Ask any New Englander when the best time of year is to visit Cape Cod and they’ll tell you it’s the fall. Cape Cod in September and October is glorious. The weather is lovely, the crowds have gone, and with the crowds, the traffic. If you’re thinking of a trip to New England to enjoy the fall foliage, here are (at least!) 21 reasons why you should visit Cape Cod in the fall.
Cape Cod is about 70 miles from Boston, 2-3 hours’ drive in the summer, but half that time in the fall if you’ve timed your trip right. Once on the Cape you’ve got 65 miles to explore before you reach the sand dunes in Provincetown. Along this scenic route you’ll pass through historic towns, charming villages, and lots of beach resorts.
Why visit Cape Cod in September or October?
Weather -The heat of summer has passed but you can expect sunny days and cool nights. (Cape Cod weather is changeable, so make sure to check weather conditions if you’re planning a trip.)
In September the average temperature is 72°F during the day and can drop into the 50s at night. (Pack a sweatshirt or light jacket!) In October the average temperature is lower, but if you’re lucky you might catch a ‘second summer’ – an unexpected week of warm weather after the fall equinox. If you’re on the Cape for these days, head to the beach, ride your bikes, or just sneak in a bit of summertime fun before the cooler weather settles in.
Prices – With most kids back in school this is shoulder season on the Cape. Room rates are usually lower than in the summer, and weekend deals may be available.
Traffic – Cape traffic can be challenging in the summer. There are only two bridges over the Cape Cod canal, and this can create a bottleneck for traffic. Then once you’ve turned the ‘elbow’ of Cape Cod, there’s only one main highway – route 6 – that extends along the outer cape to Provincetown. But in the fall these roads clear and you can get to your destination without traffic delays.
Average Water temperature – Cape Cod has beautiful beaches on all sides. Each waterfront has its advantages.
The eastern coast of the outer Cape faces the chilly Atlantic Ocean with its large waves.
The ‘arm’ of the Cape encloses Cape Cod Bay. This side of the Cape, with warmer water than the Atlantic, is ideal for families with young children. There are few waves, and the bay beaches are shallow for quite a long way out.
The western coast of Cape Cod faces Buzzard’s Bay and is almost always the warmest water for swimming. But all waters warm during the summer months, so in September you can still enjoy a swim.
What to do on Cape Cod in the fall
Heritage Museums and Gardens – These grounds are wonderful to walk, especially when the leaves begin to turn in autumn. Check the calendar for September and October events. There’s always something special for young and old to enjoy. We’ll definitely be attending the Art in Bloom show.
Walk or Bike Cape Cod Rail Trail. 25 miles of paved trails! This is one of the most popular rail trails in New England. Local cyclists save this bike ride for the autumn months when the Cape traffic has slowed and there are fewer crowds. (see #3)
Cranberry Bog Tours – the largest organic cranberry farm on Cape Cod is in Harwich and offers bog tours. Call ahead to learn when they expect to harvest. It’s a extraordinary sight!
Go on a nature walk at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary. On the Cape there are six sanctuaries managed by Mass Audubon. My favorites:
- Ashumet Holly in Falmouth – 65 varieties of holly trees!
- Long Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable (and its neighbor, Barnstable Great Marsh which features the Sandy Neck salt marsh and barrier beach.)
- Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and its 5 miles of trails.
Or explore a national wildlife refuge. Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge in Mashpee and the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham are both gorgeous areas to walk on a crisp fall day.
Go Whale Watching – whaling trips continue in the waters of Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. Boats leave from Provincetown and Hyannis. (Plymouth’s whale watch excursions are also running if that’s more convenient for you)
Go wine tasting. Did you know that Cape Cod had vineyards? Well, it does. There are a few tasting rooms to visit, but I recommend the Truro Vineyards where you can walk the vineyards as well as enjoy a tasting. In the off season, tastings are held Saturday and Sunday, or a private tasting can be scheduled for your group. Check their website for more information.
Bike the Shining Sea trail to Woods Hole. This is our favorite Cape Cod ride. It’s 10.7 miles wind through charming small towns, past salt marshes and picturesque coves. We recommend parking at the Falmouth end, riding to Woods Hole where you can enjoy a waterfront lunch before the return trip.
Take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Just 35 minutes from Falmouth to the Vineyard on the Island Queen ferry. Bring your bikes to explore the island or just enjoy a few hours in town.
Go apple and pumpkin picking. A perennial favorite Autumn activity! There are some great family friendly farms on the Cape:
- Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth has a farm (and baked goods!) stand, and, seasonally, offers pick-your-own apples and other fresh local produce as part of a CSA program.
