Cape Henlopen State Park. Read Before you Go!

You know that time you stumbled on to something so good, that you claimed it an Unofficially Official? I’ve got that sentiment wrapped up on my post today. You may change how you beach when you visit Delaware Beaches this summer.

Cape Henlopen State Park is a gem of a find!

Overpopulated with vacation-goers, and underwhelming areas to change in, for your day at the beach are often what you will find at Bethany, Dewey, and Rehoboth beach, but everything changes when you find Cape Henlopen State Park.

Cape Henlopen State Park in a few different angles bayside

Southern Delaware definitely is spoiled by 5,193 pristine acres of a state park. And Cape Henlopen is the unspoiled treasure of beach-finds as far as Delaware Beaches go, IMO!

But don’t just take my word for it, so many others take trips to visit Cape Henlopen State Park again and again!

Cape Henlopen State Park is not just a beach, it’s an experience!

Unofficially Official Hidden Gem: Cape Henlopen State Park

The park is rich in scenic landscapes and waterside views. However, Cape Henlopen State Park stands out when it comes to finding a variety of things to do in one place. Pristine, serene, and uncomplicated are a few choice words to describe the area.

When in Southern Delaware hardly will you lack for beach choice. Bethany, Dewey, Lewes, and Rehoboth are just a few options all within a short distance of the other but each so very diverse in its offerings.

However, there is just more of everything at Cape Henlopen State Park making it a hidden treasure for both beach options and adventure-seeking humans. Do you fit one of those categories?

Expect Cape Henlopen To Share

White sandy beaches and a minimal entrance fee means you will never be required to walk back to your car to fill the meter. Beyond those valuable perks, you’ll find clean bathrooms and changing areas, and p-l-e-n-t-y of beach areas to spread out without being anywhere near as populated as its neighboring sister beaches.

These are just a few reasons Cape Henlopen State Park is a hidden gem.

Cape Henlopen State Park The Perfect Playground

Riding on Beach Secluded yet wide out in the open, and a public area. Cape Henlopen State Park is a playground for families, a beach visit, and somewhere that is secluded from the hustle and bustle of the other beaches in the area in over 5000 acres.

Your true Southern Delaware beach experience is not simply at Bethany, Dewey, or Rehoboth, rather right here inside of Cape Henlopen State Park. Those areas albeit perfect for a vacation can tend to be over-populated, umbrella, and chair-filled beaches.

And while you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas and experience a life-guarded beach here, there are just fewer people here making it comfortable, and what I term a hidden gem. Truly Cape Henlopen State Park is a hidden treasure for everyone visiting the area and my pick as Unofficially Official Hidden Gem.

10 Things To Know About Cape Henlopen State Park

shoreline at state parkBefore I begin my story, please know that I visited Cape Henlopen State Park and spent my time with my 3 teens and Park Superintendent Grant. I asked dozens of questions as did the teens and got answers. My discussion is based on what we learned and experienced as we spent time here!

While I don’t get over-excited about state parks, Cape Henlopen State Park is not just a state park, rather it’s an experience. Perfect for every age and adventure abounds from the beach to the boardwalk.

What I Know About Cape Henlopen State Park

2 chairs sitting on sand at Cape Henlopen State Park Perhaps Cape Henlopen State Park was the treasure chest I found in the area without even realizing it until I walked away. My regret is that I did not discover the park from our very first day of vacation, and funnily enough, it was the exact sentiment echoed by all three teens with me. What does that tell you?

Read on and learn why, because families need to flock to these acres of pristine bliss and enjoy their vacation.

Cape Henlopen State Park – What To Do Here? Need To Know Facts

There’s a lot of ground (literally) to cover here, but let me give you the short and skinny list and then expand on it! “What can we do at Cape Henlopen State Park?” Maybe it should be what can’t we do at Cape Henlopen State Park?

  1. Do bring bug spray, you are in a protected environment, and mosquitoes lurk as do flies, etc.
  2. Be prepared as you would be with any trip to a park. You can use my beach packing list to help pack up!
  3. Additionally, phone connections in some parts of the parks are sketchy at best, so you may not have service (learned this while on the premises).

Is It Just A Beach? Or Just For Hiking?

  1. Hiking
  2. biking
  3. sunbathing
  4. disc golf
  5. camping
  6. a nature center
  7. a tackle and a bait center available
  8. fishing
  9. surf fishing
  10. boardwalk
  11. You can gain access to Rehoboth Beach as well.

Now allow me to give you more in-depth answers because there is just so much more to each answer! Ready?

1. Entrance fees

To enter the park you can expect to pay a nominal fee. Check the site for CHSP, and I’d suggest a parking pass. In-state and out-of-state pay different fees, the pass makes sense. Here is where this gets interesting. For those that have experienced parking meters at the local beach for public parking does not hold more than 2 hours time. Eyeroll.

