September 2002: Cape Henlopen State Park


Lewes, Delaware

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.

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. Lookouts scanned the Atlantic Ocean for German U-boats during World War II and although the fort's huge guns were never fired in battle, a German submarine did surrender here after the war. In 1964, the Department of Defense declared 543 acres on the cape as surplus property and the State of Delaware established Cape Henlopen State Park. Today the park boasts more than 5,000 acres, including four miles of pristine beaches where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The park's 80-foot high Great Dune is the highest dune on the Atlantic shore between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras.

Cape Henlopen State Park features three self-guided interpretive trails of varying length. All three natural surface trails can be completed in a day with plenty of time left for the dog to play in the ocean. The shortest of the trails is the .6-mile Seaside Interpretive Trail, which loops through dunes and a mixed forest of pitch pines and hardwoods to the Delaware Bay. The 2.1-mile Pinelands Nature Trail, Delaware's first National Recreation Trail, travels through a maritime forest of old cranberry bogs, drained wetlands and pine woods. The 3.1-mile Dune Overlook Trail includes a spur to the famous "walking dunes" of Cape Henlopen. The walking is generally easy, save for extra exertion through the soft sand surfaces.

Dogs are allowed on the beach at Cape Henlopen from October through April and in the early morning and evening through the summer. Dogs - and people - are not permitted in designated bird nesting areas or on seaside dunes. One good way to explore the beach areas at Cape Henlopen is on the 1.8-mile Beach Loop Trail which begins opposite the parking lot in the southernmost section of the park and leads to overlooks of Gordon's Pond Wildlife Area, a unique saltwater impoundment.

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. 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.

Trap Pond State Park (Road 449, Laurel). Delaware is an arboreal buffer zone where many northern tree species begin to reach their southern limits and southern species find the end of their northern range. Trap Pond harbors one such species, the northernmost natural stand of baldcypress trees in the United States. A flat, easy-walking 5-mile trail circles Trap Pond, which was created in the 1700s to power a sawmill that harvested the area's cypress trees. In addition to stunning views of the baldcypress trees, the trail meanders through dense stands of another southern stalwart - the stately loblolly pine. 

Traveling from the north, Lewes is the first beachtown in Delaware off the main road - Highway 1. Cape Henlopen is one mile east ofLewes, via Route 9.