It doesn’t get any better than Cape Henlopen State Park

April 8, 2022

I've visited state and national parks all over the country, and one of the best is located in our backyard – Cape Henlopen State Park.

With 1.2 million to 1.5 million visitors a year, Cape Henlopen is always the No. 1 park in the state. It's also recognized as one of the top state parks in the nation in nearly every survey out there. In fact, it’s so popular, park officials are forced to close it on some summer weekends when parking lots are filled to capacity. Hint: Get there early.

So why is the park so popular? Let me count the ways, and there are many of them.

The park literally offers something for everyone – from a great upgraded camping area to miles and miles of trails to historic Fort Miles and multitudes of programs. But its top attraction by far is the beach. The park is situated in a unique location where the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay meet, so the park offers both ocean and bay beaches – more than 6 miles of them.

What really makes the park unique is that it's the best of both worlds. Not only does it offer a chance to explore the great outdoors, it is also a history buff's dream come true.

Few people realize that the history of the land which is now the park dates all the way back to the 17th century. The land was set aside for public use by William Penn as part of the Warner Grant, which applies to Lewes Beach as well.

Over the decades, the land housed a quarantine station for Philadelphia immigrants, a life-saving station, World War I defenses and World War II’s Fort Miles, and served as a Soviet Submarine Listening Post during the Cold War. It was also a vacation spot for the military, with several trailers set up as summer vacation getaways. By the 1960s, the U.S. military had no further use for the area, and the land was taken over by Delaware’s Division of Parks and Recreation in 1964 as Cape Henlopen State Park.

What the 5,200-acre park has to offer: tent, RV and cabin camping, fishing (including a fishing pier), hiking, cycling (with free bikes available), geocaching, surfing, birding, nature photography, picnicking, a disc golf course, swimming, kayak rentals, summer camps, a playground, a bait shop and a bathhouse at the ocean with showers and concessions, to name a few attractions.

The Seaside Nature Center is a real gem that includes a touch tank and store. It's also where most of the park's year-round programs originate. Check out a schedule at

A new events venue, with one of the best views along the Atlantic Coast, has become a popular destination for weddings and special events.

And in what other state park can you climb a World War II tower (it has 115 steps) and get a spectacular view of the area? Those iconic towers were built to last a few decades, yet the silent sentinels still stand throughout the park after 80 years.

Also, where else can you stand on the beach and see two historic lighthouses not far from shore – the Harbor of Refuge and Delaware Breakwater East End lighthouses. Everywhere you turn in the park, history jumps out at you.

What more could anyone want? The park has it all for people who love to get outdoors.

Views are what the park is all about, too. At Herring Point, you can see the entire length of the park's ocean beach, which includes two World War II towers in the direction of Rehoboth Beach. You can also watch maritime traffic and see the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. Northward, at The Point parking area, you get a great view of both lighthouses. It's also a great vantage point to see just how popular the beach is with those who ride on to surf fish.

Cape’s Great Dune is one of the highest coastal points between Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod.

Bicycling has become one of the most popular activities at the park thanks to the trail connections provided between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. The park has 16 miles of paved and unpaved trails, and if you need a bike, the active Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park provide a share-a-bike program.

Many significant milestones have occurred at the park over the years. One of those was the opening of the Gordons Pond Trail in June 2014, the same year as the park's 50th anniversary. The popular trail, featuring an elevated boardwalk and multiple scenic overlooks, is part of a 15-mile regional trail loop that connects Rehoboth Beach and Lewes, and links the northern and southern sections of the park.

Another evolving landmark to be appreciated is the Fort Miles Historical Area, which features a World War II museum highlighted by a gun barrel from the battleship USS Missouri and an artifact from the sunken USS Arizona.

Watching the sun rise over the ocean from the beach and then seeing it set behind the Breakwater East End Light on the bay is about as close to a perfect day as you can get.


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