The trees open up. The brush clears. In front of you is a sight you never expected to find.

Discovery is part of the thrill of going out into nature. And along the Delaware Outdoor Trail, there are hikes waiting to unveil their beauty to you.

So, lace up your sneakers or boots, grab a bottle of water and get ready to enjoy Delaware’s top five hidden hikes.

Ashland Nature Center

Ashland Bridge in FogUp near the northern edge of the state, you’ll find the winding Red Clay Creek. Take the Treetop or Nature’s Bounty Trail to walk along the beautiful waterway, and you’ll eventually come to one of only three remaining covered bridges in Delaware. The Ashland Bridge was built in the mid-1800’s and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. When you get back to the visitor center, go over to the Butterfly House, which is a stop on the Outdoor Trail.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Bombay Hook - Abby ShepardIt may be a short walk, but the Boardwalk Trail at Bombay Hook – part of the Delaware Outdoor Trail – packs a lot of spectacular views into a little amount of space. Waterfowls abound year-round as you look out over the salt marsh. When you’ve completed the .25 mile loop, you’ll be back in front of one of the refuge’s three observation towers. A climb to the top offers magnificent panorama of Raymond Pool.

Cape Henlopen State Park

Great Dune at Cape HenlopenStart your journey with the magnificent scene viewable from atop Herring Point. Then take time to wander through the pine forests of the walking dunes on the appropriately named Walking Dune Trail, a highlight of the Delaware Outdoor Trail. The stroll itself is well worth it, but it’s what waits for you at the midway point on the trail that is the real treasure. Rising above the ocean, like a sand-made mountain, is the 80-foot Great Dune. Delaware’s highest dune was once home to the Henlopen Lighthouse.

Northern Delaware Greenway

Bancroft MillsThe 10 miles of this Outdoor Trail favorite will take you from through multiple state, county and city parks in Wilmington. Along the way you can enjoy sites, such as Rockwood Mansion and the Brandywine Zoo. But it’s the part of the greenway that goes into Alapocas State Park that holds the most stunning views. As you walk along the rocky outcrops, turn toward the Brandywine Creek and keep your eyes peeled for Bancroft Mills. The abandoned mill buildings combine with the water rushing by to create a stark, even haunting sense of beauty.

Trap Pond State Park

Trap Pond - Abby ShepardThe baldcypress trees in Trap Pond are a hidden treasure unto themselves. And while the best way to see them is to paddle past in a canoe or kayak, those less nautically inclined can still enjoy their splendor… if they know where to explore. Begin your hike at the Baldcypress Nature Centr. Then head down the American Holly Trail – an easy and fun stop on the Outdoor Trail. Near its end, American Holly links up with the Island Trail. It takes you right up to the water’s edge to have your breath taken away by the impressive trees bursting out from the pond.

Photos of Bombay Hook and Trap Pond courtesy of Abby Shepard.