Salt Pond Visitor Center
Eastham MA 02642
The Salt Pond Visitor Center, open year-round, is an essential first stop for anyone visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore, which draws over 3 million visitors annually. Located just off Route 6 in Eastham, it's the main visitor facility for the national park that was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The center features an indoor theater (with five different films daily), two walking trails and a bicycle trail, and scenic views of Nauset Marsh and the historic outer beach. There's also a museum, atrium, bookstore and rest rooms on the site. National Park Service rangers are available to answer questions.
Parking and public transportation at Salt Pond Visitor Center
A large lot provides free parking for cars and tour buses. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority provides regular local service to the center. Regular service from the Plymouth & Brockton Railway Company is available from Boston (the bus stops at Town Hall down the road, but coach drivers will often drop off riders anywhere along Route 6). Overall, the automobile is the best way to go here, but the bus alternative works for those who would rather not drive or battle summer traffic.
Best and worst time to go to the Salt Pond Visitor Center
If crowds turn you off, avoid the Salt Pond Visitor Center and the Cape's outer beach in July, especially on weekends. After a long winter and school year, most vacationers are charging into summer and on to Cape Cod when July rolls around. Crowds tend to thin out somewhat in late August, and September offers pleasant temperatures (air and water), and beautiful autumnal colors. The largest fall crowds often visit on tour buses.
Admission to Salt Pond Visitor Center
Here's one of the great features about the center and its attractions — it's free, whether it be films, the museum, or walking the trails. You may want to bring a few dollars and/or credit card for a souvenir or two that you can purchase at the Eastern National Book Store, which is located in the center. Fees apply for entry to nearby National Seashore beaches; seasonal passes are available.
Must see/do at Salt Pond Visitor Center
Depending on how much time you'd like to spend outdoors here, there are three trails outside the center: the quarter-mile multi-sensory Buttonbush Trail, the scenic 1.5-mile Nauset Marsh trail (portions occasionally flood during high tides), and the Nauset Bicycle Trail, which runs from the center to Coast Guard Beach. Cultural and natural displays are featured in the museum, while models of Cape Cod's plant and animal life are showcased in the atrium. Five films are shown on a rotating basis in the center's indoor theater.
Other places to visit near Salt Pond Visitor Center
The visitor center is the starting point for all things Cape Cod National Seashore, and several of the park's most outstanding attractions are only minutes away. Just down Nauset and Doane Roads (1.5 miles to the east) is Coast Guard Beach, a barrier spit that is regularly rated as one of the top-rated beaches in the world (access is by shuttle bus during the summer). To the northeast is Nauset Light, a lighthouse that offers tours (you may recognize it from the Cape Cod Potato Chips bag), which overlooks its namesake beach. For many visitors, a National Seashore visit isn't complete without sampling the fried clams at Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar on Route 6 in North Eastham (there's an extensive kids' menu as well).
Inside tip for visitors to Salt Pond Visitors Center
Bugs can be a hateful nuisance at the Cape Cod National Seashore during the late spring and early summer months, especially near Nauset Marsh. Ticks and marsh mosquitoes emerge in early spring and are out in full force during May and June, while biting midges, also known as "no-see-ums," enter the picture in late May and hang on through July (they're at their worst in the late afternoon, in the evening, and on cloudy days). However, the "worst of the worst" might be the green head fly, the insect world's answer to "The Terminator." The fly's bite is painful and often draws blood; a mere swat often has little effect on them.
Don Wilding has been a lifestyle, arts and entertainment, and sports writer and editor for newspapers on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts for 30 years, and a public speaker on Cape Cod subjects for 15 years. He is a co-founder of the nonprofit Henry Beston Society of Cape Cod.