Skip to main content

This is a free excerpt from my book, Eastern Shore Road Trips #1: 27 One-Day Adventures on Delmarva. More info about that and my other books exploring the history, travel, and culture on the Eastern Shore and in Delaware here.

There are two kinds of beaches on the Delmarva Peninsula, and they are as different one from the other as big cities are from rural backroads. First is the “downy ocean, hon” kind of beach. This is where the teeming masses descend in search of classic summer vacation moments—fries on the boardwalk, salt-water taffy, oceanfront Ferris wheels, etc.—in a resort environment that’s also chock-full of shopping and dining options.

There will be none of that in this Road Trip. We are headed here to the run of peace-and-quiet beaches that lie along the Delaware Bay from just north of Lewes all the way up to Bombay Hook. There are a few quirky and interesting stops along the way, but mostly we are looking here at endless ribbons of sand where other people are fewer and farther between than in the more famous resorts.

The 21st century can seem a long way off in these places. Sometimes in life, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

Beginning at Broadkill

Our journey here starts at life’s other extreme, in the thick of the concrete jungle of outlet shops on Route 1 outside of Lewes. Head north from there and in short order you will cross the Broadkill River, which once upon a time helped nearby Milton become quite a shipbuilding center, and come to Broadkill Road, Route 16. Turn toward the Delaware Bay and you will soon be skirting the southern edge of the 10,000 acres of marshland that make up Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

The road will dead end in four-ish miles at an itty-bitty parking area this side of the hump of a dune that leads up and over onto Broadkill Beach. There is a smattering of summer homes in both directions, as well as the throwback Broadkill Store. Inside you will find a mish-mosh of beach and fishing gear along with a serviceable array of subs and sandwiches. I have heard good things about the homemade donuts, but I am not a donut guy, so you will have to conduct your own taste test there.

When in tongue-in-cheek mode, regulars and locals alike refer to the store as “The Broadkill Mall.” You can get a feel for the pride these folks take in their off-the-beaten-path location by the fact that there are baseball caps at the store emblazoned with the words, “Where the Hell is Broadkill Beach?”

Broadkill Beach Aerial Photo

Broadkill Beach

The beach is just up over that dune, of course. It has recently been replenished to the tune of $30 million and 2 million cubic feet of sand, making it as wide today as it was back in the 1950s. This stretch of sand runs some seven miles to the north, so if you find too many people around for your liking, just keep walking.

Here is a quote from the 1933 book, Delaware: A Guide to the First State, that should help get your imagination up and running while you walk: “The beach itself has long been a favorite spot for farmers, who come here at night with seines to fish until dawn. Cheered by occasional nips at a bottle and their own singing, they prefer their form of sport to the city fisherman’s use of a rod aboard a boat in the hot sun.”

On to Prime Hook

Prime Hook Beach scene

Prime Hook Beach

If you are in the mood for a stroll through the saltwater marshlands, keep your eyes peeled on the way back to the highway for Turkle Pond Road, which will take you to the Visitors Center at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The pond near there is very popular with birders. You will also find access to and information about the network of trails at the refuge. Fair warning: The bugs can be godawful in the warmer months.

Back northbound on Route 1, you will soon pass Waples Pond, which was home to the thriving Waples Mill in days gone by. Turn back toward the Delaware Bay just past here on Prime Hook Road. It winds its way through the heart of the refuge and then dead ends at Prime Hook Beach, where there is another a smattering of vacation homes and public access to another long stretch of blissful sand and solitude. More of the same lies at the end of nearby Fowler Beach Road, which doesn’t intersect with Route 1—you’ll find it if you turn first onto Sugar Hill Road.

What’s in a Name? Slaughter Beach

Next up is Slaughter Beach Road. This one does intersect Route 1, in the little outpost of Argo Corners, south of Milford. This time, the ride to the Delaware Bay has you skirting the northern boundary of the wildlife refuge.

Slaughter Beach, which also has a smattering of summer homes, is one of the older settlements in these parts. The first colonial-era settlers arrived in the late 1600s, but quite a few Indian burial pits and campsites have been uncovered around here as well. Archaeologists have lumped them all together under the name “Slaughter Creek Complex.”

