The Knob–visiting Cape Cod in winter

Outside in January at the Knob, Woods Hole, MA–no ice!

New England is often an icy, pretty cold place to be in winter. However, the winter, 2022-23 has mostly had little snow, has been relatively warm and thus we have found little or no ice on local trails (at least where I am in south central MA). We generally avoid Cape Cod in summer since that is where everyone else seems to head. Instead, we wait for cooler weather then set out for locations on the Cape within about an hour or two from our home.

A January day with temperatures in the 40s seemed a good time to visit the Cape. I had wanted to visit the Knob, in Woods Hole, MA since I heard about it. This conservation land is part of the Salt Pond Bird Sanctuaries properties. When I had last checked, the trail out to a peninsula in Buzzards Bay had been closed for repairs. I felt sure it was still closed, but the website for this destination indicated the trails were open to the public again. In case this turned out not to be accurate, we made a plan B to stop at the Shining Sea bikeway. (We ended up stopping later at the shoreline access for the bikeway anyway.) Here’s an early fall visit to the bikeway.

View along the Shining Sea bikeway in winter

On our way to the Knob we passed several spots with access to the bikeway, a great spot to visit in every season. We have enjoyed multiple rides along this rail trail that starts in Woods Hole and takes visitors directly along the seashore. The path crosses several streams where migrating herring leave the ocean to head inland to brackish and fresh water to spawn.

We found the access to the Knob and spotted several small parking spots that were directly next to the road. Upon further investigation we realized that this was the extent of the available parking for this pretty popular spot. Helpful signs pointed us to the trail. A road headed to the shore is clearly marked private, for residents only. Be sure to park in the designated spots and do not block trail or road access.

The packed dirt and stone-lined path with some roots took us along the edge of Quissett Harbor, which offered beautiful views as we walked. Several side trails down to the beach offered easy access for those interested in walking along the sandy shoreline. We visited several of these spots, but for the most part stayed on the upper trail that is probably 20 feet above the water. All along the path we saw signs of erosion from the ocean waves that must pound this peninsula during storms. Trees cling by their roots to solid ground that is being washed out from underneath over time. Other trees have toppled into the ocean. We saw few rocks along the path but encountered roots on the trail at regular intervals. This was manageable, but something we had to watch for to avoid tripping.

Once we got in sight of the lookout we were able to see how incredibly exposed the Knob is to natural elements. Both sides of the spit of land jutting into Buzzards Bay are fortified with large stones packed tightly together to resist the power of the waves in the bay. The path leading to the lookout itself is wide, packed dirt that is pretty accessible.

Well-built stone stairs (with no railing) take visitors up to the lookout, which has a flat stone platform and a bench where visitors can sit and enjoy the view.

My sense is that this is a very crowded place in summer. You would do well to visit early in the day or perhaps at the end of the day. Otherwise both limited parking and narrow trails will make your visit more difficult than at other times and other seasons. An alternate trail takes walkers through the middle of the spit of land, but we chose to stay on the trail alongside Quissett Harbor. At least a portion of that more main trail looked to be much wider and smoother. We will have to check that out another time, or wait for others to chime in with more information. Happy trails!


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

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