The Great Outdoors

Krista Connor

Wildlife and recreation destinations worth exploring

Now that warm weather has finally arrived, get up from bingeing on Stranger Things or Orange Is the New Black and get out and enjoy one or more of these natural attractions that our state has to offer and that staff members recommend. You just may find some heretofore unknown gems here.

Hagley Museum
The grounds are a delight for hikers, bikers and photographers. Explore the woods at night to look for signs of nocturnal life. Walks last about an hour. Pre-register by calling 761-6963 no later than 4 p.m. the previous business day; $4 per person. Starting in June, Wednesday evenings are given over to bicyclists and walkers. Visit areas normally closed to foot traffic—$2 per person, free to members and children under 5. Bring a picnic or dine at the charming Belin House Organic Café. Entrance is off Rt. 141 near the Tyler McConnell Bridge.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Lums Pond State Park
The only thing my dogs love more than the dog park is Lums Pond State Park in Bear. This beautiful treasure offers an off-leash dog area, and there are trails, fields and water access points for your furry friends to run and swim. Be aware that the off-leash area is not accessed through the main entrance. You can find the entrance on Howell School Road by turning onto the road marked with the Pony Express sign. Just remember to bring extra towels to dry off your canine companions.
— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

Mount Cuba
At about half the size of other former duPont estates such as Longwood Gardens and Winterthur—and slightly more difficult to find—the Mt. Cuba Center is an often-overlooked gem, which is a shame since its wildflower collections and nature paths are unique in this region. In fact, the center boasts collections of trillium and hexastylis that are of national significance, accredited by the Plants Collections Network.
Although not affiliated with the Center, the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory is an interesting neighbor to the gardens. It’s Delaware’s only public observatory. Both the center and the observatory offer night classes, and if you time it right, you may be able to do a “Tasting on the Terrace” at the center, then bounce over to the observatory to catch a glimpse of the heavenly wonders above. Located on Barley Mill Road near Hockessin.
— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Bellevue Park
For the energetic, there are hiking and jogging trails, paved and unpaved cycling paths, a 1-1/8-mile fitness track, and tennis courts. Want a more sedentary activity? Try your luck at the catch-and-release pond stocked with bass, catfish, and sunfish (but make sure you have a fishing license). Or check out the stables; you may catch riders exercising their horses. And don’t forget that picnic basket. Off Carr Road north of Wilmington.
— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

Fort Delaware
Many residents don’t realize Delaware has its very own Civil War fort, much less its very own island. A trip to Pea Patch Island, site of Fort Delaware, will introduce you to this intriguing part of state history. You reach Fort Delaware by catching a ferry on Clinton Street in Delaware City. It’s a half-mile ferry ride to Pea Patch. Once there, I recommend the following: Take a picnic lunch (no food service on the island) and enjoy the tranquility of this unique getaway. Hike the easy .8-mile path around the perimeter of the grounds – especially if you’re a bird watcher. Explore the fort itself and learn the role Fort Delaware played in the Civil War (it once housed as many as 9,000 Confederate prisoners) and World War I. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday, May through Labor Day, then weekends into mid-October. Same-day tickets ($12 adults; $7 kids 12 and under) can be purchased at the ferry ticket office, 45 Clinton St. Also, Fort Delaware offers ghost tours throughout the month of October. Reserve early; they sell out. Destateparks.com.
—Jerry DuPhily, Publisher

Valley Garden Park
Valley Garden Park, one of the best little-known parks in Delaware, is tucked along scenic Hoopes Reservoir in the heart of Chateau Country, near duPont family mansions and museums. Walking down from the parking lot is like that moment in young adult fantasy novels where the plucky main characters step through the wardrobe. Every time I’m there, I half-expect to catch a glimpse of a satyr or unicorn. First date slam dunk tip: lie back together on the park’s verdant grass by the softly gurgling creek underneath a cherry tree, and dream.
— David Hallberg, Special Projects

Aquatic Resources Education Center
Located at 4876 Hay Point Landing Rd. in Smyrna in the beautiful Woodland Beach Wildlife Area, the Delaware Aquatic Resources Education Center (ARE) features several ponds and inlets, a 940-foot boardwalk that spans a tidal marsh, and an abundance of local wildlife. The ARE is perfect for a day trip of fishing or for capturing some of Delaware’s aquatic ecosystems and avian population. The ARE hosts activities for educators, field trips for students, and events to introduce kids (and adults) to Delaware’s coastal ecosystems. For more information stop by the ARE office or check out dnrec.delaware.gov.
— David Ferguson, Intern

Huck and a Hike at Iron Hill Park
Iron Hill Park, at 1337 S. Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, is a challenging disc golf course and a cardio-level hike combined into one enjoyable outdoor experience. This course has been called “the best on the East Coast in terms of challenge and overall disc golf experience,” and this certainly holds true. Once you wrap up your round, your legs will remind you that you just completed a “champion level” hike as well.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director

