Cape Cod National Seashore | LONG POINT DIKE TO TWO LIGHTHOUSES HIKE

Long Point Dike and Wood End Lighthouse (upper right)

Long Point Dike and Wood End Lighthouse (upper right)

Distance:  6.4 miles
Time:  4.5 hours
Difficulty:  Easy cardiovascular-wise, but difficult terrain when crossing the dike

For those interested in lighthouses and who don’t mind hiking to see them, a visit to the Wood End and Long Point lighthouses on the Long Point Peninsula near Provincetown is not to be missed. This is the best hike at Cape Cod National Seashore. Not only will you see the aforementioned lighthouses, you’ll also hike nearly the entire shoreline of the peninsula plus make a walk across the Long Point Dike, a 1.25-mile long dike completed in 1914 that cuts across Provincetown Harbor, connecting the mainland to the peninsula. The dike is known as the Breakwater, or simply the jetty by the locals. Technically, breakwater is the wrong term to use, for it is a barrier built in the water to protect the coast from being pounded by the waves. An actual breakwater is located in the middle of Provincetown Harbor. A dike, on the other hand, is a structure built to keep land from being flooded.

Long Point Peninsula, part of Cape Cod National Seashore

Long Point Peninsula, part of Cape Cod National Seashore

The hike is easy, cardiovascular-wise, but the walk across the Long Point Dike is trickier than it looks, especially for older people with balance problems. An alternative route to the lighthouses is to walk along the shore from the south parking lot of Herring Cove Beach. However, this adds a mile (round trip) to the hike, if you can even get through. Inlets can form after any given storm, cutting through the beach and connecting the sea to the wetlands, so you’d have to swim across to continue down the shore. On top of that, you don’t get to walk across the dike, which is really the coolest thing about the hike to begin with. Keep in mind that from no matter where you depart, there’s not a shade tree anywhere in sight, so wear a hat and apply sunscreen if avoiding the sun is important to you.

Assuming you want to walk across the dike, the first order of business is to find parking in Provincetown, which is not an easy task. There is roadside parking at the south end of Province Lands Road near the Provincetown Inn and Pilgrim’s First Landing Park. There’s only room for about two dozen vehicles, and the chances of getting a parking space on the weekend or during a nice summer day once everyone is out and about is almost zero. People park here to hike across the dike, swim, and launch kayaks into the harbor, so there is not a lot of turnover. I arrived one Saturday afternoon in early August and couldn’t find parking, so I came back the next morning around 7 AM and got a space, and even then most were already taken. Unfortunately, I have no idea where to park aside from the road, but there is certainly a fee-based public parking lot somewhere in Provincetown.

Parking on Province Lands Road in Provincetown, Massachusetts

Parking on Province Lands Road in Provincetown, Massachusetts

Parking near the Long Point Dike in Provincetown, Massachusetts

Parking near the Long Point Dike in Provincetown, Massachusetts

As mentioned, there’s more to crossing the Long Point Dike than meets the eye. It is essentially thousands of granite blocks piled up to form an elevated structure, and at first glance it looks about as easy as walking down a cobblestone road. In fact, at the start of the dike the boulders are fairly even, but as you progress towards the Long Point Peninsula things get a little more complicated. It’s like the engineers started out with the lofty goal of creating a work of art but eventually said, “To hell with this,” and started tossing rocks on the pile as quickly as they could. There are large gaps between some of the boulders, and while you don’t have to jump across, you do need to take some extra long strides. Some rocks are slopped, forming Vs, so you must scurry down one and quickly scamper up the other, and once at the top you might have to jump a couple feet down to the next rock. There were a few boulders that I had to sit and slide down—but I’m old and have poor balance. People are seriously injured from falls all the time and must be rescued. If you don’t believe it, just do an Internet search for something like “injuries on Provincetown breakwater.”

Start of the Long Point Dike near Provincetown on Cape Cod

Start of the Long Point Dike near Provincetown on Cape Cod

Rocks of the Long Point Dike get progressively more uneven

Rocks of the Long Point Dike get progressively more uneven

There is also the tide to consider. At low tide, you are as high as 10 feet above the water—at some points the ground below is completely dry. However, by the time high tide rolls around, the top of the dike is only a few feet above the water. If you look at the sides of the dike, the dark rocks indicate the typical water height at high tide.

