Delaware Bay Paddle – Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Delaware
Distance: 3.3 miles
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: 5 of 10 (darn tides)
Total score: 8 of 10.
Website – Cape Henlopen State Park
Standouts – birds, dolphins, Harbor of Refuge and Breakwater Lighthouses, WWII signal towers.
Terrain – Bay, then rougher waters of the ocean
Put ins – next to fishing pier – 38°47’11.27″N, 75° 6’9.13″W
Description – At the beginning of June, we took a Scout trip down to Cape Henlopen State Park. I’d never been here before, but my brother-in-law sold the rest of the Troop on it by pitching a sea kayaking trip. Totally good call on his park, this might have been the best trip of the year!
We pulled up, got our gear from the company, got a quick lesson on how to handle it (paddle left, go right. Paddle right, go left), were warned to stay off the beaches of the point ($10,000,000,000 fine during the nesting season), were told the tide forcast (tide was heading in at the moment, would switch around the time we got back) and away we went.
The first obstacle is to get around the heavily damaged fishing pier. Usually, you go all the way around, but since a giant chunk is missing, we went through the gap (do NOT go under it!).
Once around the pier, we set out sights on the breakwater, which is capped by a lighthouse. All along the way, you could admire the shores of the point, which are studded by WWII watch towers. This area was very important to the defense of Philadelphia during several wars, but most importantly WWII. Going against the tide was tough, but better to do the hard part first!
Eventually, our whole group made it out to the breakwater.
The good news? We made it to the tower in far less time than the rental folks had told us it would take. We had been told that there was no way we could make the point in an hour (we had 2 hours total time), but since we got here in 20 minutes, why not go for it?
We paddled hard toward the wide open Atlantic Ocean, with about half of the group (including myself) making it all the way out to the point. The rest of the guys ended up hanging out enjoying the views of the shore.
My group won. Reason #1 – views of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. Reason #2 – got to watch the Cape May-Lewes Ferry go by. Most importantly, Reason #3 – DOLPHINS. We ended up spotting a large number of them, and at one point some of the group got within just a few feet of them. It was really an experience.
After an hour, we all gathered back together into one group and headed for shore. Most of the group headed straight in, but a few of us took a closer look at the lighthouse. The lighthouse is open for tours in the summer through the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation (they do cruises a few days a year out to this and the Harbor of Refuge Light).
Then it was back around the fishing pier and onto the shore with about ten minutes to spare!
Overall recommendation – I’m not much of a kayak guy, but this was really awesome. I loved getting close to a lighthouse and seeing dolphins in particular. Worth spending a weekend down there.
Other things to do at Cape Henlopen State Park
Getting there – you can drive around OR take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry from Cape May if you have that kind of cash.
Camping – Since you’re driving all the way down to Slower Lower (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask a person from Delaware), why not stay? There are 150 campsites and a number of group sites in Cape Henlopen State Park.
World War II Towers – Lots to drive by, and one you can climb up!
Fort Miles – This fort was key to protecting Philadelphia and Wilmington during World War II. Later, it served as a vacation area for military personal. Today, Delaware is majorly upgrading this area, which means I’ll have to go back soon! They even offer scheduled battery tours.
There are also hiking and biking trails that criss-cross the cape, all very nice for a walk. Or you could go on the beach. Or visit the nature center.
Cape Henlopen is a GREAT spot to spend a weekend!
Need one more thing to do? The Overfalls Lightship is just a few miles down the road in Lewes. You can check out the lifesaving station, see the big wheel used to dry fishing nets, and take a tour of one of the few lightships left in the country (17) and one of the even fewer that are open to the public for tours (7).
The original Overfalls Lightship was posted at the entrance the Delaware Bay, warning ships the safe way to go. It was later replaced by a buoy, as all lightships now have been.