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  Hiking around Cape Cod's Lieutenant Island
Hiking around Cape Cod's Lieutenant Island

What to Bring

Hiking shoes   Backpack
Snacks   Water
Fleece (fall/winter)   Hat (summer)
Insect repellent
  Plastic bag for
waterproof jacket


From Boston:
Take route 95 South, then Route 3 South
Continue on to route 6 after the Sagamore bridge
About 4 miles after the National Seashore Visitor Center in Eastham, turn left on
Lieutenant Island Rd
Drive until you reach the wooden bridge to Lieutenant Island
Park on the sandy lot on the left in the curve before the bridge
Directions to Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Sanctuary:
On route 6 northbound, about 3 miles after the Salt Pond Visitor Center (main gateway to the National Seashore), watch for
Sanctuary sign on the left
Cross West Road to Sanctuary entrance
Park at the main lot in front of the small
visitor center
  Good to know in advance
Before scheduling your trip, check the tide at

A section of this hike is on Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary, for which there is a $5 per person access fee (free for
members); since there is no facility at
Lieutenant Island to pay the fee (and no
gate either), stop at the Sanctuary on your way in or out

No map available
No restrooms
No dogs
Stay on trail; tread carefully when walking in the wetlands area
Carry in, carry out policy

ID Card

Overall rating: Four-Star Rating Four-Star Rating Four-Star Rating Four-Star Rating Four-Star Rating
Difficulty: 2/5
  Time from Boston: 2 hours
  Duration: Full day


  Main activity:


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Away from the crowds, Lieutenant Island is an area off the beaten track, which offers a unique environment for a hike along the shore. A small hill dotted with a summer homes tucked beneath the pines, the island is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway and an old wooden bridge. During the equinox tides, the causeway barely keeps the link to the Cape, and on stormy days, the road itself is close to being flooded. The rest of the year, high tide leaves enough room around the island for a hike that is partly on the beach, partly in the saltwater wetlands connected to the nearby Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet.

This tour will add a bit of adventure to your regular hike. First, you will need to time your hike with the tide: when the water is high, one section of the beach is submerged – in fact, we have already paddled there with our kayaks at high tide… Second, there are no signs or markings, and there isn't even a path on some sections of the hike.

Like nearby Great Island and Wellfleet sanctuary this hike will take you to that strange no man's land between land and ocean: the terrain you will explore is just a few yards from the water, and you have equal chances to meet squirrels and crabs on this tour, not to mention turtle nests.

This hike is enjoyable in all seasons: in summer, the (relatively) warm water on the bay side means that you can take a dip in the ocean if you bring your swimsuit; there is no shade, however, so it is also a good idea to bring a hat. In winter, like much of the Cape, Lieutenant Island is deserted, and this walk will delight those you enjoy solitude and silence (to the point that you can actually HEAR the tiny crabs scramble away on the trail). In fall and winter, the trail can be wet, and you may want to exchange hiking shoes for rubber boots or waterproof shoes.

Here are the detailed hiking directions:
From the parking lot, walk over the bridge and continue towards Lieutenant Island
Just before reaching the island, take the sandy road to the right towards the bay
At the next intersection, continue right towards the wooden gate at the end of the road
When you reach the end of the road and see the Audubon Wildlife Refuge signs, take the narrow path over the dunes on the left to reach the beach
Turn left on the beach and continue past the tip of the island
The dunes disappear and the shore becomes steeper; continue past the breakwater rocks - this area is entirely submerged at high tide
Continue until the dunes reappear and look for an opening in the dunes with a narrow path
Take the path and walk down to the sandy road behind the dunes
Turn left on the road and walk along the gate past a few houses until you reach the other side of the wetlands
Leave the road before it climbs up towards a home on the small hill, and turn right over the wetlands to reach the high tide mark along the edge of the wetlands; from this point, there is no clear trail until you round the island, but the mark is easy to follow
This is a fragile area, so tread carefully and walk over the flotsam, driftwood and algae pushed up by the tide, rather than on the wetland grass
Continue along the wetland edge until a narrow trail reappears near a white house on your left (wooden support wall)
Take the trail and turn slightly left; after a last curve, the bridge reappears in the distance
Continue past the wooden gate with the Audubon Sanctuary signs, and take the sandy road along the houses to reach the causeway
Turn right on the causeway to return to your car
With a few stops along the way, allow about 3 hours for the tour.

Including the time to drive from and to Boston, this hike should give you a solid day out near the ocean. If you are really fast and have time for another hike, go back to your car and visit the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary right next door for another great hike in the Wellfleet Sanctuary. You can also head just a few miles north and hike to Great Island.

Finally , if you want to further explore this preserved area over a full weekend or an entire week, the Mass Audubon Society operates a small and secluded campground in the Sanctuary, which may very well be the best address on the Cape for nature and outdoors lovers.

(Picture: High tide at the causeway to Lieutenant Island)

Paddling Biking Mountaineering