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Flying to the End of Cape Cod

Provincetown is a main event, not a side trip.

View of Provincetown from the Pilgrim’s Monument, in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. [Photo: Adobe Stock]

My conflicted relationship with Cape Cod dates to the 1970s when my family spent a series of summer vacations there. Mom and Dad would cram me, my two older sisters, the dog, and all manner of beach toys into the family car and drive for hours upon hours to the Cape in Massachusetts. And, yes, it was fun.

My sisters and I still share fond recollections of meeting up with kids from other vacationing families and the resulting grade-school crushes, plucking clams and mussels from sandbars at low tide for appetizers, and listening to the local radio station, WRKO, which convinced us that FM was destined to rule over AM.

The interminable nature of the road trip was a clear downside, though, and the stay never was long enough. While giddy anticipation countered some of the boredom on the voyage from home, we could rely on the return trip for a deep letdown.

We stayed in Wellfleet, largely because that town’s quiet, rural setting was suitable for feral children. But each year the highlight was a side trip to Provincetown, which forms the hand at the tip of Cape Cod’s bending arm. It was a festive, welcoming hub in those days—the perfect escape from subdued neighboring towns. It still is, and flying in is a particular pleasure.


Plan the Flight

Starting into the flight planning from Sussex, New Jersey (KFWN) to Provincetown (KPVC) sparked nostalgia, so instead of a basic, out-and-back route, I flew an acute triangle that first took me over Buzzards Bay, Falmouth, and along the upper arm of the Cape before turning north over Chatham (KCQX) at the elbow. 

I would recommend flying ‘up the arm’ to any pilot considering a trip to Provincetown. The flight reveals so much about this odd spit of land. [Photo: Jonathan Welsh]

As I made my way up the forearm, I felt the anticipation return, as strong as ever, perhaps because I had not spent any time there in nearly 20 years. The excitement was at an all-time high because I was at the controls of Annie, our Commander 114B, finally living the childhood dream of flying  the length of the Cape—an endeavor that can seem to take all day in the car. At last I could look down at narrow, winding Route 6, essentially the only way in or out, and not worry about its traffic snarls.

From 3,500 feet, Wellfleet looked the same. I could see Ocean View Drive and the turnoff for the beach we frequented, where I learned to surf cast and fly aerobatic kites. Apparently the general store at the corner, where we bought patches for our inflatable rafts and eventually new rafts, is still there.

I would recommend flying “up the arm” to any pilot considering a trip to Provincetown. The flight reveals so much about this odd spit of land that seems to grow increasingly rural the farther out you go. Mile after mile of beautiful beaches unroll below until you get to the end, and suddenly there is a lot going on.


Soon it was time to switch from childhood flashbacks to a sterile cockpit for the approach to Provincetown’s 3,502-foot strip. The wind favored Runway 25, which required flying north over the water to enter a right-hand pattern. A hazy sky made the ocean even less useful as a visual reference than usual. Best to stash the iPad, phone, and other loose, distracting items before beginning the descent.

With ground-hugging scrub trees on the approach end of 25 and beach on the departure end, obstacles are not much of an issue for pilots, and the runway’s generous 100-foot width makes handling gusts and crosswinds less difficult.

Airport Details

Cape Air, the island-hopping airline known for its venerable Cessna 402s, runs a brisk schedule of arrivals and departures, so the small terminal has a significant staff of TSA personnel and secure zones inside and on the ramp that GA visitors have to avoid. The $10 parking fee seemed like a nice deal compared with other Northeast resort destinations I have visited.

Cape Air is there to greet pilots arriving for a visit in P town. [Photo: Jonathan Welsh]

A pilot friend told me to bring inline skates if I ever flew to Provincetown because they are the best way to get around, and the airport is just over a mile from town. To lessen the likelihood of broken bones, I chose a Brompton folding bicycle, which another friend recommended. It was ideal on the hilly bike paths and roads that lead to Commercial Street—the teeming, scenic retail center next to the harbor.


What’s Around Town

If you enjoy walking, eating, drinking, shopping, gallery hopping and people watching, I do not think I can name a better place to visit. Long a destination for LGBTQIA+ communities, the place has a welcoming vibe that does not seem to leave anyone out. One could draw parallels with Oak Bluffs, the Martha’s Vineyard town to which African Americans and other people of color have gravitated for generations. Both places stand out as diverse, uninhibited hot spots. If you go just for the day, like I did, you might wind up feeling silly—more time is needed to fully enjoy the scene.


The Lighthouse and Other Sights

Perhaps the best reason to have a car in Provincetown, preferably with all-wheel drive, is so you can get to the Race Point Lighthouse. Race Point Road, unpaved and sandy, was too much for my folding bike, but I watched many people stop their cars and let air out of the tires in preparation for traversing the point. Race Point Beach is also a must-see. Remember, the beach is close to the departure end of 25, so you can hike there on paths around the airport. 

The tower that is visible from nearly anywhere in town is the Pilgrim Monument, completed in 1910 to commemorate the Mayflower pilgrims’ landing there in 1620. After a few weeks, they sailed on to Plymouth, now home to an airport (KPYM) that is another handy waypoint for pilots crossing Cape Cod Bay.

The tower that is visible from nearly anywhere in town is the Pilgrim Monument, completed in 1910 to commemorate the Mayflower pilgrims’ landing. [Photo: Jonathan Welsh]

Cool Side Trips

Provincetown makes a nice base of operations if you want to visit Nantucket, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons, and other classic Northeast shore destinations reachable by a short flight. One problem is that you need to spend at least a week or two in any of those places to do them justice. Another potential snag is that if you start off in Provincetown, you might have a hard time finding reasons to leave.




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