- In Sandwich, just over the Canal, is Crow Farm. You can combine this with a visit to Heritage Gardens (#5 above) or a walk on the canal.
Walk the trails to Coast Guard beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Before your walk learn a bit about the ecology and rich history of the area at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, 50 Nauset Road, Eastham. This is Thoreau’s “great outer beach’ and the site where Henry Beston’s Outermost House stood before it was lost to storm in 1978. (If you haven’t read Beston’s nature classic, I HIGHLY recommend it. I’ve read and re-read it several times and leave it in our guest room for visitors to enjoy.)
Visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. Hyannis has been the summer home for the Kennedy family for generations. The museum is small but very interesting to explore. And it’s right on Main Street where you can grab lunch and enjoy a bit of shopping.
Get ice cream – I won’t play favorites but will let you discover Cape Cod’s best ice cream on your own!
Discover art, history and more at a museums on the Cape Cod Museum Trail.
Visit historic lighthouses. Cape Cod has some of the most photographed lighthouses in New England. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Highland Light in Truro, the Race Point Lighthouse in Provincetown, and Nauset Light in Eastham. If you’re a lighthouse enthusiast check out the website capecodlighthouses for a map with descriptions of some of the best on the Cape.
Golf on one of the picturesque courses of Cape Cod. The weather in fall is ideal for an afternoon round. If you’re traveling with the family, you’ll find lots of themed miniature golf courses along route 6.
Have a meal in historic Sandwich. There’s afternoon tea at the Dunbar Tea house, traditional New England food at the Daniel Webster Inn, or innovative dining at the Belfry Inne’s Bistro, a beautifully restored church.
Enjoy a day sail from Provincetown or Falmouth. September is a lovely time to be out on the water. Most day sails will end by the end of the month so check the weather forecast and plan ahead if you’re interested.
Cape Cod Melody Tent runs shows through mid-September. This a favorite live music venue for us.
Check the calendar for ongoing events at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster. There’s lots for the kids to enjoy, but also classes on jam making, etc. for adults.
Not a salt water fan? Cape Cod has 365 lakes and kettle ponds to enjoy. Swim, kayak, or fish, there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast.
Fun Fact: Is Cape Cod an island or a peninsula?
Cape Cod was originally a peninsula off the southeastern corner of Massachusetts. The construction of the Cape Cod canal in 1916 eliminated any land bridge to the Cape, so it is now technically an island.
Festivals on the Cape in the fall (2022)
September 9-11: The first weekend after Labor Day Eastham celebrates Windmill Weekend . There’s a parade, a car show, a tricycle race, and a lot more fun for the whole family. The event is held on the Windmill Green in Eastham (on Rt. 6).
September 10: Cape Cod Wildlife Collaborative Festival at Massachusetts Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, 345 Bone Hill Rd, Cummaquid
September 22-25: Provincetown’s Annual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival celebrates the works of the playwright and the plays he has inspired. This years’ festival will be All-Williams, the first time since 2006 that the program will only feature plays by Tennessee Williams.
September 24: Cape Cod Brew Fest at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in East Falmouth.
October 1: Oktoberfest is celebrated in Mashpee and at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis.
And for the runners, October 1 is the first day of the Mayflower Wind Cape Cod Marathon weekend, beginning in Falmouth.
October 8-10: Yarmouth Seaside Festival. There’s a road race, a kayak and canoe race, craft festival, sand castle contest, and lots of children’s activities. Joshua Sears Memorial Field, 1175 Route 28 & Wood Road, South Yarmouth
October 22: The Sandwich Pumpkin Fest, an outdoor event featuring glass pumpkins and other works of glass art. This event is put on by the Sandwich Glass Museum, 129 Main St. Sandwich.
The Cape Cod Harvest Festival, usually held on the Fairgrounds, has been cancelled for 2022. If you’re coming to Cape Cod in 2023, make sure to attend this great family event.
Visiting Cape Cod in the winter
There are still many things to do on the Cape in the winter months. Even during these coldest months, there will be warm days when you can walk the national seashore beaches and enjoy a completely different landscape than you’d find in the summer. But a few special events are of particular interests in December:
- Christmas strolls – Several towns on the Cape, Centerville, Hyannis, and Yarmouth Port, celebrate the season with a holiday stroll. Our favorite, the Christmas by the Sea Stroll in Chatham is lots of fun!
- Take the kids on the Polar Express train ride on Cape Cod Central Railroad leaving from Buzzard’s Bay.
- Gardens Aglow at the Heritage Museums – enjoy illuminated gardens, hot chocolate, and s’mores around the fire.
- New Year’s is celebrated with First Night in Chatham and First Light in Provincetown.