Denise Wolynetz of Newark remembers taking lots of camping trips in Pennsylvania with her family while growing up. When she met her husband Mike more than 15 years ago, the couple continued that tradition in Delaware. Today, they’re avid adventurers who’ve visited sites across the state with their “fifth wheel”—a 41-foot camper that offers plenty of creature comforts.
On the move throughout all four seasons, they often bring friends hitching at Delaware Seashore Park, biking at Cape Henlopen or kayaking at Trap Pond—or make new ones along the way.
“Your mindset can put you a million miles away,” Denise says, “just from being on a campsite.”
As the COVID-19 era lurches on, there may be no better option for fun, safe, low-risk family fun than booking a campsite at a Delaware park or private campground.
In fact, the camping industry is one of the few that’s seen a sizable upswing since the pandemic’s onset. The Economic Observer tracked a 31 percent uptick in camping equipment sales in 2020, crediting “consumers looking for a respite from home life [who] pitched tents in their yards or at local destinations” for the boon.
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials charted a 50 percent increase in camping reservations last summer—a trend that continues into 2021. “We can only guess on why people are coming out to our parks, but it seems that they’re coming out because they’re stuck at home more, or they’re confined more, and they want to get out into nature,” says Shauna McVey, a community relations coordinator for Delaware State Parks. “The outdoors is there for when your family needs to get fresh air or exercise, so people are exploring what’s around them.”
In other words, if you can’t go to the movies, why not go hiking through a state park instead? Here are 10 of the best places to camp—and trek, paddle, swim, bird-watch, you name it—in Delaware.
33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel • 875-5153
Camping at the secluded, swampy Trap Pond state park is like being on a different planet (Star Wars’ Dagobah, perhaps?), where giant bald cypress trees, in their northernmost setting on the East Coast, loom like giant elephant feet in the water. The popular park boasts 142 camping sites, most of which offer water and electrical hookups. Beyond RV and tent camping, Trap allows guests to book onsite cabins (eight) and yurts (two), where campers can rough it slightly less roughly, with soft beds, running water and other comforts of home. Launch a kayak or pontoon right by the campground and weave your vessel between the trees or fish for largemouth bass, pickerel, crappie and bluegill. Hit the winding hiking trails and keep a keen eye and ear out for bald eagles, orioles, wood ducks and more. And be sure to take in a sunrise or sunset.
15099 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes • 645-8983
Between the beach, trails, bayside lighthouse, boggy marshes, forest and World War II-era fort, there’s a lot of cool stuff crammed into one little cape. Catch magical glimpses from the Point Overlook, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, a perfect vantage point for spotting birds, dolphins and seals, as well as both the East End Breakwater and the Harbor of Refuge lighthouses. In winter, visitors can hike around the point on the bay and ocean beaches. “You can go out and watch the sun set behind the lighthouse from the point,” says Abby Shepard, marketing director for Delaware State Parks. “It’s beautiful.” Low tide at the bay also brings campers face to face with horseshoe crabs, fish and whelk egg cases. Trailer and RV campers enjoy the electrical and water hookups here, and campers and their families can book from among 22 spacious cabins or 20 walk-in tent sites that lie adjacent to the dunes walking trail. Be sure to bring warm clothes for the chilly nights under the stars.
37291 Lighthouse Road, Selbyville • 436-8001
Salt Life vibes abound. Nestled on the shores of Assawoman Bay among whispering pines just a mile west of Fenwick Island, Treasure Beach sits on 100 acres of waterside beauty. There are 1,000 camping options here, including generous pull-through RV sites outfitted with paved driveways and private patio furniture, tent sites with water and electric (plus fire pits), and waterfront family cabins with full kitchens and bathrooms, as well as private bedrooms and cable TV. Watermen can hone their crabbing skills by the pier or at the catch-and-release stocked lake. Families dig the lifeguarded pools and a splash pad, playgrounds, giant jumping pillows and bike rentals, plus live music.
3488-3598 Red Lion Road, Bear • 368-6989
Want soothing water views? Camp out right next to the state’s largest freshwater pond (and at 200 acres, one of its most celebrated fishing spots). The newly renovated campground at Lums Pond State Park offers RV, tent and cabin sites with three-point hookups (water, electric and sewer), as well as the ever-trendy yurts: stationary round structures with canvas walls, bunk beds, a double bed-sized futon, outdoor seating and a deck. “It’s kind of like being in a tent, but the tent was already made for you and a little bit more weatherproof than a tent,” McVey says. It’s a good option for families who want a bit more space and comfort than a traditional tent. Take in the hardwood forest—one the site of several Native American hunting camps—from above at the Go Ape treetop course with its Tarzan swings and four zip lines that take you directly over the pond. Or head to the nearby equestrian center and hit the trails in style.
