A cape is a high point of land that extends into a river, lake, or ocean.


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Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Physical Geography

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A cape is a high point of land that extends into a river, lake, or ocean. Some capes, such as the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, are parts of large landmasses. Others, such as Cape Hatteras in the U.S. state of North Carolina, are parts of islands.

Peninsulas are similar to capes. Most geographers consider capes to be smaller than peninsulas. Capes are narrow features that jut into a body of water. Peninsulas can be large, and many are barely connected to the mainland at all.

Capes can be formed through many different processes, including the movement of ocean currents, rivers, erosion, and glaciers. The Mexican resort of Cabo San Lucas was formed by the collision of ocean currents. Coastal currents going in opposite directions meet in the shallow waters off the coast of the peninsula of Baja California. The movement of these currents push sand up into pointed shapes.

Cape Giradeau (ZHEER-uh-doh) in the U.S. state of Missouri, was formed as the Mississippi River deposited gravel and other sediments in shallow water. Although Cape Giradeau is a town, the actual geographic cape no longer exists. More than a century of intense river management and development drowned most of the cape.

The Cape of Good Hope, on South Africa's Atlantic coast, was created as powerful waves slowly eroded coastal rock. The Cape of Good Hope is part of the Table Mountain range. The Table Mountains are mostly made of sandstone, a soft rock. The ocean eroded the Table Mountain sandstone on the coast, leaving only the hard, rocky cape.

Cape Cod in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, was formed by glaciers. During the last ice age, a glacier carved its way through the North American landscape. Earthen material called moraine piled up in front of and on either side of the glacier. As the glacier melted and retreated, the piles of land emerged as a fishhook-shaped cape.

Fast Fact

Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa is often thought to be the southern tip of Africa, but it's not. The southern tip is actually Cape Agulhas, 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Good Hope.

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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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