In 1693, Pilgrims from Plymouth Colony began to settle in the part of the Outer Cape that would eventually become Orleans, Massachusetts. From the beginning, these farmers had their work cut out for them. While the Outer Cape is abundant in natural beauty, very few crops can grow in the windswept landscape and acidic soil that are characteristic of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem.
During the American Revolutionary War, British forces captured the town of Orleans (which was then part of Eastham) on two separate occasions. By the time the war ended, the town’s residents were sick and tired of the British. So, when Orleans separated from Eastham in 1797, residents bucked local tradition and gave the town a French name, instead of an English one.
While the population of Orleans has never been more than a few thousand people, the town actually saw significant action in several different wars. In the War of 1812, the town successfully defended its salt works during the Battle of Rock Harbor. In World War I, a German submarine fired on Orleans, making it the only place in the United States to take enemy fire during that war.
Today, the town’s temperate summers and sandy beaches make it a popular vacation destination. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Cape Cod National Seashore, which now encompasses large swaths of Orleans. This nature preserve covers thick woodlands, warm kettle ponds, and breathtaking beaches on both sides of the Outer Cape. On the east side of the Outer Cape, Nauset Beach stretches along the coastline for ten miles.
During the summer, this popular beach is dotted with dozens of swimmers and sunbathers enjoying the sun, salt, and sand on this expansive beach. In the early morning, fishermen take in this beach’s gorgeous sunrises as they wait for striped bass and bluefish to bite at their lines. Nauset Beach sometimes records the highest waves on Cape Cod, which makes it a popular destination for surfers and boogie boarders.
Even in the chilly winter months, beachgoers can spot wetsuit-clad surfers bobbing up and down in the cold waters off this windy beach. On the other side of Orleans, Skaket Beach sits on the shores of Cape Cod Bay. This popular beach has soft sand and warm waters, which make it a perfect place to both sunbathe and swim. When the beach grows at low tide, children love to explore its many tidal pools. At sundown, its picture-perfect sunsets send shocks of color across the smooth tidal flats.
Town Hall Address: 19 School Road, Orleans, MA 02653 Phone: (508) 240-3700
Cost of Stickers: Beach Stickers: Free for residents, $220 non-resident Transfer Station Stickers: $140 residents Shellfish License: $20 residents, $70 non-residents Season Duration: Memorial to Labor Day (beach)