Cape Cod was formed at the end of the last ice age as the continental ice sheet receded. This was the furthest south the last glacier reached in southeastern New England. The combination of earth left behind and the outwash from the receding glacier melt formed the landmass of the peninsula. As the glacier retreated, it left large blocks of ice embedded in the outwash plain, which melted and formed the many kettle ponds that dot the cape.
Cape Cod extends into the Atlantic Ocean from southeastern Massachusetts. It became an island in 1914 when the Cape Cod Canal was completed. Two highway bridges make it possible to reach the island—the Sagamore Bridge and the Bourne Bridge. U.S. Route 6 (US6) crosses the Sagamore Bridge, the northernmost of the two.
Discover Cape Cod’s history
The cape has a long and interesting history, reaching back to the pilgrims who founded the Plymouth colony, after dropping anchor in what today is Provincetown Harbor. In the decades that followed, English settlers founded several of the towns on Cape Cod.
Over-farming and grazing took their toll on the cape’s ability to support agriculture, and by the mid-1800s, it became a center for fishing and whaling. By the end of the century, Cape Cod began to evolve into a summer destination for vacationing people from nearby cities. The surrounding ocean helps moderate temperatures and gives the cape more than 400 miles of shoreline, including many beautiful beaches. These characteristics led to increasing development on the cape. So to protect it, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Covering over 43,600 acres, the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) saved the fragile ecosystem from a planned housing development. The CCNS includes 40 miles of seashore with several beaches, offering public accommodations along the Atlantic-facing eastern shore. It also preserves the woodland of the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens, dunes, and glacial kettle ponds for future generations. Among several interesting places, you can visit is the site of Guglielmo Marconi’s radio station where he sent the first transatlantic wireless transmission originating from America. There’s also the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center at the southeastern corner of the cape.
Ride the Grand Army of the Republic Highway
US6 was once the longest U.S. highway, going from Provincetown, Massachusetts, diagonally across the nation to Long Beach, California. That changed when California renumbered its highways in 1964. The shortened US6 now ends at Bishop, California. In 1953, the highway was dedicated as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway to honor the memory of Union soldiers from the Civil War. Traffic can be challenging—especially during the peak tourist seasons. That’s why the Cape Cod Commission has set up a special website to help motorists navigate the area.
Starting from Interstate 95 (I-95) in Providence, Rhode Island, take Interstate 195 (I-195) east, as it runs concurrently with US6. The northbound I-95 exit is #19 and the southbound I-95 exit is #20. From I-195, take exit #8 and stay to the left on the ramp. Turn left at the light and follow the signs for US6 east.
Once you’ve traveled to the end of US6, make sure to take the time to explore the many roads and towns of this unique part of America.