Fun Activities in Delaware's Cape Henlopen State Park
Cape Henlopen State Park Photos
Ferry and Lighthouse
Cape Henlopen State Park is a Delaware Treasure
Cape Henlopen State Park is in Lewes, Delaware at the juncture of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Stunning views, miles of paved multipurpose trails, a World War II fort with concrete observation tower, interpretive hiking trails, a fishing pier and nature center are just a few of the recreational activities it has to offer. With an entrance fee of just $4.00 per vehicle for Delaware residents and $8.00 for non-residents, the park is one of the most economical and fun ways to visit the Delaware shore. It's also a great place to learn about the history of this region and its plant and wild life.
My husband and I "discovered" this Delaware treasure when we relocated to southern Delaware a decade ago and asked a neighbor where to go fishing. He recommended we fish off the Cape Henlopen State Park Fishing Pier and as we did so we could see the Cape May Lewes Ferry boats going in and out of the Lewes terminal. It was then that we realized how many times we'd ridden on that same ferry when our son, David, was a child and we were en-route from our New York State home to vacations spent in North Carolina's Outer Banks, never knowing that had we driven one mile out of our way, we could have visited Cape Henlopen State Park and taken a dip in the ocean, showered in the bath house and picnicked by the pavilion, breaking up the monotony of the long drive to the Outer Banks.
Though we missed enjoying this park with David when he was a child, I had a bit of a role reversal one day when David used his day off from work to teach me how to roller-blade on the beautiful winding pathway that snakes through the park. My husband was nervous about my learning to roller-blade at the age of 50, but David assured him he'd "take care of me." And he kept his word. After making sure I had all my protective equipment on he gently took hold of my elbow and with much patience and skill began teaching me how to roller-blade. I didn't mind that little kids were whizzing past us because I realized that it's never too late to experience the magic of learning a new skill. By the time David let go of my elbow and I took off on my own, I experienced a thrill akin to the first time I'd learned how to ride a two wheel bicycle, only this was better because I'd learned how to ride a bike by myself and this time I had the guidance of my strong, adult son who was an ice hockey athlete and avid roller-blader.
After a few hours of instruction, David felt confident that I knew how to stand up, speed up, slow down and stop and we skated back to the parking lot. The sun was starting to set and we walked out to the end of the pier and enjoyed the stunning view. That day is a memory I'll cherish forever. The park had brought us together in a healthy, shared activity at a time when mother and adult son rarely spent time together.
The rest of this article will discuss other activities that kids and adults can enjoy together at Cape Henlopen State Park.
Visit the Seaside Nature Center
Seaside Nature Center Touch Tank Photos
See Aquariums and Touch Tank Inside the Seaside Nature Center
After entering the park follow signs to the Seaside Nature Center. Admission to this air conditioned building is free and it's a great place to learn about the area's native wild and plant life, tidal creeks salt marshes and sea life.
The nature center features marine aquariums, including five 1,000 gallon tanks with local fish and natural history exhibits. It also has a touch tank that allows kids and curious adults to touch large brown horseshoe crabs, whelk, snails and other small sea creatures.
When you finish viewing the exhibits you can browse the gift shop for souveniers, children's toys and books and pick up a free map of the entire park. You can also borrow a free bike from the Friends Park Pedal program. The bikes are stored in a barn next door to the center.
Other programs that can be accessed at the Seaside Nature Center include hayrides, guided nature walks and hikes, birding trips, preschool programs, school programs and children's vacation workshops.
The Seaside Nature Center is open daily from June 15 through September 5, from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. You can call the center at 302-645-6852 for additional information about visiting hours and programs.
Friends of Cape Henlopen Bike Barn Next to Seaside Nature Center
Bikes Loans Are Free Outside the Seaside Nature Center
Bikes for the whole family can be accessed for free at the Seaside Nature Center and there are miles of paved multipurpose trails that wind throughout the park. I suggest riding to Fort Miles and the World War II observation tower, then up to Herring Point for some breathtaking views of the park and ocean. Make sure you get a map from the Seaside Nature Center before you go exploring by bike.
Climb World War II Observation Tower
Views from Observation Tower at Cape Henlopen
Cape Henlopen State Park Observation Tower
Stairs Inside the Observation Tower
Climb the Observation Tower and visit Fort Miles Barracks
The 75 foot observation tower is a great place to cool off and enjoy panoramic views of the park and ocean. It is one of 11 towers built during World War II along Delaware's coast line and it was part of Fort Miles, a huge fortress concealed deep in the sand dunes of what is now known as Cape Henlopen State Park. Fort Miles was activated in 1941 and disarmed in 1945. At its peak, it was one of the most heavily fortified lands in the world and boasted two 16-inch naval guns and three four-gun batteries of 90mm to be used against torpedo boats. Though not a single shot was ever fired in defense, this fortress was heavily armed and guarded and was designed to keep the enemy from mobilizing along the U.S. beach in a manner similar to the invasion at Normandy. The fort successfully did its main function of guarding the vital shipping channel of the Delaware Bay. Some barracks and gun batteries have been restored and can be toured by visitors to the park.
