Provincetown is the flamboyant little town that sits on the extreme northern tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A small coastal resort town with a year-round population of some 3000 residents, Provincetown can grow to 60,000 people with tourists and seasonal residents over the summer months.
Provincetown is forever preserved in our colonial history as the site of the Mayflower’s landing in 1620, commemorated by the towering Pilgrim Monument and neighboring Provincetown Museum.
P-town, as it’s often called, is known for its beaches, harbor, artists, tourist industry, and its status as a friendly destination for the LGBTQ community. It also boasts photogenic scenes such as Race Point Lighthouse.
RACE POINT LIGHT
Race Point gets its name from the powerful crosscurrent, called a “race”, which makes the tip of Cape Cod very dangerous. Sailors have long known this place as a site of death and destruction. To reduce the seafaring hazards, a lighthouse was built on the point in 1816, becoming the third lighthouse on Cape Cod.
Although Race Point Light sits within the boundaries of Provincetown, it remains isolated across a few miles of marches, dunes, and beaches. So, if solitude is what you have in mind, this is a great place to come. Both the Keeper’s House and the Whistle House can be rented for overnight stays, with revenue going toward maintenance and the American Lighthouse Foundation (who manages the property).
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
Race Point Light is best photographed at sunrise or sunset, although I prefer sunset from the east side of the structures, especially when rewarded with a colorful sky over the Atlantic Ocean. In spring and summer, there are beach roses near the lighthouse tower that you can incorporate in the foreground.
Race Point Light is photogenic at any time of the year, including in autumn when marsh grasses turn golden, and in winter after fresh snowfall.
Getting to Race Point Light requires a bit of exertion. It would be a 4-mile round-trip over sand from Race Point Beach to the lighthouse. However, you can reduce your effort to a 3-mile round-trip (30-minutes of easy to moderate hiking each way) if you approach the lighthouse from Hatches Harbor.
You can also get there over sand in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a National Parks Service Oversand Permit. Permits can be obtained from the Off-Road Permit Station at Race Point Beach.
To reach Hatches Harbor from US 6 in Provincetown, turn north at the traffic light onto Race Point Road. Drive past the visitor center on your right and then turn left onto Province Lands Road. Pass the first parking lot on your right and continue until you see the entrance to another small parking area on your right. This is the trailhead to Hatches Harbor and the quickest and easiest way to reach the lighthouse.
After following the trail through pine trees, you’ll see Hatches Harbor on your left, the salt marsh on your right, and the lighthouse in the distance. Continue walking over the causeway and dunes until you reach the tidal creek. At low tide, you’ll be able to walk easily across the creek, but at high tide, you’ll need to head upstream to find a place to cross. Once across the creek, head for the dunes and lighthouse to your left.
Due to the remote location of the lighthouse, hiking over Hatches Harbor is often a solitary affair absent of visitors. So, it’s always a good idea to bring a friend for both company and safety.
Since the hike involves crossing a tidal creek, I always wear waterproof boots. It allows me to wade across the creek without getting my feet wet and avoids the need to find a dry place to cross upstream. I generally avoid the hike at high tide because of the extra time and effort involved, especially if returning in the darkness of dusk. Be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight to find your way at dawn or dusk.
Be aware that the salt marsh at Hatches Harbor is open for duck hunting in autumn, so be sure to check the Massachusetts Migratory Game Bird Regulations site to avoid visiting during hunting season.
Duck hunters are most active in the early morning hours, when you should avoid the area. I once had the unfortunate experience of venturing out at dawn in late October — something I regretted. There was no sign of hunters as I hiked out, but when I returned after sunrise, the air was filled with shotgun noises. And since there’s only one trail across the marsh, I had no choice but to loudly announce my presence as I traversed the hunting grounds. All gunfire temporarily ceased, but no doubt at the annoyance of the hunters I interrupted.
Race Point Light remains one of my favorite lighthouses on Cape Cod. I find the hike through Hatches Harbor both relaxing and easy. Enjoy the trek and be safe!