“School bus!’’ “Twee!’’ “Twee!’’ The tiny tot in the bicycle carrier was happily pointing out everything she saw along the way as her dad pedaled the Shining Sea Bikeway on a recent Sunday. Baby girl was onto something. This 10.7-mile bike path, running north and south between Woods Hole and North Falmouth, offers a snapshot of some of the Commonwealth’s loveliest natural features: ponds, cedar swamps, salt marshes, wooded uplands, even a cranberry bog. Nearly one-quarter of the path passes through conservation areas. It’s dog-friendly. And this is the only bike path on Cape Cod that runs along the seashore. Fittingly, there’s a monument to Katharine Lee Bates, writer of “America the Beautiful,’’ a Falmouth native.
We recently toured the path, and liked it so much we went back the following weekend to do it again. “I think my favorite day on the Cape this summer actually took place in September,’’ said Paul Kelley of Marstons Mills, enjoying a sunny fall day on the bikeway. We’ve pedaled dozens of bike paths, all over the country, and the Shining Sea Bikeway is at the top of the list, thanks to its sheer variety. Awash in autumn’s golden splendor, the trail is at peak loveliness right now. Cape’s summertime hordes have decamped, so the trail is less crowded with cyclists and walkers, and the landscape is a patchwork of heathery hues punctuated by the “bluetiful’ (new Crayola crayon color) Atlantic. Here are some highlights along the way. (We traveled northbound on the trail from Woods Hole to North Falmouth; if you are heading the other way, reverse it.)
The scenery unfurls immediately, as the bike path weaves through greenery (with peeks of water) to a gorgeous stretch of Surf Drive Beach. Look across Vineyard Sound for views of Martha’s Vineyard. On the beach, there’s a series of cairns (stacked rocks), constructed by beach-goers. On the other side of the trail are wetlands and oyster ponds.
Nearby, you’ll see a stone monument in honor of Katharine Lee Bates (at mile 2 if you’re heading north; mile 8.7 if you’re southbound); take a moment to sing “America the Beautiful’’ if only in your head, in honor of Bates, who composed the words as a poem, published in 1895. She received $5 for it. Her words were joined by the music of Samuel A. Ward, a church organist, a few years later.
Heading north, you’ll bypass Oyster Pond and Salt Pond, surrounded by 40 acres of conservation land. Just a half-mile up is Locust Street, one of the trail’s parking areas (and the original northern end of the bikeway when it was launched in 1975). Need a restroom break? Stop here, or head north to Depot Avenue, where there’s another large parking lot alongside the bike path. Feel like exploring Falmouth center? At Depot Avenue, cross Route 28 to pedal into town.
Keep pedaling, and you’ll cross the 50-foot-high glacial moraine that separates the Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound watersheds. And then come a couple of beauty spots as the trail winds closer to Buzzards Bay: Little Sippewissett Marsh and, about a mile to the north, Great Sippewissett Marsh. Pull over and take in the sweeping views of marshland, dotted with egrets and Great Blue herons. Great Sippewissett Marsh is an important bay ecosystem with 140 acres of protected habitat. Snack stop! Time to pull out that apple you tucked into your pocket. Because nothing says “autumn’’ like a bike ride, russet-colored vistas, and a crunchy Honey Crisp apple.
Keep your cellphone on camera mode: You’ll cross West Falmouth’s Oyster Pond at mile 4. Less than a mile ahead is a road crossing; head off the bike trail to the left for a look at boats bobbing in West Falmouth Harbor. Two miles from the northern end of the trail, you’ll pass a privately owned cranberry bog where they’ve been harvesting the tart berries for more than a century. Sometime in October, if we’ve had a good frost or a cold snap, the cranberries are a buoyant sea of scarlet.
The last couple of miles are fairly uneventful, but you’ve gone this far so why not see it through? You’ve definitely earned a bite to eat. We like doing lunch in Woods Hole because we’re fans of Quicks Hole Tavern (29 Railroad Ave., 508-495-0048; www.quicksholewickedfresh.com), open year-round. If you timed it right, the Pats game will be on, best enjoyed with a couple of pulled pork tacos or a burger.
Fall has its virtues, no?
If you go . . .
Download a trail map at www.friendsoffalmouthbike ways.org. Bikeway parking lots are located in North Falmouth at County Road and Route 151, and in Falmouth Village at 81 Depot Ave., and at 23 Old Dock Road. In Woods Hole, there’s metered parking along Main Street, as well as a parking lot (three-hour maximum for each). Trail entrance in Woods Hole is across from the Steamship Authority ferry (look for the bike racks).