At the very base of Cape Cod, Bourne is a town composed of seven villages on either side of the Cape Cod Canal. For visitors, everything in Bourne gravitates towards this great waterway, opened in 1914.
You can walk or ride a bike along the banks, catch a train across the magnificent Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge (1935), and visit any number of parks and attractions along this 480 cleft in the landscape.
The Summer White House of president Grover Cleveland was in Bourne, and at Museums at Aptucxet you can see the last remaining fragment, at a private train station that was built for his estate.
1. Cape Cod Canal
Bourne’s focal point is a seven-mile waterway cutting across the base of Cape Cod between Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay.
At around seven miles long and 480 feet wide, the Cape Cod Canal was constructed between 1909 and 1914, making intracoastal navigation safer than ever.
The photogenic canal, with its majestic bridges and steady flow of water traffic, can be enjoyed by all along the Cape Cod Canal Bikeway, with seven miles of path on the north bank and 6.5 miles on the south bank.
The photo ops, especially at sunrise and sunset, are sensational, and there’s much to do on both banks, at museums, parks, a state reservation, scenic campground and other visitor attractions.
2. Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge
Towards the west end of the canal you may find yourself awestruck by this vertical lift bridge, opened in 1935.
The second-longest lift bridge in the United States, the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge is still in service, rising to allow large vessels to pass through, while carrying the CAPEFlyer, Cape Cod Central Railroad and the Mass Coastal Railroad over the canal.
One way to experience this amazing work of mid-20th century engineering is on the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s Canal Excursion Train.
This departs Buzzards Bay station on select Fridays, June to October, with narrated information about the area’s unique history, the construction of the canal, the cape’s coastal habitats and the local glass industry.
3. Museums at Aptucxet
On a 12-acre campus on the south bank of the Cape Cod Canal, the Bourne Historical Society runs this museum comprising an assortment of historical buildings and replicas.
The centerpiece is the Aptucxet Trading Post, which recreates the pilgrim trading post, built in 1627 in what is now Bourne to conduct trade with the local Wampanoag people and traveling Dutch traders.
Also significant is the Gray Gables Railroad Station (1892), constructed for President Grover Cleveland’s (1837-1908) Summer White House, and now serving as a small museum about Cleveland’s ties to this area.
Among a series of gardens, replica historic boats and a reproduction of a 19th-century saltworks, you can check out the Joseph Jefferson Windmill, built for the namesake actor, painter and art collector, a close friend of Grover Cleveland.
4. Scusset Beach State Reservation
At the eastern entrance to the Cape Cod Canal is another wonderful place where you can appreciate the dramatic beauty of this waterway, but there’s also the oceanfront on Cape Cod Bay.
North of the canal entrance, Scusset Beach State Reservation has 1.5 miles of gently-pitched sandy beach, with lifeguards on duty Juneteenth through Labor Day. At low tide the waters are thigh high for hundreds of feet, but aren’t too deep, even at high tide.
At the south end you can wander along the jetty to watch the ships passing through the canal, and this is a favored location for saltwater fishing. If you’d like to stay overnight, the reservation has 98 RV sites and 5 tent-only sites.
5. Doran Park
Cape Cod has a privileged place in the history of baseball, as the home of some of the sport’s earliest competitive games, and the top summer collegiate league in the country.
The roots of Bourne’s own team, the Braves, reach as far back as the 1860s when the town was still part of Sandwich.
The Braves joined the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) in 1933, and still compete in this collegiate summer baseball wooden bat league. Home field, Doran Park was completed in 2006, hosting a handful of CCBL all-star games and title series since then.
One thing you can guarantee about CCBL games, played mid-June to early August, is an extraordinary level of competition, fielding the best college talent in the country. Doran Park has a cozy, small town feel, with casual seating on a hill on the third base side.
6. Butterflies of Cape Cod
A treasured summer attraction in Bourne is an enclosed native butterfly habitat, which is a riot of color on warm and sunny days.
At Butterflies of Cape Cod you find out about butterfly conservation, what goes into pollinator-friendly gardens, and the vital role butterflies, and other pollinators play for our planet.
Using native plants where possible, the habitat has butterfly species native to New England and Cape Cod, and you might be surprised just how large and colorful they can get.
Due to fluctuations caused by weather and breeding seasons, this is a spot that rewards multiple visits.
7. Massachusetts National Cemetery
On almost 750 acres, this U.S. National Cemetery was landscaped next to the Otis Air National Guard Base in the south of Bourne in 1974.
There have been close to 80,000 interments at the Massachusetts National Cemetery since then, including two Medal of Honor recipients.
There are a number of notable burials here such as WWII ace Fred J. Christensen (1921–2006) and Charles Sweeney (1919–2004), the pilot who flew the B-29 carrying the Fat Man atomic bomb to Nagasaki in 1945.
On the grounds you can walk a memorial trail with more than 50 monuments erected in memory of veterans from WWI to the modern period.
