Delaware is a small state with a lot to offer. I-95 runs through the northern tip of Delaware, but Route 1 runs north to south through Delaware’s three counties. Here are our favorite activities in all three counties, heading generally from north to south.
Places to Visit in New Castle County
There are many lovely state parks in New Castle County. Delaware State Parks passes can be purchased here, and are $4 for an in-state vehicle and $8 out-of-state (with the exception of the seashore parks, which are $1 and $2 more). They can also be purchased at the park when you go.
Alapocas Run State Park is about the only place in Delaware where you will find a waterfall (Delaware is hilly, but doesn’t really have any mountains to speak of), but the park also has some really cool blue granite cliffs that rock-climbers have long enjoyed scaling. The Can-Do playground and little story-book trail next to the playground has been enjoyed many times by our children, and there are several nice woodsy trails.
Brandywine Creek State Park is a picturesque park of rolling meadows and forested area, and of course the creek. Chipmunks can be spotted near the blue gneiss stone walls (built in the late 1800s and early 1900s to mark property lines), and there are more than 14 miles of trail throughout the park. There is a nice disk golf course and plenty of fishing.
Bellevue State Park, a former DuPont estate, lies a few miles away. (You will find many attractions and landmarks in the area that were property of the DuPont family in this area). William DuPont’s home, Bellevue Hall, stands in the middle of the park, as well as a number of other structures and several playgrounds. There are always lovely horses to be seen, as the park includes horse stables, indoor horse training facilities, and a 1 ⅛ mile long horse track. There is a fishing pond, disk golf course, and a paved part of the Northern Delaware Greenway runs through the park.
Just a few miles away is Auburn Valley State Park, which runs along the Red Clay Creek. It houses the world’s largest operating collection of Stanley Steamer cars (which offer rides on “Steamin’ Days”) as well as a historic paper mill which lies undisturbed in the middle of the park. The hike up the hill (I believe this is called the Oversee Farm Trail) will get your heart rate up, but it is also paved which is nice for strollers and scooters.
There are several parks in the city of Wilmington, including Brandywine Park near the downtown area, and it is beautiful in late March/early April when the cherry trees bloom. In late May and June, the Jasper Crane Rose Garden is brilliantly in bloom. Formal gardens stand near the creek, and the Brandywine Zoo is just across the street. The zoo is small, just a loop really, but the space offers a good home for the animals and is perfect for young children who may not yet have the stamina to enjoy all there is to see at a larger (and pricier) zoo like the Philadelphia zoo.
Not to be confused with Brandywine Springs Park (Yes, Delaware loves the name Brandywine), which is a small county park that is on the site of an old natural springs spa resort (in the 1800’s) and later an amusement park (through the early 1900’s). It is interesting because there are photographs along the trails showing what used to be built there.
Just down the road from Brandywine Springs you will find the Wilmington Western Railroad, which offers a fun local train ride and where you can sometimes meet the Easter Bunny in the spring, and Santa in December. We enjoy the Christmas lights train ride, and the station and train itself is lit up too. If you’re in town during the Christmas season, “River Bright” sets up a nice lights display for over a mile along the Riverfront.
Rockford Park can be found after a pleasant drive through some of the most wealthy, historical, and beautiful neighborhoods near Wilmington. The park is known for it’s huge tower, which can only be climbed during certain limited hours (check this website before you go, if you want to climb the tower.) The view is lovely, but so are the pathways winding through the hilly meadows and woodland surrounding the tower. There is no playground, but there are some boulders and stone structures that little ones will like to climb.
Fox Point State Park includes a flat walking trail, pavilions, playground, restrooms and a view of the Delaware River, where you can watch ships from around the world on the river side, and trains speed down the tracks on the opposite side.
The historic town of Old New Castle, Delaware, established in 1651 and the landing place of William Penn, is just a few miles away from Wilmington. There are tons of Colonial and Dutch historical buildings, most of which are lived in or house businesses for people going about their daily lives. Jessop’s Tavern is one such building that is fun to visit. People dress up and celebrate Dutch, Swedish and English colonial history on Old New Castle Day, held on the third Saturday in May. The First State National Historical Park in the heart of Old New Castle includes the New Castle Courthouse Museum, the Old Sheriff’s House and the Green (which runs along the river and has picnic spots and playgrounds.) It is free, though parking may be metered.
