Great Island Trail in Cape Cod

Last weekend, Mike and I experienced an incredible nature hike along Cape Cod’s scenic Great Island Trail. This gorgeous hike, filled with changing landscapes, definitely earns a spot amongst the most scenic hikes we have ever come across. The hike is long and intense (about 7 miles round trip including several uphill climbs and many sections of hard to walk through sandy trails), however, the views are incredible!

Salt marsh views on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail - Sandwich, MA

A difficult, yet scenic journey

The breathtaking views of the salt marsh, wooded forest, sand dunes, and ocean will keep you interested and motivated. The unspoiled landscapes are truly amazing. The return route along a desolate beach made us feel as if we had an island solely to ourselves, without one single person in sight. Great Island truly is an amazing hike. I will definitely make it a point to return here once again.

Walking through sand is much harder than it looks, especially while attempting to climb uphill!

Walking through the sand on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail
A sandy uphill climb on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail

The entire hike is peaceful and clean with ample bird and wildlife watching opportunities (we saw birds and hermit crabs, however, if you are lucky you may also spot some seals). The changing landscapes is especially exciting, particularly the journey through the pine forests. There isn’t an inch of the trail that is not scenic. To me, the portions of the trail with views of the sand dunes are incomparable. I have never seen such beauty! There were a handful of other people near the beginning of the trail. However, once you get about a mile or so out you will be completely alone, which gives you the opportunity to enjoy nature and solitude without any distractions.

Ripples in the water - Cape Cod's Great Island Trail
Marsh views along Cape Cod's Great Island Trail
Scenic forested secton through Cape Cod's Great Island Trail

Great Beach Hill – what a view!

The views from Beech Hill are stunning. From here, views of the sand dunes and ocean are simply spectacular. Here is a glimpse of what you will see from the hill. Pictures cannot begin to describe the beauty. You really need to experience this hike for yourself!

Great Beach Hill sign - Cape Cod's Great Island Trail
View from Great Beach Hill on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail

Hiking to Great Beach Hill

Trail markings on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail

The hike to Great Beach Hill is approximately 3 miles. To extend your hike, you can continue on another mile or so to Jeremy Point. At this point, you can either turn around and head back the direction you started, or take a peaceful, secluded walk along the beach back. Due to the isolated nature, I highly recommend the beach route as it is incredibly scenic. Make sure to plan your hike around low tide and preferably on a non-windy day. Walking several miles along the beach with extreme wind was difficult!

Amazing beach views along the trail:

Cape Cod ocean and sand dune views - Great Island Trail
Stunning ocean views on Cape Cod's Great Island Trail
Ocean views on the Cape Cod Great Island Trail
Beautiful ripples on the sand - Cape Cod

After walking on the beach for several miles (follow the footprints in the sand to guide you along) you will come across the big brown mansion that you saw in the beginning of hike. Cut across and take that path. From here, you will be approximately 1/2 mile from the parking lot.

Beautiful ocean views in Cape Cod - Wellfleet's Great Island Trail

One downside is that the trail is not marked very well. When we first arrived we had a difficult time figuring out which direction to go. After parking in the lot on Griffin Island Road (there is no exact address, however, you will see the brown Great Island trail sign), pick up a map and follow the staircase all the way down to the water. Make sure to turn right (you will see a trail marker sign). At times the trail is confusing as there are not many signs to guide you ( perhaps they haven’t been replaced?). However, if you keep on the trail, you will come across a handful of signs.

Tips for a great hike

Pick up a map at the beginning of the hike. It will help you if you get confused at any point.

Bring with plenty of water. There are no drinking fountains near the start nor along the trail. During the summer months, adequate hydration is a must! Wearing a camelbak is ideal.

Check the weather and plan for a non-windy day. Dress warm and wear wind resistant clothing if possible.

Dress in layers. We went from being overheated on the first portion of the hike to unbelievably cold during the windy second half stretch along the beach.

Check the tide times. If you do not time your hike right, you may have to complete an out-and-back hike as opposed to the full loop.

If you want to make your hike shorter and spend the rest of the day at the beach, cut through the mansion (~1/2 mile into the hike). This will lead you to the scenic beach. However, I recommend completing the entire hike to experience the beautiful natural scenery!

Check yourself for ticks after the hike. They are very common in Massachusetts!

Bring your camera! Magnificent photo opportunities exist in every direction!

Directions: Great Island Trail is located on Griffin Island Road in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Be on the lookout for the trail sign from the road!

Also check out my full guide to the best free attractions in Cape Cod