At Sandy Neck Beach and Salt Marsh (on the Sandwich–Barnstable town lines), your footsteps mingle with those of horses, deer, birds, toads, crabs, turtles…and if you veer onto an off-road vehicle trail, add in some Jeep tracks. With 4,700 acres of dunes, forests, and marshes, and a 6-mile-long barrier beach, there’s room for everyone on this serene, sandy stretch. A sentinel dune at the end of Sandy Neck blocks much of the wind and currents.
A private cottage community dots the eastern end, with values outstripping the original purchase price of three axes and four coats for the entire neck. Settlers harvested salt-marsh hay, hunted, fished, and boiled whale oil here. Now restrooms, a snack bar, and changing rooms serve modern-day explorers.
If you plan on Jeeping it, you will need a permit, which requires that your vehicle pass inspection at the gatehouse, and contain a spare tire, jack, jack pad, shovel, tire gauge, and tow line.
Leave the rest of the world behind when walking the Sandy Neck Great Salt Marsh Conservation Area, with a trailhead from the parking lot near the beach gatehouse.
It’s the East Coast’s largest salt marsh, with extensive trails that can take hold of your entire day. Head out on the 12-mile loop and you’ll move through piney woodlands, tidal creeks, blueberry scrub, and dunes that rise to 100 feet.
Much of the trail traverses soft sand, so it can be arduous if you’re going the distance, but you will be richly rewarded with fabulous views from the barrier beach if you do. In June, be extra
vigilant about dodging piping plover eggs lying in hard-to-spot nests in the sand.
To really get away, hike 3.1 miles to one of 4 primitive campsites, open May to mid-Oct.