Cape Cod National Seashore | DRIVING ON THE BEACHES OF CAPE COD

Road from Race Point Beach to Race Point Lighthouse

Road from Race Point Beach to Race Point Lighthouse

Driving on the beaches of Cape Cod National Seashore is allowed at the north end of the park from Long Nook Beach in Truro to Race Point Lighthouse in Provincetown. This is only about five miles of beach, and large sections can be closed at any time for shorebird nesting season (June and July in particular). An Off Road Vehicle (ORV) permit and a 4-Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive vehicle are two basic requirements (no rental vehicles allowed). Those with a self-contained 4-Wheel Drive vehicle can camp at designated locations on Race Point Beach from July 1st through Labor Day—daily limits apply.

Tourists are welcome to get a permit, but off-road driving is not practical for those who just want to try driving on the beach for a day. Your vehicle must be inspected, you must have all required safety equipment, and you must watch a short orientation program. ORV permits are geared more for locals who drive on the beaches on a regular basis—most permits are obtained by fishermen who want to get to a favorite spot. Tourists who are staying at the Lightkeeper’s Quarters at Race Point Lighthouse are the only short term visitors to Cape Cod National Seashore that really have a good excuse to get a permit.

Those applying for an off-road permit for the first time or for a new vehicle must get one in person from April 10th through November 15th at the Off-Road Permit Station at Race Point Beach (daily, 8 AM to 4:30 PM). Annual and 7-day permits are available. Only 400 7-day permits can be active at a time, while the limit on annual permits is 3,000. Annual permits have not sold out since 2004, and in recent years barely 50% have been taken. Fees can be paid with cash, traveler’s checks, or major credit cards. Those who had a permit within the last five years, are applying for the same vehicle, and who want an annual permit, now have a mail-in application option. For complete details on obtaining an ORV permit, see the National Park Service’s Oversand Beach Driving web page for Cape Cod National Seashore.

I did not drive on the beach at Cape Cod National Seashore, but I have driven extensively on the beaches at Cape Lookout National Seashore. At first I was very apprehensive due to the possibility of getting stuck. I had done quite a lot of “4-Wheelin’” on rocky roads, but prior to this the only beach I had driven on was Daytona Beach in Florida, and that’s as hard as pavement. However, my worries were all for naught, for with a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle and some common sense you can pretty much make your way through any type of sand.

Most 4-Wheel Drives that do get stuck usually do so in what is called “sugar sand,” the deep and soft sand you find on the access ramps to the beach or the sand nearest the dunes. However, a seasoned beach driver told me that he’s never seen a situation where a stuck vehicle needed a tow truck, as most can be dug out with a little effort—part of the required safety equipment is for this purpose. And surprisingly, he told me that it is the heavier trucks with campers on them that are more likely to get stuck, not the lighter SUVs. I would have thought the added weight would give the heavier vehicles more traction, but I guess it also causes the wheels to dig deeper into the sand.

Based on my beach driving experience, here are a few tips:

  • Lower the pressure in all tires to 20 psi. Be sure to bring a tire pressure gauge with you.
  • If you are on soft sand, do not slam on your brakes. This will cause the wheels to dig into the sand. In fact, try not to stop at all on the soft sand.
  • When in soft sand, drive on the tire tracks of previous vehicles, as this sand will be packed down.

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Last updated on September 29, 2021
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