Bikes abound at the beach, but they’re not just for the boardwalk. The landscape is universally flat, and bike lanes and trails are easy to find. Here are a few places to point your wheels and enjoy the great outdoors.
If you’re staying in Ocean City, Md. . . .
Ready to get away from T-shirt shops and arcades? The wild horses of Assateague Island National Seashore Park are about 12 miles away. Grab sandwiches from Fat Daddy’s (216 S. Baltimore Ave.; 410-289-4040), toss them in your bike basket and go.
On paper, Ocean City to Assateague is a simple ride: From the boardwalk, head west across the Route 50 bridge, then turn left onto Route 611, also known as Stephen Decatur Highway, which will take you straight into the park. The ride can be frustrating at first – the designated bike lines occasionally jump from one side of the road to the other, change into vehicular turn lanes or disappear altogether, and the road sees a good amount of trucks and other heavy traffic whizzing by at 50 mph – but traffic thins closer to the park.
Once you’ve cruised through the gates of the national park – it’s more interesting than the nearby Maryland state park with a similar name – it’s time to gawk at free-ranging wild ponies or relax on the wide, sandy beaches. The nature trails don’t allow bikes, but all of them have bike racks at the beginning of each trail. Park your wheels there and get up close to the park’s marshes, forests and dunes. Best reason to be smug? Cars pay $15 to enter the park, but cyclists get in free.
Where to rent a bike: There are many shops near the southern end of the boardwalk, including Dandy Don’s (10 N. Division St., Ocean City. 410-289-0221; www.dandydonsbikerentals.com). Renting a standard one-speed beach cruiser costs $6 for the first hour and $4 for each subsequent hour.
If you want to bike in the park but don’t want to ride on the shoulder of busy Route 611, try the rental stand in the Assateague park. Bikes rent for $6 per hour or $20 per day.
If you’re staying in Lewes or Rehoboth Beach, Del. . . .
It’s easy to spend a few hours or a full day at Cape Henelopen State Park, which features nature reserves, wetlands, wide beaches, and miles of hiking and biking trails. The main part of the park, with an entrance about three miles east of downtown Lewes, contains most of the attractions. Beyond the large beaches, kayaking and a fishing pier, you’ll find a disc golf course and basketball courts.
But the real gems are historical ones. Fort Miles, a World War II garrison built to defend the coast from a potential German naval assault, now offers scenic ocean views from atop the bunker. A display of vintage artillery pieces just got a new star attraction: a massive, 116-ton cannon barrel from the USS Missouri, which could launch 2,700-pound shells farther than 23 miles.
One old concrete observation tower used to watch for enemy vessels remains near the beach at Fort Miles, and it’s open to the public. Climb the spiral staircase for an impressive 360-degree view of the area, and if you’re lucky, you might see the Cape May Ferry cruising into or out of port. The tower is an easy stop on the Bike Loop Trail, a three-mile paved path that starts and ends at the nature center and goes past the dunes and other attractions.
The southern end of the park, entered along the beach just north of Rehoboth, includes a large beach with two closed observation towers and the large salt marsh called Gordon’s Pond. The marsh is a popular spot for nesting birds, and the elevated platform with bird-watching guides at the end of a 3/4-mile-long bike trail is a good place to spy them. It’s also a good spot to stop and eat. There are bike racks below the observation tower and benches in the tower and along the trail. Local chains Arenas Cafe (149 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach. 302-227-1272. www.arenasdeliandbar.com.) and Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (1604 Savannah Rd., Lewes. 302-644-8998. www.capriottis.com.) have branches in Lewes and Rehoboth, and their deli subs are some of the best in town.
The first trail connecting the separate sections of the park is expected to open by the end of the year. Right now, to get from one end of the park to the other, you cycle out of the park and along the Junction and Breakwater Trail, which was constructed over an old railroad bed.
Where to rent a bike: Rehoboth’s Bike to Go (174 Rehoboth Ave. 302-227-7600. www.biketogo.com) rents multi-gear hybrid and comfort bikes ($9 per hour, $20 per half-day, $30 per day), as well as single-speed boardwalk bikes ($7 per hour, $20 per day), children’s bikes and trailers for small children. Rentals include helmets and bike locks.
Lewes Cycle Sport (526 E. Savannah Rd. 302-645-4544. www.oceancycles.com) will deliver to your hotel or vacation house. It rents bikes by the week: $79 for road bikes, $69 for multi-speed comfort cruisers and $59 for cruisers with baby seats.
If you’re staying in Dewey Beach or Bethany Beach, Del. . . .
Delaware Seashore State Park runs along most of the stretch of Coastal Highway between Dewey and Bethany beaches. The park encompasses marinas, fishing piers and miles of wide beaches, all accessible by bike from the wide shoulders of the highway.
Look for hiker-biker entrances along the west side of Coastal Highway, and you’ll enter the three-mile Prickly Pear Trail, which loops through the woods and marshes around Fresh Pond. On the trail, keep an eye out for deer, red-winged blackbirds and peacocks crossing your path. The end of the trail offers great views of the pond itself.
Other highlights of the park include the 19th-century Indian River Life-Saving Station, which is now a museum, and the Burton Island Trail, just north of the marina. Its a 1 1/2-mile trail winds through salt marshes and a forest of protected nesting grounds for the diamondback terrapin. As at Assateague, you can’t take your bike on the trail, so just lock it up at the trailhead. Picnic pavilions are in the park. If you’re riding from Bethany, call ahead to Matt’s Fish Camp (28635 Coastal Highway, North Bethany Beach. 302-539-2267. www.mattsfishcamp.com.) and pick up clam rolls, po’boys or spicy pickles to go.
Where to rent a bike: Bethany Bike Shop, 900 N. Pennsylvania Ave. 302-537-9058. www.bethanybikes.com. Cruisers, $6 per hour and $19 per day ($9 and $25 with a child’s seat or cart). Road bikes, $9 per hour and $25 per day. Free local delivery or pickup is included.