So, what’s there to do on Cape Cod in the winter? When the tourists leave Cape Cod after Labor Day, the peninsula changes almost overnight. Suddenly, the crowded beaches are empty and, across the Cape, the focus shifts from tourism to community events like tree lightings, craft fairs, and holiday celebrations. If you’re interested in seeing a quieter side of the region, visit Cape Cod in the winter. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty to keep you busy, just without the crowds!
Do you want the perfect winter experience on Cape Cod? Be sure to check off these bucket list items to do in Cape Cod in the winter:
1. Explore the Cape’s Natural Winter Wonderland
Cape Cod in the winter offers weather that is usually pretty mild due to the slight warming effect of the North Atlantic Current. In December, for example, highs are around 45° F and lows are around 30° F. When it’s warm enough outside, it’s always fun to bundle up and explore the Cape’s winter landscape. Cape Cod does on occasion get accumulations of snow, brightening the winter landscape with fresh white powder.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the more accessible nature areas in the winter, as is Salt Pond in Eastham. If the temperature is uncomfortably low, you might want to opt for Salt Pond over Wellfleet Bay. Not only is the sparkling frozen pond gorgeous in winter, but you can always escape indoors to the Salt Pond Visitors Center – a cozy space for outdoor education.
2. Explore a Quieter Provincetown
Provincetown is known for its bustling summer atmosphere, but this popular vacation destination is lively during the winter too. Throughout the season, Provincetown hosts many holiday events that embrace the camp and creativity that makes the town special. Be sure to catch the Lighting of the Lobster Pot Tree, which takes place every year in late November.
3. Take Wintery Photos at the Lighthouses on Cape Cod in the Winter
The iconic Cape Cod lighthouses shut their doors for the winter, but they’re still worth a visit in the colder months. Popular spots like Chatham Light are almost abandoned in the offseason, which makes for better pictures and more relaxed visits. With its sweeping views and candy cane striped tower, Nauset Lighthouse is a particularly perfect backdrop for any holiday photos. The lighthouses look stunning with a backdrop of surf and snow!
The sun sets as early as 4:15 PM in winter, so visit in the late afternoon for the prettiest skies.
4. Go Ice Skating at a Community Ice Rink
There’s a long history of ice skating on Cape Cod that dates back to the 19th century. Back then, people sometimes traveled from all over New England to attend ice boat races on the peninsula’s frozen kettle ponds. Town officials no longer recommend pond skating since kettle ponds tend to freeze unevenly if at all, but there are still plenty of safe ice rinks to explore. Check out:
- Gallo Ice Arena in Buzzards Bay
- Falmouth Ice Arena in East Falmouth
- Hyannis Youth & Community Center in Hyannis
- Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis
- Charles Moore Arena in Orleans
5. Go Cross-country Skiing or Snowshoeing on Cape Cod in the Winter
The Cape tends to get a wintery mix of snow and rain in the winter, so snow rarely stays on the ground here. Every once in a while, though, a Nor’easter dumps a heap of fresh snow on the peninsula. When that happens, be ready to make the most of it. It doesn’t usually last long!
Nickerson State Park in Brewster is a great place to cross-country ski or snowshoe after a storm, as is Beebe Woods in Falmouth. These wooded areas tend to have pretty even snow cover. If you want a more adventurous outing, check out Cape Cod National Seashore. The wind makes the snow on these coastal trails less even, but the ocean views are spectacular.
6. Watch for Birds on Cape Cod in the Winter
While some summer birds migrate south for the winter, others stay on Cape Cod year-round. These hardy birds include common species like the Purple Finch, Tufted Titmouse, and Northern Chickadee – which you can see on all corners of the Cape during the winter months.
Other species, like the Junco and Surf Scoter, migrate from colder climates to Cape Cod during the winter. These are species that you can only find this far south during the winter months.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to look for rare bird species during the winter months, as is Scusset State Reservation. In both of these wildlife preserves, you’ll usually be able to spot flocks of migratory ducks and other species that are only around this time of year. If you want to see winter Grebes, Gannets, or Loons, check out Corporation Beach in Dennis.
