By Kim Foley MacKinnon
It’s easy to skip the local playground during the summer, when so many beaches beckon—especially on Cape Cod, which can seem like one giant sandbox. Certainly there’s no lack of choices, but for those who might like to avoid major crowds of vacationers, Sandy Neck Beach Park, a 6-mile-long barrier beach in Barnstable County, is perfect.
Among other charms, Sandy Neck has a gorgeous beach, sand dunes, historic dune shacks, maritime forests, freshwater wetland areas, vernal pools, and a salt marsh. There’s a network of trails leading visitors into the interior of the 1,500-acre park and can be accessed either from the beach or near the gatehouse, at the park entrance. There’s even a remote campsite about 3 miles from the parking lot for those willing (and able) to carry in their gear.
Sandy Neck has been recognized by the commonwealth of Massachusetts as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern for its fragile dunes and multiple endangered species, including piping plovers and least terns. Visiting and explaining these distinctions to your kids can be an easy teaching moment while you explore. Several nature programs are offered at the park from spring through fall, including guided nature hikes to look for piping plovers and rare Diamondback Terrapins (and their nests), as well as talks about area plants and animals.
Two upcoming events are perfect for families. The first is the Summer Flora & Fauna Hike on Wednesday, August 19 from 10 a.m to noon: a 1.5-mile hike through Sandy Neck’s Great Marsh and sand dunes, exploring barrier beach life with Nina Coleman, manager of Barnstable Land Trust and Sandy Neck.
The second item to put on your calendar is the guided Hike for Terrapin Hatchlings on September 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. You’ll search Sandy Neck for the tiny tracks of hatchling terrapins as these quarter-sized newborns make the treacherous journey from their sandy dune nests to the safety of the marsh.
The parking lot is capped at 200 cars, so arrive early to grab a spot during weekends in the peak summer season. There’s a concession stand, showers, and restroom/changing facilities. The beach can be rocky in places, so water shoes are a good idea.
Sandy Neck Beach Park, 11889 Phinney’s Lane, Centerville, MA; 508-790-6272.
Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families, kids.outdoors.org.