Chatham has an unusual array of beach styles, from the peaceful shores of the Nantucket Sound to the treacherous, shifting shoals along the Atlantic. For information on beach stickers ($20 per day, $75 per week), call the Permit Department, at 283 George Ryder Rd., in West Chatham (tel. 508/945-5180).
Chatham Lighthouse Beach: Directly below the lighthouse parking lot (where stopovers are limited to 30 min.), this narrow stretch of sand is easy to get to: Just walk down the stairs. Currents here can be tricky and swift, though, so swimming is discouraged. The beach has been closed occasionally over the past few years because of shark sightings in the harbor. Great white sharks are attracted to the large number of seals in the area, their main source of food.
Cockle Cove Beach, Ridgevale Beach, and Hardings Beach: Lined up along the sound, each at the end of its namesake road, south of Route 28, these family-pleasing beaches offer gentle surf suitable for all ages, as well as full facilities, including lifeguards. Parking stickers are required.
Forest Beach: With limited parking and no lifeguard, this sound landing near the Harwich border is still popular, especially among surfers.
North Beach: Extending all the way south from Orleans, this 5-mile barrier beach is accessible from Chatham only by boat; if you don't have your own, you can take the Beachcomber, a water taxi, which leaves from Chatham Fish Pier on Shore Road. Call tel. 508/945-5265 (www.sealwatch.com) to schedule your trip, though reservations are not necessary. Round-trip costs $25 for adults, $12 for children 3 to 15. The water taxi makes the trip from 10am to 5pm daily in season on sunny days. Inquire about other possible drop-off points if you'd like to beach around.
Oyster Pond Beach, off Route 28: Only a block from Chatham's Main Street, this sheltered saltwater pond (with restrooms) swarms with children. It's free to park here, and there is a lifeguard.
South Beach: A former island jutting out slightly to the south of the Chatham Light, this glorified sand bar can be dangerous, so heed posted warnings and content yourself with strolling or, at most, wading. A sticker is not required to park here.
Though Chatham has no separate recreational paths per se, a demarcated bike/blading lane makes a scenic, 8-mile circuit of town, heading south onto "The Neck," east to the Chatham Light, up Shore Road, all the way to North Chatham, and then back to the center of town. A descriptive brochure prepared by the Chatham Chamber of Commerce (tel. 800/715-5567 or 508/945-5199) shows the suggested route, and there are lots of lightly trafficked detours worth taking.
In summer the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary of the Audubon Society (tel. 508/349-2615) offers bird-watching trips to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge on North Monomoy Island (http://monomoy.fws.gov). On the tour of North Monomoy, after a 15-minute boat ride from Chatham, you'll embark on a 4-hour guided tour, where you'll encounter a variety of species -- from herring gulls and sandpipers to black-bellied plovers and willets. Tours cost around $35 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under, and are recommended not just for avid bird-watchers, but for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Reservations are required.
You can rent a kayak and paddle down the Oyster River, past Hardings Beach, and over to Morris Island. You can also explore Pleasant Bay, the Cape's largest, and reach the inside shore of the Outer Beach. For those with sufficient experience, Pleasant Bay is the best place to sail; if the winds don't go your way, try Forest Beach, on the South Chatham shore.
Nauti Jane's Boat Rental, at 2173 Rte. 28, on Pleasant Bay (tel. 508/430-6893; www.nautijanesboatrentals.com), offers kayak and sailboat rentals at the Wequassett Inn. At Ridgevale Beach Rentals on the popular Ridgevale Beach on Nantucket Sound in Chatham (tel. 508/432-4339), available crafts include kayaks, Sunfish, surf bikes, and sailboats up to 16 feet. Kayaks rent for $30 per hour or $42 for 2 hours; sailboats rent for $65 to $99 for 2 hours or $115 to $185 for a half-day.
Chatham has five ponds and lakes that permit fishing; Goose Pond off Fisherman's Landing is among the top spots. For saltwater fishing sans boat, try the fishing bridge on Bridge Street, at the southern end of Mill Pond. First, though, get a license at Town Hall, at 549 Main St., in Chatham (tel. 508/945-5100) or at Goose Hummock, in Orleans (tel. 508/255-2620; www.goose.com). If you hear the deep sea calling, sign on with Capt. Bob Miller's The Headhunter (tel. 508/430-2312; www.capecodfishingcharters.com) out of Stage Harbor, a 33-foot sportfishing boat. Sportfishing rates average around $950 for 8 hours. Shellfishing licenses are available at the Permit Department, at 283 George Ryder Rd., in West Chatham (tel. 508/945-5180).
Once part of the Chatham Bars Inn property and now owned by the town, the scenic 9-hole, par-34 Chatham Seaside Links, at 209 Seaview St., in Chatham (tel. 508/945-4774), can be challenging depending on how hard the wind is blowing, since it is so close to the ocean; inquire about instruction. A 9-hole round costs $19.
Nature & Wildlife Areas
Heading southeast from the Hardings Beach parking lot, the 2-mile round-trip Seaside Trail offers beautiful parallel panoramas of Nantucket Sound and Oyster Pond River; keep an eye out for nesting pairs of horned lark. Access to 40-acre Morris Island, southwest of the Chatham Light, is easy: You can walk or drive across and start right in on a marked .75-mile trail. Heed the high tides as advised, though -- they can come in surprisingly quickly, leaving you stranded.
Chatham's natural bonanza lies southward: The uninhabited Monomoy Islands, 2,750 acres of brush-covered sand favored by some 285 species of migrating birds, is the perfect pit stop along the Atlantic Flyway. Harbor and gray seals are catching on, too: Hundreds now carpet the coastline from late November through May. If you go out during that time, you won't have any trouble seeing them -- they're practically unavoidable.
Outermost Adventures (tel. 508/945-5858; www.outermostharbor.com) runs boat shuttle service -- basically water taxis -- to South Beach and North Monomoy. The ride takes 10 minutes; once on the beach, passengers can walk for 2 minutes to the far side of the spit to see seals gathered along the coast. The shuttle begins at 8am, goes every 20 minutes, and is first-come, first-served. The last pickup is at 4:30pm. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under. Trips run from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The boats leave from Outermost Harbor, just south of the lighthouse. Follow signs to Morris Island.
The Beachcomber (tel. 508/945-5265; www.sealwatch.com) runs seal-watching cruises out of Chatham Harbor from mid-May to late September daily in season, weekends in the shoulder seasons. Parking is on Crowell Road, at Chatham Boat Company, near the bakery. There are typically four cruises a day -- at 10am, noon, 2pm, and 4pm -- depending on the weather. The 90-minute cruises cost $29 for adults, $27 for seniors, and $25 for children 3 to 15, and are free for children 2 and under. Where there are seals, there may also be their main predator, great white sharks. The large number of seals has attracted sharks in recent years, and passengers should stay alert for sightings.
Free public courts are located near the police station, on Depot Road and at Chatham High School, on Stepping Stone Road; for details contact the Chatham Recreation Department (tel. 508/945-5175). In addition, you may be able to rent one of the three courts at the Chatham Bars Inn, on Shore Road (tel. 508/945-6759), which cost $18 per half-hour.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.