From Cape Henlopen to Sandy Hook, here's where you'll find fun for the entire family this summer -- and good angling to boot!
Photo by Tom Berg
It's that time of the year again when families all across our region are looking for that "close-to-home" vacation hotspot. A place where all members of the family can relax and relish in their time away from work or school. So here are six not-so-far-away places where your group can enjoy the best of what the Mid-Atlantic has to offer in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. School is out and the fun for all ages is about to begin. Let's get started!
Saint Mary's State Park, Maryland
For our first pick in June, let's go with a Maryland park that offers a variety of fishing, quick access to the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, as well as outdoor options for the entire family. Situated at the northern end of the St. Mary's River watershed, St. Mary's State Park (SP), which is adjacent to the Saint Mary's Fish and Wildlife Management Area (WMA), hosts a wide range of habitats, from wooded acres and fields to swamps and small streams.
St. Mary's River State Park is separated into two areas, sites 1 and 2. Site 1 is the region anglers will be most interested in, as it contains the 250-acre St. Mary's Lake. The lake is located along state Route (SR) 5, between Leonardtown and Great Mills, at the end of Camp Cosoma Road; the area has become a popular freshwater fishing spot.
Several species of fish are common to the lake, including largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappies, bluegills and sunfish. The lake has been designated a trophy bass lake. Be sure to check the latest slot limit regulations before going fishing; electric-only motors are allowed on the lake. An 11.5-mile trail circles the lake, allowing the area to be fished from shore or by boat. The trail is regularly used for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The portion of the park around the lake includes a comfort station, picnic tables, playground, boat launch ramps and a large gravel parking lot.
The park's proximity to the Potomac River and Patuxent River's tidal portions puts anglers into some good largemouth, striped bass and catfish action. If you are into saltwater fishing, the park gives you quick access to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay and all its saltwater treats.
Lookout Point, which is only a short hop down SR 5 (25 miles to the south), makes an excellent day trip for the whole family. The park is also within an hour's ride from the Washington area, as well as Annapolis.
For information on the park and campsite reservations, you can contact the park at St. Mary's River State Park, c/o Point Lookout State Park, 11175 Point Lookout Road, Scotland, MD 20687; or call (301) 872-5688.
Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware
The start of the summer season means bluefish, fluke and weakfish to anglers who crave saltwater fishing; but at Cape Henlopen, there are also beaches and fun in the sun for the entire family. So for our second pick in June, let's travel to the eastern shore of Delaware and Cape Henlopen State Park (SP), where all the aforementioned treasures are located.
The park is located one mile east of Lewes, about one-half mile past the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal. Cape Henlopen's history goes back to the 1600s when the present lands of the state of Delaware were granted to William Penn.
Cape Henlopen's strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay led to its role in local shipping and military history. The historic Henlopen Lighthouse no longer helps to guide vessels through the treacherous bay waters, but the two stone "breakwater" barriers off the point of the Cape, completed in 1869 and 1901, still form a safe harbor for boats during rough seas.
With the onset of World War II, the U.S. Army established a military base at Cape Henlopen in 1941. Bunkers and gun emplacements were camouflaged among the dunes, and concrete observation towers were built along the coast to spot enemy ships and submarines. In 1964, the Department of Defense declared 543 acres of the Cape lands as surplus property. The state of Delaware accepted the property and established Cape Henlopen State Park.
Today, the 5,193-acre park contains bay and ocean beaches, and the Gordon's Pond Wildlife Area features a unique saltwater impoundment. Along the coast, the Great Dune rises 80 feet above sea level, and farther inland, the famous "walking dunes" slowly move across the pine forests. A broad salt marsh stretches along the park's western boundary.
Anglers without boats will enjoy fishing from the 1/4-mile-long pier that struts out into Delaware Bay. Bait and tackle are available right at the pier, and transportation along the pier is available for people with disabilities, between April 1 and Oct. 31.
Surf-fishing is available year 'round along the park's ocean beaches, as well as on Beach Plum Island, a satellite area of the park. Dune crossovers allow pedestrian and vehicle access to the designated fishing areas. In addition to the fishing right at the park, anglers can also travel north to Slaughter Beach or south to Indian River Inlet, both of which are only a short hop from the park. Charter and party boats abound in this portion of the Delaware coast and give the angler access to both the fishing in Delaware Bay and the ocean.
