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Monday, June 20, 2011

Bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail

The small strip of pavement forms a straight line into the horizon like an express route to freedom. Astride my bike, I zip over bridges and through tunnels, past large ponds, salt marshes and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of spring wildflowers and the far more potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the red-winged blackbird and the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before me are runners, clumsy rollerbladers and other leisurely bikers. In the Cape Cod town of Orleans, I hop off my bike for a few minutes and take that quintessential New England snapshot of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Soon after, I’m in the shade of Nickerson State Park, pedaling straight through Brewster to a series of swimming holes that reward bikers with a refreshing dip.

Such is a ride on the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail on a corridor that, until 1937, was used to ship cranberries the Cape to Boston aboard the Old Colony Railroad. Today, the relatively level rail trail is a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast for biking, hiking, strolling, jogging and in-line skating.

Like so many of these paths proliferating across the US—from the 225-mile Katy Trail that stretches across most of Missouri to the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that snakes through the heart of Chicago’s suburbs—the Cape Cod Rail Trail was for many decades an abandoned railroad line. Far away from maddening congestion on city streets and the noise of rural highways, rail trails are beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and a focal point of renewal across the country. From 1965 to 1985, only 1,000 miles of trail were opened. Today, there are currently more than 15,000 miles of rail trails open across the country.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail takes you through the interior of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet, or vice-versa. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors’ center in Eastham, you can veer off the CCRT for two miles on a separate trail to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster to cool off in a series of kettle ponds (swimming holes). Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/11 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, June 17, 2011

How Sweet It Is

I’m a creature of habit and if it happens to be a nice day this Sunday, all I want to do for Father’s Day is hit Cranes Beach in Cape Ann, pick my own strawberries just down the road, and grab a lobster roll and steamers at Woodman’s. The New England strawberries are especially ripe around Father’s Day. This year, they’ll taste even sweeter knowing that the Boston Bruins just won their first championship in 39 years! Most likely, I’m celebrating at the parade as you read this. To all my friends in BC, I feel your pain. It was only last year when the Bruins were up 3 games to nothing and had a 3 goal lead on the Philadelphia Flyers and then lost the series. So remember, there’s always next year and the Canucks certainly have the talent to pull it off. Thank you Tim Thomas and to everyone, have a great weekend!


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/17/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Harvard Museum of Natural History Unveils Permanent Exhibition on New England Forests

While we’re on the subject of trees, the Harvard Museum of Natural History just opened the new Zofnass Family Gallery with its inaugural exhibition, New England Forests. This permanent multi-media display explores the wildlife and ecology of the New England forest. The exhibition will teach people about the trees, lichens, and animals right outside our doors while enjoying a forest walk with air conditioning and without mosquitoes. To further their educational goal, the museum will host a companion lecture series this fall.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/16/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New App that Identifies Trees Makes Its Debut

Researching my first book, Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England, I would do my best to correctly identify the type of tree I was starting at. Soon after the book was published, however, I received letters from budding arborists telling me those trees on so-and-so trail in Vermont were white oaks, not red oaks. How I wish I had a new app unveiled last month that identifies all the trees in the northeast and soon all of America. Called Leafsnap, the app was developed by scientists at Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution and is currently available for free on iPhone and iPad. Simply take a picture of a leaf and within seconds a likely species appears with photographs of the tree and information on the tree’s flowers, seeds, and bark. Now I want the Audubon Society to create an app that identifies birds from the sound of its call.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/15/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Try Geocaching

Geocachers savor the opportunity to get lost in the woods, but never get too disoriented because they always carry a Garmin GPS system that will direct them to the exact spot they need to find. The sport is a modern-day treasure hunt where you locate objects in a film canister, coffee can, or other containers hidden by geocachers. After carefully camouflaging the prize under a tree or squeezed into a rock, the person hiding the cache sends the coordinates to the website,, and folks start their search. The sport originated outside of Portland, Oregon, in 2000 when a man posted that first cache on a website, but it has its roots in orienteering and letterboxing. For families, geocaching is a great way to go on a hike and find treasure. Inside every cache is some sort of trinket, from a marble to a toy car to a sticker. The best part about the sport is not merely checking off another cache, but finding sites that no guide book has ever described, spots locals have cherished for decades and are now happy to introduce to strangers. They include hidden waterfalls, caves with hieroglyphics, and lonely mountain peaks with no other people.

