Bass River Bonanza
From waterskiing to fishing, dining to beachgoing—you can do it all on Cape Cod’s largest river. By Rob Duca; Photography by Benjamin Boynton
Close to the heart of Cape Cod, separating the towns of Yarmouth and Dennis, flows the Bass River. For boaters, this scenic estuary that opens into Nantucket Sound is a favorite destination, a place where they can dine at waterside restaurants, relax on a white-sand beach, take in a round of golf, rent a kayak or paddleboard or learn more about the river on an educational cruise.
Once considered a viable location for a canal that would bisect Cape Cod, the Bass is the largest river spanned by the Mid-Cape Highway. The mouth of the river separates Smugglers Beach on the Yarmouth side, site of an outstanding launch ramp, and West Dennis Beach, on the Dennis side. The Dennis side is also where you’ll find what is referred to as “Boater’s Beach.”
On steamy summer days, the beach is often surrounded by boats anchored gunwale to gunwale as their owners enjoy the warm, protected water or sun themselves on shore. Boaters can also explore upriver, cruising under the Route 28 bridge, past the Bass River Golf Course, and eventually into Follins Pond. However, be aware that the Route 28 bridge, some 1 1/2 miles north of the river mouth, has a 30-foot fixed span with 15 feet of clearance at mean high water.
There are four marinas on the river: Bass River Marina and Mayfair Boat Yard & Marina on the Dennis side, and Ship Shops Marina and Packett Landing on the Yarmouth side. Bass River Marina, on Horsefoot Cove just north of the Route 28 bridge, is the largest facility, with 160 seasonal slips on 4,000 feet of dock and a limited number of transient slip rentals. It’s also home to the popular Summer Shanty restaurant, which features live music on Friday and Saturday evenings. If you wish to dock and dine, call the marina prior to arrival and they will try their best to accommodate you.
Another nearby restaurant and bar with live music and a seafood-based menu is Sundancer’s. This festive eatery isn’t a dock- and-dine option, but plans are afoot to build a 280-foot dock for daytrippers near the restaurant. Also in store are a boardwalk to skirt the edge of Horsefoot Cove and dredging of the marina basin. When the three-year project is completed, visiting boaters will have easy access to Sundancer’s, and will be able to stroll along the boardwalk to the Summer Shanty.
RAMP IT UP
Aside from Bass River Marina, transient options are hard to come by on the river. Packett Landing, which is run by the town of Yarmouth, has one transient slip rental, available on a first-come, first-served basis, and there are no transient slips currently available at Mayfair or Ship Shops marinas.
That said, daytrippers can still have a blast, as there are several launch ramps on the river, most notably the big, triple-lane facility near the inlet. This ramp features plenty of parking and puts you within seconds of Nantucket Sound. If conditions are rough in the Sound, heading upriver will bring you to areas that are ideal for waterskiing and tubing, or fishing among protected coves.
Naturally, the river affords excellent paddling opportunities. If you don’t have your own kayak or paddleboard, stop by Bass River Kayaks, Cruises & Paddleboards, near the eastern end of the Route 28 bridge. The friendly staff here can set you up with all the gear you’ll need for a day of exploration and exercise amid the local beaches, sandbars and marshes.
Or you can sit back and relax with Captain Cliff Smith on a 90-minute narrated cruise aboard his U.S. Coast Guard-certified vessel. Smith began his 30th season as captain of the Starfish this summer, and is the resident expert on the river’s colorful past, spinning tales about Vikings, sea captains, shipwrecks and windmills. “There is still one windmill from the 1790s and plenty of historic homes to see,” he points out. When kayaking or paddleboarding on the river, Smith recommends that you arrive in the morning before the wind picks up. Also, keep in mind that the current can be quite strong in spots, so plan accordingly. Paddlers can launch from three locations along Main Street.
The Bass River area also offers some interesting shoreside diversions. For example, there are many shops and restaurants along Route 28, including the nearby Riverway Lobster House, which has been in operation since 1944 and has a tavern with plenty of televisions for enjoying sporting events, along with a dining room for a quieter, more upscale dining experience.
The nearby Whydah Pirate Museum offers an interactive experience, combining artifacts and genuine treasures to paint a historically accurate portrait of Caribbean pirates from the 18th century. The Cultural Center of Cape Cod features performances and exhibitions, while the Edward Gorey House, a short drive away, provides an in-depth look into the life of one of America’s most famous illustrators.
For a challenging 18 holes of golf on a course designed by Donald Ross, there’s the Bass River Golf Course, founded in 1900. Less arduous, but plenty of fun, is Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, a pirate-themed mini-golf course set among waterfalls and caves. With all that the conveniently located Bass River offers boaters, from watersports and dining to museums, beaches and golf, it’s easy to understand why this remains one of Cape Cod’s premier destinations.
BASS RIVER AT A GLANCE
DENNIS (508) 385-5555
YARMOUTH (508) 760-4800
DOCKAGE, MOORINGS & SERVICE
BASS RIVER MARINA (508) 394-8341
Full-service marina with transient slips, fuel, ship’s store, rack valet service and onsite restaurant.
Municipal marina with one transient slip available on a first-come, first-served basis.
BASS RIVER K AYAKS, CRUISES & PADDLEBOARDS (508) 398-0060
Kayak and paddleboard rentals and instructions, next to the Route 28 bridge.
WHERE TO EAT
SUMMER SHANTY (508) 394-0400
Waterfront restaurant at the Bass River Marina, specializing in seafood, burgers and cocktails, plus live music on weekends. Dock and dine, space-permitting.
SUNDANCER’S (508) 394-1600
Riverside seafood eatery by day; club with karaoke, live music and dancing at night.
RIVERWAY LOBSTER HOUSE (508) 398-2172
Cozy spot for seafood and other American favorites, with weekend piano music.
THE CAPE CAT (508) 280-4545
Cat-lover’s emporium featuring feline-themed shirts, caps, mugs, home décor items and more.
ADRENE JEWELERS (508) 394-0470 ardene.com
The lastest fashion for women and teens, including swimwear, dresses, jeans, shoes, tops and accessories.
SMITH’S TIME SHOP (508) 398-0848
Fascinating clocks, watches and other time-keeping devices.
THINGS TO DO & SEE
BASS RIVER GOLF COURSE (508) 398-9079
The public is welcome to play on this historic course, founded in 1900.
CULTURAL CENTER OF CAPE COD (508) 394-7100
Galleries for local art and diverse performances housed in a sprawling 19th-century brick bank building.
PIRATE’S COVE ADVENTURE GOLF (508) 394-6200
Fun, elaborate pirate-themed mini-golf with 18-hole, landscaped courses featuring waterfalls and caves.
EDWARD GOREY HOUSE (508) 362-3909
Explore the life of one of America’s most famous—and creepiest—illustrators.
WHYDAH PIRATE MUSEUM (508) 534-9571
Learn about real pirates and check out artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Wydah off Cape Cod.