Playing at Sandwich’s Town Neck Beach and Boardwalk on Cape Cod

Looking down Mill Creek at Sandwich Boardwalk, Cape Cod. Photo credit: H. Nijkamp

Looking down Mill Creek at Sandwich Boardwalk, Cape Cod. Photo credit: H. Nijkamp

As you round the last bend on Boardwalk Road, the lush green of the salt marsh comes into view, further out the dunes rise up and the boardwalk appears in front of you. At extreme high tides the marshes may be entirely under water, giving the impression that the boardwalk is a long floating bridge. It’s not, but winding tidal creeks intersecting with the straight manmade channels, relicts of the salt hay harvesting once common here, make travel across the marsh tricky at best. The boardwalk takes you from the parking lot over sensitive marsh habitat to the beach, protecting you and the ecosystem.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • It’s one of the most scenic beach areas on Cape Cod, unspoiled by commercial development.
  • You really don’t want to drive the extra 50 or so miles in heavy summer traffic to get to the National Seashore.
  • Good for: Everyone. The protected creek side bays are great for kids, and there are plenty of ways to get in and on the water here.

The dunes ahead are nesting territory for the endangered piping plover and several species of tern, so pay attention to the ropes restricting access to these areas. If you walk all the way around the point you may spy tiny plover chicks looking for all the world like speckled grey and white plush toys, or when hunkered down on the beach, like the rocks all around them. As the season progresses and the tern chicks begin to fly, their noisy calls fill the air as they follow their parents over the water, begging for food.

Cannonball Off the Boardwalk or Float With the Tide

This bridge is built for jumping at high tide.

This bridge is built for jumping at high tide.

A time-honored tradition for teens, tweens and some of us who should theoretically know better, is the high tide jump from the boardwalk’s bridge over Mill Creek. As the tide comes in head for the bridge and wait for the water to be deep enough to jump. Once you hit the water you can swim to the boat launch or head back up the ladder to the bridge for another jump.

Floating up or down Mill Creek, depending on which way the tide is headed, is another way to cool off on a hot day. Grab whatever floatation device you might have or just put on a mask and snorkel and drift face down, watching the fish school below you. One word of caution, the currents in the creek can be strong, especially once you get close to the Bay. If you’re headed out on the falling tide, and not a strong swimmer, head for land at or before the point where the creeks meet.

Or take the ‘no worries’ direction, pick an incoming tide, get in anywhere and try to remember to pick your head up, watching out for other people on the creek and making sure you don’t miss the takeout at the bridge. This direction is less popular so you’ll have more of the creek to yourself.

Paddling or Boating the Creeks Around Town Neck Beach

Kayakers make their way down Mill Creek in Sandwich. Photo credit: DM SMith

Kayakers make their way down Mill Creek in Sandwich. Photo credit: DM SMith

As a kayaker who loves disappearing into the tidal creeks to escape the summer hordes, I thought twice about giving up this secret, but here it is. Whether in a kayak or canoe, or on an SUP, it doesn’t take long to leave the beach crowd behind. Most paddlers wander down Mill Creek for a bit, maybe make their way down Old Harbor Creek a short distance and then head back to the beach to relax.

For a quiet paddle in a beautiful natural setting, take Pine Island Creek, the third creek off of Old Harbor Creek. This tidal waterway is often free of other people, even at the height of tourist season. Follow it all the way down to the railroad tracks and wave as the scenic train passes by but keep an eye on the tide, as you don’t want to get stuck out here once the creeks go dry. Pine Island is also the only creek with an easy take out point for a rest. You can also have a wander down Ox Pasture Creek, the second creek, but the land around it is private, restricting you to staying on the water.

Choose Your Beach Depending on the Wind

But, you say, I just want to enjoy a day at the beach. Well, that’s easy enough as long as you remember that here on the Cape wind is a fact of life. At many beaches an onshore (coming into the beach) wind can ruin the day– think sand in your face and food. On Town Neck, the problem is solved. There is a nice sandy stretch of beach on the creek side and a slightly less sandy but still wonderful beach on the Bay side. If the wind is onshore, the dunes protect the creek side. If the wind is coming off the land, head for the bay side where those same dunes create shelter from the other direction.

On very high tides, much of the inner beach disappears so pick a spot above the tide line or come as the tide is going out. On the bay side this is not a problem, instead the concern is that the low tide area is fairly rocky, thanks to the groins that protect the Cape Cod Canal, and hold the sand on the other side of the canal at Scusset Beach. So plan on settling up near the dunes on that side.

Once you’ve picked your spot spend a little time taking in the blend of sand dunes, salt marsh and open water that make this beach just a bit different from, and more softly beautiful than, most other beaches on the Cape.

Practicalities

  • There are no food concessions at this beach, but there are a number of good sandwich shops (of course) in Sandwich so stock up in town on food and drinks.
  • The only concession you will find here is Eco-Tourz kayak and stand-up paddleboard rental. If you want to try your hand at these watersports, Justin will set you up to head out on your own or take you on a tour of the creeks that will enhance your understanding of, and appreciation for, this vital part of the Cape Cod ecosystem.
  • There is a fee to park from June-Labor Day but if you arrive after 4pm for an evening on the beach, you won’t have to pay. On busy holidays and some weekends, the parking lot on the boardwalk side fills quickly but there is usually room to park in the lot nearer the beach, accessed from Tupper Road on the west side of town.
  • Sandwich is one of the oldest Cape Cod towns, so if you get tired of the beach (as if) or the weather turns cool and wet as it sometimes does here, there are plenty of historic sights including the Sandwich Glass Museum, Dexter Grist Mill, Hoxie House and more, to keep you busy until the sun reappears.

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