Chatham Cape Cod

Chatham, Cape Cod
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Chatham, Cape Cod Beaches Guide

-Lighthouse Beach-

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Lighthouse Beach

This is a true Atlantic Ocean beach with cooler waters and sometimes tricky currents , located off Shore Road, a half mile from downtown.  It's the largest beach in Chatham and is also arguably one of the best on the Cape, second only to Wellfleet's Coast Guard Beach.   This amazingly expansive stretch of sandy beach is a place where you can enjoy a warm summer's day watching the seals pass by during their daily migration or stroll down to South Beach towards Monomoy on an afternoon nature hike. Walking from town, hopping on a shuttle bus there, or taking your bikes is the only way to spend the day there however, as there is a 30-minute restriction for the parking lot on the beach bluff.  Though this is a an inconvenience for one of the best beaches on the Cape, it's understandable given that the lighthouse above draws a constant crowd of international admirerers.  There are also no bathrooms, lifeguards or food service, so it's not a family oriented beach in the traditional sense.  Still, every family should spend at least one day of their trip here. The views are like none other on the Cape.

Lighthouse Beach photo 1 Lighthouse Beach photo 2
Lighthouse Beach photo 3


The Chatham Break

In front of the beach is the ‘Chatham Break.’ In January 1987, a powerful nor’easter unexpectedly broke through the lower end of Nauset Beach, allowing the Atlantic Ocean to surge into Chatham Harbor. This ‘Chatham Break’ is a growing ocean channel between the north part of Nauset Beach and what is now South Beach.  Prior to 1987 Chatham Harbor had been shielded from surges of the open Atlantic Ocean by the lower end of Nauset Beach.  Although a barrier beach protects one body of water from another, it is essentially a frail piece of land subject to erosion by fierce winds and powerful tides. A section of Nauset Beach at Chatham Harbor had been undergoing this weakening process for some years. When the Janaury 1987 storm hit, the raging ocean, pushed by an unrelenting wind, tore open the land at this vulnerable point and the Atlantic flowed into Chatham Harbor.

The channel between North and South Beaches is responsible for strong and dangerous currents and considerable wave action, all of which can make both boating and swimming somewhat hazardous.  Notwithstanding the ‘Chatham Break,’ as it has been christened, it has brought many visitors into town to observe the phenomenon. In the years since, South Beach, has curved into and finally connected onto the Chatham mainland, giving visitors foot access to what is truly a wild stretch of outer beach.  But this is one landscape that rarely stays put for long.

Chatham Lighthouse


Above the Beach - The Chatham Lighthouse

In 1808 two wooden lighthouses were built on a cliff in Chatham east of the location of the current Chatham lighthouse--a cliff that no longer exists. These first two Chatham lights were range lights, meaning they were movable and could be aligned in such a way that mariners approaching Chatham by sea could find the channel to the harbor by lining up the two lights. By 1841, the cliff had eroded so much that both lighthouses tumbled to the beach below. Another pair of lighthouses--these made with brick and mortar--were constructed to replace the old ones, but the cliff continued to erode at a rate of 20 feet per year until these were also destroyed in 1879 and 1881. To replace this second set, two iron lighthouses were built. One is the current Chatham Light, the other was moved to Eastham in 1923 to become the current Nauset Light. Chatham Light overlooks the Chatham Break, a mile-wide hole in the barrier beach that stretches back to the mainland at Nauset Beach in Orleans. The break occurred in early 1987 during a fierce nor’easter.

Looking out from the three coin-operated telescopes or with your own binoculars or camera, exceptional views can be found here and the famous Chatham fogs make it a wonderful area for photographers. But the beauty is deceiving- beneath these waves are some of the most dangerous waters along the Cape Cod coast.


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