7. Go Behind the Scenes at the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory
On a cold winter’s day, there’s no better place to be on Cape Cod than the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory in Hyannis. Learn how these delicious chips (the ones with the candy-cane striped lighthouse logo/ Nauset Light) are made and let the warmth of sizzling hot potatoes warm your body and soul.
8. See Gardens Aglow at the Heritage Museum and Gardens
Gardens Aglow brings the idea of a winter wonderland into a reality every December at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich. For the event, the museum decorates more than nine miles of outdoor walking trails with twinkling holiday lights. The process involves some of the region’s top landscapers and designers, and local artists create ice sculptures for the occasion.
Around Christmas, the museum also hosts events for children, including a reindeer scavenger hunt, a meet-and-greet with Santa, and a petting zoo where kids can play with baby animals. There are also hot drinks available, and a bonfire where children and adults can roast smores.
9. Find the Giants on Route 6A
Can you spot them all? Every year the town of Sandwich displays dozens of light sculptures by artist Michael Magyar in public spaces along Route 6A. These huge seasonal installations are known collectively as the Giants and include the figures of a sparkling firefighter in front of the Sandwich Fire Station and a glowing red lobster outside Salty Lou’s Live Local Lobster. The unique sculptures brighten up Cape Cod in winter!
10. Visit the Enchanted Village at Cape Codder Resort
Enter a snow(-less) globe at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis. This indoor water park has water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river – all in a massive glass atrium that resembles a snow globe. In the winter, the Enchanted Village transforms this summer resort into a charming winter escape with nightly bonfires, Christmas carols on the weekends, and even visits from Santa.
11. Learn About Seasonal Marine Life on the Cape
When the marshes are frozen over and the harbors are empty, it’s easy to forget how important the marine ecosystem is to life on the Cape. Not only is fishing an essential industry on the peninsula, many marine species depend on the Cape’s fragile aquatic ecosystem for survival.
Want to know what’s happening underwater during the cold winter months? The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is a great place to learn about how seasonal changes affect the local marine life. Looking for something more hands on? Stop by the Woods Hole Aquarium to see more than a hundred local marine species – such as lobsters, horseshoe crabs, and whelks.
12. Attend an Exhibition at a Local Art Gallery or Museum
The cozy art galleries and museums on the Cape are delightful escapes when cold weather keeps you indoors. While many of the small art galleries in Provincetown are closed for the season, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum is open year-round. During the winter, the museum continues to curate new exhibits, hold classes, and offer lectures on local art.
The Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis is also open year-round. This museum focuses primarily on art by local and regional artists. Its permanent collection includes paintings and woodcuts from well-known artists with links to the art schools and colonies of the Cape.
13. Attend Woods Hole Film Festival Events
From October through May, the Woods Hole Film Festival screens one film per month as part of its “Dinner & A Movie” series. This series is an opportunity to discover new releases from the same type of independent filmmakers who participate in the organization’s summer film festival. It’s also an opportunity to discover new cuisine, as different local restaurants cater each event.
There are many reasons to visit the Cape in the offseason – and an important one is that it’s a chance to explore one of the world’s most stunning vacation destinations without paying full price. From October until early April, visitors can pay off-season prices for accommodation, activities, and even food – which is a steal when there’s still so much to do in the winter months.
14. Visit Museums on Cape Cod in the Winter
If you’re looking to enjoy a leisurely meander through one of the great museums in the region, vising a museum on Cape Cod in the winter might be perfect for you! Be sure to check the website of the museum you’re interested in, as hours and days of operation may be more limited in the off-season. While the selection is more limited, if the museum you’re interested in is open on Cape Cod in the winter, it’s certainly worth visiting without the crowds!
Please feel free to share your favorite Cape Cod activities with our audience!