Southern Delaware Trail Mix: 8 Awesome Trails to Explore

Article and Photos By Laura Scharle

Whether you’re a hiker, cyclist, or simply someone that appreciates getting outdoors, Southern Delaware is a mecca for trails enthusiasts. From nature trails to bike trails to pathways within communities, the trails here entice visitors from all over to enjoy time outside. When most people think about trails in southern Delaware, gorgeous bike trails like the Gordons Pond and the Junction & Breakwater trails come to mind because, quite frankly, they are stunning. These trails have expansive boardwalks through the dunes, scenic vistas overlooking historic sites, and shaded paths connecting Rehoboth and Lewes.

But the Gordons Pond and Junction & Breakwater trails hardly scratch the surface when it comes to trails in southern Delaware. From Milford down to Bethany Beach and over to Laurel, this area has a lot to offer, particularly when you’re looking for something away from the beach crowds and off the beaten path. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, we’ve highlighted eight trails across the region that are definitely worth a visit.

  1.      Georgetown-Lewes Trail

If you’re spending time in the Lewes area and you’ve already pedaled the Junction & Breakwater, or if you’re looking to add some mileage to your trip you’ll definitely want to explore the Georgetown-Lewes Trail. The 0.0 mile marker is located near the canal, but the easiest spot to access the trail is a short distance away near the Lewes library where there is ample parking available. The trail is currently 6.8 miles long, heading westward, but when it’s totally complete the trail will be 17 miles long and will lead all the way to Georgetown. Be sure to either stop at Hopkins Farm Creamery for some fresh, local ice cream (watch for cows crossing the trail!), or head up a little further and make a pit stop at the Brimming Horn Meadery to taste their locally-brewed ciders and meads.

  1.      Abbott’s Mill Nature Center

Managed by the Delaware Nature Society, this property sits just outside the town of Milford. The site is part of the Milford Millponds Nature Preserve and features over 3 miles of hiking trails. Trails meander over boardwalks through wetlands and through forested and meadow areas. If you can, try to time your visit to coincide with one of their educational programs. The nature center offers programs like nature photography, forest bathing, and children’s critter programs. When you’ve had your fill exploring, definitely include a visit to downtown Milford. Enjoy more walking along the Riverwalk or Goat Island, grab a bite to eat at Fondue or the Milford Tavern, or stop in to explore the Mispillion Art League

  1.      Edward H. McCabe Preserve

Planning a day trip to the town of Milton is always a fun idea as the town has delicious restaurants, a quaint downtown, antique shops, and a historic theater. If you’re in the area and looking for an outdoor spot to explore that’s a bit more secluded, you’ll definitely want to head to the McCabe Preserve. This spot has about 2 miles of trails on a property that is managed by The Nature Conservancy. There is ample parking at the trailhead, but you can also access the trails from the Broadkill River. If you launch from the Milton Memorial Park, it’s less than a 2 mile paddle to get to the preserve. These trails saw quite an increase in foot traffic since the pandemic, so if the parking lot is full when you arrive, respect the carrying capacity and come back at another time.

  1.      Chapel Branch Nature Area

If we head over to the western side of the county, there are more trails to explore. The Chapel Branch Nature Area has over 3 miles of trails not far from the town of Seaford. Thanks to the Nanticoke Conservancy, trails are well maintained and marked with charming wooden signs. Combine your day with a visit to the Seaford Museum, a gem of a museum that features exhibits about the Nanticoke Indians, the shipbuilding and poultry industries of the area, the railroad, and much more.

  1.      Trap Pond State Park

Turn your day trip to Seaford into a whole weekend in western Sussex! A whopping 9 miles of trails are open for hiking at Trap Pond State Park, located in Laurel. “The Bob” trail is certainly the highlight of hiking at the park, but other trails like the American Holly trail are not to be missed. Trap Pond is the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees in the United States, so if you have the opportunity to paddle the pond or take a guided pontoon boat tour while you’re there, you’ll get up close and personal with those bayou-like trees.

  1.      Assawoman Wildlife Area: Okie Preserve

So close, yet so far away! That’s how we feel when we visit Okie Preserve, a tract of land with over a mile of trails that’s part of the Assawoman Wildlife Area. When visiting, you can hike down to the beach and take in beautiful views of the Indian River Inlet bridge. The bridge seems so close, but is a 40+ minute drive from the preserve. While the trails are well maintained and the beach is particularly inviting, be sure to check hunting seasons as this spot is actively hunted during deer seasons.

        7.        Holts Landing State Park

Holts Landing State Park is definitely a locals’ favorite! The 1.3-mile Sea Hawk Trail is easily accessible and has a lot of scenery to offer, from an extensive marsh boardwalk to wooded areas. The park also has other amenities like a fishing pier, restrooms, a boat ramp, picnic pavilion, and playground. In the summer, the park even offers weekly concerts in the park. 

        8.        Thompson Island Nature Preserve

If you’ve come to southern Delaware for the beaches and you just don’t feel like going far to hike (we get it, the beaches ARE pretty awesome), consider planning a Thompson Island afternoon. Start by hiking the 0.7-mile trail, located just north of Dewey Beach. The trailhead is a little difficult to find, so we recommend checking out the precise directions here. The preserve encompasses many acres on the mainland, as well as the actual Thompson Island, but visitors must stick to the trail that ends at a beautiful observation deck overlooking the island. Venturing onto the island itself is prohibited as there are sensitive natural and cultural resources that DNREC is working to protect. After you’ve enjoyed your outdoor time, continue your Thompson Island afternoon with lunch or happy hour at the Thompson Island Brewing Company, located just a stone’s throw away from the trail.

To discover even more trails in southern Delaware, check out the trail search filters and interactive maps at Delmarva Trails and Waterways.

In 2006, Laura Scharle landed an internship with Delaware State Parks and, for four seasons, she led guided hikes on Delaware’s trails and kayak tours through southern Delaware’s salt marshes. It really was a dream job. She then took a job for about two years on Maryland’s eastern shore, and spent her weekends visiting her boyfriend who lived on Virginia’s eastern shore. Before she knew it, she had spent over six years exploring trails, waterways, and beaches all over the Delmarva peninsula. In 2012, she landed a full-time role at Delaware Seashore State Park. She recently launched her own ecotourism marketing and consulting business.