This beach season, you will undoubtedly face a moment when Delaware and Maryland's boardwalks, ice cream stands, novelty stores, amusement centers, miniature links and even the beaches don't do it for you anymore. Even if you're someone who can never get enough extra-cheese Grotto's or high-test Coppertone, you still must face the inevitable rainy day. But relief is near.
Pre-Planned Escapes From Your Vacation
* Take a canoe trip at Trap Pond State Park (302-875-5153), about a 45-minute drive west of Rehoboth via Route 24. The tea-colored lake features a small swimming beach, but the real draw here is the 1.5-mile wilderness canoe trail through a bald cypress swamp. As you wind your way along the algae-covered water past bulging roots and floating turtles, you'll think you're in the Everglades. But don't let the wilderness tag throw you. I did this with my preteen daughters despite the fact that all three of us had limited canoeing experience. Canoes and rowboats can be rented on-site, but remember to carry water, sunblock and bug repellent. Entrance fee. (Go blueberry picking at Ryan's Berry Farm & Orchard, 302-238-7776. The family-owned farm is set on 138 acres not far from Trap Pond; peaches, nectarines, raspberries and blackberries may also be picked in season.)
* Visit Maryland's Assateague Island National Seashore (410-641-1441), home of the famous wild "ponies," an hour south of Rehoboth. A self-guided driving route flows visitors through this barrier island park, but be prepared to stop as wild horses trot across the road, graze on nearby sand dunes or approach your car. You're not allowed to feed these beautiful animals, but that doesn't stop them from licking a window or two. Stopping points along the way allow visitors to hike short trails or simply experience the stark beauty of an undeveloped seashore. Entrance fee.
* My family and I love to bike at the beach, but ever-increasing traffic makes pedaling around Rehoboth and Dewey risky business. When we want to relax and enjoy some real beach scenery, we head to Cape Henlopen State Park (302-645-8983), 15 minutes north of Rehoboth in Lewes. Most of the route is flat, so kids can do it. Highlights include the only World War II observation tower in the area that you can actually enter and climb, the state's largest sand dune, a quarter-mile of fishing pier and a hands-on nature center. I highly recommend signing your kids up to seine the Delaware Bay with a Delaware State Parks guide. Entrance fee.
* Another good biking spot: Lewes itself -- the quaintest of Delaware's quaint towns. Besides antiques shops and novelty stores, this 17th-century town features a spooky old cemetery and a charming historic district named Shipcarpenter Square for its distinctive architecture. Several historic sites are open to the public; check with the Visitors Bureau (302-645-8073). Finish your bike ride with a cold drink at one of several restaurants at Fisherman's Wharf (302-645-8862), also the launching site for whale-watching, dolphin, fishing and sunset cruises.
* Rent a pontoon boat to explore inland Rehoboth Bay between Dewey Beach and Indian River Inlet -- where the locals go to crab (check regulations at 302-739-3440), fish, windsurf or watch the sunset. For information on boat rentals and water sports, contact Rehoboth Bay Marina (302-226-2012) or Bay Sports (302-227-7590), both in Dewey.
* Take a 70-minute ride on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (1-800-643-3779) to Cape May, N.J., famous for its restored Victorian district. You can bike or walk a good portion of Cape May, but if you take your car, you can also visit a re-created 1800s farm village and the Cape May Zoo. Call the Cape May Visitors Bureau (609-884-5508) for more information.
* Hike Burton's Island Trail (302-227-2800), a 1.5-mile loop trail around an undeveloped island connected by a causeway to the mainland in Delaware Seashore State Park, south of Dewey. You'll pass through woodland and marsh habitat and encounter gorgeous bay views. Beware of ticks and mosquitoes. Entrance fee.
* For coastal flora and fauna, you're in luck. Birders and others travel far to visit three refuges that happen to be close to the beach resorts. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (302-684-8419), a large bayside wetlands 10 miles north of Lewes, features seven miles of canoe trails and two short hiking trails. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (302-653-6872), an hour north of Lewes, is famous for its huge springtime concentration of migrating geese and ducks. In summer, visitors can see diamondback terrapins, bald eagles, herons and, yes, more ducks. The refuge features a 12-mile driving route. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (1-800-344-9453) in Virginia is a two-hour drive south of the Delaware resorts. The most popular way to view the refuge is via the 12-mile bike trail. We visited in July and saw the wild horses (from a distance), eagles, terns and numerous shorebirds.
