White Clay Creek Park: Big Enough to Get Lost In!

By Tammis Dowling
Published on August 10th, 2023

Need to experience the restorative power of nature?  Want to get away from crowds, development, and traffic?  New Castle County residents are within a short drive of the White Clay Creek Park and Preserve–located where the Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania borders converge.  The 528-acre White Clay Creek Park in Delaware shares a boundary with the 3,200-acre White Clay Creek Preserve in Pennsylvania.  Both include the branching White Clay Creek, designated a national Wild and Scenic River.  For those who like hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, birding, and lots of history–the park offers it all.

The Delaware side of the park is more developed, particularly the Carpenter Recreation Area, with picnic pavilions, a summer concert series, summer camps, disc golf, and playgrounds.  Delaware also charges parking fees from March through November–$4 in-state and $8 out-of-state unless you have an annual pass.  On the less heavily used Pennsylvania side, the parking is free.

Although not extremely hilly, the park offers some challenging climbs on the steeper valley sides.  We prepare for steep hikes in the Adirondacks on the Wendel Cassel and Charles Bailey trails on the PA side (Pennsylvania Park Map)--park off Yeatman’s Station Road.

For bikers, a long mostly flat 10-mile trail starts near the parking lot at the junction of London Tract and Sharpless Roads in Pennsylvania.  Use the PennDel multi-use trail, which connects with the Pomeroy trail to downtown Newark, ending near the University of Delaware ( Delaware Park Map).  To extend your ride, connect to the Hall Trail which runs along the Amtrak railroad tracks (Newark Bike Map).  Mountain bikers can also find some great trails in the Possum Park area of Delaware.  The Bryan’s Field trail is a 2-mile mountain biking skills course.

Want to experience an old-fashioned swimming hole?  Swimming is generally safe in the park, although it is recommended to avoid the water for a day or two after it rains to avoid harmful run-off and to stick to the main creek areas, not the smaller tributaries. Good swimming can be found in Pennsylvania along the East Branch of the White Clay Creek (park in the lot on London Tract Road near Broadrun Road and also off the main creek (park at the intersection of London Tract and Sharpless Road and walk in on the PennDel trail).

The park has many areas of interest for history buffs.  Worth visiting is the photogenic Baptist Meeting House built in 1729 at the junction of London Tract and Sharpless roads. Walk among the grave sites of the earliest settlers of this area.  Kids will especially enjoy looking for the gravestone marked “R.C.” and listening for the “ticking tomb.”  Legend has it the deceased was buried with his watch, which continues to tick.  It is thought that the grave inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s story–the Tell-Tale Heart.  The meetinghouse is a small history and nature museum, currently closed for renovation, but due to reopen soon.

A historic hike can also bring the area’s unique history to life.  In the 1700s, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were hired to settle land disputes between the states, eventually drawing the boundary known as the Mason-Dixon line and, in 1765, erecting a boundary stone marking where Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania come together.  Start at the Chambers House Nature Center parking lot in Delaware off of Hopkins Road for a 3.1 mile loop to the marker hidden in a wooded area.  (Visit the center on weekends from May to November for displays of park history and information on park geology and natural resources). 

So don’t burn any fossil fuel traveling far afield for great outdoor experiences.  The White Clay Creek is right in your own backyard!