Nestled between Maryland and New Jersey, Delaware covers much of the eastern portion of the narrow Delmarva Peninsula it shares with Maryland and Virginia. And as you might have guessed, the 180-mile-long, 71-mile-wide strip of land is named for the states that occupy it: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
About twice the size of Rhode Island, the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States is the second smallest in the Union. With its eastern border defined by the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the state has a variety of wetlands to explore, including tidal creeks, swamps, and marshes. And because of the relatively flat terrain, nearly all of the scenic hikes in Delaware are rated easy to moderately challenging and are good for all skill levels.
Here are eight of the best.
1. Ashland Nature Center
Just across the border from Pennsylvania, in northern Delaware, the Ashland Nature Center offers 4 miles of hiking trails through 130 acres of woodland, meadows, and marsh.
One of the most popular hikes at Ashland is the Succession Trail, a 1.2-mile loop that begins just south of the visitor center, following the Wildflower Brook before winding to Birch Run and ending along Red Clay Creek. Visitors can also explore pet-friendly interpretive trails and watch for wildlife like hawks, butterflies, hummingbirds, and a variety of other native creatures.
Pro Tip: Spanning Red Clay Creek just east of the Ashland Visitor Center is the oldest bridge in Delaware and one of just three covered bridges left in the state. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lattice truss Ashland Covered Bridge dates to the mid-1800s.
2. Brandywine Creek State Park
Established on land that was originally a dairy farm owned by the du Pont family, Brandywine Creek State Park covers hundreds of acres just north of Wilmington. Hikers can explore three distinct nature preserves, including a hardwood forest, woodlands filled with old oak trees and tulip poplars, and a freshwater marsh.
Two of the most popular hiking trails are the Rocky Run and Brandywine Loops. Both hikes include paths along Brandywine Creek.
Pro Tip: One of the most beautiful times to visit Brandywine Creek State Park is in the late spring and early summer, when the tulip poplars are covered with sunny yellow and orange blooms that resemble the famous Dutch flowers.
3. Northern Delaware Greenway Trail
If you want to explore northern Delaware beyond Brandywine Creek State Park, the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail to its south connects Alapocas Run State Park with hiking trails in Bellevue State Park. Trekkers who enjoy seeing more than old-growth trees, seasonal wildflowers, and flowing creeks will appreciate this trail.
The trail winds past two historic estates. To the east of Alapocas Run State Park, Rockwood was built on 72 acres in the mid-1800s as the retirement home of merchant banker Joseph Shipley. The Delaware native spent much of his career in Liverpool, England, and his love for English architecture is apparent in this 170-year-old home.
Continuing east along the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, you’ll also walk past Bellevue Hall. As you take in its sunny lemon-colored walls and look up at its smooth white columns, you may get a touch of deja vu. That’s because the home once owned by the du Pont family was renovated around 1930 to resemble Montpelier, the plantation home of President James Madison.
4. White Clay Creek State Park
As if they hadn’t already made plenty of benevolent contributions to Delaware parklands through Brandywine Creek State Park and sections of the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, the du Pont family generously donated some of the 3,600 acres that make up White Clay Creek State Park along the state’s northwestern border with Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Running through White Clay Creek State Park are sections of the Mason-Dixon Line, a straight edge used to define portions of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia before the Civil War.
More than 37 miles of trails wind their way through the park past fields and through forests, along creeks and around ponds. In the northern portion of the park, the 3.3-mile Whitely Farms Loop is one of the most popular hikes. This trail passes from cornfields into rolling hills that meander through woodlands. About the same distance, at 3.6 miles long, the Twin Valley Trail is another popular option. This path rambles through hilly forest terrain and over a few bridges on its way to the Arc Corner Monument. Straddle the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania as you read the inscription on the stone marker that is considered one of the cornerstones of the Mason-Dixon Line.
5. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1937 to protect migrating and wintering birds along the Atlantic Flyway, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 16,000 acres along the Delaware Bay, about 20 minutes northeast of Dover. With distances ranging from less than a mile to more than 10 miles, the hiking trails at Bombay Hook are relatively flat and good for hikers of all skill levels.
For the quickest glimpse of the waterfowl and shorebirds that make their homes here, take the Boardwalk Trail over the salt marsh. For a bird’s-eye view of the park, hike to one of the three 30-foot-high steel observation towers.
When you visit Bombay Hook, keep an eye out for a variety of ducks, geese, plovers, and other birds.
6. Amish Country Bike Route
Don’t let the word “bike” in its name keep you from exploring the countryside by hiking all or some of this 14.8-mile loop around the First State’s capital city. Start at the First State Heritage Park just north of the state capitol building and follow this map backward to visit The Green. Oh, the stories that could be told if the gentle breeze blowing across this grassy spot in the heart of Dover could talk! For it was here that the people of Dover first heard America’s Declaration of Independence, and it was here, a little more than a decade later, that the First State ratified the Constitution.
But it was also here that Samuel Burris, a free black conductor on the Underground Railroad, was found guilty of helping a woman escape the bonds of slavery and sentenced down the river. And it was on The Green that the First State was given the opportunity to be the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment. Unfortunately, Delaware legislators declined to vote, denying roughly half the American population the right to vote until Tennessee saved the day.
As you continue to follow the Amish Country Bike Route clockwise, you’ll leave historic downtown Dover behind and enter Delaware’s scenic countryside, dotted with family farms. Watch for grazing cows, rows of neatly planted corn, and orchards of apple trees.
Pro Tip: If you decide to take a break from hiking and explore this bike trail on two wheels instead of on two feet, be sure to get a refresher on these essential biking rules of the road.
7. Cape Henlopen State Park
Beginning east of the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and stretching to the end of the hook-shaped piece of land that protrudes into the Delaware Bay, you’d expect the scenic hiking trails at Cape Henlopen State Park to deliver beautiful views of the water. And they do. But there’s also more.
Starting in the southeastern corner of the park, wander past the bay, canal, and lake along Gordons Pond Trail while watching for gulls, herons, and other marine birds. To make this hike a loop, head south from Herring Point by walking along the beach to your starting point. Or, connect with Walking Dunes Trail at the northern end of Gordons Pond Trail near Herring Point to trek the 2.6-mile loop surrounded by wildflowers through the sandy floor pine forest.
Pro Tip: Lifeguards watch over a designated swimming beach near the Lewes entrance to the park from late May through early September.
8. Trap Pond State Park
This is my pick for the best hike in Delaware. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. In the southwest corner of Delaware, the bald cypress trees emerging from the still waters of Trap Pond make Trap Pond State Park one of the most scenic hiking destinations in the state. If you have about 2 hours to spare, you can hike the tranquil Trap Pond Loop. At 5 miles long, this flat, shaded footpath encircles Trap Pond, allowing trekkers to see it from every angle.
From fierce bald eagles to red-headed woodpeckers, watch for a variety of birds when you explore Trap Pond State Park.
For more to see and do in Delaware, see this page.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. For my hikes, I wore the KEEN SOLR Sandal in Light Gray/Ocean Wave. The acronym stands for Sea Ocean Lake River, and the SOLR was the perfect hiking shoe to splash around in when visiting waterfalls and trekking along creeks and rivers. Shop KEEN’s SOLR and other hiking shoes here.