Cape Henlopen State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park offers lovely stretches of beaches, perfect for whiling away the afternoon or weekend!

But if you’re like me, you start to get a bit restless after a bit, just sitting on the beach. That’s why Cape Henlopen State Park is such a great park to visit. There are bike trails, hiking trails, lighthouses to go see, a nature center, and lots of history in the form of the remnants of former Fort Miles.

Ride the Bike Loop

Linking the park office, nature center, campground, beach bath house, observation tower, and Fort Miles Historic Area, the 3.3 mile Bike Loop provides a full experience of the park. Visitors can also explore one of the side trails leading to the fishing pier and kayak rental, or check out the dune overlook — resting atop a former military bunker.

Along the trail is an observation tower to climb up, which offers outstanding views of the area.

For either biking or hiking, consider checking out the Gordons Pond Trail, which I wrote about last fall. This 3.2 mile trail begins at the Gordons Pond parking area, visitors will follow a crushed stone trail suitable for hiking and biking along the water’s edge for 0.75 miles before arriving at the Gordons Pond Scenic Overlook.

The overlook, popular among birdwatchers, provides a great view of Gordons Pond. From the overlook, the trail continues north to the Herring Point Parking Area. Visitors will traverse an elevated bridge where they will experience an upland pine forest and stunning scenic views of the marsh and Atlantic Ocean.

There is also the Junction Breakwater Trail, which I didn’t go on. This 5.8 mile trail follows a section of the former Penn Central railroad connecting Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. The easy contour and crushed stone and paved surfaces are suitable for hikers, bikers, and strollers. 
The trail is accessible from the designated trailheads at the Wolfe Neck Parking Area and behind the Outlets. Trail users will pass through mature hardwood and conifer forests, marshes and open fields. Scenic vistas at the Wolfe Glade and Holland Glade crossings provide spectacular views of the coastal marshes, and interpretive signs provide visitors with information about plant and animal life along the trail.

What’s left of Fort Miles

In 1941, the United States built Fort Miles on Cape Henlopen, immediately south of Lewes, to defend Delaware Bay and the Delaware River and the oil refineries and factories on its shores, as well as the city of Philadelphia further up the Delaware River. It was one of the largest and most heavily armed coastal fortifications ever built. 

Today you can check out the Fort Miles Museum, which includes Battery 519, six barracks buildings, a fire control tower, an orientation building, and the Fort Miles Artillery Park. The museum tells the story of Fort Miles, a key piece of our nation’s coastal defense, from World War II through the early 1970s.

Enjoy the waves

A designated swimming beach, accessible from the Lewes entrance to the park, provides lifeguard patrols between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day (schedule may vary) AND there’s a bathhouse, which is always nice to have nearby. I always enjoyed taking my kids to the beach here!

Two lighthouses and one fishing pier

On the point, you can go fishing off the pier or take in views of two lighthouses: the East End Breakwater Lighthouse and the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse.

Established in 1885, the East End Breakwater Lighthouse can be seen of the shores of Cape Henlopen State Park and is one of Delaware’s oldest lighthouses. In 1884 a light was commissioned for the east end of the Delaware Breakwater. The light was built to replace the Cape Henlopen Beacon, which was rapidly deteriorating at the time and was taken out of service later that same year. The iron structure was completed on October 2, 1885. The tower was fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens—which is still in the lighthouse to this day.

The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse was built on the ocean end of the outer Delaware Breakwater at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, just off Cape Henlopen. It was built to function with the Delaware Breakwater East End Light to mark the National Harbor of Refuge. On November 15, 1926, the new Harbor of Refuge light was established, a cast-iron structure designed to endure the most intense of Atlantic storms and replacing a formerly wooden lighthouse structure that proved to be ill-suited to the conditions at the location. The current structure of 76 feet is a white, conical tower with a black lantern. The house itself lies on a cast-iron caisson which is built into the breakwater.

Know before you go: Don’t have a bike? You’re in luck!! Free bikes are available at the Seaside Nature Center on a first-come, first-served basis, weather permitting, for 2 hours at a time, Bikes must remain within the park and stay on the paved bike trail. For more information, call the nature center. The Borrow-A-Bike Program is a project of the Friends of Cape Henlopen. Available 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily on days when the nature center is open

Getting there: 15099 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, DE

Hours: The park is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset

Nature Center hours: Mid-June through Labor Day 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; Fall and Spring 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; November through March 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday but closed Monday and Tuesday.


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