In Beech Forest, catch a glimpse of what Cape Cod looked like when the Mayflower landed in the early seventeenth century. At that time, much of the Cape was covered in pine-oak forests and groves of hickory, red maple, birch, and beech trees. Over the next two hundred years, settlers cleared most of these forests to make room for houses, gardens, and animal pastures.
Today, Beech Forest is one of the most densely wooded sections of the Cape. A walking trail meanders through the forested dunes, encircling the shallow waters of Blackwater and Beech Ponds. The walking trail climbs the dunes in one or two places but is mostly level. Most of the trail surface is hard-packed sand, although a wooden boardwalk helps visitors keep their feet dry near the ponds.
The beginning of the mile-long loop takes visitors along the edge of Blackwater Pond. This shallow pond, covered in a blanket of lily pads, inspired Mary Oliver’s powerful poem “In Blackwater Woods.” The poem, which discusses life and loss, is a fitting tribute to a body of water that is slowly being taken over by plants and absorbed into the surrounding forest.
The walking trail continues past Blackwater Pond. At the 0.4-mile mark, there’s a fork in the trail. Turn left here to skip over the trail’s more difficult terrain or, to do the full loop, stay straight. On the more difficult section of the loop, the Beech Forest trail climbs over a steep sand dune, then undulates over the gentle dunes underfoot until it meets up with the shortcut on the left.
The last leg of the Beech Forest trail is, arguably, the most beautiful. About a quarter of a mile past the shortcut, a detour to the left takes visitors to Beech Pond. The docks at Beech Pond are the best place on Beech Forest Trail to take photographs and watch for birds. In the spring, this small, shallow pond is a mating and foraging ground for Canada Geese.
Beech Forest, Beech Pond, and Blackwater Pond are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which encompasses unspoilt parts of the Cape’s Atlantic
coastal pine barrens ecosystem. The Pilgrims explored this strip of land immediately after landing in Provincetown Harbor and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote about it in his Cape Cod memoirs.