Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Travels: Vacation the Cape on a Budget




As you may know, my husband and I have taken on an enormously expensive home renovation over the last few months. One stipulation of buying our home nearly six years ago was that we'd someday build a garage. The detached garage we had originally planned has blossomed into an attached garage with a great deal of living space above. Along with these lovely blossoming changes comes a whole pile of bigger bills. Which means we had to scale down our typical vacation plans this year.

One of our favorite vacations each year is a trip to Cape Cod, just a scenic hour and half drive away. Cape Cod is typically a fairly expensive tourist trap if you're not careful. But my husband and I have been inexpensively vacationing there every year since we started dating.

We spent a gorgeous, but hot and humid week camping at Nickerson State Park, which is located on 1900 acres in Brewster, the center of the Cape. Over 400 camp sites are available to reserve - tent and RV/camper sites are available in addition to yurts - cabin-like buildings if you're not into sleeping on the ground and you don't own a camper. Reservation fees for MA residents are less expensive than non-MA residents and vary based on the type of site you're reserving ($22/night for tent/camper site versus $55/night for large yurt site).



The camp sites at Nickerson do not have running water or electricity, but fear not! There are bathrooms available throughout the camp that have cold running water, running lights and even an outlet or two if you'd like to charge your phone while you pee. Bathrooms are cleaned once a day by park staff, although I assure you that you'll still find an abundance of bugs.

In addition to water access in the bathrooms, there are water spigots located every 4-5 camp sites, which are available for you to fill up on cooking and cleaning water. You could probably drink this water too, but my husband and I usually bring our own bottled water. The campground is also equipped with several shower houses if you'd like to wash off all the dirt and grime. These are offered free of charge, unlike some private campgrounds which charge to use the showers. The showers are also cleaned once a day so try to avoid attempting to shower during the cleaning schedule or you may have a very long wait. While the showers do offer hot water, there isn't always hot water available if many people have been showering when you arrive.

Flax Pond

Nickerson State Park features several large freshwater ponds available for swimming and boating. None of the water areas are life guarded, so you swim at your own risk. There's also a huge stretch of beautiful paved bike trails throughout the campground that lead to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a bike path that runs throughout the Cape. The bike trails inside the campground are tough, with steep slopes and sharp drops, but once on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, the path is fairly flat with only minor thigh-burning gradual hills.




If you forgot to pack your sunscreen or goggles or nearly anything else, there's a Camp Store within the park open each day from 8 - 8. Prices are steep but it's convenient. Maybe you ran out of marshmallows or you're craving an ice cream bar - you can get both at the Camp Store. Most importantly, the Camp Store sells firewood at $5.50 a bundle. It is prohibited to bring in outside firewood into any MA State Park because of past issues with invasive bugs destroying forest populations. Trying to sneak in your own firewood can cause you to get kicked out of the campground.

If you're not willing to fork over the high prices for items at the Camp Store or they don't have what you need, there are a million shops and box stores within a few miles of the campground. We often make runs to Shaws to pick up stuff we didn't have room to pack like cases of water.

Perhaps camp stove cooking is not your thing or you'd rather pluck your own eyelashes out than lose them attempting to light your own camping grill. There are so many delicious local restaurants that serve a variety of foods within just a 5-10 minute drive. Obviously being on the Cape, lobster shacks and other seafood restaurants are most popular, however, you can find yourself an equally great pub or family-style restaurant too.

On the advice of Jon's Uncle Matt, he and I stopped in A Hole in One in Orleans for a sit-down breakfast one morning and grabbed some donuts to go on our last morning of the trip. Warning: If you're looking for a quick bite to eat, don't go here! I promise you there will be a wait. There will be a wait whether you're a party of 1, of 2 or of 10. There will be a wait whether you want to sit down and eat or grab it to go. The food is so amazing, there are always lines in the morning. You MUST try the donuts - they are worth every calorie, especially the honey dipped!




