Let’s explore the Delaware national parks! Are you heading to the First State? The state of Delaware got that nickname because it was the first of the 13 original states to ratify the US Constitution. History unfolded in what is today the second smallest of all US states. And while Delaware was the very last state to get a national monument or park, there are a few noteworthy national trails, and national historic landmarks now. Enjoy the natural beauty of the Brandywine Valley, and the city life of Wilmington, with plenty of national historic sites in between!
Delaware National Parks
Delaware is located on the East Coast of the United States, on a peninsula, and there’s lots of nature to be enjoyed! Let’s take a look at the four sites the National Park Services manages.
1. First State National Historical Park
First State National Historical Park is a state-wide park that was deemed the First State national monument in 2013, and formally made a national park site in 2015. Most of the park’s territory lies in Delaware, but it stretches into Pennsylvania. Here, a visitor can learn about Delaware’s colonial history, including the role this state played when the nation was established. Visit these seven notable sites, none of which charge an entrance fee:
Fort Christina was established more than 375 years ago as New Sweden, the first American Swedish colony, by Swedish and Finnish settlers, and named after the Queen of Sweden. It’s located only about a mile from what today is downtown Wilmington, at the junction of the Brandywine River and the Christina River.
Old Swedes Church is quite the historical site. It is the oldest church in America, and can be found only a block from Fort Christina. Visitors shouldn’t miss Hendrickson House, a Swedish home that was build in 1690 in the churchyard.
New Castle Court House is one of the oldest court houses in America, and the site of Delaware’s colonial assembly. It is now the New castle Court House Museum. Adjacent to the court house, the Sheriff’s House and New Castle Green are also worth seeing.
The Dover Green is the place where Delaware voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
Built around 1665, Ryves Holt House is the oldest house in the state. Today is is used as a museum, hosting the The Lewes Historical Society’s Visitor Center and Museum Gift Shop.
The John Dickinson Plantation dates back to the 18th century. It’s a working plantation, but there’s plenty to do and see: a period farm complex, the home of John Dickinson, the visitor center, featuring an exhibit on the life of John Dickinson and the history of this plantation.
Brandywine Valley offers more than 1,300 acres of rolling hills, lush forests, and nicely maintained diverse trails. It is a reminder of prominent American industrialist and Quaker William Poole Bancroft and his vision to preserve natural lands.
Beaver Valley is a part of the First State NHP that’s easily accessible for outdoor recreational activities.
2. Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is not simply a bay, but the largest estuary in North America, with 41 million acres connected to its waters. What is an estuary, you wonder? It’s an area where freshwater, such as a river, meets the ocean. Fresh and salt water mix, creating a brackish kind of water that’s salty, but not quite ocean-salty.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed touches the shores of Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and – Delaware, of course. While it is not yet designated as a national park, it could soon become one. If that was to happen, it would give the area a great boost in conservation efforts and tourism. Currently the NPS (National Park Service) manages the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, helping with conservation in the area, as well as connecting people to the region’s natural and cultural heritage.
The Chesapeake Bay is a great area for recreation. Visit a beach or have fun with water sports!
3. Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a series of waterways documenting the English captain’s journey between 1607 and 1609 and was established on December 19, 2006. Captain Smith traveled 3,000 miles on this water trail and documented hundreds of native American communities along his way. Today, these 3,000 miles mark a national historic trail with many protected sites. Along the way there are many indigenous cultural landscapes, defined by NPS as ‘areas that reveal our relationship with place and strengthen our understanding of historic events, significant people, and patterns in American history.’
This national historic trail is managed by the National Park Service and the Chesapeake Conservancy, and it was the first all water national historic trail in the United States.
If you can’t travel there, the National Park Service is here to help! Watch a short film and take a virtual tour of this phenomenal national historic trail!
4. Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Road is a 680 mile long series of road, deemed the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail in 2009. Due to the name, you may guess when its history took place: during the American Revolutionary War. In 1781, George Washington and his continental army, alongside the Expédition Particulière, 5,500 French soldiers supporting the American colonists against Britain under the command of Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau, used this series of roads to march from Newport, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia. It became the American Revolution’s the largest troop movement, and, since the colonists won the war, the road to victory.
Along the trail are hundreds of historical sites to see. In Delaware, some notable ones are the Cooch-Dayett Mills Museum, the Hale-Byrnes House, the Historical Society of Delaware, the Iron Hill Museum, and the Robinson House.
Delaware State Parks
While the sites above are the more famous ones, managed by the NPS, Delaware also has one of the greatest state park systems.
1. Cape Henlopen State Park
Cape Henlopen State Park is a beautiful park which sits at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. It was granted in the late 1600s by William Penn, so the people could harvest its natural resources. It’s 6 miles of coastline are the perfect spot to take a walk on the beach, have a picnic, see marine wildlife, look for birds, and visit a lighthouse.
2. Brandywine Creek State Park
Once upon a time, the site that is now Brandywine Creek State Park was used for milling and agriculture. Nowadays, the area is all about outdoor recreation. Enjoy the scenic river, blue gneiss stone walls, and meadowland views.
3. Fort Delaware State Park
Visit Fort Delaware State Park, situated on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River, and explore its rich history. The fort dates back to the mid 19th century, when it was constructed to protect Wilmington and Philadelphia. Once used as a prison camp for prisoners of the Civil War, today the site houses different guests: herons, egrets, and ibis nest on the island!
4. Delaware Seashore State Park
Go surfing or simply marvel at the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean from the Indian River Inlet bridge at Delaware Seashore Park. Tour the Indian River Life-Saving Station, go paddling for a chance to see horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins, catch some fish, or hike at Burton Island Nature Preserve.
Don’t skip this small state and the Delaware national parks when you travel to the East coast! You would miss so much history and recreational opportunities.
Jenny grew up in Germany. All she ever wanted out of life was to leave and have adventures. Jenny always traveled as much as the budget would allow, and when she met her husband traveling became a full-time thing. You can follow Jenny on her blog and Facebook.