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Packing List and Travel Tips for Cape Cod in the Fall

packing for cape cod in fall off-season

The following packing list for Cape Code in fall was submitted by Katie Doyle. See all packing list posts here.

You may have read my ode to Cape Cod summers, but I have a secret for you:

The best time to visit this sandy spit of eastern Massachusetts is in early fall, when the tourists are gone but beach weather hangs around (in my humble opinion). That’s right—the tourists have left the building. That’s not all: it’s very likely that your favorite places for lunch, dinner, and ice cream are still open!

If you’re active and obsessed with outdoor adventures, don’t miss a weekend getaway to the Cape in the fall: the beaches, trails, and water await all you lovers of nature.

And there are still more reasons why you should consider the Cape at this time of year:

It’s Shoulder Season

“Cape Cod casual” is still in effect—with a few fall-like modifications. Throw in a cardigan with your shorts-and-tank combo to prepare for chilly, clear evenings stargazing at the shore. Cropped or full-length leggings will get you through the weekend farmer’s markets and brunch. A summer dress lingering in your wardrobe is perfect for eating outside and catching a gorgeous sunset.

When it gets into October and a real chill is in the air, a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt will keep you warm at fun local events like the Wellfleet Oysterfest, an annual festival that takes place outside on the pier.

“Cape weather” is a most appropriate term for the area’s outdoor unpredictability. Throw in a rain jacket for days when all four seasons seem to appear and you’re not sure if the clouds that just cleared up will come back again. Waterproof boots aren’t really necessary, as most people don’t mind getting their feet wet en route to their rainy-day activity; bring a pair if keeping your feet toasty and dry is important to you.

what to wear for cape cod in fall
A gorgeous beach in Cape Cod in fall. (Photo by Katie Doyle)

The Beach…

…where shoes are definitely not required. To get there, though, bring a pair of flip-flops, which are the standard footwear for pretty much any place you can think of on the Cape.

If you’re like me and are not easily deterred by cold temps, bring a bathing suit. Cape Cod Bay is typically warmer than the ocean, and the kettle ponds and other freshwater spots are good swimming options too.

Even if swimming after Labor Day isn’t your thing, don’t be caught without a good beach read and accompanying chair, towel, and iced coffee. September sun brings excellent lounging weather for when you want to balance out your activity-filled days with a little R&R.

Speaking of rest and relaxation: outdoor showers are one of the best things on the Cape. Find out if the place where you’re staying has one and pack a cozy bathrobe (if your accommodation doesn’t provide it and you have the space to spare in your luggage) for the perfect punctuation mark on your day after so much beaching and exploring.

cape cod in autumn
So much to see and do in Cape Cod, even in the off season. (Photo by Katie Doyle)

Desert Islands and More

I’ve hiked out on Great Island in Wellfleet, M.A. in September and I can attest that it’s one of the most beautiful places on the Cape, with tracks wandering through marshland, coastline, and pine forest for 8+ miles, depending on the tide. Take your pick of hikes through Nickerson State Park in Brewster and other prime locations, most of which have a slow trickle of visitors in the fall.

Sunscreen is a must—don’t forget to reapply! From experience, snacks like trail mix and plenty of water are a good idea to bring (everything can be purchased at local convenience stores and gas stations). Throw on a baseball hat and a charged camera — or a phone that won’t hit you with a surprise “Storage Full-Cannot Take Photo” message at the most inconvenient moment—and you’re good to go.

While you’re exploring the outdoors, don’t miss the Cape Cod Rail Trail. It’s a 25-mile paved path that’s ideal for running, biking, rollerblading, walking the dog—with plenty of places to stop for ice cream along the way. A girl’s gotta have priorities, am I right?

Take your own bike or rent one to explore the Rail Trail. Wear comfy sneakers or light hiking shoes for your other excursions or exercise, whatever’s the most practical and comfortable.

packing for cape cod in fall
Cape Cod in Fall is still a great time to enjoy the beach. (Photo by Katie Doyle)

Other Off-Season Perks

Cape businesses do stay open past Labor Day, continuing a shoulder season trend that promotes the local economy with off-season prices and summer weather and availability. Take advantage of deals at theaters, restaurants, and stores offered to attract September customers—call ahead before visiting to get up-to-date details. You’re also likely to see better prices on hotel rooms and other rental properties than you might in the height of summer, although it’s still a good idea to book in advance.

Town beaches on the Cape usually stop charging after Labor Day, and the Cape Cod National Seashore eases its pay-to-park system as well.

During tourist season, you’re likely to be fined if you take your pet for a long walk on the beach—but as shoulder season creeps forward, your furry pals are permitted in more properties. For instance, the town of Eastham allows dogs on its beaches after Labor Day, and in Wellfleet it’s a little while later (October 15th).

About the Author: Katie is a writer and videographer who chronicles her travels on Where in the World is Katie Doyle? from wherever she happens to be. A winter in France, a summer on Cape Cod, with road trips and fishing expeditions in between—she’s up for anything and will tell you the story about it later. Check out and follow @katie__doyle.

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