There are no guarantees with sunsets. A few clouds can create a rippling framework of reds and oranges above the sinking ball of fire, but too many clouds will obscure the setting sun. What you can control is where you watch a sunset. For bicyclists, Cape Cod offers several vantage points that are easy to reach and have the potential for a memorable display on the horizon at day’s end.
The best approach is to park near the sunset vista, cycle in the opposite direction and then head back to your starting point in time to catch your breath before what will be, with a little luck, a breathtaking show.
The Cape Cod Canal bike paths wander 6.5 miles on the Cape side and seven miles on the mainland side. For those who’ve driven across the two bridges (all of us, right?), the canal bike paths offer a fresh perspective. Pre-sunset you’ll pass folks fishing from the edge of the canal. The Cape side is the place to be for a sunset. Start at the Sandwich Recreation Area parking lot (near the Sandwich Marina). You’ll hit trail’s end at a point where you can watch the sun sink behind the campus of Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
The Shining Sea Bikeway covers 10.7 miles in Falmouth. It’s named in honor of Falmouth native Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote the patriotic song “America the Beautiful.” There’s plenty of parking in the lot on Depot Avenue. Head north to go by scenic Little Sippiwissett Marsh and Great Sippiwissett March, West Falmouth Harbor and Bourne Farm, and then loop back. South of the Depot Avenue lot, you’ll pass Salt Pond, Oyster Pond and the Trunk River. Critter sightings on an early summer night included an active osprey nest and a dozen rabbits nibbling on the trailside grass.
Slow down when the bike trail takes you to the beginning of the parking area for the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Look to the right and you’ll see three bright yellow posts marking the start of a walkway. Follow that up to Nobska Road, turn right and pedal a short distance to Nobska Lighhouse (when on roads, ride single file and follow other common-sense safety practices). It’s a great place to watch the sun set between the Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard, into Vineyard Sound. In between sunset and darkness, you’ll have plenty of time for the three-mile ride back to Depot Avenue.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail stretches 22 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet. The northern leg, which starts in the Cape Cod National Seashore, gets steady use on summer evenings by cyclists, roller-bladers and runners. For sunset watchers, a trip on the southern leg is a less-crowded warm-up to the evening show. Try parking in downtown Orleans; we found evening parking was easy in the lot near Orleans Cycle (on Main Street, near Route 6A) and then start pedaling southeast. Granite pillars serve as mile markers on the rail trail; one in Orleans marks the 13-mile point from South Dennis.
On the way to Hinckley Pond in Harwich (at the five-mile mark), the mostly flat trail takes you past resident’s backyards and stunning marshes. Take a moment to stop and look up; you might see a circling hawk looking for its dinner. There’s a parking area near Hinckley Pond, which serves as a good starting point for a trip toward Wellfleet that finishes with a sunset show at the pond, with the sun setting below the trees and creating photogenic reflections on the pond surface. But if you start in Orleans, you can finish by heading west on Main Street, which changes names to Rock Harbor Road. The 1.2-mile trip takes you to Rock Harbor, a spot that many regard as the best place for a sunset on the Cape. On Wednesdays during the summer, you’ll get the added bonus of a harborside performance by the Pans in Paradise steel drum band.
The Province Lands Trail undulates – up and down, left and right – with the Provincetown dunes. While it’s not as flat as the bike trails that are built on old railway beds or alongside the canal, it’s a shorter trip. The main loop from the parking area at the Province Lands Visitors Center (take Race Point Road north from Route 6) is only 5.5 miles, but it provides panoramic views of miles of dunes that have inspired Cape-tip artists for more than a century. At the far end of the loop is a spur trail that goes just over a mile to Herring Cove Beach. Here you can have the experience of being among the first people in North America to watch that night’s sunset – as the sun sinks into Cape Cod Bay.