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Local destinations worth trying this fall

Getting out and about is a bit riskier these days. As much as we all want to travel, the experts are strongly advising against it. And we should respect the advice of experts.

But we can—and should—still get out. Perhaps not by plane or train, but why not a road trip to a local destination that you may have heard about but never visited? An adventure in your own backyard, if you will.

Following are a collection of fantastic, affordable outdoor destinations unique to Delaware. If you haven’t visited one of these in a while or ever, what are you waiting for? Being outside has rarely been such a precious privilege. And winter is just around the corner.

Alapocas Run State Park

This is truly a hidden gem of the city. It’s easily accessible, and has options for several 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. Visit DeStateParks.com.

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 and is a particularly nice spot to explore with 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. (Note: Currently, all trails across from the Ashland entrance are closed to the public.) Visit DelawareNatureSociety.org.

Bellevue State 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. Even during the pandemic, there are several activities you can pre-register for, including Zumba on the patio and full-moon hikes. Want a more sedentary activity? Try your luck at the pond stocked with bass, catfish, and sunfish. You must release largemouth bass, but you make keep all others. And make sure you have a fishing license. Or check out the stables; you may find riders exercising their horses. And don’t forget that picnic basket. Off Carr Road north of Wilmington. Visit DeStateParks.com.

Brandywine Creek State Park

Located just three miles north of Wilmington along Brandywine Creek, this 933-acre park boasts 14 miles of trails, the longest being the Rocky Run Trail and the Greenways Trail. Great for hiking and biking. Brandywine Creek has a large population of bass, bluegill, and crappie, and Wilson’s Run is known for its trout (fishing license and trout stamp required). Canoeing, kayaking and tubing are also popular ways to experience the Brandywine. The open meadows are excellent for picnics, kite flying, and disc golf, and in the winter, for sledding and cross-country skiing. Visit DeStateParks.com.

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, the Brandywine Zoo, and plenty of places for fishing and picnicking. It is particularly beautiful in the spring when the trees and gardens begin to bloom. Visit FriendsofWilmingtonParks.org.

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, it drew tourists because of the mythologized curative powers of the spring. A sprawling and lavish hotel was built—twice—and twice burned down, and unfortunately there are no remains of the structure 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 amusement park foundations that still exist on the historical nature walk. Even cooler, the site still undergoes excavation digs by 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. Visit NCCDE.org.

Cape Henlopen State Park

This sprawling refuge of dunes and pine forests is a respite from the surrounding commercialized development, and a great destination regardless of the season. Try the less-crowded, unpolished stretch of beach at Herring Point, where you can experience the bayside sunset accented by views of the Breakwater Lighthouse and Lewes. Cape Henlopen also features scenic walking and cycling trails. Visit DeStateParks.org.

Delaware Aquatic Resources Education Center

Located in Smyrna as part of 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 wildlife. The ARE is perfect for a day trip of fishing or for experiencing 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. Visit DNREC.alpha.delaware.gov.

Delaware Art Museum

Photo Shannon Woodloe

While the museum’s galleries offer thousands of works from Pre-Raphaelite to Contemporary American, DAM’s Copeland Sculpture Garden is an often-overlooked option for those seeking an outdoor artistic adventure. It’s open daily from dusk to dawn and features 16 sculptures by nationally recognized artists strategically positioned amid a landscape of indigenous plants. A highlight of the Garden is one of the country’s most distinctive labyrinths, ideal for meditative walking (see story on page 27). DAM also features a regular schedule of outdoor concerts, happy hours and now movies. Happy Hours on the Museum Terrace with live music take place every Thursday (5-7:30pm) through Sept. 10. And DelArt Cinema Drive-in Movies are scheduled for Sept. 3 (Pulp Fiction) and Sept. 17 (The Maltese Falcon). Visit Delart.org.

Fort Delaware

Many First State 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, then it’s a half-mile ferry ride to Pea Patch. Once there, try 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. During the pandemic, the Fort is only open Friday through Sunday and visits are limited to 2.5 hours, so planning is key. You will also need to reserve a spot on the ferry in advance. Visit DeStateParks.com.

Hagley Museum

Covering more than 235 acres along the banks of the Brandywine, Hagley’s grounds are a delight for hikers, bikers, and photographers. That’s especially true for those with an interest in history as the museum grounds include the first du Pont family home in the U.S., the gunpowder yards and a 19th-century machine shop. Special upcoming outdoor events include: Bike, Hike & Brews (Sept. 2); Stroll Into Fall (Sept. 20, 27 & Oct. 4) gives visitors the chance to leisurely walk to the du Pont residence and garden usually only accessible by bus; Canon Firings (Sept. 27, Oct. 25) demonstrate how gunpower was made and used; Hayrides at Hagley (Oct. 10-11, 17-18, 24-25) allows the family to enjoy fall foliage in the Hagley Powder Yard; Hagley Craft Fair (Oct. 17) is one of the museum’s most-popular events and will be an all-outdoor event this year. Visit Hagley.org.

Lums Pond State Park

A great adventure to experience with your dog, the park offers an off-leash area as well as 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. Other adventures at the park include the 6.4-mile Swamp Forest Trail for hikers and 8-mile Little Jersey Trail for mountain bikers. You can also explore Delaware’s largest freshwater pond (200 acres) by paddle boat, canoe, or kayak. Finally, the Go Ape tree ziplining adventure located on the park grounds has reopened. Reservations required. Visit GoApe.com. For Lums Park information, visit DeStateParks.com.

Mt. Cuba Center

At about half the size of other former du Pont 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. Recently, Mt. Cuba was named the top botanical garden in North America in a USA Today Readers’ Choice poll. Visit MtCubaCenter.org.

Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge

Photo Matthew Loeb

This urban oasis is located on the Wilmington Riverfront, so it’s easy to incorporate a snack or lunch/dinner along the Riverwalk into your adventure. The refuge is 212 acres of freshwater tidal marsh adjoining the Christina River and offers a unique opportunity to view American bald eagles, beavers, otters, ducks, and a wide range of birds. Its DuPont Environmental Education Center, managed by the Delaware Nature Society, provides an elevated view of the river and marsh as well as a quarter-mile, handicap-accessible walking loop extending into the marsh. DEEC also offers a wide range of classes and programs. Finally, there is the Markell Trail, which has been a go-to destination for walking and cycling since it opened in September 2018. The trail offers a 5.5-mile car-free trek between Wilmington’s Riverfront and Historic New Castle. Visit DelawareNatureSociety.org.

Valley Garden Park

Valley Garden Park is a bit of a local secret, although during the pandemic it has been discovered by many newcomers looking for an outdoor respite. Tucked along scenic Hoopes Reservoir in the heart of Chateau Country, it’s 1.3-mile trail is flat, offers views of water and occasional wildlife, and is a great place to stroll with the dog. Visit DeStateParks.org.

White Clay Creek State Park

The many trails of this park are popular with runners, but the mountain bike trails that include shallow dips in the creek and 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 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. DeStateParks.org.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.