Between Lewes and Rehoboth; Biking the Breakwater-Junction Trail
The Breakwater-Junction Trail is a rare 17 mile loop route connecting Rehoboth and Lewes, Delaware. (Rare because most bike trails are out and back.) But the fact that it is a loop is not its only attractive feature. It goes past a number of great restaurants and bars as well as a microbrewery. And it passes through not one but two cute beach towns. And it travels through a park with beautiful ocean views and World War II watch towers and ammunition bunkers built right into sand dunes. Its only downside is that we never get a great workout because, even though we’ve done it countless times, we are continually stopping to enjoy the scenery.
To be honest, it isn’t a continual pedestrian-only trail. In two places, through Lewes and downtown Rehoboth, bikers have to go onto regular roads. But, although the traffic can be heavy, the highest speed limit is 35 mph. And, while I’m being completely honest, it is actually two trails – the Breakwater-Junction and the Gordon’s Pond Trail. But they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or like milk and chocolate. Or like dark chocolate chips in brownies. Or like dark chocolate ice cream with a double serving of hot fudge. (My love of chocolate is a major calorie-ridden reason I bike!)
We usually access the trail at the parking area behind the Tanger Outlet Seaside complex and go towards Lewes first so we are making mostly right turns. The trail starts out as crushed gravel. Although we’ve seen skinny tires on it, a slightly fatter tire is ideal. This first section curves through the forest, alongside cornfields, and crosses wooden bridges over small tidal creeks. It’s kind of amazing – once you’re on the trail you don’t even know you are minutes from the six lanes of Rt. 1 and thousands of shoppers determined to blow their paychecks.
After 2 miles, you’ll pass the Wolfe Neck Road access area which has bathrooms, parking, an old historical house, and a bike tune-up station. Then, a little less than a mile further, the trail enters a development called The Senators where you’ll ride along a cement sidewalk in the middle of the road and admire the beautiful houses on either side, all with impeccable landscaping.
Once you come out of Senators, the trail splits but, unless you want to go to Cape Henlopen High School, you’ll stay to the right. The trail follows Gills Neck Road for a short distance and then crosses over it, passing alongside another development and what used to be a beautiful farm but is now just an old barn surrounded by new lots which, by the next time I ride it will have huge cookie cutter mansions with fake-stone siding and outdoor kitchens, so close to each other you could pass a roll of toilet paper to your neighbor through your bathroom windows. You end up at Rt. 9, close to the new Lewes Public Library and a nice bicycle shop called Sea Green Bicycles.
At this point you can elect to make the loop a little shorter by getting off the trail and staying on the ample shoulder of Rt. 9 towards the Cape-May Lewes Ferry. But it isn’t nearly as scenic, and you’d miss out on seeing Lewes’s quaint flower box-covered drawbridge, beautiful homes along the canal, and a short side trip through the parking lot of Lewes beach. Well worth the extra mileage (only 1.2 miles further).
So, assuming you stay on the trail, about a half mile past Sea Green Bikes, you’ll end up back on Gills Neck Road; there’s no separate trail here, you’re on the road. It is narrow but traffic is moving slowly because you are in Lewes now. At the stoplight turn right on Savannah Road and go over the canal. (You could continue straight at this point and take a tour through downtown Lewes to check out the historic old houses and cute shops and restaurants.)
Savannah Road will take you to Lewes Beach. If you don’t need to see the beach, you’ll turn right on Rt. 9 (Cape Henlopen Road) towards Cape Henlopen State Park and the ferry terminal. As I’d mentioned earlier, Rt. 9 has a big shoulder. So although there can be traffic, it’s never been an issue. Since this area is wide-open, your biggest enemy is an east wind. Although it seems longer, this section is only about 1.5 miles.
Once you reach the state park, you have options again. We usually stay to the right, go past the entrance station, up the hill, (Yes, I said ‘hill’. I’m pretty sure Cape Henlopen State Park is home to the only hills in Sussex County. And technically, they aren’t true hills – they are sand dunes. But big ones!!), past the watchtower, and then past the campground. You come out onto a road left over from when the park was a military base – Fort Miles. While on this section keep your eyes on the left side of the road. Among the shrubs and roots and weeds are 3-4 old bunkers with heavy duty metal doors built right into the sand dunes. Cool yet creepy!
After less than a quarter mile the bike trail veers to the left (if you stayed straight on the road it’s not the end of the world – you’ll miss a section but you’ll end up on the trail again). The trail passes over a section of old railroad tracks and then to your left you’ll see a side trail leading to a watch tower which you can climb up into. I would highly recommend doing this at least once. A number of these towers dot the Delaware coast but this is the only one open to the public. They were used in World War II to triangulate shelling coordinates for enemy ships.
Once you’ve checked out the tower I would also highly recommend riding to the Great Dune Overlook. To get there you’ll cross a cement road and ride past a parking area and the old Fort Miles barracks. The trail continues up an enormous dune until it dead ends at the overlook and a big old battery. This spot also used to be the sight of a lighthouse until it fell into the ocean in 1926. On a clear day you, if you look to the north across the mouth of the Delaware Bay, you can see the water tower at Cape May, NJ.
