Cape Henlopen beach camping in Delaware offers surf, salty air and sun for anyone who doesn’t mind a little sand in their sleeping bag.
That’s the thing about beach camping. The sand. You just have to ignore the fact that it tends to sneak into just about everything.
The campsites can be a bit crowded to the point where you will find yourself tent to tent with the campers next door. If you can, opt for one of the campsites (check the campsite map) that are side by side, rather than back to back with the neighbors. The bathrooms can get to be a hike from out there, but you’ll have a better campsite experience. The campground is open from May through October.
The RV sites are simply parking spots along the paved camp road, very easy to get in and out of, even if they do lack a pleasant setting or any privacy. However, you then get your very own sandy campsite to serve as your front yard.
There are so many things to do at Cape Henlopen, or you can just as easily choose to do nothing but simply loaf on the beach. First of all, it’s a very scenic destination full of sand and sky, interspersed nicely with beachy pine woods (Japanese black pines, if you want to be specific).
Cape Henlopen State Park has paved hiking and biking trails, plus free bike borrowing if you want to go for a spin. You can borrow the bikes at the nature center, which is a good place to get a handle on the ecology of a shore area. There is a huge salt water fishing pier with a well-stocked bait shop and snack bar, but you’ll need a $20 fishing license if you are over 16. It’s very inconvenient that for some reason the bait shop does not sell fishing licenses so you’ll have to drive back into town. In the summer, the state park beach is very popular. It has a nice bathhouse and snack bar, plus easy access to the beach via a boardwalk. Revdanda Beach Camping
The state park staff offers many activities for families, from fall hay rides to wading explorations of the tidal flats.
Camping at Cape Henlopen State Park, you’ll also come across quite a bit of history. The nearby quaint town of Lewes has shops and old houses that date to the late 1700s, including the Cannonball House that was struck by a Royal Navy bombardment during the War of 1812. Pirates such as Blackbeard frequented the area, and rumors persist that he and his buccaneers buried treasure in the dunes. The scenery and the pirate legends have inspired countless artists, the most famous of whom were N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, who used the Cape Henlopen area as a model for many of their iconic pirate paintings.
Cape Henlopen State Park is itself located on land that was once Fort Miles, a World War II base used to guard the entrance of Delaware Bay from German Uboat attacks. The submarine watch towers still stand, as do the troop barracks and massive gun bunkers, all of which are open for tours. If you’re lucky, volunteers who serve as World War II reenactors will be around to explain what it was like to be stationed at Fort Miles and protect the port of Philadelphia from German attack.
The park is maintained in part by the Friends of Cape Henlopen who work to do those little extras for the park that supplement the efforts of state employees.
There are a couple of drawbacks to camping at Cape Henlopen State Park. One is the price — we paid $72 for a two-night stay at our campsite. That’s on the high end for tent camping. The other major drawback was the dumpy, dirty state of the campground bathrooms. There would be no other way to describe the alleged facilities but to call them disgusting and dirty, with plumbing that doesn’t work, backed up toilets and moldy conditions. These bathrooms are long overdue for renovation and the cleaning staff doesn’t seem to work on weekends. It’s a bit puzzling because the rest of the state park is so well maintained, but the campground facilities have been forgotten despite the relatively high camping fee.
But we don’t want to end this article on a sour note, because we love Cape Henlopen camping. On a recent trip, the tide was out on the bay side near the fishing pier. We stretched out on the beach there and watched kids explore under the pilings and through the shallows, finding hermit crabs and shells. Farther out, the Cape Henlopen lighthouse stood watch and the Cape May ferry slid past as it began its crossing of Delaware Bay. All the cares of the world melted away and we realized that gold wasn’t the only treasure to be found at Cape Henlopen State Park.