Cottages at Slaughter Beach about 1905 Credt Del Archives

Cottages at Slaughter Beach, 1905

No one knows for certain where that colorful name originated. The most likely explanation is the most prosaic option, which is that at some point a prominent citizen named Slaughter lived here. Another possibility centers on the migration of horseshoe crabs up the beach every spring, a natural phenomenon in the Delaware Bay that invariably ends with a gazillion crabs getting stranded up beyond the tide line, their carcasses lying along the beach for as far as the eye can see. (There will be more about that in the endnote to this Road Trip.)

The third possibility is a legend of doubtful veracity, but it makes for the most dramatic story. It goes like this: A European settler named Brabant, upon hearing rumors of an Indian uprising, gathered tribal leaders on the beach and told them they were about to hear the voice of the Great Spirit, at which point he fired a cannon into their midst.

Head north on Bay Avenue here and you will find several access points to the beach. If you keep going until you cross over Cedar Creek and veer to the right there along a bumpy road lined with ramshackle trailers and falling-down houses, you will find your way to the first-rate little DuPont Nature Center.

Here, you can peer into powerful spotting scopes in search of birds or head inside to learn the incredible story of those prehistoric-looking horseshoe crabs, and the migrating shorebirds whose lives depend on them.

Bound for Bowers … and Beyond

Back on the highway, you can either make a beeline to our next beach, Bowers, or you can take a break at the popular Meding’s Seafood, which is right on the highway, below Frederica. In addition to doing a great job with traditional Eastern Shore dishes, Meding’s has a 50,000-pound propeller out front in the parking lot that used to be on the Vietnam-era aircraft carrier USS Shan- gri-La. It’s painted solid gold now, so it has the look of a giant fake flower.

Bowers Beach Delaware 1914

Scene from Bowers Beach, 194

Bowers Beach is a fishing village that dates to the 1600s and lies at the mouth of a river with one of the all-time great names, the Murderkill. If you go looking on the Internet, you will find your way to legends about how this name, too, refers to a big Indian massacre, but the truth is actually more mundane—in Dutch, moeder means mother, and kille means riverbed, or channel.

The town lies on the north side of that Mother River. Jill and I unloaded our bikes here on one recent day and pedaled around town and out into the surrounding countryside for a while. There is a little maritime museum in a house along the main drag that is open on weekends. You will find a couple of restaurants to choose from as well. The Captain’s Lady headboat still takes anglers out every morning at 7am in season. There are occasional sunset cruises as well.

The biggest draw at Bowers is the beach, of course. It can get a little bit busier here than at the other beaches we’ve been visiting. In addition to the fact that it’s a short 25-minute drive from Dover, the beach here is also a family-friendly affair, with lots of safe, shallow water for the younger kids.

The beach on the south side of the Murderkill tends to be less crowded. The river looks to be about 30 yards wide at this point, but getting to that other side involves a 20-minute ride back out to the highway and then back toward the Bay along Milford Neck Road, staying to the left first on Mosley Road and then on South Bowers Road.

There are still more peace-and-quiet beaches to be explored up ahead—Kitts Hummock, Pickering, and Woodland all lie north of here. Look them up on a map, and it will be easy enough to put together your own second leg of this Delaware Bay Beach Safari.


Southern Delaware Tourism; 800.357.1818

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge; 302.684.8419
Location: 11978 Turkle Pond Road, Milton, Del. 19968

Slaughter Beach; 302.424.7659

DuPont Nature Center; 302.422.1329
Location: 2992 Lighthouse Road, Milford, Del. 19963 (The postal address is Milford, but the center is out on the Slaughter Beach waterfront.)

Bowers Beach; 302.572.9000

Bowers Beach Maritime Museum; 302.222.6341
Location: 3357 Main Street, Bowers Beach, Del. 19946

Nearby Road Trips in the Same Book

Milford (Trip #6)
The Dover Ingenuity Trio (#12)
Delaware Seashore Outdoors (#9)
Rehoboth Beach (#27)

Excerpt from Eastern Shore Road Trips #1: 27 One-Day Adventures on Delmarva posted by Claudia Colaprete in June 2-23 for Whimbrel Creations LLC/Secrets of the Eastern Shore. All rights reserved. Thank you so much for spending a little time with this story and on this site!

Leave a Reply