KISAN POST | There’s a rule I have when I head to Cape Cod: Always take a long way, even if just part of the way.
That’s because while everyone else (or so it seems) is zipping along Route 6 to get to their beach, hotel, or shopping spot, I’m blissfully meandering down the Old King’s Highway, also known as Route 6A.
It takes longer, sure, but it takes you through hamlets and past beaches and bogs. It’s a road I’ve long felt embraces all that makes Cape Cod magical.
And the word is out.
This week, Old King’s Highway won the rare “National Scenic Byway” designation from the Federal Department of Transportation, which has been naming such special byways since the program began in 1991.
Roads and routes are chosen for how they stand up to what the Transportation Department refers to as six “intrinsic qualities:” Archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic beauty
Old King’s Highway, for those who have taken it, meets them all.
The road has a long history. Its beginnings, historians believe, came via the Native American tribes who called the Cape their home. They lived, hunted, and fished on the Nantucket side of the Cape for the summer months. The main path they used to get around the Cape is believed to be what now makes up the Old King’s Highway.
Cape Cod residents are psyched by the honor.
“This is really great,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
While the designation does not come with any automatic funding, she said, it does come with the chance to get funding for future projects and upkeep, the ability to brainstorm with other National Scenic Byway designated spots. There’s something else that has less tangible value.
“Glory,” she said. “That’s a big ‘resource’ attached to this.”
They have reason to have pride.
The Old King’s Highway runs along the Cape for 62 miles, cutting through some of America’s oldest villages, including Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, and Orleans. Many of the homes and churches along this tree-shaded road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It also runs along with the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District which was, when created in 1973, the largest historic district in the nation. It remains the largest to this day.
That means any day, any season, a ride along the Old King’s Highway is going to bring joy to lovers of history and gorgeous scenery.
In the winter months, with foliage gone, drivers can soak in the countless historic homes and buildings along the route.
The architecture of homes and buildings is controlled carefully by each town’s historic programs.
You’ll find cute general stores, lovely sandwich and coffee shops, and homes that showcase that classic Cape Cod look.
Even in winter, there’s beauty in the beaches, bogs and marshlands you drive past as well.
Spring means color, of course, from the hundreds of thousands of daffodils that bloom in Brewster each spring to the great spring bulb gardens homeowners and others plant. A spring drive is a delight of colors.
And you’ll find more than blooms opening: Businesses that may go quiet for winter begin to open again. This year, a new one will make its debut. Harvest Moon Farms (harvestmoonfarms.net) in Barnstable will open this spring on a site that was, for decades, a local Christmas tree farm. The new farm embraces the history but brings in the new, with organic farming and products.
Summer is, of course, the time of the crowds. And while traffic may slow you a bit, on the Old King’s Highway you’ll find less than on main Route 6, and also, the scenery makes going slower worthwhile.
Fall means color, and a cool thing about the Cape is that color comes late — sometimes into the first week of November. Few things are as captivating as autumn hues set against the blue Atlantic Ocean or a bright red about-to-be-harvested cranberry bog.
You’ll find other treasures along the road too, like hiking trails. Try the trailhead behind the Barnstable Land Trust building. It has a new walking deck that takes you over wetlands, and lots of trail space to get out into nature.
For centuries now, what was a trail and then a road has been a winding path of delight. Now, it’s official. You can learn more at capecodchamber.org.