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.
Wondering if this will be a source of inspiration for my own family...
Sometimes, birthdays and bigger events like Father’s Day can seem more focused on the people organizing the event, or about objects, versus something more experience-based that also caters to the person being celebrated. In general, guys tend to be happy doing stuff outdoors, playing games, and maybe having a beer or some other drink. They also will never object to a group of people telling them how wonderful they are. This can often work far better than a tie or a new grill or having to get dressed up for a fancy lunch.
So, for Father’s Day, if you were to play to the Dad of Honor, you might consider starting off with something outside. Perhaps it’s golf, which tons of guys like this. And it doesn’t have to be Pebble Beach. It can be anything from playing 18 holes as a foursome to mini golf with littler ones, or something in between (such as an “executive par 3” which is a pristine-looking golf course that isn’t as long so it can be quicker to play). Courses can also be played as nine holes instead of the full 18. Kids can enjoy driving the cart, too, and you can often rent clubs. Plus, you can always play a "best ball" format or just pick it up if need be. It's not about the score!
Some examples of places that don’t get too packed or may not even require reservations include Pirate’s Cove mini golf with locations around the region and beyond; or the executive courses at the Berlin Country Club (no reservations) or King's Way on the Cape. Or the full-sized but not too hard Ellinwood Country Club in Athol (western Massachusetts) and Waterville Valley Golf Course in the heart of the White Mountains.
Or experience a more natural version of the outdoors, with a milder day hike or renting canoes. These can be casual, but can offer great views. Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire and Skinner State Park both have killer views but reasonable hikes.
Even if the special dad in your life isn’t outdoorsy, the premise still applies. He would probably get a kick out of a group hatchet throwing event, or driving souped up go karts.
As noted with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, you can take the activity to a next-level experience by pairing it with something else, such as a family-friendly opportunity for a craft drink. In some cases, “family-friendly” may mean you can bring your kids, while in others it means you’re an adult bringing your older father. So, predictably, you’d just want to double check to ensure this fits with your family.
For example, Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery are more adult-oriented. But if you finished at King's Way, Hog Island is an awesome brewery, with food, lots of games, and a great atmosphere for all ages (including teens). Or the Nashoba Valley Winery, featuring a huge orchard, and wine, beer, and spirits, is extremely accommodating of all versions of a family, making it the perfect spot if you were at the Berlin Country Club; the nearby Battle Road brewery also has games, outdoor seating, and great BBQ at a renovated mill. Sunday River Brewing has a full service restaurant and often has live music, which pairs well with a couple of hours spent on the Androscoggin River.
Lastly, don’t feel restricted to a Sunday event. Sure, it’s the official day so you’d need to at least do a little something. But it could be really minor. If Saturday allowed a day without work the next day hanging over his head, or a chance to venture farther afield on a road trip, the dad in your life would understand. If it makes for a better experience with family, then the day that it occurs isn’t nearly as important.
The point of all of this is that, as a father, I can attest that experiences mean more than material gifts, and experiences that show an understanding of what I enjoy doing are more meaningful as well. These don’t have to be elaborately constructed or expensive; they don’t require reservations made months in advance. They only require thinking about what I like, who I love, and how to combine all of those things. Those simple guidelines are all it takes to create a lasting memory.
Best of luck to you and the dad in your life!
Good adventures start as dreams. Enthusiasm turns them into great memories.
New England adventures can accommodate any season, any timeframe, any type of group, and any budget.