There is a 5.5 mile trail that connects Old New Castle to the Wilmington Riverfront, which is mostly paved, and lovely. The waterfront includes numerous restaurants and hotels, as well as a paved nature walk out to a little patch of wetland with a high overlook and little boardwalk for bird viewing. This is also where the Delaware Children’s Museum is located. It is one of the best in the region, and you can easily spend several hours inside.
Ashland Nature Center is a fun place to visit in late July/early August, if you’re into hummingbirds. There is a hummingbird garden where you are sure to see fledgling hummingbirds feeding and honestly, I can’t get enough of them. They’re small enough to be insects and just so cute. There are also some small trails, a replica of a native American dwelling, and educational programs for kids that includes netting little creatures from the wetland area to examine.
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in the Brandywine Valley offers various tours, exhibitions, and interactive programs for children and adults. It includes another former DuPont Home. Our favorite annual events are the fairy days that are held in May, and the Halloween days in October. Our girls like to dress up and enjoy the children’s garden and enchanted woods. There are thousands of acres of hilly meadows and woods, as well as gardens. This area is home to the Bidens, and is a beautiful area to drive through, both in terms of the rolling forested hills (especially in the fall), and the beautiful homes throughout the area. Close by the area are Longwood Gardens (in PA), the Delaware Art Museum, and the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science (look up for the giant squid there!)
White Clay Creek State Park encompasses a very large area that runs into Pennsylvania, providing ample opportunity to get lost if you’re not careful! (Yes, we know from experience.) It has a small nature center, and hikes that reach the Mason Dixon line, as well as one where you can find the point where Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland come together.
Nearby Lums Pond State Park has Delaware’s largest freshwater pond, 17 miles of trails around the pond, a boathouse offering a variety of boats with which to explore, camping (reservations here), pavilions, a dog park, and a nature center with a few live animal exhibits. Our personal favorite activity is the Go-Ape Treetop Ropes course where you can get a workout and some awesome zipline rides across the pond.
Some other beautiful, free county parks include Glasgow Park (with numerous, modern playgrounds) and Carousel Park (with lovely playgrounds, horses, and even a little “Western town” area where the stables are located). The Newark Reservoir has a nice accessible playground, and a walking path up a steep hill that leads to the reservoir and around it. It’s a great place to catch a sunset.
Pea Patch Island/Fort Delaware is a fun ferry ride to this historic landmark, which served as a Union prison during the civil war. Apparently we had a cannon pointed at Jersey in case they got out of hand. No hard feelings, Jersey friends. Now they have historic tours, people dressed in 19th century garb blacksmithing, laundering things by hand, etc. And to top it all off, they show you how to set off a cannon (though they don’t actually set it off, of course.) It is also a good place to see birds including ospreys, herons in season, and bald eagles.
Things to Do in Kent County
Delaware’s central county sits between the more populous county of New Castle in the north, and Sussex county to the south, known for it’s lovely beaches. Whether you want to visit Kent County or you’re passing through on a trip down route 1, there are plenty of fun excursions in this part of the state. Here are a few of our favorites:
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and other Wildlife Viewing
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a gorgeous reserve in the northern part of the county, near the city of Smyrna. It is a beautiful wetland renowned for it’s birds. There is a 12 mile wildlife drive that loops around the refuge, and five walking trails (two are paved), with three observation towers, which offer a great place to take photos and get a good view of the birds on the water, especially in spring and fall when they migrate, and during sunrise and sunset. There are thousands of snow geese, ducks and other waterfowl in the winter as well. The cost is $4 per vehicle, and there is a visitor center open during the week and weekends in the spring and fall.
In May to early June, you can see the annual spawning of the horseshoe crabs at Pickering Beach or Kitts Hummock, where tons of these helmet like creatures come up on shore to mate. But, come too late and there will be stinky dead crabs everywhere! These are nice quiet places to view the crabs but not good beaches for swimming. You have to go further south for those!