When it comes to recreation for the family, the park also conducts a variety of recreational programs, including natural history lectures, outdoor concerts, seaside seining, bird watching and year-round hiking and biking opportunities. The variety of habitats within the park makes it a valuable home to many species of birds, reptiles and mammals.
In addition to the activities at the park, the family can enjoy a trip to the nearby Indian River State Park, and the campgrounds are only a short ride from the boardwalk at Rehoboth and shopping is available for the spouse at the outlet malls north of Rehoboth.
For information and campground reservations, you can contact the park at Cape Henlopen State Park, 42 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, DE 19958; or call (302) 645-8983.
Spruce Run State Park, New Jersey
For the first pick in July, let's travel to Spruce Run State Park, which is located east of Clinton, New Jersey. The 1,910-acre park runs along the banks of Spruce Run Reservoir. It is one of the most popular campsites in the Garden State, and not only because it is located on the shores of Spruce Run Reservoir, but also because of its location, which puts anglers in touch with a variety of some of the best fishing in the Garden State.
To begin wi
th, Spruce Run Reservoir has made a significant comeback in recent years since the water levels were stabilized several years back. The reservoir has seen a revitalized largemouth population serve up some excellent catches; however, two other fisheries have really come into their own in the last couple of years.
Hybrid stripers continue to be stocked by the Division of Fish and Wildlife and have really taken hold in the reservoir, providing fishermen with fish in the 6-pound-plus range. In addition, northern pike stockings in the reservoir have produced fish that are weighing into the teens.
Only a short hop from the campgrounds is Round Valley Reservoir, which is one of the two reservoirs in the state stocked with lake trout. The reservoir also offers a superb smallmouth population, and an excellent mix of rainbow and brown trout.
In addition to these two major reservoirs, the park also provides quick access to several of the state's top trout-fishing streams. The South Branch of the Raritan River and the Musconetcong River are both close at hand and offer year 'round trout fishing.
If you are looking for activities for the family, the park offers swimming, a bathhouse, boating, canoeing, sailing (maximum 25 feet length, 30 feet height from waterline), wind-boarding, nature trails, hiking and biking trails, and plenty of nearby entertainment. A steam train (Black River & Western) and the outlet stores of Flemington are within a half hour's ride of the park.
Camping consists of 70 tent and trailer sites with picnic tables and fire rings. Flush toilets and showers are within walking distance and are open April 1 through Oct. 31. You can obtain information on the Spruce Run Recreation Area by contacting them at 1 Van Syckels Road, Clinton, N.J. 08809; or call (908) 638-8572 or (908) 638-8573.
Big Run State Park, Maryland
Our next choice for July is quite different from our other picks. It's an out-of-the-way state park tucked into the mountains of the western Maryland's Garrett County. Big Run State Park's 300 acres offer 30 campsites (no hookups) and a youth camping area. Situated at the mouth of the Savage River Reservoir, the park is 16 miles from Exit 24, off Interstate 68. The park is actually surrounded by the acreage of Savage River State Forest, and so visitors to the area have an even wider array of outdoor recreational opportunities.
The 54,000 acres of hardwood forest of the Savage River State Forest make it the largest facility in the state forest and park system. If you enjoy primitive camping, Savage River offers 52 primitive roadside sites, which are limited to no more than six people or two vehicles per site. Backpack camping is also permitted throughout the forest.
In addition to the fishing and camping, family activities include flat water and whitewater canoeing, hiking, and biking. The park is heavily used by hikers and sports numerous trails, which are divided up into the Margroff Plantation, Negro Mountain and Monroe Run trails. Mountain bikes are allowed on all hiking trails, except for Monroe Run and Big Savage. Visitors can ride on motorized bikes on many of the trails and roads in the state forest.
When it comes to fishing, anglers have two choices. The first is the stream fishing in the Savage River, which is a trophy trout area as it passes through the forest from below the Savage Reservoir to the stream's confluence with the Potomac. The Fly-Only Area extends from the dam downstream about 1.25 miles to the Allegany Suspension Bridge. The Artificial Lure Area begins at the Allegany Suspension Bridge and continues 2.75 miles downstream to the confluence with the North Branch Potomac River.
