Once I was out walking around the salt marsh, heath, and ponds of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, surrounded by the happiest birds on Cape Cod and some of the most profound beauty I’ve ever seen, it seemed impossible to me that I’d spent a lifetime on the Cape without ever coming here, but somehow (dumbly) I managed. But now that I’ve been here once, it will be difficult to keep me away from this incredible place. The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, located off Route 6 in Wellfleet (close to the Wellfleet Drive-in) and part of Mass Audubon, a Massachusetts organization that fights for wildlife and habitat protection, is a hands down, must-visit destination on Cape Cod.
I was clearly the only one on the Cape who wasn’t hip to the treasure that is this Wildlife Sanctuary because, on the morning I visited, it was hard to find a parking spot in their rather ample lot. But though it was busy with both young and old, my time there never felt crowded or rushed. After all, with 1,100 acres of earth to delicately tromp around on, there was plenty of room for us all.
The Wildlife Sanctuary has four distinct, well-maintained trails that each take you through a variety of different landscapes – from pine woods to freshwater ponds to beach to salt marsh. All the trails begin at the Sanctuary’s Nature Center, which is a green building that uses solar heating, has composting toilets and graywater planter beds. The Center also has an exhibit that is a fantastic introduction to the natural wonders of Cape Cod. There are two large fish tanks – one that is salt water and one that is fresh water – which allow you to see fish, crabs, and other shy creatures up close. I gawked at their collection of animal skeletons and taxidermic birds. The Humpback whale vertebrae and 6 foot long jawbone were my two favorites because of their mind-blowing size and pristine, bleached beauty. They also have a great collection of hands-on stuff for kids. Your little ones can manhandle a tortoise shell, a starfish, the remnants of horseshoe crabs of days long past, and other wonders of nature that they usually aren’t allowed to touch.
Because I was a first-timer at the Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the lovely volunteers recommended the Goose Pond Trail – their most popular walk. The walk takes you through their flower garden, into the woods, out onto a boardwalk that extends to the beach, then on through a salt marsh where crabs scurry into holes in the sand right beneath your feet, then through glorious expanses of multi-colored heath. The walk was divine. And let me tell you about the birds! There were tons of them – the sky was ringing with their calls. If I was a bird, this is where I’d be, so this place is definitely a great place for birders. I saw many of those quietly serious birders carrying tripods and cameras with lenses as long as my arm. Birders are not a noisy or effusive bunch, but I could still tell that they were having fun.
But the thing I was excited about was how kid-friendly the sanctuary is. I ran into a group of children out on a guided tour – each armed with a net and a pail. They were outside exploring the natural world and all of them seemed utterly enthralled. I thought it was one of the coolest things a kid could do on the Cape. And there are great programs offered for adults – such as sunset canoeing, kayaking, marsh cruises, a “birding for beginners” tour, and other delightful ways to explore the sanctuary.
The trails are open every day from 8 am to dusk. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids. Be sure to check out what programs they are offering when you visit, some require registration. Oh, and no pets! We love our dogs, but the birds don’t, so leave them at home.