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Touring National Wildlife Refuges in Maryland

Touring National Wildlife Refuges in Maryland

National Wildlife Refuges conserve critical ecosystems for fish and wildlife and offer world-class outdoor recreation. Three national Wildlife Refuges in Maryland are open to the public. Each provides outstanding opportunities to connect with nature and observe wildlife in natural environments. 

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located about 12 miles south of Cambridge in Dorchester County. About 20,000 acres of the refuge are open for outdoor recreation. Visitors can access 5 miles of hiking trails and 17 miles of paddling trails, but one of the most popular ways to see the refuge is by car on the 3.6-mile Blackwater Wildlife Drive.

Blackwater NWR | Photo Credit: Lisa Mayo

The Wildlife Drive offers fantastic views of wildlife and refuge habitats. Over 250 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 165 species of threatened and endangered plants have been spotted here. Blackwater is a critical habitat along the Atlantic Flyway for migrating and wintering ducks and geese. It also has the largest East Coast population of breeding Bald Eagles north of Florida. 

Photo Credit: Friends of Blackwater NWR

In 2022, the refuge officially opened a Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden behind the visitor’s center. This is an excellent place to see native plants, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and other insects native to Maryland. Blackwater visitors can take a self-guided tour of the refuge or free guided birding tours throughout the year. The guided tours are led by an expert birder, last 3-4 hours, and involve caravaning via car to birding hotspots on the refuge. Other Blackwater NWR events and activities offered throughout the year include hunting, fishing, crabbing, cycling, and stargazing. 

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge Stars
Photo Credit: Jeff Berkes Photography

Mark Your Calendar: Blackwater NWR Events

  • Bald Eagles Nesting: January-July
  • Annual Bald Eagle Festival: March
  • Migratory Songbirds: April-May
  • Wading Bird Numbers Increase: August-September
  • Migratory Songbirds: September-October
  • Prime Waterfowl Watching: October, November, and December

Blackwater NWR Wildlife Checklists and Maps

Patuxent Research Refuge

The Patuxent Research Refuge is located in Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles from Baltimore and 20 miles from Washington, D.C. It is the only National Wildlife Refuge in the 500+ refuge system established to support wildlife research. 

Patuxent is also notable for its vast green space. It has the largest unfragmented forest between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore and is known as the “green lungs” of Central Maryland. It has become a critical habitat for forest interior dwelling species (FIDS), like Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and Barred Owls, and a sanctuary for amphibians, like frogs, toads, and salamanders. 

Photo Credit: Anna Champagne

Birds and wildlife can be viewed from the refuge’s many hiking trails, some of which are open to bicycles and horses. The North Tract has 25 miles of trails, and the South Tract has five miles of trails and two scenic lakes. Other Patuxent Research Refuge events and activities offered throughout the year include hunting, fishing, scavenger hunts, gallery exhibits, and ranger-led programs.

Mark Your Calendar: Patuxent NWR Events

  • Migratory Songbirds: April-May 
  • Peak Butterfly, Dragonfly, and Damselfly Activity: July-August
  • Friends of Patuxent’s Pollinator Festival: September
  • Migratory Songbirds: September-October
  • Urban Wildlife Conservation Day: October
  • Friends of Patuxent Wildlife Holiday Bazaar: November

Patuxent Research Refuge Checklists and Maps

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is situated on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Kent County. Its location at the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay confluence makes the 2,285-acre island an ideal sanctuary for migratory birds and wintering waterfowl. During waterfowl surveys, refuge staff have counted more than 50,000 birds on the refuge at one time!

Huge rafts of ducks in protected coves offer i-spy like games for picking out the unusual visitors. 
Photo Credit: Dylan Taillie

Birds and other wildlife can be viewed from the refuge’s seven trails (adding up to more than 9 miles of walking paths). The Eastern Neck Island Water Trail is also a good way to see birds and wetland habitats. This trail launches from Bogles Wharf or Ingleside Recreation Area and encircles the refuge. Other options for viewing birds and wildlife are the Tundra Swan Boardwalk, an accessible boardwalk with two viewing scopes, and the butterfly garden adjacent to the Cape Chester House. 

Photo Credit: Laura Scharle

Free Winter Bird Walks hosted by the Friends of Eastern Neck NWR are held on select days from December to March. Other Eastern Neck NWR events and activities offered throughout the year include boating, crabbing, hunting, fishing, hiking, and cycling.

Mark Your Calendar: Eastern Neck NWR Events

  • Bald Eagles Nesting: January-July
  • Osprey Nesting: March-July
  • Migratory Songbirds: April-May
  • Nesting Barn Swallows: May-August
  • Peak Butterfly Activity: July
  • Migratory Songbirds: September-October
  • Prime Waterfowl Watching: October, November, and December

Eastern Neck NWR Checklists and Maps

About the Author

Anna Champagne is an outdoor writer, photographer, and traveler. She can often be found gardening and birdwatching in her backyard and exploring creeks, trails, marshes, and parks with her husband. Anna lives in Frederick County, Maryland. You can learn more about her on her website

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