From here on up, on the eastern side, you're dealing with the wild and whimsical Atlantic, which can be kittenish one day and tigerish the next. While storms may whip up surf you can actually ride, less confident swimmers should definitely wait a few days until the turmoil and riptides subside. In any case, current conditions are clearly posted at the entrance. Weeklong parking permits ($50 for renters) may be obtained from Town Hall, at 19 School Rd., Orleans (tel. 508/240-3700). Day-trippers who arrive early enough -- before 10am on weekends in July and August -- can pay at the gate (tel. 508/240-3780).
- Crystal Lake, off Monument Road, about 3/4 mile south of Main Street: Parking -- if you can find a space -- is free, but there are no facilities.
- Nauset Beach, in East Orleans (tel. 508/240-3780): Stretching southward all the way past Chatham, this 10-mile-long barrier beach, which is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore but is managed by the town, has long been one of the Cape's gonzo beach scenes -- good surf, big crowds, lots of young people. Full facilities, including a snack bar serving terrific fried fish, can be found within the 1,000-car parking lot; the in-season fee is $15 per car, which is also good for same-day parking at Skaket Beach . Substantial waves make for good surfing in the special section reserved for that purpose, and boogie boards are ubiquitous. In July and August, there are concerts every Monday from 7 to 9pm in the gazebo.
- Pilgrim Lake, off Monument Road, about 1 mile south of Main Street: A beach parking sticker is necessary for this small freshwater beach, which has lifeguards.
- Skaket Beach, off Skaket Beach Road to the west of town: This peaceful bay beach is a better choice for families with young children. When the tide recedes (as much as 1 mile), little kids will enjoy splashing about in the tide pools left behind. Parking costs $15, and you'd better turn up early.
Orleans presents the one slight gap in the 25-mile off-road Cape Cod Rail Trail (tel. 508/896-3491; www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm): Just east of the Brewster border, the trail merges with town roads for about 1 1/2 miles. The best way to avoid vehicular aggravation and fumes is to zigzag west to scenic Rock Harbor. Bike rentals are available at Orleans Cycle, at 26 Main St., in the center of town (tel. 508/255-9115; www.orleanscyclecapecod.com), which charges $24 for a 24-hour rental, and there are several good places to grab some snacks.
You can rent a canoe and paddle around Town Cove, Little Pleasant Bay (to Sampson, Hog, and Pochet islands), and the body of water called, simply, The River. Experienced paddlers can paddle through Pleasant Bay to the inside shore of the Outer Beach.
Arey's Pond Sailing School, off Route 28, in South Orleans (tel. 508/255-0994; www.areyspondboatyard.com), offers sailing lessons on Daysailers, Catboats, and Rhode 19s in season on Little Pleasant Bay. Individual lessons are $65 per hour; weekly group lessons are around $189. The Goose Hummock Outdoor Center, at 15 Rte. 6A, south of the rotary (tel. 508/255-2620; www.goose.com), rents out canoes, kayaks, and more, and the northern half of Pleasant Bay is the place to use them; inquire about guided excursions. Canoe and kayak rentals are $50 to $75 per day.
Fishing is allowed in Baker Pond, Pilgrim Lake, and Crystal Lake; the latter is a likely spot to reel in trout and perch. For details and a license, visit Town Hall, at 19 School Rd. (Post Office Square), in the center of town (tel. 508/240-3700, ext. 305), or Goose Hummock. Surf-casting -- no license needed -- is permitted on Nauset Beach South, off Beach Road. Rock Harbor, a former packet landing on the bay (about 1 1/4 miles northwest of the town center), shelters New England's largest sportfishing fleet: some 18 boats at last count. One call (tel. 508/255-9757) will get you information on them all. Or go look them over. Rock Harbor charter prices range from $550 for 4 hours to $750 for 8 hours. Individual prices are also available ($140 per person for 4 hr.; $150 per person for 8 hr.).
If you're here for a while and need a place to stay in shape on rainy days, check out Willy's Gym, Fitness, and Wellness Center, at 21 Old Colony Way, at Orleans Marketplace (tel. 508/255-6826; www.willysgym.com). The Cape's biggest (21,000 sq. ft.) exercise facility is air-conditioned and open year-round. Dozens of classes are offered weekly, from basic aerobics to tai chi and Indonesian martial arts. Willy's also provides child care. Day passes are $17.
Orleans boasts a massive municipal rink, the Charles Moore Arena, at 23 O'Connor's Way, off Eldredge Park Way, about 1 mile southwest of the town center (tel. 508/255-5902; www.charlesmoorearena.org). In season it's open to the public Monday to Friday from 1 to 3pm. From September through March, it's open to the public Monday and Wednesday from 11am to 1pm, Thursday from 3:30 to 5pm, and Sunday from 2 to 4pm. Friday night is "Rock Nite," for party animals ages 9 through 14. The cost is $5 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under; skate rentals run $2.
Nature & Wildlife Areas
Inland there's not much, but on the Atlantic shore is a biggie: Nauset Beach. Once you get past the swarms of people near the parking lot, you'll have about 9 miles of beach mostly to yourself. You'll see lots of birds (take a field guide) and perhaps some harbor seals off season.
Hard-surface public courts are located at the Nauset Middle School in Eldredge Park on a first-come, first-served basis; for details contact the Orleans Recreation Department (tel. 508/240-3785).
The Pump House Surf Shop, at 9 Cranberry Hwy./Rte. 6A (tel. 508/240-2226; www.pumphousesurf.com), rents and sells wet suits, body boards, and surfboards, while providing up-to-date reports on where to find the best waves. Surfboards rent for $20 to $30 a day. Nauset Surf Shop, at Jeremiah Square, Route 6A, at the rotary (tel. 508/255-4742; www.nausetsports.com), also rents surfboards, boogie boards, skim boards, kayaks, and wet suits.
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.