42 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, Delaware
MOOLAH METER: $
GOOD FOR: All ages
Just 3 1/2 to 4 hours from western Fairfax, this 5,193-acre park just north of Rehoboth has just about everything you could want from a family outing: clean beaches with moderate surf, a nature center that offers family programs, camping sites, fishing pier, a 3-mile-long paved bike trail, 18-hole disc golf course, basketball courts, and a World War II Observation Tower that you can climb and take in the 360-degree views. I know, the latter sounds bizarre until you read the history of the park on the Web site:
Cape Henlopen’s strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay led to its role in local shipping and military history. … With the onset of World War II, the U.S. Army established a military base at Cape Henlopen in 1941. Bunkers and gun emplacements were camouflaged among the dunes, and concrete observation towers were built along the coast to spot enemy ships. … During World War II, the Delaware River was a chief priority for defense planners because of the access it afforded to the giant trade centers of Wilmington, Philadelphia, and beyond. Fort Miles, located in what is now Cape Henlopen State Park, was a key piece in the nation’s coastal defense at that time.
BEFORE YOU GET TO THE PARK: Hit an ATM and get cash; we went the day before Memorial Day and the snack bar’s credit card machines were down. What you may need money for, depending on what you bring:
- $8 entrance fee
- Food/drinks at the snack bar (burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, French fires, sandwiches, subs, ice cream). Two cheeseburgers, a hot dog, and three chicken nuggets (comes with fries) came to about $32.
- Beach accessory rentals (umbrellas, chairs, rafts, boogie boards, surf mats). An umbrella and 2 chairs cost $25 when we were there.
- Gifts at the nature center.
Here are before-you-go tips for other activities at the beach:
BIKING: If you want to bike the trails, you should probably bring your own wheels; the Web site indicates they rent kayaks, but not bikes. Even if you plan to just walk the trails, you should download the printable copy of the Seaside Interpretive Trail guide, or pick one up at the nature center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Noon-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (302) 645-6852.
FISHING: There’s a quarter-mile-long pier that accesses the Delaware Bay; a bait and tackle concession at the pier offers fishing supplies and snack foods. You can also fish in the surf by crossing over dunes to the designated fishing areas. A surf fishing vehicle permit is required; get them online or at the park office.
Camping: Families can camp at one of 17 sites without water hookups for $30 (nonresident) or at one of 139 sites with water hookups for $32 (nonresident) through Nov. 30. You can make reservations online or call the Campground Reservation System at 1-877-98 PARKS. For more information, call the campground at (302) 645-2103. Before you do, however, download the printable map of the campsites by clicking here.