Therefore, you pay the meter and you will need to be back and be punctual about paying it again. While I would never downplay the beauty and fun located at these beaches (Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany) I am describing a scenario that takes away from beach time.

I personally prefer to pay to play (so to speak) one time and get on with my day. Don’t you? The fees are established for park maintenance, that is it, and after you see the park, you will want to keep it maintained and beautiful!

Busy? Not Busy?

Another point to be made, and it is true for each of the other beaches as well: Weekends can get very very busy and the state park. It is suggested to test it out during the week, and if you love it, then come back, just get there early.

2. Bayside

So before I even start this story, I have to take a minute and tell you this photo was on my Instagram feed and it won the #SoDelSummer contest! I took it in the dunes of the bay. The area is so beautiful you can not help but take photos.

Award-Winning IG Photo of Southern Delaware by Dana Vento. Bayside Cape Henlopen State Park

This is prime summertime and does this beach look over-populated to you? No! And is it perfect to toddle in the shallows? YES!

The Bay offers very long walk-out areas so much sandbar, no waves, in a little bit warmer than the water on the ocean side that was averaging about 67° F while we were there. The more shallow water is heated by the sun a bit more rapidly! From the bayside, you can stroll out a nice distance and still never be beyond 5 feet in-depth in the water.

Definitely a choice for families with smaller children and those that want to be on a beach with prime swimming areas.

Southern Delaware Cape Henlopen State Park Shore Line - bayside Northern Tip Bayside Cape

The Bayside was very clean and very family. You can set up your coolers, and your umbrellas and chairs and just kick back and relax.

There are little tide pools that the children play in and make sandcastles without the worry of them being washed away.

Grass in sand at Cape Henlopen State Park. north tip bayside

Parking in this area for the bayside experience keeps you close to the bay, without having to lug your stuff too far. Woot! Plus, there are sand dunes and grass as far as the eye can see!

Do respect the property, as it is a protected wildlife area.

Fence and sand at Cape Henlopen State Par. North tip Bayside

I just really have to show you the area up close. Take a look, there is a nice shoreline, and plenty of space to sprawl out. This is a weekday and it is hardly populated in fact this at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Now when you go to the other public beaches they are jammed. I found area this to be serene and quiet. Isn’t it nice? I do love Bethany, Rehoboth, and Dewey but this was so quiet and calm, truly just a very different aspect of the Southern Delaware beach areas.

Cape Henlopen State Park cape shoreline, unpopulated

3. Changing Facilities

My largest gripe with Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany beaches was the simple fact there were no changing facilities. Not everyone comes to the area from a very close hotel or home rental. Additionally, if you go to those spots, parking can be very difficult, so you might be toting your stuff a long way.

As a mom, I loved the fact that there was a changing facility as well as showers right as you get off the bay!

Hungry?

While you may crave the foods of the boardwalk, here you will find some fun foods at the snack shop like chicken fingers, fries, etc. Additionally, you can bring your own coolers to the beach, just no alcohol is allowed.

4. Bayside Bonus ~ Best Photo Spot For Lighthouse IMO

I told you I felt like I could walk to the lighthouse, I was not kidding. Doesn’t it look like you could totally wade right to the lighthouse from this angle? Of course, I know it is not possible but seeing the lighthouse from this direction was pretty darn cool.

Additionally, it does give you an idea of how far you can go in the bay and enjoy the water at ankle-deep levels does it not? We were so lucky with the weather too, it was not too sunny, it was just right as the sun peaked in and out of the clouds.

Cape Henlopen State Park breakwater Lighthouse

There are a few other notable items via bayside that you will want to check out. We did. Such as in the distance you will be able to see the East End Lighthouse. Here you get a very different vantage point it looks as if you could walk out to the lighthouse, even though that is simply not possible.

Earlier in the day, we took the East End Lighthouse Tour so this was a perfect way to come full circle on views of the lighthouse.

5. Fishing Pier & Bait & Tackle Shop

Bait & Tackle Shop at Cape Henlopen State Park

Perhaps a few of you want to fish and a few of you want the beach. You can do it all here. Options abound!

  • There is a bait and tackle shop and you have 2 options for fishing. You can fish off a pier or you can surf fish right on the beach.
  • All fishing options require licenses that can be purchased online (keeps things simple right?).
  • You will find a 1/4 mile long pier that gives you plenty of access to Delaware Bay.
  • As for surf fishing, you can take your vehicle onto the beach, and your pet as well but you have to be actively engaged in your sport in order to stay there.
  • Yes, the beaches are monitored by the Park Rangers who enforce the rules!

This photo is beachside surf fishing and vehicles on the beach.

Surf side fishing at Cape Henlopen Beach

6. Beachside

Riding on beach at Cape Henlopen State Park

The beachside is quite exciting as you will find waves, people fishing, and even vehicles on the beach and dogs.

