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The Shining Sea Bikeway follows the route of a former railroad line run by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, which ran service to New York and Boston from 1872 to 1965. After the railroad company discontinued service along the line, local residents Joan Kanwisher, Barbara Burwell (mother of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s cofounder David Burwell), and several other supporters organized in a nine-year-long effort to have the village of Woods Hole acquire the land and build a trail, which officially opened in June 1974.
It’s no wonder that the bikeway was named after the lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” written by Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates. The 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway—the only bikeway on Cape Cod to feature a seaside section—boasts beautiful vistas of marshes, rivers, and the sea.
Although parking is available on either end of the trail, you’ll want to start your journey at the Depot Road trailhead along County Road in Falmouth, as the scenic payoff for your efforts is located at the southern endpoint in Woods Hole. Turn left out of the parking lot on Depot Road (across from Pine Street), and use the sidewalk to travel 150 feet before using the crosswalk to enter the trail on the opposite side.
Along this stretch of trail, you can see railroad ties to your left—a nod to the trail’s railroad history. After crossing Winslow Road in 0.6 mile, the path enters a wooded area and goes through an underpass decorated with bike-themed murals from the AmeriCorps Cape Cod program.
About 4 miles in, you will reach the Great Sippewissett Marsh on either side of the trail. The saltwater marsh is an important ecosystem habitat for the local flora and fauna. The Little Sippewissett Marsh is 1.3 miles farther ahead, and a connection to the Sippewissett Campground for backpackers is located on the left. The word Sippewissett, meaning “little river,” comes from the Wampanoag tribe, the original inhabitants of the area.
The trail continues through a wooded area, with trailside businesses dotting the landscape. In 2 miles, as you near Depot Avenue/Highfield Drive in Falmouth, you will find plentiful parking in multiple lots. You will then pass a bus station on your left before crossing the road to enter another trailside parking lot. The trail continues into another wooded area (Beebe Woods), occasionally intersecting streets with light traffic.
At 8.5 miles into the trail, your hard work will be rewarded with stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean to the left as you pass by Surf Drive Beach. This makes for a perfect stopping point to rest and admire the ocean—or even take a dip in the water, as the swimming beach is fully accessible to visitors.
After leaving the unforgettable views of the ocean, you will pass through a final wooded section that belies its suburban neighborhood with the sound of cars passing on nearby roads and houses located on the left side of the trail. As you cross a short bridge and pass through a long, linear parking lot, take care, as from here to the end you may encounter cars along your route.
After crossing the Church Street overpass toward the end of the trail, you will find Little Harbor, docked with yachts, to your left. In 0.3 mile from Church Street, continue under the Crane Street overpass to reach the end of the trail. Friends of Falmouth Bikeways—and Friends of the Bourne Rail Trail—hope one day to extend the trail north to connect to the southern end of the Cape Cod Canal Bikeway in Bourne.
To reach the Depot Road trailhead in Falmouth from the intersection of US 6 and MA 28 in Buzzards Bay, head south on MA 28 for 7.6 miles, and take the exit for MA 151 toward Mashpee/N. Falmouth near mile marker 55. Turn left onto MA 151 W. Continue 0.5 mile and turn right into the Depot Road parking lot, located just after the train tracks and across from Pine St.
To reach the Woods Hole trailhead from the intersection of US 6 and MA 28 in Buzzards Bay, head south on MA 28 for 14.2 miles until Main St. in Falmouth curves to the right and becomes Locus St. In 0.3 mile bear right to continue on Woods Hole Road. Continue on Woods Hole Road 3.3 miles until Woods Hole Road becomes Water St. Turn left onto Luscombe Ave. and continue around the street until the entrance to the trail is visible, just past the new ferry ticket office as the trail travels under the Crane St. overpass. Metered street parking is available in and around the area, such as on Water St. and Luscombe Ave. A free parking lot is located along the interior of the trail between the Church St. and Nobska Road bridges that cross over the trail, though the first 45 numbered spots are reserved for residents. To reach the parking lot, you will need to drive on the trail from the Steamship Authority until you reach the lot. Watch out for trail users in all directions, as well as cars traveling in the opposite direction.
NOTE: Parking at the southernmost end of the trail at the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole can get extremely congested and is not recommended during the tourist season. If you are starting from the southern endpoint, in the event of congestion, please plan to park at one of the additional parking lots that dot the trail as you head north. The parking lot near the bus station halfway through the trail and the parking lot at the northern terminus are your best bets.
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