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A Complete Guide to Outdoor Adventures in and Around Delaware

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Photo courtesy of Camelback Mountain Adventures

This summer, enjoy all the thrills the First State has to offer at these fun-filled outdoor destinations in and around Delaware.

As temperatures warm, it’s time to get back to nature. This season, think beyond the neighborhood swim club. The American Psychological Association links exposure to the outdoors with improved attention, lower stress, better mood, and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Here, we visit a modest array of hot spots for every type of wanderer. Everyone, in the camper!

Craving wilderness this summer? These 10 destinations serve up everything from R&R in the sand to an adrenaline rush high above sea level. | Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

Let’s Go Fishing!

Lums Pond Bear

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

Few local waterways match the biodiversity, size, ease and atmosphere for great fishing of Lums Pond. Anglers can land crappie, bluegill, perch, pickerel and more at the state park’s 200-acre freshwater pond. Bass fisherman go nuts for the largemouth and striped varieties here; the state record fattest striped bass was pulled out here weighing in at 13 pounds, 13 ounces.

Two spacious fishing areas offer shoreline casting, as well as dedicated piers and docks. Rent a rowboat, sailboat, kayak, canoe or pedalo, or launch your own vessel from the boat ramp accessible from Route 71.

The 1,790-acre preserve is big—and popular, too. Those who prefer to hike or boat when there are fewer people on the trails and pond should aim for weekdays, especially during the summer season, says Shauna McVey, a spokesperson for Delaware State Parks.

“Activity at Lums Pond State Park offers a variety of ways to see the pond and its surroundings—by boat, fishing along the banks, hiking the Swamp Forest Trail or taking advantage of the Go Ape! ropes course,” McVey says. “While most activities are centered around the pond, the park is also popular for camping, games and sports.”

Great out-of-state area:
Head to the Potomac River and its streams around Frederick County, Maryland, for wild trout, walleye and muskie.

High-Altitude Adrenaline

Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

Even when the snow is gone, the Poconos offer a plethora of mountaintop thrills. The area is chock-full of family-focused resorts that offer treetop and zip line courses that appeal to kids and expert grapplers alike. Gorilla Grove Treetop Adventure (part of Kalahari Resorts) and the Pocono TreeVentures course are just a couple.

Maneuver between high-up platforms (in a double-belay safety harnesses, natch) and through dozens of obstacle course elements like tightropes, swinging log steps, moving platforms, rope net climbs, tunnels, hanging posts and zip lines. Designated courses for kids stick close to the ground.

Longtime local favorite Camelback Mountain offers the state’s only mountain coaster—a 4,500-foot steel-track monster that zips around the slopes and foliage at up to 25 miles per hour while you handle the brakes.

Courtesy of Camelback Mountain Adventures

Great in-state area:
Want altitude? Try the treetop ropes courses at Go Ape! or Rock Climbing & Rappelling at Alapocas Run.

Life Aquatic

Assateague Island, Maryland

The famous wild horses aren’t the only ones who love the water at Assateague Island. With 37 miles of beaches for camping, swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing, the waterways around Chincoteague and Assateague islands are ideal for aquatic recreation.

Paddleboard around the marshy channels and discover secluded islands and rare birds, stingrays or the occasional dolphin pod. Or grab a few chicken necks and try to pull up some fat blue crabs. Local favorites include the surfing and surf fishing outside of lifeguarded areas. Late spring is a perfect time to angle for flounder, red drum, striped bass and the occasional shark. And the strong onshore winds here can create strong surfing conditions.

This protected area off the coast of Maryland and Virginia naturally holds an abundance of local boat rental and touring outfits to help you discover your inner seafarer.

Great in-state area:
Put your balance to the test by skimboarding the wicked-but-small waves at Dewey Beach, considered a go-to destination that attracts skimmers from around the globe.

Pleasure in the Pathless Woods (and Wetlands)

Trap Pond, Laurel

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

“Trap Pond State Park is a naturalist’s dream,” McVey says. One of the last remaining fragments of an ancient wetland, the park hosts the northernmost bald cypress swamp in the United States, as well as upland oak and hickory forests and stands of loblolly pine.

Near the Trap Pond bottomland, find large specimens of Delaware’s state tree, the American holly. “Wildlife watchers will be thrilled by species such as prothonotary warblers, river otter, and a variety of reptiles and amphibians,” McVey adds. “The park can be enjoyed from numerous hiking trails and by canoe or kayak.”

The famous cypress trees, who love the gentle, shallow standing water, aren’t the only bald celebrity inhabitants here. Bald eagles— along with orioles, wood ducks, great herons, hummingbirds, owls and more—make it a popular place for birders. So do the pristine sunrises and sunsets.

Launch a kayak or pontoon by the onsite campgrounds and weave your vessel between the trees or fish for largemouth bass, pickerel, crappie and bluegill. Or hit the winding hiking trails on foot or pedals via a free rental bike. Stop into the Baldcypress Nature Center to catch exhibits of some of the rare critters you might’ve missed outside.

Great out-of-state area:
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland, is a historic waterfowl sanctuary and an important stop for our feathered friends as they navigate the migration highway called the Atlantic Flyway.

Horsing Around in the Country

Chester County, Pennsylvania

Horses are a big deal around Chester County, an area rich in equestrian tradition and history where polo, foxhunting and some of the East Coast’s top shows and competitions are ingrained. Naturally, it also hosts a gamut of horse farms, equestrian centers and learn-to-ride opportunities.

Sheeder Mill is a fourth-generation family farm offering guided tours for all levels and ages along scenic dirt roads, wooded areas and streams of French Creek, while Great Scott Farm is considered one of the area’s premier boarding and show facilities, with 30 spacious stalls, training packages and more. Learn to ride here, or take in one of the many equestrian shows throughout the spring and summer. Some places, like Out of Reach Farm even offer summer riding camps.

