Enjoy a half-day hike at Cape Henlopen where diversity reigns. Begin at the Seaside Nature Center parking lot. Turn left on the multi-use trail and hike eastbound. Cross Cape Henlopen Point access road then Cape Henlopen Drive to reach the sand dunes. Head south following the sounds of pounding surf where dune brace the seashore stabilized by wind-sculpted pines, heather, bayberry, Eastern dogwoods and beach plum. One mile into the trail, it bears right reaching Great Dune Overlook. Take the short spur trail for expansive views of the Atlantic. Historians will be interested in knowing that sights of an old WWII artillery bunker are visible from the outlook. This is just a taste of what lies west at 1.3-mile on the trail, a row of old barracks and lookout tower that is open to the public. From the tower's base, continue left on the main trail into the wind-sculpted pines. At 1.4 miles, yellow-blazed Dune Overlook Trail intersects the trail. Bear right onto a former service road that now travels behind the campground. Notice how the habitat changes from a dense maritime environment to an oak, maple and sweet gum woodland. At 1.7 miles, the yellow-blazes bear left onto Walking Dune Spur. This spur carries you into a mixed forest emerging out onto a salt marsh. Quiet wetlands lush with amphibians and birdlife bring the stillness to life. Salt Marsh Spur intersects at 2.2 miles affording an even deeper excursion into the marsh. Back on the main trail, Dune Overlook Trail provides a continuation of the scenic wetlands and woods. The trail then circles back to the coast becoming sandier. You'll cross the former service road reaching Herring Point Overlook. Here you'll be rewarded with sights stretching to Gordon's Pond and Rehoboth Beach. At the base of the overlook, kick off your shoes for an enjoyable stroll along the sandy shores. Be sure to keep an eye out for four-wheelers on the beach. Hike north for two miles soaking up the beautiful blue ocean, the beige beaches, and a variety of skirting shorebirds. Look for black scoters flying over the waves and dolphins breaking the waves. Continuing into the park's swimming area, restrooms and concessions are welcome pleasures. At 5.5 miles, turn inland from the beach taking Point Crossing, which is north of the Maritime Tower, to Delaware Bay. During the cooler months of October through March, continue 1.4 miles around Cape Henlopen Point. This is a restricted area during the summer nesting seasons. Off-season provides a secluded hike along the coast's shoreline. After the dune crossing, descend to the bay. Turn left at 5.8 miles following the coastline southwest to reach Seaside Nature Trail. Head left on this trail, which carries you back to the trailhead at the nature center. While walking along the bay, keep an eye out for horseshoe crabs. Each spring during high tides on full and new moons, these creatures spawn on shore resulting in a wave of migrating birds landing to feast before their southbound flights.
Other shorter trails including the Salt Marsh Spur and Cape Point Spur offer alternative excursions into the maritime forest. In summer, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water is advised.
A special Note: the dunes along this trail are the eastern terminus of the American Discovery Trail, the 6,000-mile trail originating in Point Reyes, California.
Directions: From Lewes, DE, On U.S. Highway 9, turn right onto Cape Henlopen Drive. Proceed 1.3 miles past the May-Lewes ferry terminal. Trailhead parking is 100 yards ahead at Seaside Nature Center.
Elevation: 5 feet
Elevation Gain: Minimal
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Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware
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