Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge


(410) 228-2677

Map Directions

Things To Do


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located 12 miles south of Cambridge, Maryland, was established in 1933 as a refuge for migratory waterfowl. The refuge includes more than 26,000 acres, composed mainly of rich tidal marsh characterized by fluctuating water levels and variable salinity. Other habitat types include freshwater ponds, mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, and small amounts of cropland and managed impoundments that are seasonally flooded for waterfowl use.

Originally established for migratory birds, primarily ducks and geese, Blackwater is one of the chief wintering areas for Canada Geese using the Atlantic Flyway. Geese number approximately 35,000 and ducks exceed 15,000 at the peak of fall migration, usually in November.

Blackwater is also haven for two of the nation's threatened or endangered species. The bald eagle (which has been upgraded from endangered to threatened) and Delmarva fox squirrels are regularly seen on the refuge.

The refuge visitor center features wildlife exhibits, an authentic eagle's nest, Eagle Cam and Osprey Cam TV monitors, the Eagle's Nest Book and Gift Shop, a butterfly garden, restrooms, maps and brochures, and an informational kiosk. On the second floor is the "Wild Birds Unlimited Pathways to Nature Observatory," which features bird exhibits and spotting scopes for viewing the Blackwater River, the marsh, and the Osprey Cam platform. Also on the second floor is a Birding and Natural History Library where visitors can browse the refuge book collection to learn more about the local wildlife. (The second floor is accessible via a staircase or a wheelchair-friendly elevator). Call the refuge for visitor center hours and information.

Map of Blackwater NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 38.446934, -76.123838



  • Boating

    In a canoe or kayak, visitors can explore tidal marshes and brackish ponds for a closer look at the Refuge's resident and visiting wildlife including bald eagles and ospreys. From October through November, as many as 50,000 geese, ducks, and tundra swans stop at Blackwater Refuge during their migration along the Atlantic Flyway. Up to 20 species of ducks and 250 species of other birds may also be seen here, along with 165 species of threatened or endangered plants. The endangered Delmarva fox squirrel and other species make their home in the large stands of loblolly pine and hardwoods.

    Blackwater Refuge currently has three water trails: the Purple, Orange, and Green Trails.

  • Bird Watching

    Blackwater Refuge is one of the chief wintering areas for Canada Geese along the Atlantic Flyway, which is a major bird migration "highway" along the East Coast. From October through November, as many as 50,000 geese, ducks, and tundra swans stop at Blackwater Refuge. To feed them, the refuge staff plant grain fields and seasonally flood impoundments for waterfowl use. Up to 20 species of ducks and 250 species of other birds may also be seen at the refuge. Bald eagle sightings are common in the refuge as Blackwater is at the center of greatest nesting density of breeding bald eagles north of Florida on the east coast. Blackwater NWR also offers birdcams for viewers to see into bald eagle and osprey nests. The cams can be accessed through the website

  • Bicycling

    Blackwater Refuge offers several bike routes for the novice to experienced cyclist. Visitors can choose to complete an approximate 4-mile or 7-mile-loop route along the paved Wildlife Drive. Blackwater also has 20-mile and 25-mile routes that follow county roads through the varied habitats of the Refuge.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    The Wildlife Drive is a paved road, approximately four miles in length, that takes visitors along the Blackwater River and offers excellent views of the local wildlife, including waterfowl, shorebirds, turtles, bald eagles, ospreys, and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Visitors can drive, bike, or walk the length of the Drive, and the road is open from dawn to dusk every day.

  • Fishing

    Fishing and crabbing are restricted to boats when these activities are in season (fishing is in season April 1 through September 30 and crabbing is in season April 1 through December 15 -- check with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for details). No fishing or crabbing is permitted from the Refuge shoreline or the Wildlife Drive; however, visitors can fish/crab near the state-owned bridges located nearby.

    Maryland state regulations apply while fishing and crabbing on the Refuge. All fishing and crabbing lines must be attended. No special Refuge permits are required; however, a valid state sport fishing license is required to fish in the Blackwater River and the Little Blackwater River. For crabbing, a state recreational crabbing license is required. Recreational crabbing in April, October, November and December is allowed between 1/2-hour after sunrise to sunset in Bay tributaries; and recreational crabbing in May, June, July, August and September is allowed between 1/2-hour before sunrise to sunset in Bay tributaries. Please visit the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources for complete details on fishing and crabbing regulations in Maryland.

    At the Refuge, fishing is allowed from canoes and kayaks. Only canoe and kayak launching is permitted at the Refuge; however, there is a public boat ramp nearby at Shorter's Wharf, which is outside Refuge property.

  • Hiking

    Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge currently has four land trails: the Marsh Edge Trail, the Woods Trail, the Key Wallace Trail, and the Tubman Road Trail, which are all open from dawn to dusk every day.

    The Marsh Edge Trail is the only trail that is paved, and it is wheelchair and stroller friendly (see note below). Also please remember that no pets are allowed on any of the trails; this policy is to protect the endangered ground-feeding Delmarva fox squirrel.

    Tips for those using the trails: Anyone who comes during warm weather is advised to bring insect repellent. Also, the three unpaved trails can get soggy in wet weather, so visitors should wear appropriate footwear if it's been raining. Finally, during the fall hunting season, the Key Wallace Trail may be closed periodically for safety reasons.

  • Hunting

    Hunting at the refuge is a means of recreation, as well as wildlife population control. Hunting on a national wildlife refuge is a privilege and your behavior while participating on a Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge hunt may affect future hunting on refuges. The refuge provides habitat for several endangered and threatened species. Federal and State laws prohibit any activity that might harm endangered or threatened plants and animals. The refuge believes that these hunts can be conducted without harming any endangered species and have taken certain precautions to make it so. The following protected wildlife may be found on the Refuge:

    * Southern American bald eagle * Delmarva fox squirrel (can be mistaken for a gray squirrel)

  • Wildlife Watching

    The refuge is home to several hundred species of plants, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, and numerous mammals. Among the mammals are the white-tailed deer and the sika deer (an Asian species).

    Blackwater Refuge is a haven to three recovering species: the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, the migrant peregrine falcon, and the American bald eagle. At this time Blackwater Refuge is host to the largest remaining natural population of Delmarva fox squirrels and is also host to the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida.


Call the park for updated information about construction. The gift store and information desk have been temporarily relocated to the Environmental Education building at the start of the Wildlife Drive.

Park Partners

Friends of Blackwater

The Friends of Blackwater is a nonprofit citizens support group founded in 1987, assisting Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland and the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex to carry out their educational, interpretive and public use missions. Members of the Friends of Blackwater exercise varying degrees of involvement, although many members find satisfaction in volunteering their time to help the group in its various activities, such as operating The Eagle's Nest Book & Gift Shop in the Blackwater Refuge Visitor Center. All proceeds from the gift shop go toward purchasing items or services that are not funded by the Department of Interior. As federal budgets shrink, groups like the Friends of Blackwater are more essential than ever in helping to protect treasures such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

(410) 228-2677



Take Route 50 into Cambridge, Maryland. Turn south on to Route 16 at the Wal-Mart shopping center. Travel approximately seven miles to the town of Church Creek. Turn left on to Route 335. Travel approximately four miles, then turn left at Key Wallace Drive. Travel 1.5 miles to the Visitor Center, or three miles to access the Wildlife Drive.

Phone Numbers


(410) 228-2677