Great in-state area:
With scenic meadows, water views and miles of tranquil trails, Carousel Park (nccde.org/425/Carousel-Park-Equestrian-Center) is a longtime New Castle–area favorite.

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

A Skate in the Park

New York, New York

The global influence of New York City skate culture has been far-reaching since the early ’80s, when skaters took to the iconic Brooklyn Banks beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan’s Lower East Side or Tompkins Square Park in East Village.

Outdoor adventures

Adobe Stock | Yanik88

Today, skaters flock to the many public skate parks and shops scattered throughout the five boroughs. When the weather is nice, why merely walk around Central Park when you can grind and kickflip your way through its many ledges, hills and rails?

Skateboarding neophyte? Take a weekend lesson at a place like Homage Skateboarding Academy in Brooklyn. Rent a board for $20 or bring your own (bring a helmet, too) and tune up your skills in the expansive indoor park with coaches who have been skating “for at least 15 to 20 years,” says Leslie Canin of Homage. Weather permitting, classes can be held at a nearby outdoor skatepark.

Longboarders prefer hills of Central Park, as well as the city’s myriad riverside bike paths.

Great in-state area:
Mountain bike through the 27 fast and gnarly trails that wind through scenic White Clay Creek around Newark.

Pictures in the Sand

Delaware Seashore State Park

Delaware Seashore State Park is known for its incredible sunsets along the Rehoboth Bay near the historic red-roofed Indian River Life-Saving Station. “Visitors can learn the little-known history of the hero surfmen who were responsible for patrolling the beach to look for and help ships in distress during a time when water was the most treacherous but efficient means of travel,” McVey says. “Some of the best sunsets can be caught from the Assawoman Recreation area between South Bethany and Fenwick Island, where visitors can set out a beach chair and watch the sky as the sun turns in for the night.”

This area is the postcard-perfect snapshot of Delaware’s beachside glory. Walk to the top of the Indian River Inlet Bridge for an all-encompassing vista of the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware’s inland bays and miles of undeveloped coastline. For a little extra relaxation, plant your toes in the tableside sand at Hammerheads Dockside with some fresh oysters and a cold craft beer.

Great out-of-state area:
Off-the-beaten-path Janes Island State Park, Maryland, boasts 30 miles of relaxing water trails among 2,900 acres of salt marsh and isolated, pristine beaches.

A Foot in Both Camps

Shenandoah, Virginia

Teeming with wildlife, rugged wilderness and abundant local wineries, this sprawling patch of Virginia is every camper’s dream.

Flanked by forests, the Shenandoah River and the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park offers five dedicated camping areas, and—for the adventurous—96,000 acres of backcountry and wilderness and over 500 miles of trails to explore. Just keep your eyes peeled and picnic baskets secured for the local American black bears.

The park’s Big Meadows Campground is a favorite, spacious and secluded with nearby waterfalls and free-roaming deer. Shaded by native oak and pine trees and loaded with meadows, rivers and creeks, it’s a fishing and hiking haven.

Outdoor adventures

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks

Or simply link with one of the many private- and family-run campsites that dot the riverbanks, like River Run Campground, which offers kayak, canoe and tube rentals—including a kayaking run along the Class II/III Compton rapids— along with primitive campsites.

Great in-state area:
At Cape Henlopen State Park, campers enjoy the electrical and water hookups, as well as 22 spacious cabins or 20 walk-in tent sites.

Birds-Fly View

Bombay Hook, Smyrna

A mere link in the chain of refuges that extend from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a designated Globally Important Bird Area where migratory flocks rest their feathers amid 16,000 acres of federally protected salt marsh. It’s a bird’s dream, where woods, swamps, thickets and meadows intersect rivers, creeks and the refuge’s human-made freshwater ponds (or impoundments).

May presents a peak time to spot shorebirds, songbirds and wading birds, when horseshoe crabs begin laying their eggs, and tulip trees and spring wildflowers are in full bloom. Grab your binoculars and checklist and hit one of six walking and driving trails around the 75-year-old sanctuary. The paths show off the area’s biodiversity and amazing views—especially from the 30-foot observation tower (one of three) and the boardwalk trail over the salt marsh. Wildlife Drive is a 12-mile, vehicle-accessible trail that diverges into five other trails to explore the salt marshes and woodlands.

Great out-of-state area:
Cape May, New Jersey, and its dedicated observatory, was recently recognized by National Geographic as one of the world’s top destinations for birding.

Outdoor adventures

Adobe Stock | Nick

On the Trail of History

Red Clay Valley

The Delaware Nature Society calls it a “local treasure.” Who are we to argue? The scenic network of water, roads and history that comprise the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway boasts an impressive lineup.

Both natural beauty along the Red Clay watershed and its local history make this area a popular destination for those who want to stroll, hike, bike or ride by car. Spindly wooded roads near Hockessin might bring you face-to-face with the Mt. Cuba Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Auburn Heights, and the Wilmington & Western Railroad.

Learn more about native plants while exploring the trails and gardens at circa 1930s Mt. Cuba Center, and ride a vintage steam car at the nearby Marshall Steam Museum (part of Auburn Valley State Park). Get the scenic route through the valley aboard the Wilmington & Western Railroad, which began life in 1872 freighting between Wilmington and Hockessin.

Explore the nearby forests, and hike through woodlands, meadows, and marsh at the Delaware Nature Society’s Ashland Nature Center.

Great out-of-state area:
Nearby drives west beyond Baltimore will take wanderers to historic towns like Frederick and historic outdoor wonders around Washington County, an area Thomas Jefferson once called, “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”

Related: 5 Can’t-Miss Music Festivals in Delaware This Summer

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