The Capital City of Dover, DE
The Dover Air Mobility Command Museum is one of the best in the country, and it is free. If you have an airplane lover in the family, they will enjoy viewing the many historic aircraft in the main exhibit gallery and outside as well. C-5A cargo compartment tours are available, living history reenactors are on site most Saturdays, and you can sometimes visit one of the air control towers and watch the planes traveling in and out of the base. The Museum is open to the public Wed through Sun, 9 to 4PM.
It’s also fun to visit the more historic area of Dover, where Victorian buildings surround the area known as the Green, where Legislative Hall and other historic buildings are located. You can tour Legislative Hall and several of the other buildings for free. Parking is generally available at the lot in front of the Delaware Public Archives. Tours take place the first Saturday of the month in the morning timeframe.
Silver Lake Park is just a few minutes from the Green, and is a pleasant place to picnic or walk a small trail around the lake. There is a small dam, playground equipment, and geese, ducks and other birds in season. Eat lunch or dinner at McGlynn’s Pub for a beautiful view of the lake.
There is a small and very specialized museum called the Johnson Victrola Museum not far from Silver Lake. Here you can find a well curated collection of Victrola’s, as well as other historical early sound recording equipment and Nipper the dog artifacts. The docents are wonderful, and the museum is free (though donations are appreciated).
Just outside of Dover is a small natural area called St. Jones Reserve, which is actually an Estuarine Research Reserve, but is open to the public. It is a quiet place with lots of wildlife, including bald eagles. There is no cost to enjoy the grounds.
Killens Pond State Park
Aside from the Dover Green and its’ surrounding buildings, Killens Pond in Felton, DE is the only state park in Kent County, but it is a beautiful one. The pond itself is lovely reflecting the trees, especially in autumn, and is surrounded by about a two and a half mile trail that is quite flat. You can fish, rent a boat, or visit the fun and affordable waterpark in the summer. There’s also a really nice nature center that is open May to September from 10 to 4 on weekdays, and 10 to 6 on weekends. The cost to enter is $4 for in-state vehicles and $8 for out-of-state.
Things to Do in Sussex County
The southernmost county of Delaware, Sussex County, includes rural farmland and the beautiful and popular beaches that tourists enjoy every summer.
The town of Milford straddles Kent and Sussex County and is a fun stop along route one to take a walk along the Milford River walk, enjoy a bite to eat or take in some art. There’s also a Can-Do Playground located in Milford that is very nice where the kids can expend some energy.
Further South you will find the town of Millsboro, where you can find retail and restaurant options surrounded by farmland, and within a quick drive of the beaches. Massey’s Landing is a popular boat launch and fishing spot in millsboro.
Trap Pond State Park is about the farthest north you can find a bald cypress swamp. It has a nice network of walking and biking trails, bike rentals, a nature center, restrooms and playgrounds. Not to mention, the pond itself is a popular spot for kayaking and boating.
Cape Henlopen State Park is both beach and park, and includes about 6 miles of coastline at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The park includes “The Point,” where the Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, barrier dunes, coastal beaches, and maritime forests, which are all highlighted in the Seaside Nature Center that also offers interactive educational programs. Fort Miles was built in the park during World War II, and the towers can be viewed along the drive. Or you can just enjoy a day at the beach at this lovely section of Delaware’s coast.
Other Delaware Beaches include Lewes Beach and Rehoboth. Lewes is a charming little town filled with boutiques and waterfront cafes and restaurants. It has a classy but friendly feel, and the Bay is great for little ones who want to swim without a lot of surf. It is known for its tulip festival in spring, and for the Lewes-Cape May Ferry, if you’re looking for the most pleasant way to get to New Jersey.
Rehoboth is not as quiet, but has a fun, mile long boardwalk and lots to do. Many come for the tax-free shopping at the outlets, but the beach itself at Rehoboth is clean, lovely, and worth the crowds. Or, you can go in the off-season when there are hardly any crowds! May and September are lovely there. You can also park a little ways out from the main boardwalk area. There is a nice playground near Lake Gerard with street parking, and it is only a block or two to the sea.