Looking for an off-beat vacation for your dog? Why not consider touring the dog-friendliest state in America. You will have to look long and hard to find a “No Dogs Allowed” sign in Delaware. Maybe in the cabins and yurts in the state parks and on a couple of popular ocean beaches midday in summer but that is about it. This tour of five Delaware state parks will take your dog to fast-flowing streams, lazy ponds, ocean beaches, sporty hills, enchanting forests...
Brandywine Creek State Park (Wilmington)
Starting in the north of a state that is less than 100 miles long and never wider than 35 miles, the first Delaware state park you reach, hard by the Pennsylvania line, is Brandywine Creek, named for the shallow creek that dissects it. Once a du Pont family dairy farm, this spectacular swath of land houses Delaware’s first two nature preserves. The stone walls that crisscross the 850-acre park are the legacy of skilled Italian masons who crafted the barriers from locally quarried Brandywine granite - the original “Wilmington Blue Rocks.” There are eight blazed trails totaling 14 miles on both sides of the Brandywine Creek. All are short, all are woodsy and if you can’t reach out and touch the water you are moving up or down a hill. The Hidden Pond Trail and the Indian Springs Trail each travel along the water, immerse you in the steep valley terrain and traverse the Tulip Tree Woods, where majestic tulip poplar have grown for nearly two centuries. The rugged 1.9-mile Rocky Run Trail, winds around the closest thing to a mountain stream in Delaware and nearby, the Multi-Use Trail tags Brandywine Creek for the better part of two miles or, on a hot day, walk right down the middle of the stream with your dog.
White Clay Creek State Park (Newark)
White Clay serves up the widest menu of canine hiking choices of any park in the First State - almost 40 miles of marked trails. The top choices in the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Recreation Area are the hardy 5-mile Twin Valley Trail and the sporty 2-mile Millstone Trail with its scenic rock outcroppings and two never-finished millstones. A half-mile Logger’s Trail illuminates the history of lumbering in the area. The only trail that actually visits the White Clay Creek is the Penndel Trail, a superb linear trail for hiking with your dog - flat for its entire length and uniformly wide. Nearby, at the park office on Thompson Station Road, is a trailhead for a rugged hill climb on the homesite of David English, a lease holder of the William Penn family. While you are warming up for hill climbs, visit Possum Hill, where two stacked loop trails fall 150 feet among thick stands of mature beech and oaks that thrive in the moist valleys. The scenery on the 2-mile Long Loop is more arresting so save the inner loop for a second go-round. The fourth - and newest - section of White Clay Creek was acquired in 1998 at the Judge Morris Estate. Along with an elegant 1790s mansion the park
annexed one of the finest loop trails in the state. The wooded 3-mile ramble dips and rolls across tumbling terrain and is certain to delight any dog.
Killens Pond State Park (Dover)
The first thing your dog will notice while trotting on the trails at Killens Pond is that it is unusually hilly for central Delaware. Just enough to give the 2.75-mile Pondside Trail a nice, sporty feel. Your dog will also approve of the wide, roomy paths and the packed sand and pine straw under paw. The trail circles the entire pond, keeping sight of the water most of the way. Chances are you will just be getting warmed up with this pleasing ramble and luckily Killens Pond serves up a few more choices. The Ice Storm Trail is a loop that shows the forest regenerating from a 1994 storm that left trees snapping and buckling under the weight of a cocoon of ice. Killens Pond offers the opportunity to hike through a uniquely diverse forest as southern species mingle at the northern edge of their range with northern species reaching their southern boundary. Seven separate species of oak trees share the sandy soil with majestic loblolly pines; American holly jostles with Virginia pine and so on.
Trap Pond State Park (Laurel)
Trap Pond is a small portion of the Great Cypress Swamp and features the northernmost natural stand of baldcypress trees in the Untied States. In the late 1700s a millpond was constructed to power a sawmill to harvest the valuable lumber. During the Depression in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps put men to work building recreation facilities and in 1951, 14 years after the Delaware legislature authorized the development of the state park system, Trap Pond became the first to welcome visitors. The 5-mile long Boundary Trail completely circles both the 90-acre millpond and the baldcypress swamp. There is a mixture of natural and paved surfaces and the flat trail is very easy for any dog to walk. Stately loblolly pines dominate the forest and gently flowing streams feed the pond. For canine hikers not interested in a complete circumnavigation of Trap Pond there are short atmospheric trails along the edge of the swamp that could be taking place in Louisiana instead of Delaware.
Cape Henlopen State Park (Lewes)
Cape Henlopen has the distinction of being one of the first parks in America: in 1682 William Penn decreed that Cape Henlopen would be for “the usage of the citizens of Lewes and Sussex County.” The area had been Delaware’s first permanent settlement 50 years earlier by ill-fated Dutch colonists who were massacred by local Indians. Today the park boasts more than 5,000 acres, including four miles of pristine beaches (dogs allowed in off-season) where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is Delaware’s largest state park. The primary destination for dog owners at Cape Henlopen is the 3.1-mile Dune Overlook Trail, located south of the campground. The loop is part natural surface, part paved road through pitch-pine corridors and past old fortifications. Do not skip the two short spur trails! One leads into the spartina marshes typical of the Delaware Bay estuary and the other is a journey onto the 80-foot Great Dune, the highest sand pile on the Atlantic shore between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. Cape Henlopen’s strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay led the United States Army to establish Fort Miles among the dunes in 1941. Remnants of Cape Henlopen’s military past remain nestled among the massive sand dunes. Bunkers and gun emplacements were camouflaged deep in the sand and concrete observation towers were built along the shoreline to bolster America’s coastal defenses during World War II. Lookouts scanned the Atlantic Ocean for German U-boats and although the fort’s huge guns were never fired in battle, an enemy submarine did surrender here after the war. These silent sentinels remain scattered along Delaware’s beaches and one has been restored to provide visitors with a panoramic view of the park and the ocean.
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