We also make it a point to complete a multi-mile bicycle ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail so that we can later treat ourselves to delicious burritos at Guapo's Tortilla Shack in Brewster. If you don't mind walking, this gem is located about 2 miles outside of the campground entrance and right on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Jon and I usually get the Chicken Fajita Burro and wash it down with a delicious cerveza. Beer and margaritas must be purchased at the outdoor bar window, while food can be purchased inside. There are a few indoor seats, but be prepared to sit outside at the picnic tables under the cabanas. If you're not into straight-up Tex-Mex food, Guapo's also offers regular ol' burgers and fish 'n chips. They do offer a gluten free menu as well, however, there are only a handful of options on it.


Some other notably delicious restaurants include Orleans's Jailhouse Tavern, which we did not visit this year, but have visited several times in the past. It's actually in an old jailhouse. The building inside is sooo cool! And they have the absolute best French dip sandwiches I've ever had in my life. Ever. I hope it's still on the menu. If it's not, there will be a one-woman riot next year when I stop in. Land Ho!, also in Orleans, features some great pub-style food. Ever heard of a Cape Cod Reuben? Fried cod, coleslaw and thousand island dressing = a tiny slice of Heaven on a plate. If you're looking for a dog-friendly spot, like us, check out Cobie's. Found right off the bike trail, Cobie's in Brewster offers a wide selection of clam-shack type food as well as a gazillion different types of ice cream. I wanted ice cream for dinner, but my husband made me adult that day, so I had to wait for ice cream until after dinner.



As I said, my husband made me adult and wait for ice cream until after dinner. Our pup, Riley, was getting antsy so we headed out for a quick drive and ended up at Emack & Bolio's in Orleans for our dessert. This is another place that you will never get in and out of very quickly. There is always a line. But that's because it's amazing. So amazing, we splurged and let Bubby have his first people-food experience in the form of vanilla ice cream.





If you think you'd get bored relaxing at your camp site, taking serene nature walks through the wooded forests or lazily floating across a freshwater lake, there are plenty of fun things to do outside of the campground. Our favorite is the Wellfleet Drive-In which has double-features every night. There is also a Wellfleet Cinema on the same grounds if you'd rather not get eaten alive by buggies. Last year we caught Despicable Me 2 and RIP Department - both excellent movies. This year, we ended up watching two fairly childish movies - Minions, which was really funny, and Inside Out which my husband dubbed "cheesy." If you're a preteen girl, this is a great movie for you... for all others, proceed with caution!




My husband drives a Tacoma so we bring our camping chairs and park our butts in the bed of his truck. While the Drive-In does have some still-working vintage speakers, it's important you bring a working radio or have your car battery fully charged. They do not guarantee that the speaker you park near will work and you cannot have your vehicle running during the shows. The Drive-In charges per person rather than per carload and is totally pet-friendly. There's a playground in the center with swings for the kids before the show and in between the double features. Snacks and drinks can be purchased at the concession stand but they are pricey. You can bring in outside food and drinks, but no alcoholic beverages!




On Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday on the same grounds as the Drive-In is a flea market. Open from 8-3 weather permitting, the flea market features vintage vendors as well as artists' and craftsmen's wares. Admission is $1 per carload and you can purchase food and drinks from the Snack Stand. If you're looking for libations, there is also a Beer Garden where my husband always drags me. It's no fun thrifting without drinking, right?




We love finding balance between relaxing and finding our zen in the forest and sight seeing and hanging out in the chaos of Cape Cod's tourism. We're always sad to go home. This year was our first trip with a pet and even Riley was sad to go  home.





Why we love Nickerson State Park:
-an inexpensive way to experience the Cape (you can't beat $22/night)
-pet-friendly
-near many restaurants, shops and attractions
-requires a paid parking pass for day-visitors, which prevents overcrowding
-electricity in bathrooms
-hot water in shower houses!

Annoying things about Nickerson State Park
-books up quickly... if you want a site during the summer, you must book 6 months out
-some sites aren't so private (near bathrooms, really close together, etc.)
-TRAFFIC! trying to enter or leave, there's always endless traffic
-you are limited to a max. of 14 consecutive camping days so you can't spend the entire summer there

Happy Couponing!
-Coupon Mama Massachusetts


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