Cape Henlopen State Park. Photo:

Bay Region’s Best First Day Hikes

Some brave souls on the Chesapeake have a New Year’s Day boat ride tradition– but those who like to start January dry have another option: a First Day Hike.

First held on January 1, 2012, America’s State Parks First Day Hikes is a program of free, guided hikes (meaning no entry or parking fees) offered by each of the fifty state park systems on New Year’s Day. 

Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware have hosted hikes since the inaugural year and are hosting more than ever in 2020. Ranging in both distance and difficulty, each hike offers an up-close look at one portion of our region’s unique outdoors – and if that weren’t enough, an “I HIKED” sticker to anyone who participates.

Maryland is offering 40 hikes at 33 of its 72 parks. Some of the most eye-catching include:

  • The Ilia Fehrer/Judy Johnson Memorial Beach Walk, honoring the women who created the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island and hosted the inaugural event on January 1, 1970, at Assateague State Park.
  • A 5-mile-long First Day Bike at Gunpowder Falls State Park.
  • The opportunity to see eagles, waxwings, and ducks, with guidance from the Southern Maryland Audubon Society, on a birding hike at Chapman State Park.
  • The first First Day Hike at one of Maryland’s newest state parks, Sang Run State Park, ending with hot cocoa in its historic Friends Store.
  • A sunset hike to all three overlooks at Gambrill State Park.

In Virginia all 38 state parks and its soon-to-be 39th, Seven Bends, are hosting at least one hike. Beyond the sticker, the state is incentivizing participation through a “New Year Challenge” and Photo Contest, each of which will award a $500, $250, $100, and $75 VA State Parks gift certificate. Exhibiting unmatched diversity, Virginia’s most notable hikes include:

  • At the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park, a completely original Glow Hike, including park-provided glow sticks, beginning at midnight on New Year’s morning.
  • A one-mile hike/scavenger-hunt-for-ornaments-hidden-by-the-Christmas Opossum hybrid at Caledon State Park.
  • Two extra pet-friendly hikes, including dog treats and a Pup Parade, respectively, at High Bridge Trail State Park and Twin Lakes State Park.
  • A sunrise hike at Natural Tunnel State Park and an educational walk, covering both geology and legend-telling, under the colossal arch at Natural Bridge State Park.
  • A hike with a hunt for shark teeth on Fossil Beach at Westmoreland State Park.

Delaware is hosting hikes at 16 of its 17 state parks. Some include:

  • A history-laden hike with views of the old Marshall Bros. Paper Mill and Garrett snuff mill on the Yorklyn Bridge Trail at Auburn Valley State Park.
  • A guided “hike”/tour through the Brandywine Zoo.
  • At Cape Henlopen State Park, a bayside and oceanside hike around the Point.
  • A photo opp-friendly hike to the Delaware-Pennsylvania boundary at White Clay Creek State Park.

As Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said in a press release, “There’s no better way to start 2020 than with an invigorating hike exploring Maryland’s beautiful public lands. This growing tradition brings thousands together in resolution for better health and connection with our natural resources. There is a hike waiting for you in every corner of our state, for every ability and age.”

In all three states, opportunities to get out and enjoy the Bay watershed abound.

Take a look at the lists of all First Day Hikes offered in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.

-Steve Adams