Michael Castle Trail/ Ben Cardin Trail
Michael Castle Trail (Delaware)
Ben Cardin Trail (Maryland)
The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (C&D Canal), which connects the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays for both commercial shipping and recreational boating, now boasts an asphalt trail from Delaware City, Delaware, to North Chesapeake City, Maryland. For those that enjoy hiking or bicycling with a water view, this trail is hard to beat!
It is the Michael Castle Trail in Delaware and becomes the Ben Cardin Trail upon crossing the state line for the last 1.8 mile into North Chesapeake, Maryland. The route lies on the North shore of the C&D Canal. The Namesakes for the 14-mile path are both politicians: Michael Castle was both Governor of Delaware and the U.S. Congressman for the First State. Ben Cardin is a U.S. Senator representing Maryland.
For those that enjoy hiking or bicycling with a water view,
this trail is hard to beat!
Just watching the ship and boat show in the C&D Canal makes this trail a worthy
destination. Cargo vessels and barge tows mix with all types of leisure boats. There are plenty of small pleasure craft – especially on weekends and holidays in warm weather – but the depth required for commercial traffic means larger yachts can traverse this Canal. The Canal is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Boats and ships are not the only transportation show on this trail. There is a Norfolk Southern Railway lift bridge over the path and the Canal as well. Walkers and riders will normally see this bridge in the “up” position to facilitate water traffic, but the bridge can be lowered into position to align with rails for train passage.
The trail is fairly flat, except for a somewhat challenging climb up a hill to get around
the Summit North Marina. One benefit of that hill climb is that Grain restaurant and bar is on the marina property – a great place for a break on your journey. Getting just a few yards off the trail near the restaurant allows enjoyment of an overlook-type view of the slips and docks in the marina.
Getting to the trail from State Routes 1, 9, 71 and 896 and U.S. 13 in Delaware and State Routes 213 and 285 in Maryland is easy. You can park in either Delaware City or North Chesapeake City and start your walk or ride from one of the end points. The Michael Castle Trail in Delaware is built on lands of the C&D Canal Wildlife Area, and the State Division of Fish & Wildlife has established some first-class trailhead facilities at Biddle Point (off Cox Neck Road) North St. Georges (off U.S. 13 and streets in North St. Georges) and Lums South (off Old Summit Road). Each has paved parking and restroom facilities. The Division of Fish & Wildlife estimates that almost 200,000 people used the trail in 2017.
The Michael Castle trail is open to a broad variety of uses: biking, walking, inline skating, wheelchairs, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Electric assist bikes are permitted if the power unit is less than 1 horsepower. Horseback riding is not permitted in the Summit North Marina portion of the trail or on the eastern end of the trail near Delaware City, which is known as the Branch Canal Trail. Horse trailer parking is welcome at the Biddle Point and Lums South trailheads.
Delaware City, on the eastern end of the trail, is the gateway for two popular state parks with both history and outdoor recreation features. Fort Delaware State Park is located on Pea Patch Island and can be reached via a ferry that docks in Delaware City. Fort Delaware was built in 1859 to protect the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington. Today, the Park takes visitors back to 1864 when the Fort was being used by the Union as a Civil War prison camp housing up to 12,000 Confederates at a time. Park interpreters in historic garb help tell the story and their demonstrations of various black powder weaponry are popular. The Fort was manned briefly in World Wars I and II, and then transferred to Delaware in 1944. It became a State Park in 1951. This Park is also popular with bird watchers who can observe an important rookery for herons, egrets, and ibis during the summer breeding season. Other species of birds can be seen as well from a nature trail that permits views of the rookery. The Park is closed in winter months. Check www.destateparks.com for operating dates.
Fort Dupont State Park features a boat launch with access to both the Delaware River and the C&D Canal. This Fort was an active military base from the Civil War through World War I, and has been a Park since 1992. The River View Trail takes hikers past the remains of gun batteries built between 1898 and 1910.
An avid bicyclist, Lowell Markey has been a member of the C&O Canal Cumberland Bike Patrol since 2001. He is retired from Allegany College of Maryland and now resides in Rehoboth Beach, DE, but maintains a home in Ridgeley, WV, as well. He is an enthusiastic fan of the National Park system and has visited many Parks and served two-month terms as a volunteer ranger several times at parks in New Mexico, West Virginia, and Maryland. He will be serving again at the Williamsport visitors center in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park in September and October 2018. He is also a seasonal naturalist at Delaware Seashore State Park. Prior to retirement, he served as a junior and community college administrator and professor, a private practice lawyer, and as a law clerk to a U.S. District Court judge. He is married to Terri Markey and they have two adult children and two grandchildren.