Cape Cod National Seashore | RANGER-LED PADDLING TRIPS

Cape Cod National Seashore Ranger prepares to lead a canoe trip on Gull Pond in Wellfleet

Cape Cod National Seashore Ranger prepares to lead a canoe trip on Gull Pond in Wellfleet

Cape Cod National Seashore Rangers lead paddling trips (mainly kayak, but some canoe trips) from June through September in both the Eastham / Wellfleet and the Provincetown / Truro areas. Locations vary, so you can join more than one trip and not end up paddling at the same place. Trips may be on ponds, rivers, or even on the open water of the bays. Because of this, paddling experience may be required. The minimum age is either twelve or sixteen years old, depending on the trip. If you are looking for a trip suitable for beginners or young children—minimum age of six—then sign up for the Salt Pond Paddle.

The paddling trips can last up to three hours, though all depends on the destination. There is a limit on the number of participants. The Ranger told me that the trips rarely fill up, with the typical attendance being six to ten people. Amazingly, I was the only one who signed up for a Friday trip at the end of July, so it was just me and two Rangers. As a result, the trip only lasted an hour and a half, with a little over an hour actually on the water.

There is no charge for the trips but reservations are required. Trips in Eastham and Wellfleet are organized out of the Salt Pond Visitor Center and those held in Provincetown and Truro are organized out of the Province Lands Visitor Center. Reservations can be made no earlier than one week in advance (e. g. call on a Friday for a trip the following Friday). Unfortunately, the summer schedule does not come out until May, so there is no way to make definite plans for Ranger-led events of any type far in advance. When released, the schedule will be posted on the National Park Service’s Calendar web page for Cape Cod National Seashore (search both “canoe” and “kayak” in the By Keyword filter). The schedule is also published in a free newspaper that is available at the visitor centers. The reservation phone numbers are given in the event listing.

I highly recommend the Ranger-led trips versus paddling on your own, and I have my own kayak. First off, all you have to do is show up—no lugging equipment from the car. Second, I find it much more fun to paddle with other people, but that’s me. It also adds to my enjoyment to paddle with Rangers who know where to go and who can educate me about the environment and history of the park. And finally, many of the boat launches within the boundary of Cape Cod National Seashore actually belong to the city, and you need a city parking permit unless you are with a National Park Service tour.

The trip I went on launched from Gull Pond in Wellfleet and also covered two connecting ponds, Higgins and Williams. Gull Pond is the largest of the three, and it is quite deep and crystal clear—you can see down at least ten feet. Higgins Pond is also quite large and very clear. However, I didn’t find either of these ponds that interesting because they’re just open bodies of water.

Higgins Pond as seen from Williams Pond, Cape Cod National Seashore

Higgins Pond as seen from Williams Pond, Cape Cod National Seashore

The connecting channel between Gull and Higgins pond is very shallow, so you may have to get out and pull your boat through. The channel is deep enough for a canoe to float as long as it is empty. Because of this, be sure to wear shoes that you do not mind getting wet.

Channel between Gull and Higgins ponds at Cape Cod National Seashore

Channel between Gull and Higgins ponds at Cape Cod National Seashore

Williams Pond is much more interesting because it is full of lily pads. The Ranger told me that it is filling in, and she can see the progress over just a couple of years. Soon the entire pond will be covered with vegetation. Also, though I didn’t take a photo, the white house that you see on the east shore is the house that Henry David Thoreau stayed in when he visited Cape Cod in the mid-1800s. His adventure is recounted in a film that shows at the visitor centers. I would not have known this if it weren’t for the Ranger, which, as mentioned, is why I like to join the Ranger-led tours.

Channel between Higgins and Williams ponds at Cape Cod National Seashore

Channel between Higgins and Williams ponds at Cape Cod National Seashore

Lily pads on Williams Pond at Cape Cod National Seashore

Lily pads on Williams Pond at Cape Cod National Seashore

Water lily flower

Water lily flower

Lilies on Williams Pond at Cape Cod National Seashore

Lilies on Williams Pond at Cape Cod National Seashore

If you have your own canoe or kayak, you are welcome to paddle Gull, Higgins, and Williams ponds on your own. It is a town-managed pond, so you will need a Wellfleet parking pass. Gull Pond also has a public beach, so parking is at a premium later in the day; the parking lot is not very big.

Beach at Gull Pond in Wellfleet on Cape Cod

Beach at Gull Pond in Wellfleet on Cape Cod

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Last updated on March 4, 2024
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