.
Bike paths on the Cape with an ocean view do exist, however. The Army Corp of Engineers graciously allows the use of its access road that runs parallel to the canal on the south side in Bourne and Sagamore. While not officially an “ocean” view, this wide, flat bikeway is ideal for the casual cyclist or families with children and totals about 7-8 miles in each direction. Perks include a water view and pointing out the various large ships passing through the canal to the kids. Not too far away starting in North Falmouth is the Shining Sea Bikeway.
With a name like “Shining Sea Bikeway” one would hope an ocean view is included and it most certainly is. The Bikeway’s name honors Katharine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth in 1859, who penned “America the Beautiful,” with its line, “And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!” This paved bike trail extends 10.7 miles, from County Road in North Falmouth to the Steamship Authority's Ferry terminal in Woods Hole, a historic seaside fishing village and the site of several major research institutions. There are beautiful views of Vineyard Sound, Buzzards Bay, salt marshes and abounding wildlife along the ride. It truly is an experience not to miss, especially on a sunny Cape Cod afternoon.
Want even more ocean to see while you cycle? Why not ride the Shining Sea Bikeway from Falmouth to Woods Hole, and then take the Steamship Authority Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, taking your bike along for the ride for an additional $8 round-trip. Since ferry reservations for your car are harder to come by than a Yankees cap in Fenway Park, biking makes for a glorious alternative.
Contrary to popular belief, there are some hills -- particularly for those brave souls taking the 40-mile round trip "up island" to Aquinnah. Younger kids will prefer shorter, flatter routes, like the six-mile version between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, where you can stop to fish off the Memorial Dock before making the return trip home. The latter route has the additional advantage of myriad ice cream stops to be enjoyed.
Where to Park for the Cape Cod Canal Path:
Head west off the South Bourne Rotary at the bridge on the Cape side. Take the first right and continue to the T intersection, where you turn right. Parking is on the left after you go back under the bridge. Restrooms are open in season only.
Parking for the Shining Sea Bikeway
The trailhead is accessible in North Falmouth, where the parking area is located on the corner of County Road and Route 151.
Matt Van Gelder has worked in bike shops every summer since middle school. After completing his bachelor’s degree in Financial Services from Bryant University, he decided it was time to open his own shop, Dennis Cycle Center on the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Dennis, and combining his finance skills with his bike shop experience.