Rail trails offer a great opportunity to walk, skate or ride without dealing with the resentful glare of automobile drivers who believe they own the road while controlling your life in their distracted hands. The Shining Sea Bikeway ups the ante with beautiful views and a diverse landscape. The trick on this trail is to avoid being too distracted yourself as the views stack up one upon the other.
The trail lives up to its name, with views of Buzzard Bay across both of the Sippewissett Marshes (Little and Great—but aren’t they both great?) and of Vineyard Sound and Martha’s Vineyard as it hugs the beach. Shining Sea runs from North Falmouth to Woods Hole, offering plenty of options to linger for time on the beach, stroll through woodland trails, or a visit to the many shops and restaurants of Main Street in Falmouth and Woods Hole.
As a sucker for salt water, it was easy to fall in love with the beachside section of the trail. Here you’re treated to those expansive views, the latest trends in beach fashion, and a monument to the trail’s namesake, Katharine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful”, which ends with the famous line, “from sea to shining sea”. Very few Americans can recite every verse of America, the Beautiful, but everyone knows that last line.
The magic on this trail is in riding through a tunnel of woodland canopy, salt march grass, past that beach sand and finally to the trail’s terminus at the Woods Hole Ferry. For a cyclist with dreams of never getting in a car for a vacation on the Cape and islands, the Shining Sea Rail Trail makes a strong statement of what’s possible. For this cyclist, it was an opportunity to give the feet a break while getting some exercise with a view.
From the North Falmouth terminus, it’s a 21 mile (33 km) round trip. That’s very manageable on a good bicycle. The human body connects with a bicycle in five places, each essential to a great experience. Perhaps none more than the seat. My bicycle seat was apparently designed to maximize suffering, but no matter, a sore saddle wasn’t going to ruin one of the prettiest rail trails in the northeast United States. The seat is replaceable, the memories will last far longer.
There may be no better time to experience the Shining Sea Bikeway than autumn. September is a great time to get the warmth with the crowds, and October should be spectacular for fall colors in that canopy. It’s a trail worth considering if you’re interested in experiencing Cape Cod without the hassle of driving in traffic.