The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is an excellent place to connect with nature while visiting Cape Cod. There are five miles of interspersed among various species of trees with breathtaking views of the bay and surrounding wildlife. It also features the Esther Underwood Johnson Nature Center and even a camping ground for Mass Audubon members.
The sanctuary is located at 291 State Highway, Route 6, South Wellfleet, MA 02663, and costs $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children. Mass Audubon members can get in free. The trails are open from 7:30 am – 6:00 pm and there are restrooms available at the nature center.
There are five main trails located at the sanctuary, each with its own unique characteristics.
1. Bay View Trail
Bay View Trail is the longest of the six best trails in Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and is well worth the hike. The trailhead is just north of the parking lot right near the tent area.
The trail offers a lot of diversity as you walk through three distinct areas. You will start by walking through Pine Woods. Named after the Pitch Pine that inhabits all of Cape Cod, Pine Woods is full of the trees that are named after the resin that used to be obtained from their trunks.
As you move along the trail you will come across a view of Cape Cod Bay and its marshes. The marshes are created by twice-daily tides that continuously flood the area. If you look carefully, in the summer you will be able to see diamondback terrapins swimming in the marsh.
As you head back towards the parking lot and nature center you will come across the Sandplain Grasslands. This area supports several rare plants including Gerhard’s Underwing Moth, Northern Brocade Moth, and Bushy Rose. These species are maintained by periodically burning the area as they thrive in open spaces without much undergrowth.
2. Goose Pond Trail
Goose Pond Trail is a 1.8-mile loop that features two ponds and a coastal heathland (shrubland habitat). You can access the trail by heading Southwest from the nature trail towards the observation deck.
Since the trail is in a wooded area close to the coast it hosts a wide diversity of wildlife. Some of the more noticeable animals that you will find at Goose Pond and along the trail are:
- Snowy Egret – Known for its white feathers, yellow feet, and black bills. It can be found in the late summer.
- Sandpipers – There are 15 different species at Goose Pond. The most common are yellowlegs which can be found walking along the coastline or in the shallow waters of the pond.
- Red-winged Blackbirds – Males are the easiest to identify with their red and yellow shoulder badges. They start to arrive in late February and early March.
- Fiddler Crabs – Found in the marshlands of the trail, Fiddle Crabs wave their large claw around in the air as if playing a fiddle.
- Bullfrogs – The largest of the many frog inhabitants living in Cape Cod.
The trail is also home to a plethora of plants including pickerelweed, winterberry, and sweet pepper bush.
3. Silver Spring Trail
The Silver Spring Trail is divided into three distinct sections. The northern part, which is dominated by oaks and sassafras, the southern section, which takes you on a high ridge overlooking the pond, and an eastern section that takes you over a small wooden bridge.
The trail is accessible from the parking lot and is directly next to the trailhead to the All-Persons Pathway.
The trail has some unique features including it being one of the best places in Cape Cod to view the spring migration of warblers. During the month of May, especially after windy days, you may be able to see as many as 20 different species of Warblers.
The trail has also been known to be the home of some Native American artifacts and some not-so-native trees. While walking on the trail you will notice Scotch Pines, Red Pines, and Norway Spruces. These trees are not native to the area and were brought in to help diversify the property.
4. Try Island Trail
Try Island trails gives you access to some of the best views of Cape Cod Bay as well as the sanctuary. The trailhead is Southwest of the nature center and near the marsh cabin.
The name from the trail comes from the possibility that there may have been a tryworks located on the island. A tryworks dates back to when the whaling industry was booming in Cape Cod. A cast-iron cauldron would be placed over fire to convert whale blubber into oil.
The Hickory and Oak trees found on the trail are very rare for the Cape Cod area and are almost 100 years old. Along the trail you might also find Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and several other long-legged wading birds.
If you find yourself on the trail between October and April, you might be in luck. Jeremy Point, a sand bar that is in Wellfleet Harbor, is one of the best places to see seals in Cape Cod during these months and it is viewable from the trail.
5. Sensory Trail
The Sensory Trail ensures that everyone can experience nature at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The trail is only a quarter of a mile long and features no steep slopes or steps. There is a guided audio tour that is informative, and you can also listen to the wide array of wildlife while traveling from marker to marker. The trail is conveniently located right off of the parking lot and connects directly to Goose Pond.
6. The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk crosses over the salt marsh area that is featured in many of the sanctuary’s trails and connects to Barrier Beach. The boardwalk is almost directly west of the nature center and can be reached off of Try Island Trail.
One of the best times to go on this trail is during low tide. If you walk out onto the flats towards the water’s edge you will be able to see a plethora of sea life including crabs, clams, snails, and shrimp. You may even see sandpipers and plovers trying to catch their daily meal.