Jay Bell, temporarily trading a beach and a bathing suit for a bike and a beer
Often, when people head to beach towns on summer vacation, they may have expectations of sitting by the ocean and digging their toes into the sand. But for those who enjoy being more active, sometimes there’s a craving to indulge in something physical to offset the downtime and daiquiris. Cape Cod’s Old Colony Rail Trail (OCRT) offers a chance not just for exercise, but also an opportunity to better explore the area in a way not possible by car or walking.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is the most well-known bike path on the Cape, now stretching from Yarmouth to Wellfleet. But if you’re not an avid cyclist, the roughly-fifty mile trip is too far if you want to traverse the whole distance. The OCRT, running from Yarmouth to Chatham, is roughly half the mileage, offering a legit but shorter route.
For the OCRT, the Cape is already tourism-centric and filled with small businesses, so it’s in a good position to incorporate such an effort into its broad array of activities. It has a number of highlights along its fairly flat route, from cranberry bogs to ponds and lakes, and wooded areas to quaint parts of towns. The street crossings and pedestrians out walking with strollers or pets on leash are grounds for caution, but the crossings are well marked and the path is wide enough for multiple users. The minimal climbs also make this route less demanding, which allows more people to ride and more riders to focus on the views instead of the cranks of the pedals.
The OCRT initially is on the same route as the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Wellfleet before branching off. Along with the views, you can stop at Devil’s Purse Brewery in Dennis, First Crush Winery in Harwich, Short ‘n’ Sweet Ice Cream in South Chatham, and the Chatham airport and its Hangar B café.
At the halfway point, and before heading back, you can also lock your bikes up and stroll Chatham’s downtown, one of the better ones on the Cape. In addition to its varied stores, you can enjoy lunch at the Squire, its well-known dive bar. Or, you can grab a cold drink and a sandwich at Chatham Cookware and then sit outside on a bench and watch the crowds strolling along Main Stream. Alternatively, you can pop into Snowy Owl, tucked behind a Lily Pulitzer store along Main Street, for some small batch coffee to enjoy under the shade of a tree.
For those inclined to give this a try, the trail was recently extended westward to Station Avenue in Yarmouth. But starting at the parking area on Route 134 in Dennis is easiest. You may choose to simplify, as you have the option to rent bikes from a bike shop adjacent to that same parking lot.
Devil’s Purse Brewery is close to the parking lot and is maybe a quarter-mile off the rail trail, making it a perfect spot for near-apres ride refreshment; cyclists regularly unclip and stroll in for a flight of these varied and excellent craft beers before finishing the last five minutes of riding.
Whatever your pit stops, and however long you choose to ride or shop or people-watch, the Old Colony Rail Trail allows you to cover a lot of ground. But, you can do so casually, without sitting in traffic, and seeing some parts of the Cape you might not otherwise run across, all at a more casual pace. There’s still plenty of opportunity for downtime at the beach in the morning or afternoon. But for those who also need to burn off the prior night’s mudslides or clam chowder, or for those who are just wired to often be on the go, the Old Colony Rail Trail is a hidden gem of Cape Cod.
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