Particulars: Coast Guard Beach is a prime swimming beach during the summer season. From mid-June to Labor Day, the parking area at this location is restricted to Eastham residents and vehicles displaying handicap placards. The primary parking area for this beach is at Little Creek, located a short distance west of the beach, where a shuttle picks up passengers for the short ride to the beach. There are seasonal restrooms and a wheelchair-accessible ramp way to the beach.
Directions: Litte Creek Shuttle Staging Area is located one and one-half miles east of Salt Pond Visitor Center via Nauset and Doane roads. Look for sign advising summer beach shuttle. From September to late May, there are no parking restrictions at the beach parking lot.
The Great Beach, so named by Henry David Thoreau, starts here. This sandy strand offers opportunities to study coastal beach processes, including longshore transport of sand and coastal erosion.
Nauset Marsh is located behind the former Coast Guard Station. It is accessible by a pathway that leads to the bicycle trail bridge. Here, one can see shorebirds working the tidal flats in the warmer months and observe salt marsh grass systems close up.
Nauset Spit offers the opportunity to walk directly onto a barrier beach system and observe shorebirds and, during the winter months, seals. The inlet into Nauset Marsh is at the southern end of Nauset Spit. World-renowned nature writer, Henry Beston, wrote The Outermost House from his beach cottage located here.
Nesting plovers and terns frequent this area in the early spring to early summer. Plovers are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Please adhere to pedestrian and pet restrictions.
Seals can often be sighted at the end of Nauset Spit during the winter months. Generally these are harbor seals. At low tide, they can sometimes be seen "hauling out" onto the marsh. During the summer, large numbers of gray seals may haul out to rest on sandbars. Keep your distance--at least 150 feet.
The Outer Beach
The outer beach, or "backside," of Cape Cod has been the notorious graveyard for more than 3,000 ships since the wreck of the Sparrowhawk in 1626. The high cost in lives and property demanded by the sands of Cape Cod, led to the establishment of the Massachusetts Humane Society in 1786, the first organization in the nation devoted to the rescue and assistance of shipwrecked mariners. The Humane Society established shelter huts along the coast; later, it built lifeboat stations where surfboats, line-throwing guns, and other lifesaving gear were stored for the use of volunteer crews in times of emergency.
In 1848, the Congress appropriated funds for the first time to construct, equip and maintain similar stations in New Jersey. From 1848 until 1872, Congress provided the money to build more stations along the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes. The stations in Massachusetts continued to be administered by the Massachusetts Humane Society, but the federal government subsidized its operation. The continued frequent loss of life along the nation's shores led Congress, in 1871-1872, to reorganize the Life Saving Service, a place it on a full-time professional basis. The construction and manning of nine stations on the "backside" of Cape Cod was provided for in the Federal budget of 1871.
One of the original nine stations was constructed at Nauset. It was located about 350 yards southeast of the present building. Shoreline erosion compelled the construction of a new station. The old station remained in service until 1937, when it was replaced by the present structure. The present building was in service as a Coast Guard Station until 1958. The first headquarters of the Cape Cod National Seashore opened in this building in 1961.
The Outermost House
About two miles south, on the outer beach, stood the cottage where author Henry Beston lived while gathering the material for his book, The Outermost House, published in 1928. The book describes life on the outer beach during all four seasons.
The house was designed by Henry Beston in 1925. He took meticulous care with every detail because he intended his house to sit on the dune solid as a good ship. The little house, called the Fo'c'sle by Henry Beston, was 21 ft. long by 16 ft. wide and consisted of two rooms, a main room and a bedroom. There were windows on all four sides, giving wonderful views of the entire area, and a little porch along the front.
Henry Beston gave the property to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1959. It was occupied in summer by Audubon members who cherished their solitude as much as Henry Beston did.
Unfortunately, the sea claimed the cottage during a ferocious northeasterly storm in the winter of 1978.
The Great Storm of 1978
It was more than people expected, and yet Cape Cod was lucky. For despite all the damage, the worst of the storm lay to the west, where a huge area of Massachusetts and neighboring states was buried under two-to four feet of snow.
On the Cape, it was still no picnic. The winds increased on Monday, until they peaked at 6 p.m., clocking 92 miles per hour at Chatham.
Coastline damage was inevitable. Wind was the destructive element Monday, but, beginning at midnight, a high tide on a new moon combined with the storm-generated waves to produce a tide some 14.5 feet above mean low water. And the storm waves on this high tide pounded the Great Beach with as much impact and overwash as any storm in this century.
Curiously, the eye of the storm passed over the Outer Cape on Tuesday, and the day brought beautiful blue skies even as snow was still burying inland areas. It was perfect weather for storm watchers and more than one hundred gathered in front of the former Coast Guard station at Coast Guard beach. In a mixture of awe, excitement, and helplessness, they watched as the storm waves virtually obliterated the parking lot and changing room complex at Coast Guard beach.
Waves repeatedly swept over the most of Nauset Spit as well. In the process, four houses were destroyed, including The Outermost House, made famous by Henry Beston's book of the same name. Most of the wind-built dunes of Nauset Spit were reduced to low mounds. Now, they barely rise high enough above high tide to separate Nauset Marsh from the sea.
This process of overwash is normal--in the geologic sense. It is the way a spit retreats when it is attached to a retreating coastline. In effect, the sand that comprises the spit is turned over upon itself. The spit retains its shape, and in this case, the marsh behind it remains protected and continues to be an incredibly rich, productive marine nursery for such animals as flounder, striped bass, scallops and quahogs.
The concern now is to see the beach recover sufficiently to protect Nauset Marsh. For, without the spit, the marsh would no longer exist. This recovery process involves the build-up of dunes behind the beach by the wind, and the stabilization of these dunes by the growth of beach grass.
In the 1980s, the National Park Service built a new parking lot well away from the beach, to allow the natural give-and-take processes of erosion to continue in this area.
On November 9, 1620, a ship named the Mayflower, 65 days out from Plymouth, England, made her landfall in the New World at what is now Coast Guard Beach. Captain Jones, knowing that his Pilgrim passengers were supposed to settle in northern Virginia, headed southeastward. Although he stood well offshore to avoid shoal waters, his ship soon became enmeshed in the worst shoals in the area, Pollock Rip. A miraculous change of wind enabled Jones to sail his ship free of the shoals, and he then turned northward to anchor in Provincetown Harbor, November 11, 1620.
Last updated: August 9, 2020