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Trip Tips: Spring Kayaking on Cape Cod

Posted by on March 12, 2013

There’s no doubt in my mind that the spring is the best time of the year to go paddling on Cape Cod. There are many reasons for this but mostly because it’s quiet on the Cape in the spring. The summer tourists and beach-goers have yet to descend on this vacation hot-spot thus leaving the roads and waterways clear for the paddlers’ enjoyment. Furthermore, the lodging rates are lower, campsites are available, and certain predatory fish are a little less active this time of year! If all of these perks don’t make you want to throw your kayak on your car and head to Cape Cod this spring then maybe these amazing trip ideas will change your mind…


Spend a Weekend on Washburn Island

I’ll tell yah, if you’re looking for a taste of Gilligan’s Island without having to fly all the way to the Caribbean then paddle out to Washburn Island, pitch a tent, and spend a weekend there this spring!

"Cast away" spring camping on Washburn Island

“Cast away” spring camping on Washburn Island

Washburn Island is a small, uninhabited island located on the southwest side of Wacoit Bay in Falmouth, MA and a quick 3 mile paddle from the Childs River boat launch. The island boasts primitive campsites on its eastern shores that are rarely occupied in the off season. Please note that they must be booked well in advance of the official camping season (May-September) on Reserve if you plan on staying in the summer months. You can spend the day paddling on Wacoit Bay, kicking back on a sandy beach, or exploring the interior of the island on one of a handful of hiking trails!

I’ve kayak-camped on Washburn Island at least a dozen times over the years but my most memorable experience was in the Spring of 2011 with the MIT Outing Club (Click Here for the Trip Report)! The official camping season was just around the corner so Rick and I decided to roll the dice and take a group out to Washburn for a relaxing weekend before the vacationers descended on The Cape. When we landed on Washburn Island we found it (and Wacoit Bay) to be completely deserted. Our group enjoyed the weekend like a band of castaways with some quiet paddling, a private sunset, and a wonderful campfire. It was unbelievable!


Explore the Monomoy Islands

The Monomoy Islands offer a classic Cape Cod paddling experience suitable for an athletic paddler of intermediate skill. The Monomoys are part of an 8-mile long sand spit that extends southwest from Chatham toward Nantucket. Various storms have sculpted the Monomoys into their present configuration of Morris, North Monomoy, and South Monomoy Islands. Recently, the Blizzard of 2013 created a new cut thus making South Monomoy and Island once again! This should make for some very nice kayaking opportunities in the Chatham area this spring!

Monomoy Island Map

These islands are assessable from various launch points in Chatham but I like to use the launch at the end of Vineyard Ave. This launch provides a relaxing start to the paddle along the Oyster Pond River and past Stage Harbor Light before the 1/2 –mile crossing to North Monomoy Island. It also offers the opportunity to explore Stage Harbor should conditions on the Sound turn out to be beyond your comfort level. The waters surrounding the Monomoys are notorious for their turbulent and quick-changing contitions so be sure to check the forecast and be sure to turn back before the conditions exceed your comfort level. Also, expect cold water temperatures and dress for immersion if you take  a trip out to the Monomoy Islands this spring!

There are plenty of reasons why a paddling trip to the Monomoy Islands should be at the top of your list this spring. For starters, these remote islands have a history as dynamic as their shifting sands. A fishing settlement called Whitewash Village (near Powder Hole) was home to over 200 ranchers and fishermen at the peak of Monomoy’s habitation but was abandoned in 1860 when its harbor was filled in with sand by a hurricane. Now the only sign of habitation is Monomoy Point Light on the desolate southern tip of South Monomoy Island. The light station served to guide ships away from the dangerous rips and shoals from 1828 to 1923 when it was decommissioned. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History offered guided tours and primitive overnight stays at the lighthouse in the past but these activities have since been discontinued (Major Bummer!!).

Monomoy Point Lighthouse remains a monument to our nautical yesteryear

Monomoy Point Lighthouse remains a monument to our nautical yesteryear

If you’re a nature buff looking to get away from the crowds then the Monomoy Islands are for you! Presently, the islands are home to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge; a birdwatchers mecca that serves as a nesting ground and important stopping point for over 300 species of migratory birds. Be sure to check the Fish and Wildlife Service website for closed area maps before landing on these islands or venturing into their interior so that you don’t interfere with nesting. Gray seals have also become a common sight in the area and have established one of New England’s largest breeding colonies on South Monomoy Island. Seal watching from your kayak can be an amazing experience but please adhere to these important Guidelines for Kayaking with Seals to keep things safe and legal for you and the seals!

Gray seals hauled out on the beaches of Monomoy

Gray seals hauled out on the beaches of Monomoy

Important Note: There has been a stark increase in the number of Great White Shark sightings (and encounters) in these waters in recent years due to an abundant food supply served up by the flourishing grey seal colonies. Great White Sharks rarely target kayaks but there are plenty of stories of mistaken identity. Spring is the best time to paddle to and around the Monomoys if you want to avoid sharks.

Other Options: Beginner paddlers or others who are unsure about venturing onto choppy waters can still enjoy a trip to the Monomoys. Consider taking a naturalist-guided seal cruise or a tour to Monomoy Light with Captain Keith of the Monomoy Island Ferry!


Whale Watch from the Beaches of Provincetown

The word on the street is that whales can be spotted from the beaches of Provincetown, MA for few a few weeks in mid-April. I’ve recently verified “the word” with a couple of local paddlers and booked a weekend at a Provincetown B&B to check things out for myself!

Whales can be spotted from the beaches of Provincetown in the spring.

Whales can be spotted from the beaches of Provincetown in the spring.

The southern tip of Stellwagen Bank is located a mere 5 miles north of Provicetown. This underwater plateau serves as a summer feeding ground to pods of Humpback Whales and Right Whales and is herald as one of the top 10 whale watching venues in the country. The whales pass very close by Provincetown when they return in the Spring; so close that you can see their spouts from the beach. Plop your kayak in the water at the West End Boat Launch on Commercial Street, paddle out and around Wood End, and head toward Race Point to get an “up close” view of whales. I would suggest staying very close to shore to avoid a surprise encounter and advise against approaching within 200 yards of a spouting whale in your kayak. Binoculars and telephoto lenses will give you that “close and personal feel” without compromising your safety!

I promise that a trip to Provincetown will not disappoint even if the whales decide not to make an appearance for you. Alternative ideas include taking a relaxing paddle on Provincetown Harbor, a walk along the deserted beaches of Race Point, exploring the eclectic shops and cafes that line Commercial Street, or taking in a history lesson at the Pilgrim Monument and Museum. There’s something for everyone in Provincetown even in the off-season!


Happy Paddling and I hope to see you on The Cape this spring!

-Kayak Dave


PS… Be sure to check out the excellent guide book “Paddling Cape Cod” by Shirley and Fred Bull to further inspire your next paddling trip to Cape Cod!

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