Brandywine Springs Park
Visit this park off Newport Gap Pike and you’ll discover far more than a pleasant path for strolling. The site was actually an amusement park at one time, reaching its peak during the Edwardian era until it closed in 1923. Prior to its time as an amusement park, tourists were drawn to the site because of mythologized curative powers of the spring. A sprawling and lavish hotel was built—twice—and twice burned down, so unfortunately there are no hotel remains today. Thanks to the nonprofit Friends of Brandywine Springs, though, the trails are clear, safe and peppered with fascinating markers to pique the imagination, encouraging visitors to envision more than the already-intriguing amusement park foundations that still exist on the historical nature walk. Even cooler, the site still undergoes excavation digs with the Archaeological Society of Delaware. Picnic by the stream, go for a run—or dip your hand into the water for a chance of that ancient cure.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Tubing/Kayaking/Canoeing on the Brandywine
My husband decided to invest in a decent river tube a couple of years ago, and we’ve gotten our money’s worth. The trip involves two cars: one parked at the destination and one at the start. We bring some snacks and life jackets, and take off from the area near the intersection of Brandywine Creek Road and Smith Bridge Road near the Delaware/Pennsylvania border, and stop at Thompson Bridge in Brandywine Creek State Park. It’s a pretty gentle trip—sometimes too gentle if the river is really low.
If you’re looking for an organized trip, or canoeing and kayaking on the Brandywine, Wilderness Canoe Trips Inc. offers everything you need, including transportation. wildernesscanoetrips.com.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Urban Wildlife Escape
Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge on the Wilmington Riverfront will give you an outdoor fix on a pleasant spring or summer day. I recommend taking a stroll on the Riverfront and add a quick visit to the Wildlife Refuge. It’s one of the few urban wildlife areas in the country and the surrounding views are worth the trek up the Riverwalk. The employees and volunteers share educational facts about the native plants and wildlife that flourisharound the facilities. They also offer some great summer camps that our kids really enjoy.
— Matt Loeb, Creative Director

White Clay Creek Mountain Bike Trails
The many trails of this park have always been a go-to of mine for a morning run, but the mountain bike trails that include shallow dips in the creek, dense patches of trees and open fields are absolute treats. Whether you’ve been riding your entire life or just picked up a bike yesterday, White Clay Creek has a trail that will provide miles of fun for you. Many of the trails have some steep climbs and equally as steep descents and can be a bit dodgy depending on the weather; some may even be closed. Your best bet for finding a fun ride suited to your skill level would be to stop into your local bike shop and ask about recent trail conditions and where you can find a map of the different routes.
— David Ferguson, Intern

Alapocas Run State Park
This park is truly a hidden gem of the city, easily accessible, and has options for a few different activities. On the other side of Brandywine Creek, behind Rockford Park and the Delaware Art Museum, it boasts quite a few trails. Take the forest trails from the Alapocas Ball Fields for a nice nature hike with a few vistas of Brandywine Creek and the surrounding area. Or take the path along the creek to enjoy the water running through short falls and rocks. The park also features Blue Ball Barn, the Can-Do Playground and a rock climbing area. The Northern Delaware Greenway Trail runs right through it, so don’t forget your bike.
— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Cape Henlopen State Park
This sprawling refuge of dunes and pine forests is a respite from the surrounding commercialized development, and one of my favorite places to visit in Delaware regardless of the season. I opt for the less-crowded, unpolished stretch of beach at Herring Point, and I never miss the bayside sunset accented by views of the Breakwater Lighthouse, The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse (pictured) and Lewes. Cape Henlopen also features walking and cycling trails, and new this season, a revamped campground that includes updated amenities, a camp store and more.
— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Brandywine Park
Not to be confused with Brandywine Creek State Park, Brandywine Park is nestled in the city of Wilmington along the north and south banks of the Brandywine River, between Augustine Cutoff and King Street. It includes walking trails, off-leash dog areas, a beautiful fountain, monuments and gardens, a zoo, and plenty of places for fishing (catch-and-release) and picnicking. It is particularly beautiful in the spring when the trees and gardens begin to bloom.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

Ashland Nature Center
Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin is the headquarters for the Delaware Nature Society. It’s a great place for any nature lover, but I have found it to be a particularly nice spot for exploring with my kids. It has plenty of well-marked, easy-to-hike trails, small streams and meadows to play in, views of the Red Clay Valley, bathrooms, and a place to fill up water bottles. (The last two attributes should never be taken for granted!) There’s a hummingbird garden, a butterfly house, a bird blind where you can watch quietly as birds fly right to you, and the staff at the nature center is always eager to engage little naturalists-in-training.
— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media

So, what do you think? Please comment below.