25039 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach • 227-2800
Flanked by two campgrounds on either side of the Indian River Inlet, this state campsite is the postcard-perfect snapshot of Delaware’s beachside glory. Hook up tiny tents all the way up to large RVs and then windsurf or sail along the shallow bays. Better yet, get a little muddy and take in some of the local crabbing and clamming. Here, you’re free to define “camping” however you want: Go minimalist in a tent and spend your days exploring the rugged salt marsh islands of Rehoboth Bay, hoping to spot a diamondback terrapin or glossy ibis. Or plant your figurative stakes in the tableside sand at Hammerheads Dockside with a cold Orange Crush and a crab cake. “And you can literally walk to the beach in five minutes from the campground,” Shepard says. “It’s popular for RV campers because there’s full hookups and you’re really close to the beach.”
5025 Killens Pond Road, Felton • 284-4526
Killens Pond State Park is the sort of place that garners respect from veteran campers. The 17 walk-in, primitive campsites carve out a quiet respite beneath the hardwood forest. Hikers and nature lovers gravitate toward the mile-long loop around Fork Branch Nature Preserve, an ideal wooded area lush with wildflowers and birds like the red-shouldered hawk or the resident bald eagles that nests in the tall pines along the pond’s edge. Anglers flock to the 66-acre millpond for the largemouth bass, catfish, carp, perch, crappie, bluegill and pickerel. But Killens Pond State Park has a softer side, too. The well-equipped RV sites offer family-style cabins that sleep four and come with an efficiency kitchen and homestyle amenities. Kids won’t be able to resist the onsite waterpark, complete with 54-foot slides that twist and splash, along with swimming and kiddie pools. Killens Pond debuts its elevated boardwalk this season—a woodsy bypass that encircles part of the pond.
20628 Long Beach Drive, Millsboro • 947-2600
Home to a swim-up pool bar, Massey’s Landing boasts an all-inclusive resort vibe, complete with swanky safari glamping tents. Book one (and get the golf cart that comes with the deal) and relax in style with two queen-size beds, fans, deck furniture, a fire ring and adornments a la Anthropologie. But the comprehensive Massey’s offers something for every camping appetite. There are spacious tent sites for traditional camping in a secluded corner of the campground and dozens of family-friendly beachside cottages outfitted with everything from spoons to wine glasses. “What I love most about this place is the location,” says general manager Abby Beard. “It’s a private beach right in between Dewey and Rehoboth and Indian River Inlet. You can see it all in just a beautifully environmental area. Our sunsets are phenomenal.” With 2 miles of waterfront, campers can paddleboard, kayak or canoe in the brackish waterways around the property. Those seeking a quieter camping retreat might consider the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-October. Families tend to dominate the summer months.
26633 Zion Church Road, Milton • 684-4031
Deep Branch stems from two mighty tributaries: the shallow stream that runs from Flaxhole Pond in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the legendary ministry of “Pastor Bill” Sammons Sr., who led Eagle’s Nest Church in Milton for decades. What it may lack in slick, modern gadgetry, Deep Branch more than makes up for in homespun family relaxation. The old-school summer-camp-style cabins cover the basics, and the RV slots can be reserved for up to a season at a time. It’s known for being clean, friendly, affordable, and close to the beaches and stores. Barbecues around the fire pit and bocce ball are orders of the day, and an in-ground pool and playground keep the kids busy.
502 Blackbird Forest Road, Smyrna • 653-6505
Hikers and backpackers know what a treasure Blackbird Forest contains. It’s not necessarily the primitive-style campsites (for tents, van or pickup campers only) but rather the 5,400 acres of oak, yellow poplar, maple, gum, and hickory trees and meadows. Included are 40 miles of trails across nine tracts—including the half-mile, wheelchair-accessible wildlife and nature interpretation trail on the Tybout Tract. The red-winged blackbird is the star attraction, naturally, but birders have spotted grasshopper sparrows and great blue herons. The Barlow Tract runs past Blackbird Creek and catch-and- release fishing (also available at a stocked pond). Isolated and secluded, Blackbird feels like true return-to- nature camping, albeit with nearby restrooms and hot showers. Each campsite also comes with a fire pit and barbecue grill. The colors of the forest truly come alive in late summer and fall before the frost sets in.
18074 Redden Forest Drive, Georgetown • 856-289
Camp like a grizzled 19th-century railroad tycoon (for whom the central hunting lodge was built in 1903) in the state’s largest forest, sprawled across 12,000 acres near Georgetown. The five RV-sized campsites offer plenty of space (about 35 feet worth) and seclusion. The campsites themselves—open for tent, RV or pickup campers—are relatively primitive but offer access to 44 miles of trails for hiking, biking and bird-watching. The firewood is free, too. Redden is a birder’s paradise, hosting sought-after species like worm-eating warblers and red-headed woodpeckers.