Bad Beach and Boardwalk Days
Comes a time in almost every vacation when some kind of natural phenomenon will make it unappealing if not downright unwise to hang out on the beach or boardwalk. In addition to the rainy days, I've weathered jellyfish invasions, hurricanes (Bob and Bertha), electrical storms and heat waves (see July 1999). When you've tired of the obvious distractions -- bowling, roller skating, matinee movies and antiquing -- I recommend:
* The DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum (302-539-9366) in Fenwick. A small but well-done museum atop one of the biggest, tackiest shell stores in the area. So while you're perusing artifacts from local shipwrecks, your kids can be downstairs buying another hermit crab. Free (except for all the shell souvenirs you'll end up buying).
* Indian River Life Saving Station Museum (302-227-0478), just south of Dewey. The buildings, setting and gift shop are beautiful. There's still not much to see in the way of exhibits, but worth a stop. Entrance fee.
* Nanticoke Indian Museum (302-945-7022), Routes 24 and 5 in Millsboro. The first inhabitants of the area were Nanticoke Indians; a thriving population remains, and this museum offers a small but respectable collection of ceremonial outfits, tools, beadwork, arrowheads and a video of the annual Powwow. Nominal entrance fee.
* Tea at Victoria's Restaurant (302-227-0615) at Rehoboth's Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. If you feel the need to shed your flip-flops for something more civilized, this is the place. The Victorian-era lobby, free-flying parrots and great ocean views make this worthwhile. Monday-Saturday, 3 to 5.
* The Rehoboth Art League (302-227-8408) in Henlopen Acres. Part of the allure of this gallery is the setting -- on three shady acres in the "rich" neighborhood of Rehoboth. We stop by regularly to check out and sometimes buy the work of local artists. The 1743 Homewood Mansion, also on the grounds, is open for tours. Donations accepted.
* Horseback riding through the quiet pine forests of Delaware is a nice antidote to an overdose of sun and sand. Check out Riding Adventures (302-537-4395) near Bethany Beach or Windswept Stables (302-645-1651), Route 24 west of Rehoboth.The latter also features pony rides and a petting zoo on weekends. Reservations required for trail rides.
Top Trivia; The results of "Escapes Trivia" Contest #4:
So our Washington Monument was not the first to be built in these parts -- can you believe it? Should you not, you could ask
Monica Wilfong of Beltsville, this week's winner chosen at random from among those who correctly identified the 34-foot stone tower at Washington Monument State Park (301-791-4767) in Boonsboro, Md., as the "stony perch" with the four-state view that served as a signal tower in two Civil War battles. Those last two hints eliminated the runner-up in our trivia players' responses: Jefferson Rock at Harpers Ferry, W.Va. First of all, you can see only three states from here (Tysons Corner is not yet a state) and, with several better vantage points nearby, the National Park Service says, this stony perch was never a Civil War signal tower. Boonsboro's Washington Monument, meanwhile, looks out from South Mountain over Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Built of loose stone in Washington's honor by Boonsboro townspeople in 1827 (in a day, supposedly), it was later rebuilt (with, like, mortar) and signaled troops in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. The Appalachian Trail passes here, and, at the park entrance, the South Mountain Inn does a brisk Sunday brunch trade.
On to lower ground, then, for Contest #5:
Where -- within a five-hour drive of the nation's capital -- can you stay overnight in a yurt? (Yes, yurt. Look it up.)
Deadline for Contest #5 entries is 10 a.m. Monday, April 3. Send entries by e-mail (escapist@washpost .com; put the word "Escapes Trivia" in the subject field), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Escapes Trivia, Washington Post Travel section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Winners, chosen at random from among correct entries, will receive a copy of The Post's "Escape Plans" getaway guide, or other prizes to be announced. One entry per person per contest. Employees of The Washington Post are ineligible to win prizes. Entries become the property of The Post, which reserves the right to edit, distribute or republish them in any form, including electronically.