8. The Lobster Trap
One of the first things to come to mind when you think of Cape Cod is seafood, and this goes for Bourne as much as anywhere else. A good place to begin is this waterfront restaurant by the ecologically vital Back River in Bourne.
With a fish market attached, the Lobster Trap has been in business since 1969 and is open all year. You’ve got New England fare like clam chowder, lobster rolls, grilled swordfish and fish & chips, and there’s an ever-popular seafood platter with scallops, shrimp, clams and cod.
Contrasting with tried-and-tested faves, the Lobster Trap also has an exciting arsenal of fusion dishes like furikake-crusted salmon, fish tacos, tuna tartare, crab rangoons and yellowfin tuna with pad thai.
9. Lyman Reserve
Managed by the Trustees of Reservations, a portion of this 210-acre nature reserve on the lower reaches of Red Brook is within Bourne’s town lines.
The Lyman Reserve stands as one of the last remaining sea-run brook trout fisheries in the country: Taking place here is a fascinating cycle in which anadromous fish hatch in freshwater, head out to the sea to grow, and then come back to the freshwater as adults to spawn.
Along the shoreline are vistas of the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge and Buttermilk Bay, while you trace the course of the spring-fed brook past a sandy beach, through wetlands, pine barrens and cranberry bogs.
10. National Marine Life Center (NMLC)
Founded in 1995, this independent non-profit rescuing, rehabilitating and rereleasing stranded marine mammals and sea turtles is based right here in Bourne.
The NMLC’s animal hospital is obviously a highly sensitive environment, treating seals and sea turtles, and there’s no public access. But you can learn about the organization’s work and support it at the Discovery Center.
As well as enlightening exhibits, the center does have box turtles on display in an enclosure, as well as native hatchlings, depending on the time of year.
The gift shop raising funds for the NMLC has educational toys and games, locally made art and jewelry, and a variety of other gifts with marine and conservational themes.
11. Briggs-McDermott House
The Bourne Society for Historic Preservation maintains this Greek Revival residence on Sandwich Rd as a historic house museum.
The Briggs-McDermott House built in 1802 and took on its current dimensions by one George I. Briggs, who later had a hand in Bourne’s separation from Sandwich.
With period furnishings, the house has been restored to its appearance between 1840 and 1910, when the Briggs family was especially prominent in Bourne life.
One exceptional detail is the fresco on the music room ceiling from 1890, by maritime artist Charles S. Raleigh (1831-1925). On the grounds you can admire a lovely period garden and a granite-walled barn.
12. Bourne Scenic Park
Looking over the canal, in the shadow of the grand Bourne Bridge, the Bourne Scenic Park was established in 1951 as a spot for picnics and camping.
On land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the campground has more than doubled in size over the last 70+ years, with more than 439 sites.
The vast majority of these are electric, and there’s a roster of newly installed cabins and lodges.
As well as being within shouting distance of the canal, the Bourne Scenic Park has pools, a rec hall with movies and video games, scheduled activities for all ages, and the Park Store stocking everything you could need during your stay.
13. Pairpoint Glassworks
Right on the canal in Sagamore is Pairpoint Glass, dating back to 1837, making it America’s oldest continuously operating glass company.
Historically renowned for its lampshades, Pairpoint handcrafts a wide array of glass pieces, from sconces, chandeliers, accent lighting and custom pendants to vases, barware, bowls, candlesticks, bookends and a range of bubble ball door knobs.
If you would like to see the inside of a glass atelier and feel the heat of the furnace, you can make a drop-in visit or organize a guided tour, witnessing time-honored glassblowing techniques using historic tools.
Pairpoint has its own platform on the Cape Central Railroad where you can disembark, and has a store here open Monday through Saturday.
14. Brookside Golf Club
On Bourne’s cape side, this 18-hole public course stands out for being one of the most affordable around Cape Cod.
Despite its relatively affordability, Brookside Golf Club strives for a private club ambience, and has a course with a lot of personality, and some striking elevation changes for Cape Cod.
Two well-regarded course architects, Michael John Hurdzan and John Sandford, have been involved in the design, and this track is balanced between wide open holes and more technical ones embedded in the woods.
All the greens are large and in immaculate condition throughout the season, and there’s a well-appointed practice area with a driving range that has elevated tees, as well as a choice of chipping and putting areas near the clubhouse.
15. Cape Cod Canal Day
On the third Saturday in September, Buzzards Bay Park at the foot of the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge hosts a wonderful free community event, with something for all ages.
The Cape Cod Canal Day packs in arts & craft vendors, local beer and wine, food trucks, children’s fun, a fiercely contested cornhole tournament and a program of live entertainment.
There’s also a 5k run along the canal, with a fishing line right next to the bridge. The event is attended by as many as 10,000 people each year and is a true community celebration, sponsored by more than 40 businesses.