Your second choice is the Savage Reservoir, which is home to an excellent bass, crappie and panfish population. The lake offers some excellent deep- and shallow-water structure and is a top spot for surface and plastic worm fishermen during the month of July. The lake has an excellent boat launch and ample parking, and plenty of shoreline fishing is also available. For information on Big River SP, call (301) 895-5453; or the Savage River State Forest at (301) 895-5759.
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
August is the heart of the summer and for many along the East Coast that means bay and ocean fishing. One area of the Garden State that holds some super fishing and plenty to do for the entire family is the Raritan Bay region, namely the Atlantic Highlands. While you won't find campgrounds in this area, you'll have no problem finding accommodations. The area has numerous hotels and motels and fine places to eat.
Raritan Bay and its surrounding waters are some of the state's premier places to catch bluefish, striped bass, weakfish and fluke. Options abound for anglers in Raritan Bay. If you own your own boat, Atlantic Highlands has a public launch just up from where the party boats dock, and several marinas and tackle shops have rental boats as well. Speaking of party boats, the Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor sports an entire fleet of party and charter boats that cater to every type of fishing.
In addition to the good fishing in Raritan Bay, anglers will find good action in the nearby Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, as well as the inshore waters of the New York Bight. You can also find year-round surf- fishing at Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Park system.
When it comes to things to do for the family, the area is teaming with activities. The previously mentioned Sandy Hook Park was at one time a federal military facility and one of the bases that guarded the entrance to New York Harbor. In the 1800s, it was the artillery proving grounds for the military. Most of the historic sections of the park are open to the public and the park also has an excellent nature area. The historic lighthouse at Sandy Hook and the nearby Twin Lights of the Navesink Lighthouse are also museums that are open to the public.
The Atlantic Highlands is also only a short distance from New York City and all its attractions. If you plan on going to New York City, one of your best options is to go to Jersey City and take the ferry to the Big Apple. You can also visit the Statue of Liberty via another section of the Gateway National Park in Jersey City.
Trap Pond State Park, Delaware
For our second spot in August, we'll take a step back into the Cypress Swamps and backwater area of southwestern Sussex County, Delaware. Trap Pond State Park (2,685 acres) is a look back into Delaware before the white man first settled there. Trap Pond SP contains the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the United States.
The pond was created in the late 1700s to power a sawmill during the harvest of large bald cypress trees from the area. The federal government later purchased the pond and surrounding farmland during the 1930s, and the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop the area for recreation. Trap Pond became one of Delaware's first state parks in 1951.
Hiking trails surround the pond, providing opportunities to glimpse native animal species and many flowering plants. Bird watching is a popula
r activity at the park. Boating among the bald cypress is a favorite pastime and rowboats, pedal boats, surf bikes, canoes and kayaks can be rented during the summer season. The park interpreter hosts narrated pontoon boat tours on weekends, holidays and Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. In addition to the natural attractions, the park offers a variety of recreational activities. A 4.9-mile boundary trail skirts the 90-acre pond and is an excellent walking and hiking path. Volleyball courts and horseshoe pits are available to campers.
The park provides 142 campsites on the pond's northern shore, of which 130 of the sites are equipped with water and electric hookups. Two primitive camping areas are also available for youth groups by reservation only. There are also a limited number of cabins available.
The prime targets for the fishermen are Trap and Trussum ponds. Both bodies of water hold above-average size bass, pickerel, crappie and panfish populations. Topwater fishing is excellent in both ponds during the summer. One of the streams that flow into Trap Pond has been marked as a wilderness canoe trail for those who wish to explore the swamp's interior. The trail gives anglers a taste of good backwater fishing. The park has an excellent boat launch with ample parking. Shoreline access is very good.
For information on Trap Pond State Park, write Trap Pond State Park, 33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel, DE 19956; or call (302) 875-5153 or the campground at (302) 875-2392.
So there you have it, six top picks where you and your family can get away from the daily routine. Each of these areas offers opportunities besides fishing, but you can bet that good angling is close by as well for the fishing fanatics in each family group.