Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Northeast Region
2145 Key Wallace Dr
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-2677

Water Trails at Blackwater

Note: It is highly recommended that paddlers purchase a Paddling Map from
the Friends of Blackwater website or at the Refuge Visitor Center before paddling.

Blackwater Refuge currently has three water trails: the Purple, Orange, and Green Trails. These trails were named "Recommended Water Trails for 2006" by the American Canoe Association.

Paddlers will find markers on the water that will help them navigate, but due to the sometimes maze-like appearance of the marsh, it's important that paddlers pick up a Paddling Map before heading out. Please remember that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff at the Refuge is not equipped for rescues, and cell phones often do not work around the Refuge. Paddlers are advised to not exit their boats on the marsh as the waters are shallow and the mud is not suitable for walking.

Blackwater wetlands. Credit: USFWS

In a canoe or kayak, visiters 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.

The Blackwater River is a major feature of the Refuge and the surrounding area. It begins where Parsons and Corsey Creeks meet in northwestern Dorchester County, Maryland, then flows southeast to Fishing Bay, which opens into the Chesapeake Bay. The Blackwater got its name because tannic acid from decaying leaves on the forest floor darkens the water which drains from thousands of acres into the river whenever it rains.

Among the Blackwater's tributaries, the largest is the Little Blackwater. It flows 12 twisting miles from its headwaters in Cambridge, Maryland to join the Blackwater, which runs 17 more miles to Fishing Bay. The freshwater flow from this and other tributaries, such as Coles Creek, produces different ranges of salinity that determine the type of wetland plants paddlers will see along the trails.

Trail Features

Below is general information about the three water trails. Please visit the Friends of Blackwater Paddling page to read more about the trails and to find rental and guide information. Also read the paddling safety tips.

The Orange and Purple Trails generally have the highest overall salinity and the lowest diversity of plant species. Big cordgrass and saltmarsh cordgrass thrive here. In late July and August, marsh hibiscus is covered in white and pink blooms.

On the Green Trail, the marsh ranges from slightly brackish to fresh water. During summer, fragrant waterlily covers much of the water and narrow-leaved cattail grows at the water's edge.

Purple Trail
Distance: 9 miles one way (open water; wind conditions important)
Paddling Time: 3.0 - 4.5 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Shorters Wharf

Purple Trail Spur
Distance: 2.8 miles round trip only
Paddling Time: 1.0 - 1.4 hours (speed 2-3 mph)

Please note: The Purple Trail is closed to paddlers October 1 through March 31 each year. The closure is critical to avoid interfering with migratory waterfowl on the Refuge.

Orange Trail
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip only
Paddling Time: 2.6 - 3.8 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Shorters Wharf

Green Trail
Distance: 8 miles round trip only
Paddling Time: 2.6 - 4.0 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Rt. 335 Bridge

Please note: The Green Trail is a scenic trail and is a good trail for beginners. However, during fall and winter, waterfowl hunters are active on private property near the Green Trail. If you want more information about hunting season, call the Refuge Visitor Center at 410-228-2677 for exact hunting dates.

Visitor Center Wildlife Drive Butterfly Garden Land Trails Cycling Hunting Fishing / Crabbing Education

Last updated: October 7, 2010