Exposed ground at low tide along sections of the Long Point Dike

Exposed ground at low tide along sections of the Long Point Dike

There are a few low spots on the dike, and at low tide you’ll notice that all of the rocks are dark, meaning that at high tide they are often underwater. You’d have to wade or swim across to continue your walk, though most people either turn back or get stuck for a few hours waiting for the water to recede (see the two photos below). If the tide is extremely high, the entire dike may be underwater, even the sections that are normally dry. There are as many stories of stranded people having to be rescued from the Long Point Dike as there are those who are injured.

Low section of the Long Point Dike at low tide

Low section of the Long Point Dike at low tide

Same section (as above) of the Long Point Dike at high tide

Same section (as above) of the Long Point Dike at high tide

Most people just cross the dike for the novelty of it and return immediately, so the tide might not change that much during their hour-long walk. But if you are hiking to the lighthouses, things may change drastically by the time you get back. There are six hours between low and high tides, and the hike takes about four hours, so I suggest departing as close to low tide as you can, either an hour or two before or no more than one hour after. I left one hour after low tide and was back about a half hour before high tide. I got across without getting my feet wet even at the low points on the dike. I can’t imagine there being any problems other than during an exceptionally high tide or on a windy day when the waves are big, but regardless, you still want to leave as close to low tide as possible. There is no reason to push your luck. It’s not a bad idea to ask a park Ranger or check a tide chart to see what to expect on the day of your hike.

Just as important as getting across Long Point Dike without getting your feet wet is to arrive on the peninsula at low tide so you have some dry shoreline to walk on. My first stop was the Long Point Lighthouse, and I got there simply by walking along the shore of Provincetown Harbor. If I arrived closer to high tide, the shore would have been underwater, and I would have been forced to scale a sand dune and walk through tall, tick-infested grass.

Provincetown Bay shoreline on the Long Point Peninsula

Provincetown Bay shoreline on the Long Point Peninsula

The walk across the Long Point Dike is a little more than one mile. Assuming you first visit the Long Point Lighthouse as I did, once you get to Long Point Peninsula, step off the dike and head to your left. You can actually see the lighthouse from where you are. In fact, you can see both lighthouses even before you start crossing the dike.

View of the Long Point Lighthouse from the end of the Long Point Dike

View of the Long Point Lighthouse from the end of the Long Point Dike

To reach the Long Point Lighthouse, simply follow the shoreline. There is a lot of deep beach sand, so it’s slow walking. If possible, walk on the grass and seaweed trail that high tide leaves behind. This matted vegetation gives you slightly firmer footing. Do not venture into any tall grass. You may not think of the beach environment as being a tick habitat, but they do live in that grass.

Trail of vegetation along the shore of the Long Point Peninsula

Trail of vegetation along the shore of the Long Point Peninsula

Walking along the ocean shore is always interesting because you never know what you will find or see. Out in the harbor were some floating houses—an unusual sight for a guy from Atlanta—and along the shore I saw a dead horseshoe crab, a dead bird, and a skull of some sort of animal with what is possibly a bullet hole in the forehead.

Floating houses in Provincetown Harbor

Floating houses in Provincetown Harbor

Animal skull on the shore of Long Point Peninsula

Animal skull on the shore of Long Point Peninsula

Long Point Lighthouse is a 1.25-mile walk from dike. You’ll see the lighthouse long before getting to it, so knowing where to turn off from the shore to head inland is important because there aren’t many paths through the tall grass. The landmark to look for is a bunch of wood pilings that were once used for a dock or something of that sort. You can walk all the way to the tip of the peninsula and get to the lighthouse as well, but that adds a lot of unnecessary walking. Once at the pilings, look for a sandy path that leads up the sand dune towards a cross. You’ll have to walk through some tall grass, so check your legs for ticks once you get to the top.

Turnoff from the shore for the Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Turnoff from the shore for the Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Sand path leads to the top of a dune and the Long Point Lighthouse

Sand path leads to the top of a dune and the Long Point Lighthouse

The cross is dedicated to Charles S. Darby, a man killed during World War II. Darby was a member of a Provincetown group of artists known as the Beachcombers, and it was this group that erected the cross in his honor.

Charles Darby memorial cross and the Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Sesahore

Charles Darby memorial cross and the Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Sesahore

Charles Darby memorial cross on Long Point Peninsula

Charles Darby memorial cross on Long Point Peninsula

A sand path leads from the top of the dune down to the lighthouse. A second building at the site is the oil house, a building used to store lantern oil back when the light was illuminated by burning oil. Today the light still works, but it is now electric. See the Long Point Lighthouse web page here on National Park Planner for the history of the lighthouse.

Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Long Point Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Oil house for the Long Point Lighthouse on Cape Cod

Oil house for the Long Point Lighthouse on Cape Cod

When done at the lighthouse, take the sand path that leads to the beach on Cape Cod Bay (the other side of the peninsula). Once at the bay, turn right and head north towards the Wood End Lighthouse. Depending on when you make the hike, the shoreline near the sand dunes may be closed for bird nesting season. This is another reason to do the hike as close to low tide as possible, for if the tide comes in, you may be forced into the closed area. If so, stick as close to the water as possible. I doubt anyone will see you, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to walk in the closed area long before I’m going to wade up the coast in the ocean waves. I made the trip two hours before high tide and had plenty of room to maneuver.

Posts along the Cape Cod Bay shoreline mark areas closed due to bird nesting

Posts along the Cape Cod Bay shoreline mark areas closed due to bird nesting

View of the Long Point Lighthouse from the shore of Cape Cod Bay

View of the Long Point Lighthouse from the shore of Cape Cod Bay

Along the way I was treated to a thrill of a lifetime. Just off the shore was a group of around fifty seals, and all of them were looking at me. I looked back. It’s like they wanted to say something to me but couldn’t. The entire group even followed me up the coast for a shore distance.

Seals in Cape Cod Bay

Seals in Cape Cod Bay

If you look at a satellite map, you’ll see what is called the Jeep Trail running down the middle of Long Point Peninsula, and you may be tempted to cut over to it because it looks to be a more direct route to the Wood End Lighthouse. As far as I know, it doesn’t exist any more, at least not at the middle and south end of the peninsula. I cut through the tall grass to find it. I was even standing on the point where my GPS said it should be and there was nothing but dunes and grass. And I got a tick on me. So forgettabout it and just stick to the shoreline.

As you get nearer to the Wood End Lighthouse (which you can see after a while), you’ll notice that the dunes next to the shore grow taller. This gave me a slight panic. What if I couldn’t get to the lighthouse because the dunes were too tall to climb? Don’t worry. There’s actually a path to the lighthouse that you can’t miss. This is about 1.9 miles from the Long Point Lighthouse.

Tall dunes along the shore of Cape Cod Bay

Tall dunes along the shore of Cape Cod Bay

Path to the Wood End Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Path to the Wood End Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

The Wood End Lighthouse is an exact copy of the Long Point Lighthouse. Even the oil house is the same. See the Wood End Lighthouse web page here on National Park Planner to learn about the history of the lighthouse.

Wood End Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

Wood End Lighthouse at Cape Cod National Seashore

You can see the Long Point Dike from the lighthouse, so simply look for sand paths through the dunes and head in that direction. The trail starts off as much through grass as it does across sand, but after a short distance it comes out on—lo and behold—what must be the evasive Jeep Trail. Turn right and look for a well defined sand trail that leads right to the dike. The distance between the Wood End Lighthouse and the dike is .4 mile.

View of the Long Point Dike from the Wood End Lighthouse

View of the Long Point Dike from the Wood End Lighthouse

Jeep Trail on the Long Point Peninsula

Jeep Trail on the Long Point Peninsula

Path to the Long Point Dike

Path to the Long Point Dike

When you get back to the dike, you may notice that the granite blocks continue a ways inland. Don’t be tempted to see what’s at the end because they are extremely uneven at this point. I was tempted and ended up falling. Lucky I didn’t break a leg…or worse, my camera.

Extreme uneven terrain at the very end of the Long Point Dike

Extreme uneven terrain at the very end of the Long Point Dike

By the time I was back on Long Point Dike around 11 AM, the place was packed with walkers, groups swimming on either side of the rocks, and even paddlers who pulled their kayaks over the low rocks to get from one side to another.

Kayaking along the Long Point Dike in Provincetown Harbor

Kayaking along the Long Point Dike in Provincetown Harbor

People enjoying the day along the Long Point Dike in Provincetown Harbor

People enjoying the day along the Long Point Dike in Provincetown Harbor

Despite the hike being rather lengthy at 6.5 miles, it was by far my favorite hike at Cape Cod National Seashore. The second best is the Great Island Trail. The rest of the trails in the park aren’t worth anyone’s time.

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Last updated on September 28, 2021
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