You’ll retrace your route past the barracks and then make a left onto the cement road (Dune Road). This will curve around and then on your right you’ll see a sign for the Gordon’s Pond Trailhead which is the section of the trail which will take you back to Rehoboth. It is crushed gravel here again. If you’ve followed our route, you’re at about 10 miles. You’ll pass the Biden Center and Herring Point and then the trail veers away from Dune Road to what, in my opinion, is the coolest part of the ride.
The section of trail that connects Cape Henlopen State Park to Gordon’s Pond State Park is an elevated, metallic pathway that weaves over and through the beautifully peaceful coastal dune-forest landscape. It isn’t very long, but it gives you a tiny taste of what the entire coast must have looked like at one time. Every time I ride through this area I’m struck by what we’ve lost. Why would anyone prefer streets, boardwalks, stores, and giant houses built to the within centimeters of the property line over the elegant curves, swells, and swirls of a windblown dune? And the sound of horns, revving engines, doors slamming, thumping speakers, hammers, and circular saws over the simple music of breaking waves and rustling dune grasses? And the odor of exhaust fumes and French fries to the smell of salt air and sweet pine needles? Are our attention spans so minuscule that we have to have these distractions? Are we so afraid of silence that we have to fill the void at any cost? I live here and make a living here so I am part of the problem. But that doesn’t lessen my longing for the impossibility of turning back time and changing people’s priorities.
Ranting tangent over. Back to the trail.
Once you come down from the elevated section, you are on the west side of Gordon’s Pond. A vast tidal flat stretches westward. And to the east, across the pond, two more watch towers stand directly on the beach. Gordon’s Pond is tidal so don’t be too quick to blame your riding partner for the odor wafting over the trail. It is a great spot for wildlife. So if you are a birder, you’ll want to take your time. Also, the Gordon’s Pond section and the section of the trail behind the outlet malls have the most trail traffic – walkers, strollers, dogs, kids, bike tours, etc. Don’t expect to set any speed records through here.
The road coming out of Gordon’s Pond State Park is Ocean Drive and you’ll be on it for a little less than a mile before it curves and comes to a stop sign. If you want to avoid traffic, continue straight (the road is now called Henlopen Avenue). If you need to ride through downtown Rehoboth and possibly get lunch or check out the boardwalk, you’d make a left onto Surf Ave, then a left on 1st Street, and then a right onto Rehoboth Avenue. I would absolutely not do this in the summer. And in the off-season, if you do it, keep your eyes peeled for reverse lights and, when you’re going past parallel-parked cars, watch for drivers getting ready to open their doors. (FYI – Rehoboth allows bikes on the boardwalk from Sept. 16 to May 14).
If you did the less-traffic route along Henlopen Avenue, when that road ends you’ll go left on Grove Street which then curves right into Rehoboth Ave. This is where it gets a little dicey with the traffic. (Don’t tell anyone but, on occasion, we’ve ridden on the sidewalk through here.) The good thing is that the bad section is only a quarter of a mile. Then you‘ll make a hard right onto Church Street and then a left onto Canal Crossing Road. And then, if you are as parched at this point as we usually are, you’ll turn into Revelation Brewery (they have lots of signs so it is hard to miss), park your bike at their clever bike racks, and belly-up to the bar. And then, once you pick your favorite beer, you can have them put it in one of their special growlers that fit perfectly into your bike’s water cage! How fun is that??
After relaxing with some good beer, it’s hard to return to your bike but you’re almost home! Back on the road you’ll make a left on Hebron Road and then after about a block and a half of a strange industrial/residential mix you’ll make a right onto the trail. It is paved for a short distance while it threads between the wall from the self storage business and the backyards of the West Rehoboth homes, then crushed gravel again when you get into the forest. After crossing Glades Road, the outlet mall and the parking area where your car is waiting for you will be on your left.
Now the only thing left to do is to enjoy a crab cake from Woody’s in Dewey Beach on your way home!
Trail Access Points:
Tanger Outlets Seaside – 36470 Seaside Outlet Dr, Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 (No restrooms at the trailhead but there are restrooms nearby at the outlets.)
Wolfe Neck Road Trailhead – 35536 Wolfe Neck Rd, Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 (Outhouses, parking fee of $4 in state, $8 for out-of-state vehicles if you don’t have a Delaware State Park sticker.)
Lewes Public Library – 111 Adams Avenue, Lewes, DE 19958 (Trailhead parking is at the north end of the parking lot.)
Cape Henlopen State Park – 15099 Cape Henlopen Dr, Lewes, DE 19958 (Entry fee of $5 in state, $10 out-of-state.)
Gordons Pond State Park – 61 Ocean Dr, Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 (Port-o-potties, entry fee of $5 in state, $10 out-of-state.)
Click here for a map of the trail. (This is not the exact route we do.)