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6 Best Small Towns in Delaware for Outdoor Enthusiasts

by Staff

Despite being the second smallest state in the US – the “Smallest” title goes to Rhode Island – Delaware offers plenty of fun things to do for those who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. Venture beyond the bigger cities like Wilmington and Dover and the more frequently taken tourist routes, and discover many small communities with something fun to offer, whatever your interests.

Places like Hockessin, home to beautiful butterflies and hiking trails, and Millsboro, a town that every year celebrates its deep connections to nature, are just two examples of beautiful and unique towns that are great places to visit in Delaware for outdoor enthusiasts.


Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware.

One of the best (and safest) places to live in Delaware, Hockessin also shines when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Outdoor types flock here from nearby big cities like Philadelphia to enjoy attractions like the Ashland Nature Center, a popular spot for a country hike along its trails. Part of the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway, Ashland also boasts a butterfly house, picnic spots, and the Ashland Visitor Center with its educational programming.

Another must-visit, the Mt. Cuba Center, is just four miles away and offers an altogether gentler outdoor pursuit: gardening. One of the best botanical gardens in the USA’s Mid-Atlantic region and set amidst Delaware’s lovely rolling countryside, Mt. Cuba’s woodland gardens are a big draw, especially in spring and summer when its wildflowers are in bloom. Other fun things to do in Hockessin include hopping aboard the historic Wilmington and Western Railroad a nostalgic scenic ride to Greenbank Station in Wilmington. Hockessin is also geographically significant as it lies along the Twelve-Mile Circle, the only round-state border in the US​​.

Bethany Beach

Aerial view of homes along the beach in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
Overlooking Bethany Beach, Delaware.

Located on the Atlantic coast, the picturesque resort town of Bethany Beach boasts endless miles of public beaches to explore. As popular with families as they are for watersport enthusiasts, the town’s beaches are watched over by lifeguards, and there are plenty of shallow spots for kids to make sandcastles. The town’s boardwalk, lined with boutiques and souvenir shops, makes for a delightful seaside stroll.

For more adventurous activities, Fenwick Island State Park is a great place to spend a day. The star here is the park’s three-mile-long beach with kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, and surfing all being available to enjoy. Other attractions for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy include Bethany Beach Nature Center and Delaware Seashore State Park.


Overlooking docks jutting out in the water and Waterfront homes near Millsboro, Delaware.
Waterfront homes, Millsboro, Delaware.

Millsboro rests along the banks of the Indian River in the south of the state and, while often overlooked by outdoor enthusiasts, is worth a visit if you are in the area and looking for something to do. Highlights include exploring the hiking trails at the Edward H. McCabe Nature Preserve, an activity that is especially popular for birdwatchers as more than 100 species are known to reside here. Habitats to explore include everything from tidal marshes to swampland and upland forests. Those interested in canoeing and kayaking can explore the park via the Broadkill River from nearby Milton.

Gentler outdoor pursuits include catching a glorious sunset over the Indian River from Cupola Park with its picturesque gazebo, also an ideal spot for a picnic. Held each September, the annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow is one of the state’s best outdoor events and draws crowds from across the East Coast.


Red boat in the harbor in Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.
Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.

Not only is Lewes the oldest town in Delaware, but it is also one of the prettiest. Founded in 1631 by Dutch settlers as a whaling- and trading post, it has the distinction of being the state’s first European settlement and is steeped in Dutch heritage. Highlights of a visit include exploring the wetlands of the Great Marsh Preserve and Cape Henlopen State Park, as well as spending time relaxing on Lewes Beach.

The town is also home to several pleasant parks. Favorites include Stango Park, popular for its outdoor summer concert series; Blockhouse Pond Park, a great spot for a picnic next to its spring-fed pond; and Mary Vessels Park in downtown Lewes, popular for its displays of tulips. For history enthusiasts, the Zwaanendael Museum was opened to mark the 300th anniversary of the Dutch settlement here and is the place to visit to learn more about Delaware’s history.


Boardwalk at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware.
Boardwalk at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware.

Positioned between Duck Creek and Lake Como, historic Smyrna was founded in 1716 and boasts plenty of indoor as well as outdoor fun. Indoor highlights include the Smyrna Museum, set in historic old barracks constructed in the 1790s and later used to house American troops during the War of 1812, and the Smyrna Opera House, built in 1870 and fully restored in the early 21st century.

Stuff to do outdoors in Smyrna includes visiting the attractive woodlands of Blackbird State Forest, a popular spot for an easy hike, and birdwatching at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.


Historic sign for the Woodland Ferry, which connects Laurel to Seaford, Delaware.
Historic sign for the Woodland Ferry, which connects Laurel to Seaford, Delaware. Image credit Dee Dalasio via Shutterstock

While you might guess from its name that Seaford is a coastal town, it is not. Situated around 30 miles inland from Lewes and the Atlantic Ocean, its location on the Nanticoke River makes it a great day trip for those wanting a taste of authentic Delaware. Highlights include the Seaford Museum with its exhibits on early agriculture, railroads, and historical figures, as well as the 19th-century Governor Ross Mansion and Plantation.

For outdoorsy types, Phillips Landing Park in Laurel is the place to be when exploring the area around Seaford. This family-friendly park is popular for birdwatching, fishing, and hiking, as well as kayaking. The adjacent Nanticoke Park Wildlife Area is another great spot for nature lovers, especially for birdwatching.

From Hockessin’s nature centers and historic railroad to Millsboro’s scenic riverside setting, and from the ocean fun to be had at Bethany Beach to Smyrna’s fun-to-hike woodlands, each of these charming towns are great destinations for day-trippers looking to get to know Delaware a bit better. Whether it is to explore nature or to enjoy the thrill of adventure, these towns in Delaware are perfect for those seeking memorable outdoor experiences.

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