The towers can still be seen as one drives along the Delaware coast but at present, only the observation tower at Cape Henlopen is open to the public. Like the other towers, it took 8 days to build and it has 1-foot-thick walls made from a mixture of poured concrete and sand and is cylindrical in shape, measuring 17 feet in diameter. It currently has a circular metal staircase similar to those found inside lighthouses but during WW II the metal stairs were ladder like structures that went straight up to the top. The climb is well worth the effort and because the steps are wide it is easy to take young children up them.
Delaware WWII Reenactors at Fort MilesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Surf Fishing Area
Fishing in Cape Henlopen State Park
The Cape Henlopen State Park Fishing Pier is a quarter-mile-long and juts out over the Delaware Bay, is handicap accessible and has an adjacent bait and tackle concession which sells fishing supplies and snack foods. If you are 16 years of age or older, you must have a Delaware fishing license and current FIN number and keep it with you while fishing, crabbing or clamming and must abide by size and bag limits, crabbing and clamming limits. Licensing information and restrictions can be found online at the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control website, www.fw.delaware.gov.
There is also a surf fishing beach within Cape Henlopen State Park but it is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles that have a current surf fishing vehicle permit. Permit holders must be actively engaged in surf fishing while on the beach. Dune crossovers allow pedestrian and vehicle access to the designated fishing areas. Surf fishing vehicle permits are available at the Cape Henlopen State Park office and online at the above mentioned, DNREC website, www.fw.delaware.gov. Purchasers will receive additional rules and safety requirements.
Kayak in the Delaware Bay
Kayak Rentals Available Near the Fishing Pier
Bring Your Own Kayak or Rent One by the Fishing Pier and Picnic Pavilion
Launch your own kayak from the beach next to the Cape Henlopen State Park Fishing Pier and paddle toward the Inner Breakwater and the Henlopen Lighthouse. Kayakers can look down into the clear water and observe schools of minnows and horseshoe crabs crawling on the bottom and on some days they may be lucky enough to see dolphins. The area also offers bird watching opportunities.
Kayak rentals are also available and are sit-on-top style so paddlers should dress to get wet. Secure footwear is required, close-toed shoes recommended and no flip-flops are allowed. Kayaks are rented by the half-hour at a rate of $15 for a single and $30 for a tandem. Children between the ages of 8 to 13 must be in a tandem kayak with a paying adult and those between the ages of 14 to 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult. Kayak rentals are available Wednesday through Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. from June 18 – August 21, 2011 and only on Saturdays in September during those same hours. As this information may change due to weather and at the discretion of the park, please call (302) 645-6852 or (302) 644-6720 to confirm that the above times and dates are still accurate and available.
Anyone Want to Swim in the Ocean?
Go For a Family Swim in the Refreshingly Cool Atlantic Ocean
There are two beaches that are open to swimming at the park with lifeguard patrols on duty between Memorial and Labor Day weekends.
There is also a modern bath house with showers, changing rooms and snack bar located at the northern beach. There is no additional fee to use these facilities.
Play Disc Golf With the Whole Family
A disc golf course provides a unique recreational opportunity for Cape Henlopen State Park visitors of all ages and skill levels. This sport is a fun activity for the whole family and is easy to play. The objective of the game is to throw the disc into a chain basket that rests on a pole. The number of throws needed to land the disc in the basket is the score for the hole.
The Cape Henlopen Disc Golf Course weaves up, down and around sand dunes and through a maze of scruff pines. There is lots of wildlife nearby and during the summer tiny lizards can be seen running around the course and a heard of deer can usually be seen in the field across from the nature center. Golf discs are for sale at the Seaside Nature Center.
The average rating given by disc golf enthusiasts for this course in the DG (Disc Golf) Online Course Review was 3 out of 5. To view specific reviews go to: http://dgcoursereview.com/reviews.php?id=334&mode=rev
Season Passes Are Available or Visit Cape Henlopen for Free in the Off Season
Hope you have enjoyed your time at Cape Henlopen State Park. As you can see from this hub there are so many things to do here that you may want to return again and again. Consider purchasing a season pass which runs from May 1 to October 31 and costs $27 per in-state vehicle and $54 per out-of-state vehicles.
Or return for free anytime during the off season as the park remains open all year round (though many of the activities may not be available and the winter months may be cold).
This Hub was a Fan Faves Contest Nominee
Am honored that this hub was chosen as a Fan Faves Favorite nominee. Although it didn't win, I appreciate the votes it did garnish from my Hub Pages and Facebook friends. A great big thanks to each of you who voted or tried to vote for this hub during the last week in July 2011.