I’m off researching a story on beaches in New England. I’ll be back next Wednesday. Have a great weekend and keep active!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/09/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Swing Like Tarzan at the Catamount Aerial Adventure Park in Massachusetts

Two summers ago, Catamount Ski Area in South Egremont, Massachusetts opened the largest aerial adventure park in New England. This obstacle course in the trees features more than 150 different platforms and the chance to grab a trapeze swing and glide across a bridge or snag a rope swing a la Tarzan and fly into a web-like mesh. While the sport has been popular in Europe for decades, aerial adventure parks didn’t come to America until the Adirondack Extreme park was unveiled in upstate New York in 2007. Catamount is based on the Swiss design where you finish one course and return to the same starting platform to try another. Adirondack Extreme is based on the French design, with each course steadily becoming more challenging until you reach the end. After spending an afternoon at Catamount having a blast at this treetop playground, I have a feeling these aerial adventure parks will be popping up across the country like golf courses.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/08/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, June 06, 2011

Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Oregon’s Deschutes River

Back in the 60s, surfing instructors in Waikiki Beach used to give mainlanders a taste of their sport by placing them on longboards and handing them paddles to help with their balance. It was more of a gimmick, used as a ruse to take photographs. Then surfing giant Laird Hamilton picked up a paddle to help him master the monster waves, and voila, welcome to stand-up paddleboarding or SUP. Balancing is easier on the longboards, which average 12 feet in length compared to the standard 8 ½-foot surfboard. SUP has evolved quickly, crossing the ocean and landing in flatwater environs like rivers and lakes that are normally reserved for canoes and kayaks. Along with aerial adventure parks and kitesurfing, SUP is one of the many recent sports to finds its way into Oregon. One of the best places to sample stand-up paddleboarding is on the Deschutes River. Sun Country Outfitters in Bend offer 2-hour lessons and rentals.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/06/11 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, June 03, 2011

The Best Beach on Cape Cod

I like to arrive at Longnook Beach in Truro in the early morning when the fog still casts a hazy glaze over the water. I walk down the sand path to the soft white beach, joined by surfers and dog walkers. Then I take my first glance back at the towering tan and red-colored dunes, realizing instantly why JFK wanted this landscape to be preserved as a National Seashore. Looking to the left as the beach curves toward Provincetown, the dunes meld with sand, sea, and sky, as if the land is going to plummet into the water. Listen to the waves, watch the surfers glide atop the ocean, walk the beach to find an errant lobster trap run ashore, and savor the scene before families start to pour in around 11 am.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/03/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Best Beach Walk on Cape Cod

Cape Cod National Seashore’s longest trail, the 7-mile round-trip Great Island Trail, is worthy of being designated a hike, not a walk. This 3-hour plus trail through marsh, woods, and soft sand is a strenuous thigh-burner. The trail follows the circumference of Great Island, a former whaling port and now one of the most secluded areas on Cape Cod. For the serious walker who yearns to get away from the summer crowds, this path should not be missed. Simply bring several bottles of water, a hat, sunscreen, and a picnic lunch and you’re on your way.

Stroll down the short hill from the parking lot and take a right, continuing around the marsh the entire distance. At the fork, take a left toward Smith Tavern. Just prior to reaching the easternmost tip of the island where people often fish for stripers and blues, you’ll see another sign directing you over the dunes through the woods. The trail winds through the pine forest to the site of an original whaling tavern. Continue out of the woods to a marsh where sand dunes tower on your right and Wellfleet Harbor can be seen to your left. This soft sandy path leads to Great Beach Hill. Five minutes later, you'll reach another marsh and a sand spit known as Jeremy Flats. At low tide, you can walk out to the tip, but I'd save your energy. You have a 2.2 mile walk down the beach of Cape Cod Bay to reach The Gut. I have rarely seen another person on this desolate strip of sand, just large scallop shells and tiny fiddle crabs, funny-looking critters that have one oversized claw bigger than their entire body. If you start to feel like Lawrence of Arabia lost in the desert, look out at 10 o’clock and you’ll see Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument, the lone sign of civilization. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/02/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Best Swimming Hole on Cape Cod

Last summer, I wrote a story for The Boston Globe on my ten favorite swimming holes on Cape Cod and never received so much mail. Hate mail, that is, from locals who were irate that I would divulge their favorite pond. Considering there are more than 300 ponds on the Cape, almost one swimming hole per day of the year, I was shocked that locals had such a devout loyalty to one particular locale. There are more than a dozen freshwater swimming holes on the Cape that I would happily take a dip, with much warmer waters than the nearby ocean. In Wellfleet, three ponds are connected by narrow water passages cut through the land called sluiceways. These were supposedly created by Native Americans to catch herring during their seasonal run. Rent canoes at Jack’s Boat Rental on Gull Pond and continue onward into Higgins and serene Williams Pond. This is the place where Henry David Thoreau met a Wellfleet oysterman he would write about in his book, Cape Cod. It’s also where architect and furniture designer Marcel Breur built his house on the shores, camouflaged by the trees. One swim here and you’ll return often, much to the dismay of locals.

Directions: Take Route 6 into Wellfleet and turn right onto Gross Hill Road. A sharp left onto Gull Pond Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road will lead you to the parking lot.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/01/11 at 01:00 PM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

Adventure Travel Trade Association