If you’re a kayaker, you’ll find vacation nirvana on Cape Cod. And with miles and miles of protected waters in the Town of Orleans, where the Ship’s Knees Inn is located, you could paddle for days and never run out of new waterways to explore. From Pleasant Bay to the south and Town Cove and Nauset Harbor on the northern end of town, Orleans offers kayakers nearly limitless options.
Put in at Town Cove, Orleans
Closest to Ship’s Knees Inn are the landings at Doane Road and Priscilla Beach. Each offers access to Nauset Harbor Estuary, which connects to Town Cove and beyond, but with limited parking spaces your best bet may be to put in at Town Cove by the Goose Hummock shop – which also offers kayak rentals and guided tours – or at Cove Road. Both are within five miles of the inn and have larger parking areas (see map).
If you’ve put in at Goose Hummock, you’ll come upon Hopkins Island within a half mile or so. There’s a spot on the far end of the island where you can beach your kayaks and take a break. As you get past Hopkins Island, the surrounding shoreline becomes less populated and the wildlife more abundant. Be on the lookout for great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls (one of the few owls that will hunt in daylight hours).
About a half mile north of Hopkins Island, Town Cove comes to an end.
Head to the right and you’ll see Stony Island – a narrow bit of land – in the center of the waterway. If you stick to the right-hand side of the coastline, you can check out Woods Cove, come back around Stony Island and head back for the day. If your arms are up for it, keep heading south and explore Mill Pond or Nauset Harbor.
Paddle to the left at the end of Town Cove and you’ll pass through Nauset Marsh a relatively narrow channel that will eventually spill into Salt Pond Bay in Eastham. ‘Eventually’ is the key word here; Salt Pond Bay will be a couple of miles out. As you paddle north, the Fort Hill Trail at Cape Cod National Seashore will be on your left which is another spot to easily beach your kayak and take a break. A short walk to the top of the hill will yield an epic photo op.
Whichever route you choose, mind the tide – dead-low tide can make navigating the mudflats tricky – and the current which, if you’re paddling against it on the way back, will make the return trip seem endless.
Put in at Little Pleasant Bay, South Orleans
In South Orleans, at the end of Portanimicut Road, is a town landing with a small parking area and public dock. Head south after putting in and you’ll pass through Little Pleasant Bay into Pleasant Bay (referred to locally simply as ‘Little Bay’ and ‘Big Bay’). Islands dot both bays and offer great spots to picnic. If you head north after you put in, you can explore Namequoit River (to the west), The River (no, we didn’t make that name up – it’s the one in the middle as you look at a map), or Pochet Inlet (the easternmost choice), which winds around Pochet Island and along the back side of Nauset Beach.
Put in at Salt Pond Bay, Eastham
If you’d like to explore the deserted shores of Eastham in Cape Cod National Shore, paddling from Town Cove isn’t the only option. Drive to Eastham and park at the end of Hemenway Road. There’s a decent-sized parking area and public boat ramp. Head north and you’ll run out of steam long before you run out of water to explore. Salt Pond Bay will be the first larger body of water you come to; head northwest into Salt Pond or go northeast to the much-larger Nauset Bay.