  1. Dogs do have to be maintained on leashes and not further than 6′ foot leashes.
  2. Rehoboth beach is only 3 miles away!
  3. In case you are curious the top speed when riding on the beach is 15 miles per hour or a park ranger can cite you and tickets you and yes it does happen.
  4. Only bring your vehicle on the beach if you are surf fishing and have the license for such, otherwise no vehicles on the beach.
  5. There is plenty of parking and it is not a long haul from the parking lot down to the beach.
  6. Again you will find facilities for changing as well as using the bathroom.
  7. You can bring coolers onto the beach but do make sure you clean up after yourself or you will receive a fine.
  8. Also, no alcohol permitted.
  9. There are lifeguards on duty.

Simply stated: there is a lot of area on the beach for you to spread out and enjoy.

7. Biking and the state park

As part of a green initiative, Cape Henlopen State Park offers free bicycle rentals for up to 2 hours. There are many bikes to choose from. The bikes have been donated, repaired, and are in high demand.

After all where else can you get a bike rental for free? There are plenty of trails in the park and if you choose to go down to the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk it is a simple 3 mile down the venture.

The trails include paved, earthen, crushed stone, and shell. Pick your pleasure and go!

8. Seaside Nature Center In The Park

So this is as close as you can be to a stingray and you can pet it too. Well, I will say I passed on this opportunity, however, my son pets it. He said it feels like velvet. I will just go ahead and take his word for it, I think it is funny to see their underbelly.

Nature Center Cape Henlopen State Park and a stingray

The nature center is right next to the bike shop. You can enjoy petting a stingray, or getting up close and personal with a horseshoe crab. We learned more than we ever wanted to know about a horseshoe crab from superintendent Grant.

To be honest this thing totally creeped me out but once you learn about it is not so scary.

We have seen horseshoe crabs when visiting the Outer Banks and never knew much about them now I know a whole lot about the animal and respect them. Truly a learning experience we have never had, not even at a zoo and we have been to many zoos.

The attraction is free, though someone may not always be there to give insight on the tanks, etc.

I Like Turtles

Great, if you like turtles because they swim right up to the glass to see you. This one seemed like it was striking a pose, so yes I snapped its photo. Cute right?

turtle at Cape Henlopen Nature Center

Additionally, as you move through the center, you will find 5- 1000 gallons tanks that are local to the state park and some turtles. There is a snake exhibit, which we did not tour (thank goodness) as well as a LIVE Osprey Cam.

9. WWII Military Bunker & Armory – Fort Miles

The WWII area, coupled with the artillery is something you do not want to miss. Artillery there is not the original artillery and you do need to know this.

 WWII Military Bunker & Armory - Fort Miles, CHSP

The bunkers in the sand made for great defense and sighting enemies coming from them at the ocean. What has been created here is a mock-up of where and how they would defend the area.

Inside WWII Military Bunker & Armory - Fort Miles, Cape Henlopen Statea Park

When you get inside you will be astounded to find and all concrete compound that is actually the size of 2 football fields long when you are standing in one hallway. I was nothing short astounded.

The exhibits here are fun to browse and of course, filled with information. As the state gets more money to fund this, it will be officially opened as a non-guided tour of the museum.

hallway Inside the WWII Military Bunker & Armory - Fort Miles. CHSP

During one part of the tour, our guide h 1 of the guides Tyler we learned how they planned for battle and firing the artillery. In addition, we gained an appreciation for how heavy the missiles were that were launched and how they had to be handled.

At the end where MJ travels not to fire the artillery ready set fire take a look.

Of course, I had to have a little fun here too. I found these signs on the wall. Actually, they were descriptive signs for the contents that would have been found in the rooms if it were an active base.

For me, it was a stop and smell the roses kind of a moment or maybe just a few Dana Descriptors, lol!

Dana Vento at WWII Military Bunker & Armory - Fort Miles

10. Camping Grounds

camping Cape Henlopen State Park, Clean with Electric Hookups. Cabins too

  • The camping grounds here are clean.
  • There are electrical and water hookups too!
  • If you prefer a cabin, they are available to rent and have air conditioning in them.
  • Pets are allowed on the camping grounds but strictly enforced rules of a 6-foot separation on leashes and no further are enforced.
  • Remember bug spray and leashes for pets.

I even saw a camper that had chickens in cages with them (true story).

Henlopen State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park Sign

All in all, there is so much to do within CHSP that 1 day will not be enough time spent here. Plan on spending a few days and try out both the Bayside and the ocean side with waves, a little bit of the history and the military, as well as bicycling.

A nominal parking fee and a world of nature ahead. History, fun in the sun, and the lovely beaches of Southern Delaware are waiting for you! ~ Dana XO

Dana Vento is an award-winning travel writer who loves to seek out adventure and fun. The trip was sponsored by Southern Delaware. Opinions are my own.