The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge cycling route encircles the marshes and waterways that make up the national park on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. You’ll feel like you’re soaring on the bike like the eagles and herons cruising the sky above you.
25-mile circular route | Can add another 50 miles by taking side roads
Moderate | Flat, but constant peddling, plus any wind, makes it challenging
Riding through beautiful, vast marshland wilderness
- Harriet Tubman Museum – the starting point on this route
- Asphalt roads – some with shoulder, mostly without but light vehicle traffic
- Side roads – several lanes you can take to shorten the ride
- Cell phone coverage gets sketchy in parts
- No towns along the way – only remains of former towns; it’s all rural
- Riding at water level – expect to ride through water on the road in sections if there’s been much rain
Blackwater Route Overview
Blackwater is constantly changing moods with weather and time of day.
Those are the same marsh grasses, but they take on a different look depending on which way the wind blows and the sun’s location.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge cycling route takes you through 29,000 acres of tidal marsh, hardwood and pine forest, freshwater wetlands, and past a bit of cropland.
There’s a standard loop that takes you around the marsh, but you can lop off miles by taking a side road or increase your miles by taking a road that goes down a peninsula.
Blackwater Route Details
The refuge has a visitors center with parking, open Tuesday through Sunday. There are a also a couple park-and-hike/ride lots on the route.
We parked at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Museum (4068 Golden Hill Road, Church Creek, MD). It’s a large lot and the museum has public restrooms. The museum is also a great place to walk through.
Leaving the museum entrance, go right or left. Just remember which way you went — clockwise or counterclockwise. You’ll need to remember that you’re turning constantly to the right or left. It’s easy to get confused.
While I’ve ridden through Blackwater several times, I decided to follow the wildlife refuge cycling map from their website. It’s a PDF and not interactive. It doesn’t contain small roads and the road names switch without notice.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge cycling map contains a 20-mile loop along the farmland between Cambridge, Maryland, and the refuge. The highways have a wide shoulder for farm equipment that’s also great for cyclists. That section is good for adding another 40-50 miles depending on where you park.
If you want a short ride, stick with the 25-mile loop included here. It’s much more scenic than the highway route.
WHAT’S AROUND THE BLACKWATER LOOP?
The western side of the loop is marshes with a few private residences built on land that’s barely higher than the water.
At the south end of the loop, you’ll ride past Gootee’s Marina skirting the Honga River. There’s a bit of farmland along the southern side, but you’ll curve back into marshland.
I was stopping to take pictures when a couple from Philadelphia caught up with us. We kept together for a bit, but where Andrews Road turns into Maple Dam Road, we took a wrong turn.
The couple insisted that we had to turn right. Yup, we went along.
After a bit of cycling down that road, we realized that they’d lost track of which direction we were going on the loop and, because of that, misjudged our location on the map. We were on the opposite side of the loop than they’d thought.
We turned right at the barn and were headed to the Hooper Straight Sanctuary and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s environmental university. An interesting and scenic route extender, but we didn’t want to go that far on this trip.
The park’s bike route goes straight, past the barn.
Going around the eastern side of the circle takes you past Blackwater Adventure Chesapeake Bay, a boat and bike rental place that is lively in the summers. Closed in the late fall and winter.
Most of the road along this section is along a slightly raised causeway, but not all of it.
You cycle past freshwater marsh ponds that rise up with the high tide and lots of rain.
We went through several flooded sections but the water was only a couple of inches deep at its highest.
This is also where you’ll be cycling at water level and really feel like you’re part of the marshland. Trees are far away in the distance.
The main route is the one suggested by the park. There’s an alternative route at the top of the circle that is a bit more scenic, but will also add about a quarter of a mile to the ride.
Instead of riding on Key Wallace Drive past the wildlife refuge visitor center, turn onto Wildlife Drive. It’s the one-way drive recommended for car tours of the park.
What Else to know?
This is a great ride. Can’t help but feel happy afterward.
Keep in mind that there’s very little shade along this route. On hot days, it’s really hot.
And, it can be a buggy ride in the spring and summer because of all the marshes. But if you keep riding, and the stops short, you’ll get through just fine. A bit of wind also helps push them along. Bugs seem to go elsewhere in the fall and winter.
Also, there are several century rides starting in the spring and throughout the summer that go through Blackwater. Those are a fun way to experience it with other people and have folks watching out for cyclists.
Enjoy your pedding!